A travel company’s Facebook messenger chatbot that has already issued more than 85,000 tickets.

By MediaStreet Staff Writers

Voyages-sncf.com sell train tickets for all around Europe. They are the go-to place if you want to get from Bilbao to Paris, and then to London, crossing multiple borders and using both regional and high-speed intercity trains.

And now, they are selling tickets via chatbot.

V.Bot is a Facebook Messenger chatbot that provides real-time updates, customer service, and sells digital travel tickets to travellers.

Arnaud Masson, COO of Voyages-sncf.com says their R&D teams have spent more than 160,000 work-days on AI efforts. In order to create smart customer experiences like V.Bot, Arnaud and his team have to deal with more than 90 TB of data per month and have invested more than €10m into new technologies.

Alongside chatbots, this investment is also going into utilising voice recognition systems: “Our engineering teams have been working hard to develop the possible use of Amazon Echo and ‘Alexa’ to communicate with our own digital travel companion – Lea – to source the best train travel options, tickets and times for users – all through the use of their voice.”

Arnaud says that deploying AI is about more than just offering a chatbot. “Customers are looking for more convenient options in organising their day-to-day lives. So when ‘smart’ technology is applied that can predict travel patterns and products, book it and deliver tickets instantly – like on our Facebook Messenger chatbot – it frees up our time to concentrate on other life-enriching experiences.”

Arnaud says that a pretty website isn’t enough anymore to sell anymore and drive loyalty, as “travellers want a personal experience and information to hand at the press of a button or command of their voice. By constantly innovating what and how we offer, we are working to make that vision a reality.”

Another part of enacting this vision has been Voyages-sncf.com’s My Travel app, which allows customers to manage their journey from one place. Alongside access to e-tickets, it reacts in real-time to factors such as location and changes to travel further upstream. “It proactively offers tailored services based on this information, for example the ability to book a car to the station if you are running late, or offering activities on arrival at a destination, adapted to the traveller’s individual profile.”

The rail company chief adds that “The travel industry is no longer about manufacturing a simple transaction – it’s about nurturing a relationship with each customer to offer a lasting, enriching and valued connection and experience each time they travel.”

Having a customer-centric, chatbot-assisted platform has been a success story for Voyages-sncf.com, but it cannot engage in this complex work alone. Partnerships are key: “We work with Alcmeon to monitor our social media customer service, with Helpbox from Do You Dream Up to automatically respond to customer queries and with Usabilla to collect customer feedback on our website and areas that we specifically want to analyse.

“As an online ticket distributor selling passes and point-to-point tickets for rail travel around Europe, Voyages-sncf.com has to take a collaborative approach – indeed we work in partnership with 15 European rail operators and many more travel organisations across some 100 countries globally.”

Arnaud says that the travel industry should be, and generally, is a naturally collaborative environment, regardless of sector or specialism: “Those businesses that realise that working in partnership with other businesses, and organisations, including even governments, achieve far more by working together than separate entities who attempt to go it alone.”

So there you go, soon we, the average traveller, will be able to buy train tickets from a bot while using facebook messenger. It’s a brave new world in social media.

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