Skyscanner’s chatbots (across a range of platforms) have already surpassed one million traveller interactions.
This is just one of the fascinating nuggets we learnt when we caught up with Filip Filipov, VP Product Management at Skyscanner, to ask him about his work.
Before we get started, a note that Filip will be speaking at Travel Technology Europe later this month in London – details here.
Econsultancy: How big is your optimisation and testing team?
Filip Filipov: We are a travel technology company that builds software to optimize the experience of the travellers and our users. As such, our entire organization looks at optimization, relying on different practices of validation of hypothesis based on data – from A/B testing and user research to data management and optimization.
We don’t have a testing team. A few years ago we decided that we’d put the responsibility of testing into the hands of our software engineers, who build and run their tests as they write the software. We have seen that in this case the rate of iteration and building products that are scaleable are the best.
E: How do you find a balance between design/customer-focus and optimising performance?
FF: These are not necessarily contrary, as we start with the user needs, both from a design perspective as well as building our product. We test hundreds of ideas within the parameters of a larger design user experience and we learn from the data as we continue creating a bespoke user flow within our products.
E: What sorts of longer term metrics do you look at?
FF: As any organization within the internet economy and tech, we look at the pirate metrics from acquisition, activation, retention, and referral. For us, it is important to ensure that users and partners find our marketplace valuable, which typically, outside of the user growth metrics, looks at NPS, total transaction value we can generate in the system and long term retention of partners and travellers.
E: What did you learn from your chatbot?
We believe that over the long term, people will opt in for a free form of search as another channel for them finding the best travel options – something we excel at. In terms of specifics, each different bot ecosystem displays a distinct search and book pattern – for example, we see from our Facebook users that they are quite active in search on Wednesday, while Skype users are the weekend bunch.
E: How are you preparing for voice?
FF: We are already in voice. We were the first travel search company to integrate with Amazon Alexa and we are happy with the learning we have so far. One interesting piece is that this is still a nascent technology and while sales of the home assistant hardware have skyrocketed, the ecommerce equivalent hasn’t followed suit the same way utility apps have (think ‘Alexa, tell me a joke’ versus ‘Alexa, find me the best flight to Madrid next weekend’).
Voice is a natural destination – it all started with voice [moving] to keyboard, but over time, as technology improves and the flows become more natural, voice will return.
Finally, for purchases and product selection, users are accustomed to visual output of their queries – they like to see the information and potentially compare it with other options – something that is hard to do when it is read out from a speaker. I believe Amazon realized this quite early in the case, hence the introduction of Echo Show, which uses Alexa as a voice input and a screen as an output.
E: Hotel brands are now prioritising loyalty and investing in the customer experience. In what ways can Skyscanner fight back?
FF: We don’t see this as fighting back – in fact, it is exactly the opposite. We are an unbiased meta-search and hoteliers can count on our reach to access travellers globally and drive traffic to their own sites (or participate in our direct booking product offering, which allows Hotels to brand their experiences on our site and app).
In this case, I believe we can be seen as a preferred distribution channel because we can compare the benefits of loyalty across the different sellers and providers. So this is not in conflict – in fact, we welcome it – the more information a traveller has to make a better choice, the better it is in the marketplace. And for the hotels, exposing the product offering and benefits when people compare in fact helps them secure customers who are not focused on the lowest price, but rather on the loyalty benefits with the chains.
Travel Technology Europe takes place at Olympia, London, 21-22 February.
N.B. Econsultancy and Travel Technology Europe are both part of Centaur Media.