Machines will chat to humans and vice versa

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Imagine you have offered to meet a friend at the airport. You’ve remembered the day, you know where they’re flying from but for the life of you the time they arrive has escaped you.

So you do what everyone would do – visit the airport website and start scanning links and spotlight panels to find sources of flight information. You should be able to find out what you are looking for and be out of there in a few minutes.

This is nothing less than a missed opportunity for the airport operator to generate both customer loyalty and digital revenue.

There has been a lot of talk recently about chatbots in messaging apps working on behalf of brands, especially retailers, and for good reason. But the technology is going to have the most impact on good old-fashioned website, where search-focussed AI bots will be deployed almost universally to improve the customer experience, and at the same time drive revenue.

So let’s start again with our airport website enquiry. No longer searching for links on the site, instead we’ll type a natural language response into a front-and-centre field that asks, ‘What are you looking for today?’

“I need to know a flight time.” The bot will quickly lead you through a few questions to determine a departing or arriving flight, city and approximate time, before offering you the exact flight you are looking for. Job done

But wait.

Before you sign off, the bot asks you a question: ‘Are you collecting someone?’

Why, yes indeed you are. ‘Are you coming by train, bus, taxi or your own car?’

Entering into the spirit, you may ask, “Which is best?”

To which the obvious answer is they are all great. ‘But if you’re coming by car, I can offer you a parking deal.’

Now airports make a considerable amount of revenue from parking, so it’s something they like to encourage. Right here the bot has generated a revenue opportunity, using a very engaging method that I would argue has more chance of success than a web banner with a ‘save on parking’ message.

What if you’d said “train”? ‘Where are you coming from and how many tickets will you need?’

Leaving aside the valuable data on visitor behaviour this question can generate, what the bot is doing, as well as being really helpful to you the visitor, is creating another revenue opportunity. Using a travel API like Sabre, the bot can quickly hunt for a deal and then pull you straight through for payment, earning a slice of the ticket price for good measure.

What is so exciting about this new form of exchange is that it won’t just happen on your website. The sparse real estate required for chat means it’s perfect for mobile sites and apps. And of course its home environment, messaging apps, where we spend an ever-increasing amount of our time.

Your Messenger or What’s App stream is going to fill with new, branded buddies. And they’ll be getting in touch quite often when they think it’s relevant and useful to you. Especially when the bots are location aware.

And get used to virtually every website starting with a more Google-like GUI focussed on a text entry box. The pretty pictures and enticing copy will all still be there, but it won’t take web managers long to realise that a dynamic AI searchbot and its machine learning will very quickly be way more important to site efficiency, conversion rates and revenue generation.