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Published on Thursday, July 18, 2019

The death of email

Instant messaging is set to transform the way holidays are booked, say Nigel Beighton, CIO at travel technology group ATCORE. Here he explains why...

"As a primary social communication mechanism, the email is on its way out. Email is slow, littered with spam, and becoming functionally archaic. With the rise of instant messaging applications such as Facebook or WhatsApp, it won't be too long before companies are using these mediums to communicate with customers instead of the once ubiquitous system of electronic mail.

Those in the travel industry may not be so quick to leap out of their seats in excitement at the death of email. As a whole, travel is heavily reliant on email, not only for selling to customers, but also for engaging with them. With this new dawn of instant messaging on the horizon, there is little time for travel companies to evolve, but those that are well equipped to deal with change earlier will undoubtedly benefit the most from the move to instant messaging.

Trust is key
One of the biggest problems with email lies in trust. Today, our inboxes are so cluttered with spam, fraud or phishing that most of us only ever open emails if we know we need to. New, mobile-based communication platforms will rely on trust. This is a real challenge for businesses. There is no one dominant platform - particularly not on a global basis, but rather they are many and varied, and still emerging.

A mobile number is more prized than an email address, which is given out much more freely. Emails can be filtered, addresses are created easily and can be shut down immediately. Phone numbers are much more personal; users are extremely guarded about who they give their number away to - especially if it involves letting a business into their network.

If travel companies want to engage freely with customers on these new messaging platforms, there needs to be a much higher level of trust than there generally is now. Travel companies need consumers to trust them with their mobile numbers - something that is rapidly becoming our most important personal identifier, after our passports and national IDs. Customers already trust travel companies to get them safely and securely to unknown foreign locations - so there is clearly already a level of trust in place. It is key to build that trust, and avoid losing it through data breaches and GDPR failures.

Personalisation is the differentiator
The biggest benefit of instant messaging is that it is not only more direct and interactive for customers, but in comparison to email, it is also significantly functionally richer. It offers more opportunities for customers to interact, manage their travel and refine what they are interested in.

Through the use of intelligent bots, travel companies will be able to make these customer interactions quicker, easier, and more responsive. This means no longer having to just send something, waiting and hoping that users will see it and interact with it. Having a direct, immediate conversation with the customer is much more powerful, allowing companies to market on a highly personal, one-to-one basis. By using intelligent automated bots, call-centre waiting times, and thus support costs, can be vastly reduced.

All of us in the travel industry have to plan for this inevitable future, and reduce a huge amount of reliance on email. We have to live with a multi-platform world. With the correct data and processing capabilities we can do so much more. We can give much better customer experiences - and crucially, create and retain real trust - by turning the booking and holiday experience into a tailored, personal conversation with the customer.

Instant messaging is naturally a more trusted medium for users - who trusts email anymore, when nobody can tell with any level of accuracy whether an email is real or spam? A conversation over instant messaging is personal; it allows the travel company to have a direct and instant connection with the customer, and reassures them that the communication is relevant and not spam.

Travel companies need to optimise their customer experience and engagement for multiple channels to ensure that they are ready to leverage new platforms as quickly as they are adopted. Understanding and being able to leverage the power of bots and AI in conversations with customers will be a defining element as travel organisations make the inevitable leap from email to instant messaging.


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