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How WhatsApp Commerce Is Enabling Traveltech Startups To Rewrite Their Communication Playbook

SUMMARY

As per Kantar, over 70% of Indians prefer messaging over emailing or visiting websites, making WhatsApp a powerful tool for business communication

Traveltech platforms can leverage WhatsApp to send booking confirmations, travel updates, boarding passes and much more

In 2021, MakeMyTrip tied up with martech platform Karix to enhance customer experience, resulting in a significant increase in its click-through-rate on WhatsApp

After a long period of relative dormancy due to travel restrictions and consumer fear, traveltech companies are seeing a surge in bookings, thanks to a strong rebound of business and leisure travel. 

In fact, The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) suggests that about 235 Mn tourists travelled globally in the first three months of 2023, an 80% increase from pre-pandemic levels. Other reports show that the number of foreign tourists who arrived in India between January and June 2023 was 106% more than the figure in the previous year. 

Of course this surge has opened a door of opportunities for India’s traveltech startups and while most can boast of providing end-to-end value in the travel chain, standing out among the plethora of rivals is a matter of customer experience and personalisation. It’s not enough to just offer travel and hotel bookings, or features to ease check-ins and the boarding — the focus is on personalisation that caters to the unique needs of each traveller.

In the post-pandemic world, there’s also a heightened focus on health and safety which has made customer communications key for gaining trust, building engagement and repeat bookings. 

Simply put, it is vital to effectively and conveniently communicate with travellers at the right time and place. And in this day and age that means WhatsApp. 

With more than 2 Bn users across 180+ countries, Meta-owned WhatsApp is the most popular global messaging app and it’s an opportunity that businesses can no longer ignore. 

“Leveraging the dynamic capabilities of WhatsApp, Karix enables two-way communication stream, fostering instantaneous and impactful customer engagement,” explained Sonia Kaul, vice president, product marketing of Mumbai-based martech platform Karix. 

She further said that WhatsApp as a platform transforms the narrative of customer interactions, allowing businesses to deliver not just booking confirmations and travel updates, but an enriched customer experience.

Even though WhatsApp seems like the obvious solution to enhancing the customer experience, differentiation through targeted communication is essential. In the context of travel, for instance, if a customer seeking to advance their booking arrangements receives reminders about their existing booking, the intended purpose is defeated. 

This is where WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs) like Karix come into play, easing the path for traveltech platforms to implement WhatsApp Business APIs to enable personalised customer support.

Karix’s capabilities include chatbots that help businesses reduce call centre loads and improve turnaround time for customer support. Chatbots can automate query handling and offer features such as quick replies to resolve queries faster. Besides seamless customer support, Karix adds value by enabling convenient handling and management of bookings directly through WhatsApp.

Karix has tied up with large traveltech players such as MMT for flight, bus and train booking. Besides MMT, it has also partnered with bus and train ticketing platform redBus and the Chennai Metro Rail Limited — more on how this works later. 

Smart Personalisation With WhatsApp

In a sea of automated marketing solutions, WhatsApp commerce stands out because of the reach and the direct model of conversational commerce — companies can connect with users more intimately, and showcase products or services directly without a break in the user journey. The convenience is undeniable, and the evolving preference of individuals to gravitate towards new-age messaging apps, in lieu of tools like email, calls and SMS is also clear. 

WhatsApp’s familiarity is great, but the fact businesses can enhance their communication strategy through rich media content like videos, photos, voice notes and stickers is even more appealing. A Kantar study reveals that over 70% of Indians prefer messaging apps over emails or website visits to resolve issues, making WhatsApp a powerful business and brand communication channel.

“WhatsApp transcends traditional communication barriers, creating a fertile ground for meaningful and enduring conversations with a global audience. Its intuitive interface, coupled with the economic advantage and the capability to curate comprehensive catalogues, empowers travel platforms to disseminate not just information but experiences,” said Kaul.

She recommended using the ‘Click-to-WhatsApp’ feature that lets partner businesses embed a click button on their ads to encourage their user to connect on WhatsApp directly. 

