Adding live chat to your website could create an effective new customer service channel while helping you capture more leads at the same time.
Increasing mobilisation and modern buying behaviour are driving the adoption of live chat throughout a wide range of industries. Travel is no different, with hotel chains, airlines, OTAs and disruptive start-ups all embracing the trend.
Take Hyper Travel for example. The new message-based travel service that launched in 2016 performs travel booking services purely though the medium of chat in their app for iOS and Android. At the same time we've seen Hyatt test Facebook Messenger-based chat services, Kayak launch Kayak Snap and whole raft of others build out services on the back of Slack and Whatsapp.
Live chat is taking off
Even if your company has an excellent reputation for telephone service - prompt answering, helpful operators, etc. - the telephone is falling out of favour, both pre- and post- sale. With the telephone, your customer has to find the number, dial, hold and then tell you who they are and what they need. In less service-led industries this can often be the beginning of a thankless experience including being told to call a different number, passed between departments, asked to repeat information and, worst of all, cut off.
Smart businesses are recognising that this isn't a positive customer experience and isn't going to drive loyalty among today's buyers.
Live chat on the other hand is typically instant, doesn't require that you stop everything else you are doing and can be personalised to the customer more quickly and effectively than phone exchanges.
Live chat tools typically appear as a 'click here to chat' device somewhere along the edge of each page of a website. Requests to chat are routed to an available agent. Logs of each chat are normally kept by the system and can be integrated with CRM or marketing automation tools, helping to drive personalisation. Chat tools can normally be configured to allow anonymous chat sessions, which can be updated with personal information later on, or to ask for personal information upfront.
Depending on the system used, chat transcripts may be sent to the customer afterwards and feedback or ratings asked for. Different systems handle persistence differently but all the tools we've seen follow the user as they navigate different pages of your site, meaning the chat session is never interrupted.
So, how could implementing live chat add value to travel management?
Live chat as a customer service tool
As has been identified by the likes of Hyper Travel and Kayak Snap, there are lots of occasions when live chat would be preferable, over making a telephone call, for a business traveller.
There are many questions about smaller issues that a traveller may wish they did not have to pick up the phone for - especially when under time pressure, in meetings or in quiet environments like a delayed plane or airport business lounge. Introducing chat as a customer service channel would let your customer bring up your website, fire off their question and get a response from the next available agent, who should have access to the relevant PNR as well as any CRM data on the traveller.
A number of the tools available also allow agents to chat to one another or bring another one into a chat session with a visitor, aiding collaboration with putting the visitor on hold.
Chat as a sales tool
Live chat is also an effective way to generate more leads from your website. When visitors browsing your site have questions that they cannot immediately answer, a live chat option can prevent them from bouncing away from your site. Once engaged in chat, the likelihood that you will turn an anonymous visitor into a lead or opportunity is higher too.
Evidence of the effectiveness of live chat in B2B is mostly anecdotal, but does fall in line with the research on consumer behaviour, with users stating dramatic increases in lead generation and customer acquisition.
Chat as a differentiator
A quick look at the companies on the first page of Google search results for 'travel management company', 'corporate travel management' and 'business travel management' returned only one company with live chat installed on their website - at 09.30am, however, there were no operators online on this company's website so live chat was replaced with a contact form.
Live chat is therefore an opportunity waiting to be tapped and a potential way to differentiate yourself from competitors, if you move fast.
Tips for a successful chat roll out
Simply sticking a live chat plugin on your website doesn't make for a successful implementation, of course. To ensure you deliver a positive customer experience that reflects positively on your brand, here are some points you need to consider:
Training your team - while your consultants will have all the travel and customer knowledge they need to service travellers via chat, they need to be shown how to use the chosen software. The core features of most solutions are fairly intuitive but users will need to understand the more advanced features, like proactive chat, and when they can be useful.
Establishing chat policy - Defining how your team should respond to chat requests and what procedures to follow under different circumstances is vital. For example, you will need to decide how consultants will verify the identity of existing customers and how to behave when a potential lead comes on to chat.
Set your style - We're big on letting people be themselves, after all part of the popularity of chat comes from buyers seeking authenticity and personal qualities from providers. Still, however, it pays to set some ground rules for agents to follow in terms of style and tone - for example to remind that short, concise answers work far better than long winded passages.
Integrations - The power of live chat can be amplified when its integrated with your CRM or marketing automation system, becoming a part of your single view of your customer. Getting these integrations up and running from the outset will ensure data re-entry is minimised and the personalisation of the experience for customers is maximised.
Monitor, measure and review - Your live chat tool will provide you with logs and analytics so that you can see how and when live chat is being used. Digging in to the transcripts and analytics data on a regular basis will help you to identify ways to improve your website and chat policies.
Choosing the right live chat tool for your company
There is an enormous number of live chat software providers for you to choose from, all with their own unique qualities and quirks. To help you decide you could look at comparison sites like:
Or you could look at the answers to Quora questions like this one:
What makes a live chat app the right one for you, however, depends on your unique requirements, so analyse these before choosing. Handily, all live chat companies use their own live chat on their sites, allowing you to take them for a test drive and ask any questions without parting with any money.
Thereafter many offer a free trial period and many also offer a free tier - although these are typically limited either in the number of agents or monthly chats they support, or both.
Here are some of what we think are the best examples, based on our experience as customers on the web:
Intercom - popular with SaaS companies, Intercom offers a great looking chat solution. They place a strong emphasis on humanising chat. The real strength of Intercom comes from its range of solutions for everything from customer on-boarding to in-app support.
SnapEngage - SnapEngage is a live chat classic with loads of integrations built in, meaning it's compatible with a lot of popular email, marketing and CRM tools. It's also built for both sales and support, with team chats, transfer and user role features.
Zopim - recently acquired by Zendesk, meaning integration with the help desk is tight - which is why we use it actually. But even without Zendesk, Zopim is a compelling choice with an attractive chat interface.
Livechat - Another great looking and feature rich chat solution with some clever UI elements for both customer and agent - things like social feedback buttons and chat priority indication in the portal.
Olark - Simple to install and use, Olark has been around, and popular, for some time. Olark includes a co-browsing feature which lets you see your customer's screen and even control their mouse.
Based on what we have seen, live chat is a trend that is going to penetrate business travel more and more. TMCs have not, as yet, really started to turn this trend to their own advantage. Live chat tools are affordable, easy to install and simple to use. So, what are you waiting for?