We live in a world where we increasingly prefer to communicate via chat than speak to a live person. According to a recent Facebook report, 64% of people across generations said they prefer messaging to a call or email. As a result, businesses are changing how they interact with consumers, with customer service shifting from phone and email to chat. “Many of us already spend more time communicating with family and friends over messaging apps than by voice. It’s not surprising that the way we interact with businesses is changing as well,” said Felicia Schneiderhan, head of American Express Global Business Travel’s messaging adoption strategy.

“The channel shift to messaging is even more profound than when people switched from the telephone and fax machine to email in the 1990s,” she added. “Messaging is becoming the dominant communication channel in people’s private and professional lives.”

It’s no different with business travelers. We’ve seen for years how chat has become a preferred channel for traveling employees when seeking assistance from a travel management company (TMC) or other suppliers, and it is quickly becoming an industry standard.

It makes total sense. Besides messaging being a channel where travelers are already spending a lot of time, it allows them to have private conversations when they are on the move – whether they are in a noisy airport, the “quiet” car of a train, or on a plane waiting for takeoff.

We’ve seen this messaging trend accelerate due to COVID-19 causing us to shift our professional communications from in-person discussions in the office to online conversations from our homes. That’s why within the last year, we have made it a greater priority to make chat more accessible and a seamless part of our customer service experience.

For years, travelers had the ability to message our travel counselors through the Amex GBT Mobile app and the Connect Portal™ platform on desktop. In 2019, we expanded our chat capabilities by launching Apple Business Chat so they could reach our counselors using the Messages app on iPhone or iPad devices. But in our never-ending quest to give travelers the communication tools that are most convenient to them, we knew we could do more – and now have.

We are excited to share that we have significantly expanded our chat capabilities by being one of the first TMCs to offer WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app globally, as a service to our travelers. The benefits for our clients are many.

By adding this popular channel to our messaging capabilities, we are giving travelers and travel managers more choice in the way they communicate with travel counselors. This will help speed up on-the-go service and provide better duty of care by letting travelers choose their most convenient way to reach out from their phone when assistance is needed.

By enabling travelers to contact us via WhatsApp, we’re also offering a communication tool they are quite familiar with and where they spend a lot of time. According to Fortunly, people spent a total of 15 billion minutes on WhatsApp calls each day during the early days of COVID-19, and half a billion people use the app daily.

Felicia, who worked with an engineering team for five years at the forefront of building artificial intelligence technology, noted that chat is the best channel to apply natural language processing AI since, as opposed to phone and email, messages sent via chat are short, precise, and clutter-free (no email signatures or long speeches on the phone). This translates into the increased accuracy of AI and better customer care that is fast and personalized.

We are in the midst of working on an intelligent routing system powered by AI so that urgent, complex traveler requests are sent to a live travel counselor, while simple tasks can be assisted and resolved by AI-powered chat, which replies instantly to the traveler and allows for phenomenal response times of less than a second. This will enable us to better service travelers when call volumes are high – which may be expected when employees begin hitting the road again and have questions about traveling in this new environment.

We are committed to helping our travelers navigate this new era of business travel and feel that offering multiple ways to connect with our customer care teams is crucial to providing the support they’ll need.

As Felicia said, “Being able to get new digital channels to our customers quickly is an important part of getting ready for the return to travel, and the pandemic was a catalyst for a rapid rollout of the WhatsApp solution.”

WhatsApp is currently available to our small- to medium-sized enterprise clients in the US and there is no technical implementation needed to get started. All you need is our WhatsApp service number to begin chatting with us.

In the coming months, we’ll also be launching the service for our larger clients, who will have their own personal WhatsApp service numbers. If you are interested in this service, please contact Felicia Schneiderhan.