When AI and the human touch combine for corporate travel harmony

If your Siri request for “directions to Lanseria” keeps delivering directions to “hysteria”, you’ll understand why we’re not all queuing up to embrace the dawn of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

That doesn’t mean that AI hasn’t begun its foray into the corporate travel space in a big way.  And while you may be burgeoning in a world where AI assistants and travel bots are gaining ground, a sound digital solution that incorporates these tools can only be complemented by a knowledgeable Travel Management Company and Consultant.

With smartphone adoption nearing 100% and considering that an average business traveller checks their smartphone 34 times a day, it’s not difficult to understand the popularity and attraction a mobile or virtual assistant holds.

The nearly ubiquitous adoption of smartphones by the modern business traveller means the travel bot is the perfect technological answer to address the business traveller’s need and desire to manage their trip on their own, and give them much-needed freedom within framework. TMCs can make use of bots to improve their service to travellers in a format the travellers desire in a cost-effective way.

But, bots are not equipped to know when to make an exception or manage complex itineraries and changes. That’s a human’s job.

Do you really want to deal with a bot when you have to fly home because of a family emergency? While the bot can help you change your booking, check your flight information and order your transfer when you return home, it’s the human empathy you’ll be looking for when the going gets tough on the road.

“Chat bots are only as good as they’re programmed to be. When an unusual or complicated problem requires higher cognitive skills to solve, bots simply do not have the capacity to resolve it. These limitations, at least in the medium-term, means a human touch will still be required for more complex transactions,” says Euan McNeil, FCM Travel Solutions South Africa GM.

Travel bots enable TMCs to combine human service with technology to create a more advanced level of customer service and to cut costs.

Bots such as FCM’s ‘Smart Travel Assistant for Mobile, Sam :], have been developed to provide an additional interface for travellers, which will complement but never replace the skills and insights of the TMC.

The travel expert will always have a key role to play when it comes to managing business travel for large corporations as well as SMEs.

At the end of the day, corporate travel is about people, says McNeil. “FCM’s approach will still be about blending the latest technology with personal service.”

Meet FCM’s Sam :]

Sam :] is FCM’s 24-hour travel assistant designed to simplify life for corporate travellers. Sam :] assists business travellers pre-, during and post trip with everything from itinerary management, air and hotel bookings, flight updates, local city and country information, local weather and restaurant suggestions, to security notifications, ground transportation, driving directions, immigration advice and vaccination status.

“The conversational interface and relevance of the messages or questions that Sam :] exchanges with the user, gives travellers their own ‘personal assistant’ on the move. In fact, the more a traveller uses Sam :], the more intelligent the chat bot becomes and the more capable of delivering personalised information,” says McNeil.

Sam :] is fully integrated with FCM’s booking and expense management systems so that all bookings made via FCM consultants automatically appear in the traveller’s itinerary.

FCM Travel Solution’s Sam :] will be launching in the South African market towards the second half of 2018.

A day in the life of Sam :]

  • The night before a traveller’s flight to London, Sam :] sends the weather forecast to help the traveler know what to pack.
  • A few hours before the flight, Sam :] asks if the traveller needs transport to the airport, having noted the traveller’s home and work location. Sam :] asks where the user will be leaving from and calculates ETA and cost of travel options to the airport.
  • The traveller selects a taxi and Sam :] connects him or her with the taxi company – approved by the company.
  • On arrival in London, Sam :] provides the baggage carousel number.
  • Sam :] offers the traveller a car to the hotel – the user can opt to accept or decline.
  • Sam :] knows that London isn’t the traveller’s home town, so provides a useful city guide with information on getting from the airport, local transport, currency, restaurants, as well as hints on typical prices in Paris, tipping customs and etiquette.
  • When the traveller needs to return to the airport, Sam :] notes that traffic is extremely congested and alerts the traveller to leave for the airport and offers to call a car. Alternatively, Sam :] offers to rearrange the user’s travel plans.
  • Sam :] knows travel plans can be complex and also offers the opportunity to speak direct to the traveller’s FCM team if necessary.
  • The traveller books a late-evening flight and heads to the airport. Sam :] knows that the traveller has a two-hour wait at the airport and suggests it may be a good time to submit expenses.
  • Sam :] continues to work behind the scenes, supporting the traveller proactively.
  • Noticing that the traveller is due to fly to Delhi in a few weeks and that it can take this amount of time to get a visa processed, Sam :] prompts the user and offers assistance through FCM’s dedicated Travel Essentials service.

To learn more about Sam :] and FCM Travel Solutions, click here.

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When AI and the human touch combine for corporate travel harmony