AI Chatbots to guide customers

How can an AI chatbot help your customers, gain their trust and give you a competitive edge?

Can chatbots help or is it all hype?

Are you doing enough to advise your customers and help them find answers to their questions?

Do your customers need to be made aware of specific important information or meet certain criteria?

How do you handle this, or are you leaving your customers to figure things out for themselves?

AI Chatbot

Striking the balance

When I oversaw transparency and compliance at Hertz from 2014 to 2021, it became apparent that a being ultra-transparent did not always go hand in hand with having a user friendly buying process.

There was risk that the customer journey could become cluttered with important information and of course a cluttered customer journey or buying path is not ideal... especially on mobile.

This meant that satisfying our obligations to comply with the laws or rules set by regulatory bodies in various countries could make the customer journey more difficult and intrusive in some cases, even though it was in the customer’s best interest that we met those obligations.

So what has this got to do with AI and Chatbots?

I appreciate that this is not the most exciting subject to cover, but it’s an important one, and one which has a potentially exciting way forward with the use of AI because of the competitive edge it could give you.

A real life case study...

I'm going to use international car rental to show how customer type, needs and location can be tricky to handle smoothly and transparently.

But stick with me, because this could apply to many types of business and customers...

Car rental user experience

Case Study: Age, Surcharges and Restrictions

Case Study:
Age Restrictions

Let’s imagine that two potential customers aged 45 and 24 visit a car rental website with the intention of renting cars in France.

Based on their age alone, the 45 year old customer will be able to select from a larger range of vehicle than the 24 year old will be able to, and the 24 year old is also likely to pay more due to a Young Driver’s Surcharge.

So how do we know what vehicles to display to each of these customers for them to choose from, and how do we know what prices to display?

The most straight forward way is to ask their age right at the start. But we need to do that in a non-intrusive way, because many people do like to disclose personal information. So various options were explored and tested which included:

(a) Entering their date of birth on the homepage.

(b) Selecting their specific age at time of pickup from a list of numbers.

(c) Selecting the age group that their age would fall into at time of pickup.

We chose option (c)

Option (c) was chosen because it was less specific, but detailed enough for our purposes. However, the age ranges needed to be dynamically populated based on the country the customer was going to be picking the car up in.

Note that for customers who had previously enrolled into our loyalty scheme, we were able to determine their age from the date of birth they provided during enrolment. But not all customers were members of our loyalty scheme, and so we needed a fail-safe method of handling age-based criteria.

And then what?

Once we had the age related information we needed, the next page would be loaded to display only the vehicles which the customer was eligible to drive, and with any age related surcharge include in the price displayed.

But it could still get tricky for the customer...

What if the 45 year customer is taking a vacation with his 24 year old daughter? If his daughter wants to drive, how can we ensure that he selects a vehicle which his daughter will be eligible to drive?

After all, it might not be until the booking page at the final step of the process that the option to add a 2nd driver is presented. That could mean that there’s a danger of him adding a second driver who might not be allowed to drive the chosen vehicle due to their age.

Is that really likely to happen?

This might seem like an edge-case which won’t happen very often, but imagine customers arriving at the car rental pickup location to collect their hire car, and being told that they can’t have it!

It can lead to dissatisfied customers, complaints, disputes, bad publicity, and even worse!

Customising the solution

It should also be noted that age restrictions and associated costs can vary from country to country, as do things such as insurance options, refuelling options and costs, and many other things which apply when renting a car.


  • How could we have asked the right questions and made customers aware of such policies, rules and restrictions without having to confront every single customer with an intrusive questionnaire when most customers simply want to choose a car to rent for a few days?
  • How can we ensure that the customer is aware of cancellation terms, which may differ based on the payment option they choose?
  • How do we advise customers of the correct child seat for the size and age of their child, or any surcharges one way rentals or if they decide to drive the car into another country?
  • How can we advise customers of the best insurance options, and insurance excess amounts relevant to theft or damage, and based on the car they select?

Pop-ups are an option, but rarely the best option!

Being bombarded with alert pop-ups throughout the customer journey is one way of bringing numerous messages to the customer’s attention, but nobody wants an experience like that.

In fact it can be an even worse experience on mobile!

