The Company Dime last month previewed the platform, which FC USA has been testing internally. About 20 users from FCM Travel Solutions’ largest corporate customer also are testing it, and its second-largest will participate as well.
Based on texting, the “chatbot” service applies artificial intelligence for simple tasks like gate change notifications. For more sensitive functions including bookings and changes, travel counselors back Sam using Salesforce’s Customer Relationship Management technology and Sabre.
Travelers can converse through various touch points. In addition to SMS and the iOS native Sam app, support for Facebook Messenger and Telegram appear to be firsts in managed corporate travel. The look-and-feel is similar in all interfaces. Sam eventually will synchronize these different touch points so users can pause the interaction in one and pick it up in another.
Among Sam’s features are context-aware notifications, policy messaging and disruption care; integration with Certify for enhanced expense submission using itinerary details; deep-linking to other apps including Lyft (with more to come); WorldMate-powered email parsing; Open Table dining recommendations based on preferences and optional GPS safety check-ins.
The app also includes traditional itinerary functions like maps, calendar sync, weather, trip sharing, packing tips and driving directions.
In addition to agent assistance for virtually anything, the service out of the gate will offer hotel self-booking capability powered by nuTravel. Air and car will be later. Mobile self-bookings would come with a slimmed-down application of policy and preferred suppliers, but larger clients will be allowed to customize that.
Enabling bookings, changes and cancellations may require new commercial terms with clients, said John Morhous, chief strategy officer for Flight Centre USA’s corporate brands. The definition of typical pricing parameters like “touchless” could change. With this in mind, FCM in June was preparing its first client pitch without an online booking tool. The client was a tech firm specifically looking for something different. Morhous said RFPs seeking a mobile-first approach are becoming more common.
FCM has rolled out the Salesforce CRM tool to counselors in stages for more than a year. It’s ongoing. That’s that system which manages email, phone or text communications with clients. It highlights clients’ profiles, preferences and current issues. Morhous said he has seen some retail agencies using Salesforce but none in corporate travel. “I know we’re not the only ones using CRM in conjunction with the point of sale tool,” he said. “It was easy to roll in the mobile workflow into it.”
Optionally for clients, Sam will offer Google Flights integration to compare search results against public rates for a “sanity check.” It sounds crazy for a TMC to present that, but Morhous said the company believes it can find the best rates and if there are any issues, it will discuss the matter with clients.
In building the service, FCM benefited from its network. The company’s French partner, 3Mundi, runs a development shop in Barcelona called Path. Path built the Sam app. A variation of it is available in France and Switzerland. FCM Travel Solutions has exclusive local rights to license the technology for “a couple of years,” said Morhous.
While that relationship covers the app and its artificial intelligence, he said, FCM in North America built other elements of the service. It eventually will be available to other Flight Centre brands, such as the SME specialist Corporate Traveler.
An Android version of the app is due in the fall. Morhous described the company’s investment in Sam as “multiple hundreds of thousands.” He said FCM has no issue with its previous app provider, Mantic Point. “We just wanted to invest more heavily and do different things,” he said.