Does Web Chat Work for Travel

By Bob Morrell on August 9, 2017

Every time we go onto a web site it seems we end up being approached, gently, by a smiling avatar offering you a ‘chat’ interaction. Sometimes it’s right at the beginning, even before we’ve had a good look at the site. Sometimes it’s at the end as we approach the final screen with the full price – perhaps a chat there and then will help tip us over the edge?

These chat conversations are so varied and inconsistent that customers wonder, first off, if this will be a good quality interaction or something stilted and robotic.

Does the customer value the chat interaction in the same way that they might do a conversation?

Does the quality of the interaction make you more likely to book?

Does the agent believe that their chat channel is valuable or simply an information service?

Of course, with chat you’re dealing with nothing but words, and these have no tone, no voice, no expression – so the way they are read by the customer, is the way they are absorbed – not in the way you mean them to be read. The voice is SO much more expressive than chat, which is why it is such a successful sales channel.

As customers become fonder of this channel, then the convenience of it means the technology adapts too, and the attraction of using WhatsApp and Facebook messenger means that customers can maintain an interaction through their work time, into the evening and into the next day, if it suits them. The skilled agent can have 40 or more chats open and must be ready to react when the customer is set to continue. This takes some personal management to achieve.

This also creates some major management changes. How do we understand the data that this channel produces? How easy is it to convert on chat? Will we try and silo this channel into teams who just work on chat or will we multi-skill these teams so they can switch channels.

We once delivered web chat course where we posed this question – is it okay for the agent on chat to pick up the phone? And the answer was no – this would have to be handed by someone else in a telesales department. This is clearly allowing the management norms that we know and expect to dictate service.

There is also the real danger of allowing ‘cut and paste’ offers to rule our chat experience rather than emulating a quality structure that engages more personally with the customer – this is a personal channel so why not make sure that the engagement is as close as it can be?

If travel brands are serious about converting at a good level purely through chat then there needs to be a step change in strategy, structure, and empowerment for their chat agents.