The Company Selling Tens of Thousands of Rail Tickets Through Chatbots

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Voyages-sncf.com’s COO reveals to EyeforTravel how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is driving the company’s strategy and allowed them to create a Facebook messenger chatbot that has already issued more than 85,000 tickets

Arnaud Masson, Chief Operating Officer of Voyages-sncf.com and keynote speaker at EyeforTravel Europe, is keen to point out that the company is at the forefront of innovations, with R&D teams spending more than 160,000 work-days on more than 80 different projects, including major AI efforts. A key result of this is V.Bot, a Facebook Messenger chatbot that provides real-time updates, customer service and even digital travel tickets to travellers.

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.”

However, Arnaud argues 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 stresses 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,” says Arnaud. “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 to improving their CRM efforts: “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.” The company has even launched an accelerator programme designed to boost new start-ups, known as ACT574.

Arnaud also made a point to stress 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.”

This interview comes in advance of the EyeforTravel Summit 2017 (May 3-4th, London) which Arnaud Masson will be speaking at on a keynote session. The event will host 350+ senior level executives and will be discussing the crucial commercial and digital and API-led partnerships that will make the industry thrive.

Speakers delivering sessions on partnerships and taking the stage throughout the summit include:

  •     Glenn Fogel – CEO – Expedia
  •     Roland Schütz – CIO – Lufthansa
  •     Rod Cuthbert – CEO - Rome2rio
  •     Brenda van Leeuwen – CEO - Eurail.com
  •     Tero Valkiala – Head of Digital – Finnair
  •     Genevieve Materne - Director of Distribution Strategy – Starwood
  •     Alex Saint – Co-founder and CEO – Secret Escapes
  •     Jose Murta – Global Head of Hospitality – Trivago
  •     Cameron Jones – CCO – SilverRail Technologies
  •     Jamie Andrews – CEO - Loco2
  •     Alessandra di Lorenzo - CCO - Partnerships and Advertising - Lastminute.com
  •     Susan Black – CCO - CIE Tours

To get more information on the EyeforTravel Summit 2017 including the agenda, speaker line up and attendees, follow this link: http://events.eyefortravel.com/travel-distribution-summit-europe/

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Nikhil Vijayan

Alex Hadwick
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