In August, Delta Air Lines introduced video chat as part of a customer service test at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Five kiosks with “interactive screens” and phone receivers have been arranged to allow a two-way conversation with Delta representatives about anything from changing flight reservations to providing feedback.
This latest move represents Delta’s innovative approach to customer service. The company already has a multi-digital service strategy that includes Twitter, Facebook, email and phone.
But is video chat a gimmick or a sustainable customer service tool with genuine staying power? And if Delta’s test proves successful, might other company’s explore how they can apply the technology within their own business?
Today, most major travel brands are investing in text-based services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to offer the immediacy that travelers love. But if integrated as part of the mobile experience, video chat could potentially offer a responsive on-demand service to sit alongside these existing platforms.
In the following post, we’ll discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of this technology and its potential application within the hospitality industry.
The growth of video chat for personal communication
Video chat is fast becoming central to the way people keep in touch. A huge 400 million people use Facebook Messenger each month to make voice and video calls, while WhatsApp’s 2 billion users are making over 55 million video calls a day.
Add in the growth of platforms such as Skype and FaceTime and it’s easy to see how video chat is destined to play a central role in the future of daily communication.
This increasing familiarity hints at the possibility that travelers will readily embrace video chat as a customer service tool—a natural extension of the way they already communicate with friends, family and work colleagues.
But what specific advantages might the technology bring to the hospitality sector for both customers and businesses?
Adding the human element
Principally, video chat brings an invaluable human element into the brand-customer relationship. Chatting face-to-face with customers changes the whole dynamic of a conversation. It offers an opportunity to show genuine empathy and concern in a way that can’t be conveyed by any other service platform.
The ability to build rapport over email, social media, or text is restricted by the nature of the technology, limiting opportunities for deeper connections. Even talking over the phone has a certain distance about it. In contrast, video chat brings the conversation up close and makes it more personal.
In addition, many customers may simply feel more assured if they’re able to see the person trying to resolve their service issue. This in turn could help hospitality companies resolve problems more effectively by having a new way to convey trust and credibility.
As AI-powered chatbots and text platforms become more prevalent throughout the travel industry, it’s also likely that offering a form of communication with more human involvement may become increasingly valued by consumers.
A clearer way to communicate
Facial expressions and body language play a huge role in the way information is interpreted during a conversation. An understanding nod or a caring smile can be enough to make a person feel their concerns or questions are being taken seriously and properly understood.
Chatting over video naturally helps in this regard, and it also makes it easier to respond to a customer’s nonverbal cues. A service agent that notices the person they’re talking with is growing impatient or confused can quickly change their approach to achieve a resolution more quickly.
By having a better indicator of a customer’s needs and frustrations, hospitality companies can also protect their reputation by resolving issues that might otherwise have led to a customer taking to TripAdvisor to air their grievances.
Potential stumbling blocks
When it comes to its use on mobile, video chat is unlikely to see high engagement levels with older travelers. According to the latest Skype usage figures, only 12% of mobile users aged 60+ use Skype on their mobile—an indicator that its utility may be limited to younger generations.
Video chat also requires undivided attention. Unlike texting and phone calls, you can’t do something else without the other person noticing. This restricts its application to situations when customers and service reps are prepared and able to focus without distraction—something that feels out of sync with the busy, multitasking behavior that often occurs during mobile usage.
Dealing with angry and aggressive customers may also be harder to do with video chat than with other methods of communication. Additional training would be required to teach service reps how to properly handle tense situations when customers insult, scream, or berate the rep. Luckily for most hotel workers, however, this is just an extension of what they already need to do on-property in face-to-face interactions.
There are technological issues to consider too, such as the need for fast Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity. For some customers, these limitations may end up making text and phone feel like the easy, hassle-free alternative.
How hotels can integrate video chat as a service
For Delta, placing a video chat kiosk in the airport has obvious benefits in terms of freeing up airport employees during busy times. But how and where might hotels use video chat to benefit their own customers?
Arguably, the most useful place to integrate the technology is on the hotel website, particularly as a way of reducing booking abandonment rates.
A study conducted by SaleCycle found that 29% of guests abandon online bookings because of issues with the booking process, such as a complicated checkout procedure, and payment and technical problems.
But over video, a hotel reservation agent could more easily help customers overcome these stumbling blocks by ‘showing’ them how to fill out forms, enter payment details, or simply take over the booking process entirely.
If video call was an option, it’d also be highly beneficial to remind customers of this fact with a bold on-screen prompt that signposted an easy way to receive booking assistance.
As well as helping to decrease cart abandonment, face-to-face conversations would provide hotels with a better way to build relationships with guests prior to arrival, enquire about any specific needs they have, and potentially lead to new upsell opportunities.
In terms of offline utility, video chat could be used within the hotel room to allow guests a way to seek assistance with service issues or ask questions about hotel amenities.
Of course, in-room phones and chat apps are also useful in these situations, but they arguably represent a missed opportunity for personal interaction. In contrast, video chat expands the opportunities for the kind of conversations that can play a major role in strengthening relationships.
Does video chat have a future in hospitality?
The way in which brands interact with customers has gone through a radical transformation in recent years. Phone and email are giving way to social media and text platforms as the primary way travel companies answer queries and resolve service issues.
Yet the inherent problem with these platforms is a lack of human interaction. The personal touch ends up being compromised in exchange for increased speed and efficiency. Potentially, this is where video chat may play a role.
It increases opportunities to strengthen relationships and develop rapport when customers are seeking trusted opinions and advice. In this way, video chat may well have a place in the hospitality industry, supporting existing communication tools with a much needed human face.