Formally to be introduced at a special session on June 9, 2017, Apple will officially unveil its Business Chat capabilities within the Messages application. Experience The Skies takes a quick look at this new feature, key benefits and drawback and key competitors in the chatbot space.
Apple iOS 11
Recently we posted a couple of insights on how Apple 2017’s software and hardware (Insight) and hidden iOS 11 features (Insight) that will enhance traveller experience. We will use this new instalment to highlight the new Business Chat feature that could disrupt the way travellers and businesses would interact with in the future.
Messages is a default communication application in the iOS ecosystem and has been in place since the iPhone’s introduction almost ten years ago. It evolved from a simple SMS tool to a full on interaction platform with its own app store that includes applications, stickers, and games. In an earlier iOS 11 insight, we highlighted a new feature that allows users to transfer cash or send gift cards.
While the use case above describes personal interactions, the new Business Chat feature extends the concept by allowing businesses to interact with customers directly inside the Messages application. On the simplest level, this method provides users quick access to a live person or a bot for answers to questions, resolve issues or complete transactions using the iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.
This way of interaction has the following benefits:
1. Efficiency – Response may be instantaneous and overall interaction time could be reduced dramatically. Users would not have to encounter voicemails, long waits on the phone, following email chains or search through a website just to get simple questions answered. Timeliness in receiving responses or resolving issues generally plays a large role in customer satisfaction scores. The instant response feel can improve that expectation.
2. Familiarity – while many businesses use an automated phone system to guide users through many troubleshoot options, it may sound unfamiliar, unclear and requires a clear phone connection. This is especially problematic when there are too many options or the language used by the automated system is not the same one used by the user.
3. Personal – Users sent billions of messages annually and have a natural feel communicating with friends and family this way. Business chat aims to generate the same personal feel to users.
4. Monitoring and Improvement – companies can use the interactions to build trend analysis and find out common complaints that may require a change in process.
5. Staff Training – with Business Chat, many canned questions could be answered by a bot. Businesses could spend its resources on training staff to respond to higher priority issues or managing more complex inquiries.
The major drawback of Business Chat is the proprietary nature of the Messages application which shuts out all other mobile operating system or chat application access to the API. This will limit access to electronic devices on the iOS platform initially. Similar to iTunes, Apple might chose to publish the application in other systems in the near future to gain wider user engagement.
Business Chat will be in direct competition with Facebook, Twitter, and chatbot clients imbedded in a company’s website.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is one the first airline to integrate a chatbot function within Facebook Messenger in 2016. At launch, passengers were able to buy a ticket (they would be redirected to KLM’s website), check flight status using their PNR, get flight notification and boarding pass.
In 2017, KLM extended its lead in the chatbot race by introducing a new emoji feature that is unique for the airline. By entering an designated emoji (e.g. burger for fast food), passengers would be provided a list of recommendations in real time designed to ease stress in a foreign city.
Besides KLM, here is a list of other airlines with chatbots currently on the Facebook Messenger platform:
- Icelandair (Flight booking only)
- Aeromexico (Flight related services including status, notification)
- Avianca (Flight related services including status, notification)
- Lufthansa Group (Flight booking only)
- Qantas Airways (Concierge service)
- Austrian Airlines (Flight related services including status, notification)
Experience The Skies reviewed all of them and note that their bots varies from providing customers with flight status (e.g. Aeromexico) to a travel concierge service (e.g. Qantas). Most of the chatbots were implemented in the last 15 months and their functions can be markedly different. There are also a small number of airports like Frankfurt Airport that designed a chatbot to provide updates on flight status and airport operations.
Many including American Airlines and United Airlines have official Twitter accounts serving multiple purposes. They include updating customers systemwide during major disruptions, broadcasting news and achievements and interact with customers directly to resolve specific issues. Response time can be faster then using phone channels and the social media team is trained to assist in certain matters such feedback on bad experience, flight delays causing misconnection, etc. In general, airlines have not published what can be handled by the Twitter team in details. As such, customers may not be aware of this channel to get easy questions answered or directly interact with a live airline agent.
In the example below, United Airline’s AutoPilot bot has the ability to provide flight deals, check flight status, check for baggage carousel, answer common questions or direct the passenger to speak with a representative through the Direct Message feature within Twitter.
Imbedded Chat Bot
So businesses created their own chat bot and imbedded into their main website. Air New Zealand is one of them with their Oscar (short for Bravo Oscar Tango) chat bot designed to assist with Air New Zealand Lounge, Airpoints™ and baggage queries to start. The airline has plans to integrate Oscar with the Air New Zealand Mobile app, with other chat platforms and in-home digital assistants (such as Google Home, Alexa and Apple HomePod).
In the next post, Experience The Skies will provide highlights on how the travel industry could maximize its use of Apple’s Business Chat.