Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is adding an automated chat to that will be an option for agents interacting with the company's three contact centers.

RCCL is believed to be the first cruise company to offer automated chat, as opposed to live chat with a customer service worker.

It is hoped that the automated chat will be faster than other ways for agents to transact business. 

The function represents a big upfront investment but should offer operational savings if it is widely used. RCCL has been testing the chat with 16 travel partners for the past few months. It is making the chat universally available to tens of thousands of agencies and hundreds of thousands of agents on Aug. 9. 

The chatbot will be available for use on Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises bookings. It will remain in beta, or experimental, mode through the end of the year, said Juan Silva, Royal Caribbean's director of digital sales.

To use the feature, often referred to as a chatbot (chat + robot), agents will log into The chat will pop up on a conversation box in the lower righthand corner of the screen.

"Once I'm logged into Cruising Power, the chatbot automatically knows me and my agency," Silva said.

The bot will ask questions and agents can either type answers or click on buttons to navigate to the information they're seeking or the action they want to perform. 

In addition to providing a wide variety of information, the chatbots can take payments, process invoices, check balances, search for reservations, and do other processes.

In addition to being faster than some other modes of interaction with the contact centers, such as phone calls, the chatbots are programmed to use natural language to make the chats sound personal and conversational.

"You're not having to click, and click and click to get there," Silva said.

RCCL hopes that this will make the chat an easy choice. 

Barry Keller, a training specialist with World Travel Holdings in Boston, is among those who has taken the chatbot for a test drive.

"In the time that I've used it, I love it," Keller said. "It will be a huge time saver."

For example, Keller said making a payment is as quick as selecting the option and entering a number or two.

"You can enter the payment faster than if you'd dial a number, have the person answer, introduce yourself and tell them what you'd like," Keller said.

As for whether the automated bot provides misleading or nonsensical options, or hits a lot of questions it can't answer, Keller said no.

"I would say all of the questions or topics I put in, the responses that came back were spot on. There wasn't erroneous information or things along those lines. Everything that came back was what I was looking for," Keller said.

RCCL emphasized that the historical ways of interacting -- phones, website, e-mail and through social media platforms -- will still be available. Many long-time agents remain most comfortable doing business by phone, Silva said.

The newer generation of agents, however, grew up with texting, chat and other non-verbal channels.

"Some of our younger travel agents prefer technology to picking up the phone," Silva said.

It will employ artificial intelligence (AI) programs, so it is intended that the system will gradually learn how its users want to interact and become better at it over time.

The chatbot has already been fed about 3,000 words and phrases particular to the cruise industry or RCCL, such as the names of ships.

If the chatbot cannot fulfill an agent request, it will default to a live contact center representative.

With the chatbot introduction, Royal Caribbean is joining other hospitality companies such as Sabre and Hilton International that have debuted automated chat to help customers or travel agents.

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