Chatbots could be just the ticket

Virgin Trains believes advanced messaging will help customers find the right ticket for them.

Steve Gooder, Virgin Trains Head of Digital Technology, has appealed to mobile operators to help create more sophisticated messaging apps and chatbots.

Gooder is appearing at the GSMA Innovation City in Hall 4 to explain how his company created a highly-successful crowd control system using SMS. The system helped stagger the boarding processes of up to 650 customers at a time at London Euston railway station, a terminus with a higher footfall per head than Barcelona Airport.

Virgin Trains created an automated system for sending train platform announcements in advance to selected customers, including families, those with disabilities, and others who may need more time to board.  A 14 percent increase in customer satisfaction has been attributed to the new system. “If we can do all this with a text, imagine what we could do with richer communications,” says Gooder.

Virgin Trains accepts that despite its best efforts, booking travel isn’t always easy, and getting the best results involves complex forms and some understanding of ticket types, routes and available discounts. Chatbots could allow customers to interact in a more natural way through verbal commands rather than tapping on calendars and ticking checkboxes.

Mobile operators should seize the moment and create more applications that allow them to own the conversations between consumers and businesses, says Gooder. It is the GSMA’s global specifications, such as Universal Profile, that have created the conditions in which new IP-based services can be both reliable and cost-effective, while still working across all devices and networks in any market.

The Network 2020 programme aims to simplify the job of operators as they strive to harness the full potential of IP and deliver everything from group chat and advanced voice services to the Internet of Things and live HD video.

Gooder says he agrees with the GSMA’s argument that advanced communications services will raise the profile of operators and increase their profitability.

“We hope cross-platform standards-based messaging will be a viable delivery channel for conversational commerce and travel chatbots in the future, and it’s long overdue,” says Gooder.

Virgin Trains is to explore the potential of Rich Communication Services by joining the GSMA, Google, Deutsche Telekom and others to see how brands can take full advantage of RCS.

See Virgin Train’s Demo at Network 2020’s GSMA Innovation City Stand in Hall 4.