When you need an answer to a problem, what do you do?
If it’s urgent enough, we always pick up a phone to call or text. Not many of us will use Google to find out what to do about a bunch of bees invading the house. Before you can finish typing, you’ll get stung. And if you get stuck in an airport, there’s often no time to start an Expedia search and weigh all of the options. We need someone (or something) to do the thinking for us…or else.
To test this theory, I decided to use a new app called Lola that lets me use chat to make my travel plans. It’s A.I.-assisted, and there’s a chatbot involved, but you also communicate with a human agent. When you first use the app, you might find yourself chatting with a bot about the basics. Are you looking for a hotel or a flight? From when to when?
I needed to book a flight and a hotel for a trip in two weeks and, frankly, I was getting a little worried. I knew the rates were starting to go up, and I have a budget set, so I jumped into the app. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, because I usually don’t trust chatbots to make actual travel plans using my credit card. Maybe the bot will send me to the Bahamas? It’s reassuring to know that with Lola, and apps like Mezi, there is a real person involved, for now. I was able to explain that I don’t like flying late at night. I said I needed a hotel that’s newer, located near Silicon Valley, and doesn’t have bed bugs. (That last part was a joke, and it proved to me that a human agent was involved when she typed LOL.) We had a quick conversation about my plans.
Pushing the “book” button feels strange, but that’s only because I chatted with someone for two minutes about a flight and then decided the flight looked perfect. Where was the complicated listing of flight options? What about the time I usually spend on apps like Hopper and Expedia trying to find the best deal on different dates? The A.I. behind Lola was obviously doing most of that behind the scenes, and that’s as it should be. Bots that remove the consternation and stress involved with travel, that fill in the missing pieces for us, that let us act like humans and ask random questions or joke about bed bugs will always save us a ton of time.
One thing I didn’t like is that there is a pause when Lola goes away for a while and does some of the heavy lifting. I asked the agent about when the chatbot takes over completely, and she said there are three scenarios. One is when a human agent isn’t available, so I presume that means a bot would tell me no one is available. (That never happened…I was always under the impression that the operator was looking into my travel plans.) Another is when you use the app to ask about flight status during a trip, something I plan to do on the day I travel. And, last, the bot helps out initially to parse your request and do the hand-off to a human.
It was also cool that I received a confirmation and receipt by email so quickly. I did have to type in my credit card info to book the trip, but not to use the app. As far as I can tell, there were no extra charges to use Lola, but a rep told me the company plans to offer an annual membership. I also never found a hotel. I’m planning to find one using a different app or, more likely, Airbnb.
It’s interesting that Lola is designed to help me on the trip itself, though I’m not sure in what capacity yet. It is likely that it will be to check on my flight status or maybe change a reservation, rather than to arrange laundry service. I’ll plan to cover how the app performed after my trip.