It’s not an illusion: the now-ubiquitousÂ live chat button has proliferated amongst online retailers, creating consumer expectation alongside the widespread adoption of live chat customer service.
However, the travel industry has been slow to adopt this technology.
Live chat is red-hot, with over a dozen startups vying for the live chat business: from SnapEngage to Olark, LiveOps to Zopim, there are plenty of services ready to help companies interact directly with their customers.
And customers love it: According to live chat provider BoldChat, 20% of online shoppers prefer a chat-enabled retailer. Live chat fans are also more likely to be college educated, between the ages of 31 and 50, and with a high household income – aligning frequent live chatters with the most lucrative and frequent travel demographic.
The surveyed customers choose live chat for a variety of reasons, all of which point to the importance of implementing the feature. The top three reasons for preferring live chat: immediate answers to questions, ability to multi-task and efficiency.
Efficiency and multi-tasking are also positive features for companies. Rather than taking time with back-and-forth emails or time-intensive phone calls, customer service reps can more efficiently deal with these needs because, like the consumer, reps can multi-task among multiple customers at the same time.
While the aforementioned study focused on Internet retailers, travel brands can learn from online retailers (check out this Tnooz articleÂ for more on the following framework), especially given theÂ high average price-per-transaction of online travel bookings.
The advantages of live chat for travel companies are four-fold:
1) Inspiration:Â Travelers on an inspiration quest can quickly get questions answered, while a knowledgeable and infectious operator can promote the destination in an interactive way beyond just photos and casual browsing.
2) Personalization:Â Personalizing an offer is much easier with direct contact to the buyer. Without the delay of email, a knowledgeable and well-trained operator can deliver real-time recommendations with more conversion opportunities.
3) Differentiation: Offering live chat can set a travel company apart in a crowded marketplace. An active chat also gives the brand a chance to highlight its unique selling points directly to the potential customer.
4) Conversion:Â Purchasing intent can be quickly gauged by the chat operator, so travelers can be offered different incentives for immediate booking depending on individual needs. These personalized, immediate incentives from a two-way communication channel offer more opportunities for sales conversions than a static one-way channel like a webpage.
Online travel is simply anotherÂ verticalÂ of online shopping: inspiration, personalization, differentiation and conversion are all areas of necessary excellence. Features like United‘s Ask Alex are useful, but still end up leading to frustrations with theÂ algorithm’sÂ limited knowledge base.
With easy-to-implement and relatively affordable technologies – especially when compared to phone calls – live chat with an actual human is a welcome trend that forward-looking travel brands should already be taking advantage of.
NB: Chat image from Shutterstock