You could include all of the information the Terms and Conditions, but despite requiring every customer to check a box confirming that they have read and agree to the Ts&Cs, customers rarely do read them thoroughly due to their length and complexity.

Is it really fair to hang your customers out to dry in that way?

So is their another way?


Before I left Hertz in early 2021, an AI chatbot was not a viable option, and therefore was not a proposed solution.

But in recent years things have changed

So how about a solution where a user friendly assistant can guide a customer through the process, and base it’s comments and questions on the selections each customer makes, and the information they respond with?

Here are a few suggestions that the chatbot could advise the customer based on their selections:

  • I notice that you have selected the Range Rover Sport. Great choice, but please be aware that the absolute minimum age for that car is 28 in France. Therefore if you wish to allow someone else you drive, they will also need to meet that minimum age criteria, or you might prefer to select an alternative vehicle. A list of vehicles and age criteria for this rental location can be found here.
  • I notice that you intend to pick the car up at 4:30pm, so please be aware that this is just 30 minutes before this particular location closes.

Or a customer might be part way through the booking process and have questions such as:

  • How much will it cost to add a second driver to my reservation?
  • Will I be required to fill the car with fuel before I return it?
  • What will happen if I go over the daily mileage allowance?
  • What happens if I break down?
  • Can I pay with my debit card?
  • Can I return the car early?
  • What is your cancellation policy for a pre-paid reservation?
  • If I amend my reservation and am due a refund, how long will the refund take?
  • ... and so on

Wouldn't it be great to be able to allow them to simply ask the question they have just thought of without losing their place in the buying path and having to start over?

But I'm not in car rental, so how can a Chatbot help MY business?

Of course most businesses are not car rental businesses. So can an AI chatbot help you, whether you run a plumbing business, a dental practice, a chain of hotels or a car servicing centre?

Sure! Let's explore some of the benefits which can apply to many businesses...

So where is the benefit of an AI Chatbot to you?

People tend to do business with people or companies they like, know and trust.

Being openly transparent in a user friendly way, without appearing to hide information in the small print or places which are easy to miss or hard to find, can help to gain a customer’s trust.

If a customer feels that you’re hiding information in the small print or requiring them to try and seek out information they might not even know exists, you can frustrate them or even lose their trust, and consequently their business.

So why not make things easier for the customer?

I'm sure that many of us have experienced poor examples of chatbots which have succeeded in frustrating us far more than they have helped. But with a well set up and maintained chatbot you could be making it easier for the customer to use your website, whether it be a booking platform, online store, a typical business showcase website, or a website intended to inform or entertain.

And if that results in happier customers, fewer complaints, more sales and leads, then what's not to like?

Note that depending on how your chatbot has been configured, you could request and store information which was captured during the customer's conversation with the chatbot. This could include their name, email address, etc., as long as the necessary permissions have been obtained from the customer to do so. This makes it possible to create and update records in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, generate leads, and numerous... literally 1000s... other tasks.

What is the benefit of an AI Chatbot to the customer?

Customers WILL have questions, and many would prefer to get answers to their questions in a more conversational way compared to searching through generic FAQs, policy information and Ts&Cs.

Many customers would, of course, prefer to have a real time conversation with a real person, but few companies have real life staff available around the clock, and in sufficient numbers to be able to handle several customers at the same time.

I also know for certain that some companies WILL continue to place the onus on the customer to dig deep into the small print to try and find answers. Why make the customer work harder than necessary? After all, small print isn’t small print to make it easier to read!

In conclusion

I personally believe that it would be far preferable for customers to be advised of specific information relevant to them and the selections they make, especially if those advisory points and questions can be handled in the context of the customer type, their intentions, and where they are in the buying process.

AI chatbots and assistant are becoming increasingly able to that. Data will always be key to the accuracy of the chatbots ability to understand customers questions and provide accurate relevant answers.

That data probably already exists within the pages of your website, databases, legal content, policy documents, etc. You might also want to supplement that existing information with additional documents which can be applied to your chatbots knowledge base

As long as your chatbot has been configured to access that information, and the information is kept up to date and doesn’t conflict with similar information held elsewhere, you can expect your chatbot to reliably serve you and your customers.

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