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Meet Sam: FCM pioneers chatbot technology in business travel sector

Feb 09, 2017

FCM Travel Solutions is spearheading the next-generation of technology in the UK business travel sector with the launch of Sam, a chatbot that blends artificial intelligence with the expertise of FCM consultants to deliver personalized, relevant information to business travellers’ mobile devices. Sam will be unveiled officially in the UK at the Business Travel Show with live demos on the FCM stand (B120).

Sam is a highly interactive, travel-savvy and anticipatory “Smart Assistant for Mobile” that supports users with all aspects of travel via a conversational interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions. Sam assists business travellers pre-, during and post trip with everything from itinerary management, air and hotel bookings, flight updates, local city and country information, local weather and restaurant suggestions, to security notifications, ground transportation, driving directions, immigration advice and vaccination status.

Sam picks up on cues, such as travel patterns and preferences and updates travellers accordingly. For example when a traveller lands at the airport, Sam will message the carousel number for collecting baggage and ask if the user needs to arrange transport from the airport to their hotel. The more a traveller uses Sam, the more intelligent the chatbot becomes, so that information delivered to the user is even more personalized.

“The pace of evolution in mobile and smartphone technology is relentless and tech-savvy business travellers are already feeling the urge to use other consumer apps for booking flights and hotels, instead of their TMC,” explained Marcus Eklund, Global Leader, FCM Travel Solutions.  “At the same time, the smartphone era is transitioning towards the conversation era, meaning the way consumers communicate with apps is moving to a message-based approach. In fact by 2020 we predict consumers will start feeling app fatigue and text or voice-based interfaces will be the new norm for communicating with the web.

“Sam aggregates all the information a traveller needs in one place at the point when the user needs it. It is fully integrated with FCM’s booking and expense management systems so that all bookings made via FCM consultants automatically appear in the traveller’s itinerary,” continued Marcus Eklund. “The conversational interface and relevance of the messages or questions that Sam exchanges with the user, gives travellers their own ‘personal assistant’ on the move. Sam is also configured in line with the corporate’s travel guidelines and will prompt the user to take actions that are within policy, thus improving compliance, controlling costs and supporting duty of care. For example Sam will send a reminder to use taxis over other transportation options if company policy stipulates.”

Steve Norris, managing director Flight Centre Corporate added:  “We believe FCM is the first travel management company to introduce chatbot technology to the UK business travel sector. We have recognized that we need to be ahead of the curve in terms of our approach to travel technology in order to future-proof the service and travel experience FCM delivers to clients and travellers. However, Sam doesn’t replace the human touch entirely. Business travel is about people and FCM’s approach will still be about blending the latest technology with personal service. Users of Sam can call or message their consultant at any time for live assistance on the go.”

Sam was launched by FCM in the USA in September last year and already has 3,500 users.  Since then, further enhancements have already been made to the original version including a redesign of app architecture to support open messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger. At the time of its US release Sam was only available on iOS, but the app can now also be used on Android devices and even the Apple watch.  UK implementation and client trials will take place over the next six months, after which Sam will be available from September 2017 for FCM’s UK clients

Marcus Eklund, Global Leader, FCM Travel Solutions is a speaker on the panel session “Top of the bots – how emerging technologies will re-shape business travel” at the Hosted Buyer Conference on 21st February  at 13:50 - 15:05.

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