The High Stakes of Hugs & Handshakes – and How Bots Can Help

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COVID-19 has had a profound impact on humanity and will change one thing for certain: the human touch. Will we begin to hesitate to shake hands, give hugs, or let someone else hold or cuddle a baby? I sincerely hope not.

The human touch is essential for humanity to thrive. A hug is an extraordinary expression of love in helping share joy and pain equally. Handshakes are, in fact, a well-researched topic and an accepted business practice worldwide. They are an important means of human touch in order to thrive together.

Like many of you, I’ve been personally impacted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions. My travel plans to Europe, a vacation with my family, business trips within the US, and the SSON conference in Orlando (where my company is a sponsor and I was going to be on stage) were halted, suspended and changed. Naturally, I had to get in touch with several travel providers to postpone or cancel trips.

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Because of the automation industry my company operates in, I am perhaps more acutely aware of how our clients, my colleagues and our extended community is being impacted. It's obvious that the travel industry, which helps humanity travel the world and live its dreams, is under immense pressure and in trouble. In the last couple of decades, this industry has grown in leaps and bounds through digital technology. However, many companies are continuing to use human-intensive methods for cancellations and changes.

"Many companies are continuing to use human-intensive methods for cancellations and changes"

Historically, travel companies have benefited from non-refundable, pre-paid reservations, so that that they never felt the need to invest in automating the process of refunds and changes. Through the mad rush of current cancellations, however, a huge flaw in their business processes – specifically in the cancellation and changes process – has been exposed. I have experienced firsthand, as a traveler and business commuter, how very difficult, manual and cumbersome, this process is.

This flaw has been significantly exposed in legacy travel reservation companies such as Hotwire, Costco Travel, American Express Travel, British Airways, and Disneyland. Almost every one of these large travel providers does not have self-service or virtual agents for cancellations or change.

Instead, they depend on the human touch: telephone calls.

It makes one wonder whether this is because they did not invest in digital transformation; or whether it's a deliberate decision to deploy a high touch method leading to long wait times, which deter changes or cancellations.

From an investment standpoint, this is not a revenue-generating activity, and most bookings are non-refundable with their end-hproviders, the airlines and hotels. This pandemic has changed the dynamic of airlines and hotels, which allow changes to non-refundable reservations. These travel providers just couldn’t keep up the pace!

Technology and automation could emerge as the savior for many of these legacy travel companies. A great example is Airbnb, which seems to be changing the no-cancellation policy with almost a push of a button. Expedia also seems to be handling the situation well through virtual chat agents.

Technologies such as RPA can help build quick connections between different enterprises, and at the same time integrate well with Chatbots to take inputs and provide responses back to the customer. These solutions don’t take long to develop and can help relieve the stress to humans who have to manage the intensive manual tasks of canceling and rebooking. 

We all need to work together to bring hugs and handshakes back soon for the benefit of humanity! The bots can help us do this and at the same time alleviate the burden and pressure on human workers, allowing them to touch lives better. This, in turn, will help companies improve their response to crises and serve their customers' needs faster – increasing brand loyalty and longevity!