Accor and Paris Aeroports have participated in a $10 million Series A fundraising for the Paris-based chatbot maker Mindsay, the companies said Wednesday. Venture firm White Star Capital led the round.
Accor and Paris Aeroports are customers of Mindsay, which rebranded itself Wednesday from Destygo.
Chatbots aren’t new, though. As early as 2008 some airlines and railways began using virtual assistants for their websites or, more recently, via platforms like Facebook Messenger and WeChat.
However, the technology used to have more flaws.
“Customers used to be frustrated that they would have to closely match the handful of phrases a bot knew or else they wouldn’t get useful responses,” said Patrice Simon, chief technology officer of CWT, the U.S.-based travel management company formerly known as Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
“Today the technology has advanced, so a customer can now often have a conversation where the bots use context to interpret a customer’s intent and react relevantly,” said Simon, who oversees new product development at CWT.
CWT is testing Mindsay. In the past, CWT sent emails prodding business travelers to add hotels to their flight bookings. Now, with three clients, it is sending text messages that open into chat-based conversations and prod travelers to book.
“Customers are engaging with the chatbot three times more than with the email,” said Simon. “Bots no longer have to be in an FAQ [frequently asked questions] mode, which is why it works.”
Two weeks ago, Iberia’s iBot messaging service sold its first plane tickets, marking a new phase in its use of artificial intelligence. That’s a trick the previous wave of chatbot technology couldn’t easily offer in a way that seamlessly integrated with an airline’s other software.
The Spanish airline hired Mindsay to build its bot shortly after the startup’s founding in 2016 and after the startup joined the travel startups accelerator Hangar 51 run by Iberia’s parent company International Airlines Group.
Iberia plans to link Mindsay’s technology with the data in its Iberia Plus loyalty program.
“Once we do that, when a customer opens the Iberia app and uses the chat to ask for a boarding pass, we’ll be able to instantly provide it,” said Gabriel Perdiguero, chief transformation officer at Iberia. “By linking accounts, we’ll already recognize them with their loyalty profile information and we won’t need the bot to ask so many questions.”
CEO Guillaume Laporte co-founded his startup with Chief Operating Officer Ilias Hicham and Chief Technology Officer Pierre Pakey on the premise that the bots would continually learn to get better using the latest in machine learning techniques.
Their approach included detecting when a bot hesitates to answer a question, flagging the conversation for a human to analyze what may have gone wrong and tell the computer how it might have interpreted things differently.
By the end of 2020, Mindsay, which has 40 workers, plans to grow to 120 employees in Paris, Madrid, and the United States.
The chatbot sector may be having a minor gold rush. In 2017 Booking.com acquired travel chatbot maker Evature, and last year American Express bought the travel chatbot maker Mezi.
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