Published on Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thomson launches 'virtual agent'

Thomson has begun testing a chatbot after research showed that more than three-quarters of customers thought a virtual agent would help them find a holiday.

The chatbot, which has voice input capability on Firefox and Chrome browers, provides real-time suggestions of destinations or experiences via a simple interface.

However, unlike the live chat function on some other websites, it is a purely automated system and, at the moment, is unable to respond to detailed requests.

The service, which uses IBM's Watson technology, is in beta stage and will continue to be developed using machine learning and customer feedback to improve responses, said Thomson.

"The tool enables a simple and personalised search using natural language, a very different way of finding the ideal holiday when compared to the usual checkbox and filtering of e-commerce sites," it said.

"The conversation tool, with added personality, is designed to make the search experience more enjoyable and easier for customers. The Watson technology behind it is designed to learn from every customer interaction, to become smarter over time and provide ever more accurate responses."

Jeremy Osborne, TUI director of strategic innovation, added: 'We wanted to test whether a conversational search experience would resonate with our customers as a new, fun and easy way to find their ideal holiday.

"By leveraging IBM's Watson technology, we are raising the bar in the travel industry. We are delivering an interactive service experiment to our customers that offers holiday inspiration ideas and personalised search results based on customer interests.

"We are excited to learn how customers react and interact, what they get out of the experience and how it compares to the current way of shortlisting holiday options."

Thomson announced earlier this year that it will phase out holiday brochures by 2020 and will be investing instead in digital content.

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  • Old Technology

    This is old Technology, nothing new here. We looked at this four years ago. Our research suggested that here in the U.K. the "Assistants" American accents would irritate the site users. They also had a habit of popping up on pages without being invited to sell an additional "benefit". Very annoying! To such an extent users would leave the site. Maybe they have progressed in the meantime, but not convinced the Brit public will warm to it yet. One day maybe. Also for a bit of fun, try typing/asking a question that does not make any sense.

    By Paul Davis, Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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