How WhatsApp Commerce Is Enabling Traveltech Startups To Rewrite Their Communication Playbook

 

Backed by in-house AI capabilities, Karix enables data collection and real-time customer data analysis across touchpoints and helps traveltech businesses improve customer segmentation based on behaviour and their unique needs. Most communication on WhatsApp is automated because the API can be connected to the booking systems. This allows businesses to initiate relevant messages, enabling personalised and effective communication with customers without much human intervention 

In addition, Karix’s chatbot builder allows them to build customised WhatsApp chatbots and resolve queries quickly. In case queries are too complex, the chatbot lets customers transfer the queries to a human agent, thereby working as a smart filter. 

How Karix Helped MMT, redBus

Despite being one of the oldest and largest traveltech players in India, MMT wanted to up its game and make a lasting impression on its consumers, especially non-app users and wanted to connect with them on a real-time basis. The traveltech player was also looking for a way to capture customer feedback and enhance the net promoter score, which helps it gauge the possibility of repeat usage. 

In 2021, it partnered with Karix to address these challenges. Through this partnership, it decided to leverage WhatsApp to promote its reward-based programme MMT Black and communicate with its high-value customers.

With this integration, MMT was also able to send interactive messages and timely responses to customers. Karix also helped the company share highly customised messages, allowing it to reach the right audience and increase the relevance of the conversation. For example, it was able to contact flight bookers just a few hours before their departure with personalised cross-selling communication on WhatsApp such as offering airport cabs at reduced fares.

Users have shown a higher affinity for WhatsApp messages, leading to a significant improvement in MMT’s click-through-rate compared to app-based push notifications, revealed Kaul. Although she did not disclose the number, she said that the integration of automated invitations and one-click signups has remarkably expanded the subscriber base of its MMT Black programme.

For redBus, WhatsApp integration proved to be a game-changer. The brand claims that 22 Mn+ people travel on intercity trains daily (redRail) but they find it difficult to login to different apps to know details like the PNR status or tracking the train on its journey.  

In May 2022, redBus tied up with Karix to allow its customers easy access to their PNR status and live train status on WhatsApp.

This ensured a seamless train journey which could otherwise feel long and exhausting for most customers due to lack of visibility on such information. 

The PNR and LTS (live train status) have become extremely popular among redBus users, Karix claimed. In fact, the LTS feature saw a 5X uptick in usage in just two months after it was launched on WhatsApp.

Through our partnership with redRail, we are making use of the latest technology to deliver real value for consumers and travellers. With advanced platform capabilities and the dedicated efforts of the teams, we are committed to innovating and building the next generation of digital customer experiences,” said Kaul. 

The Future Of Travel 

According to an Inc42 report, internet penetration in India currently stands at 61% and the number of Indian internet users will likely exceed 1.3 Bn by 2030. As in other consumer services, rising internet adoption will change how Indians travel — there’s little doubt that digital platforms will continue to flourish. 

But when it comes to the competitive edge, a lot hinges on personalised communication and customer support.

“Keep the safety of your users at the core of your communication strategy. Also, leverage an omnichannel presence and strive to make the entire process frictionless and convenient by offering a one-stop solution for all their requirements,” advised Kaul. 

She added that besides communication, traveltech platforms can leverage WhatsApp for revenue-centric activities — personalised discounts and offers, loyalty programmes and content marketing to drive upselling. 

While private travel players have already begun using WhatsApp and messaging apps, even public transportation authorities have shown the appetite to move to conversational customer experience (CX) solutions. In May 2023, Karix partnered with Chennai Metro Rail Limited to allow more than 2.5 Lakh daily commuters to get timely information and access services such as checking fares, booking tickets and route maps— all through WhatsApp.

Sonia claimed that the WhatsApp chatbot has witnessed a great response, garnering over 50K users within a few hours of its launch. “The overwhelming response from the commuters demonstrates a strong desire for an efficient and user-friendly ticketing solution,” shel added. 

According to Business Wire, the value of transactions enabled by conversational commerce  is set to surge from $21.9 Bn in 2023 to $51.9 Bn by 2028. Adoption of conversational commerce by large companies and institutional players will drive this growth. 

Messaging apps such as WhatsApp are constantly improving their business-centric APIs and tools. And how Karix, WebEngage and others of their ilk make conversational commerce more personal is definitely something worth watching.

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