Sangam Sahai never imagined he’d be texting his travel insurance company. But after his father, Raghunath, fell and broke his pelvis while visiting him in Austin, Raghunath found himself sending messages to Hop Travel.
There were questions about his father’s treatment, handled quickly through WhatsApp. And there were claim forms, all done via text, too.
“The experience was very pleasant,” says Sahai, a software engineer. “The customer representatives were smart, willing to help and nice to talk to. Usually, this quality of customer service is hard to find.”
Technology is making it a little easier, according to Hop Travel.
“Picture a world where travelers no longer need to wade through a sea of paperwork, wait in long queues, or navigate complex insurance claims processes,” says PK Rao, CEO of Hop Travel. “This is the exciting landscape we are entering.”
The texting revolution is just beginning
We’re at the beginning of the texting revolution in customer service, according to the latest research. According to a study by CMP Research, only 19% of customer contact organizations use fully automated texting to help customers self-serve, while 69% of organizations plan to increase investment in automated self-service by the end of 2025.
“Texting is an underrepresented customer service channel across many organizations,” says Mario Matulich, president of CMP.
Texting has applications far beyond travel insurance. Many businesses have embraced text messaging and are developing innovative new ways to help customers. Artificial intelligence is enabling some of these new applications, but so is human ingenuity.
Text messaging is everywhere in travel
It’s not just happening in travel insurance. Companies are shifting their customer communication to text in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few months ago.
- In the travel insurance space, Allianz Travel Insurance uses text messages to notify its customers throughout the claim life cycle, from receipt to payment. Customers who bought products that include the company’s SmartBenefits coverage also get texts when Allianz detects a qualifying flight cancellation or delay.
- Tour operators are using texting to personalize the travel experience. Gondwana Ecotours, a tour operator, has a system that allows guides to send a welcome text to guests before they arrive. “It helps them feel an extra bit of confidence during transit and leading up to arrival,” says Eric Segalstad, Gondwana’s vice president. Guides also use text messages to share links to photo albums and day-by-day updates during the guided tour. If there’s something worth seeing, like an appearance of the Northern Lights, tour guests will get a text message.
- Even small businesses are starting to text customers. Abbey’s Lantern Hill Inn, a boutique bed and breakfast in Ledyard, Conn., recently started using a texting platform to send its guests a welcome message a few hours before they arrive. “We share essential info like directions to and lock codes for their guest room, where to park, and how to reach us if they need anything,” says owner Erika Hall.
Texting is far more efficient as a means of communication than phone calls or even email. Consider a company like Flying Angels, which needs to be able to communicate with clients around the world when it handles medical evacuation. Its preferred platform is also WhatsApp, since it’s widely adopted around the world.
“We use text messages to provide updates, reminders, or time-sensitive information, ensuring that our customers receive important messages promptly,” says Bob Bacheler, the company’s managing director.
Is AI+texting the future? 👍
Texting was just another form of customer communication — until the AI revolution that began in earnest this year.
“AI-chatbot technology allows companies to capture data and respond to text messages instantaneously, without the need to employ specialized staff,” explains communications specialist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj. “Customers are able to communicate with companies and get immediate and detailed responses without the delay that usually plagued both call centers and email interactions in the past.”
When it comes to texting, we are only at the beginning of the AI revolution. Businesses are just now starting to realize the applications of thoughtfully implemented artificial intelligence that combines the best aspects of personalized customer service with the immediacy offered by AI. Experts say the companies that figure out how to leverage AI will provide better customer service — and win more customers. (Here’s how to solve your consumer problem when the normal customer service channels don’t work.)
How Hop built a better texting system
Hop Travel’s system may be unique in the travel insurance industry. It uses WhatsApp to communicate with its customers. WhatsApp is a globally accepted messaging platform, and Hop’s customers, many of whom live outside the country, have adopted it. (WhatsApp can be used for texting or voice calls, making it particularly versatile.)
Hop’s new claims platform can handle customer inquiries, but it is primarily built for claims. Now, instead of sending “forms via email, a web portal, or fax (yes, they still use those), Hop’s customers can send everything through WhatsApp.
“This technology is simplifying the claims process,” says Rao. “It’s changing the game for travelers.”
For customers like Sahai, it’s also reassuring to have someone respond immediately.
“I felt very supported during the moment of crisis,” says Sahai. “During the time of a medical emergency, the last thing you want is spending crazy amounts of time on the phone, trying to talk to the claims team. In my case, they were very very proactive, and the process was fast.”
How fast? Sahai says as soon as he had sent the details of his father’s accident, Hop approved the doctor’s visit and also sent a list of good doctors in the area. That saved him from having to find doctors while trying to take care of his father.
These virtually instant responses would have been unthinkable even a year ago. But they are now becoming a standard.
Texting has a lot of growth potential
In talking to travel insurance companies, tour operators and hospitality businesses, one thing is clear: Text messaging is just getting started. And it’s being used in a way that few people could have imagined.
Consider Inspired Italy, a small UK-based tour operator specializing in ski adventures in the Italian Dolomites. The company has been using WhatsApp to contact its customers for years. But lately, it has also used WhatsApp’s group text messaging to create a community of customers.
“We establish a guest group and all key personnel, including their guide, about a week to 10 days prior to the arrival date,” explains Tim Hudson, director and principal leader. “This way guests get to meet each other in advance of the physical meeting at the hotel.”
Inspired Italy uses messaging to distribute real-time information on airport transfers, weather, and flight delays. And during the tour, they share dinner menus, daily itinerary information and information about meet-ups.
The texting platform becomes a community for participants to share photos, place drink orders, ask questions, and remind others to charge their phones. And the groups stay active long after the trip as friendships developed during the tour continue.
There are other ways to communicate via text
Not everyone is hopping on the texting bandwagon. Some companies have chosen to build other proprietary systems to facilitate instant communications.
Elad Schaffer, CEO of Faye Travel Insurance, says some of his customers prefer something that’s more discreet.
To give travelers the choice of whether or not they hear from Faye — and how — Schaffer’s team built an app. It updates customers on their claim status, flight delays, and natural disasters affecting their trip. Customers access the messages by downloading the Faye smartphone app.
But Faye didn’t cut out texting completely. Users can also communicate with Fay via phone, email — or WhatsApp.
The message is clear. If you want better customer service, check your phone. You may already have a message waiting.