Booking.com is expanding its pilot on a service and support chatbot, the Booking Assistant, which is now available to English-language bookings and can handle 30 per cent of those customer enquiries automatically in less than five minutes, it says.
Leveraging natural language processing technology, the tool identifies the most frequently asked post-booking questions from customers – including on payment, transportation, arrival and departure times, date changes, cancellation requests, parking information, extra bed requests, pet policies, Wi-Fi and Internet availability, as well as a wide variety of greetings and thank-you messages.
If the Booking Assistant, which is built entirely in-house, has identified a question it can’t solve on its own, depending on the nature of the query, it pulls in support from either the Booking.com customer service team or the property, adding their response directly into the conversation and making the source of that information known to customers.
With increased access to additional consumers and their most pressing questions, the Booking Assistant is expected to become more sophisticated. Booking.com is currently training the model to refine the current number of questions it can manage into more than 90 specific sub-topics that can be quickly identified and handled appropriately.
“For us, AI is not about replacing human interaction, but is instead a vehicle to facilitate an even more personalised, instantaneously gratifying and frictionless travel experience for consumers,” said James Waters, global director of customer service at Booking.com. “As we operate in an industry that is incredibly personal, emotional and complex, maintaining the right balance between genuine human interaction and efficient automation is something we’re always trying to fine-tune and optimise throughout every stage of the consumer journey, including with the Booking Assistant.”
Citing its own poll of 19,000 travellers in 26 countries, Booking.com said 50 per cent of consumers don’t mind if they deal with a real person or a computer – so long as their questions are answered – and 80 per cent prefer to self-serve in order to get the information they need.
The Booking Assistant was built as a mobile-first experience and has been adapted to operate natively within the iOS and Android versions of the Booking.com app, as well as via Facebook Messenger. It can also be accessed via the Booking.com website on desktop, mobile or tablet.