Black Cat Cruises

"Our new chat bot, ‘Kiri’, handles 500+ conversations per month, saving frontline staff hours of time each week.

Paul Milligan - Chief Executive

Yonder chatbot a game-changer for Black Cat Cruises

As New Zealand’s first eco-tourism operator, Black Cat Cruises is no stranger to innovation. 

However, the Akaroa-based dolphin cruise specialists assumed they were too small for chatbots and similar technology.

“I didn’t think technology the same as that used by Oscar, the Air New Zealand chatbot, was within reach for a business like us. I assumed it was incredibly costly,” says chief executive Paul Milligan.

Paul’s not wrong – building an artificially-intelligent chatbot from scratch is costly and complex. But with Yonder, you don’t have to start from nothing.

Yonder is a communication tool (chatbot) and leader in delivering top customer service, solely for tourism businesses. By focusing exclusively on tourism, Yonder has developed advanced technology at a cost within reach of companies like Black Cat Cruises.

Akaroa Harbour, home to the Hectors dolphins

Why did Black Cat Cruises want a chatbot? 

Customer experience is an important value for Black Cat. With hundreds of people departing on cruises within an hour, providing instant customer service during peak times puts a huge amount of pressure on frontline staff who are often busy attending to the day’s cruisers

Yet, by the time staff get around to following up leads for future bookings, it’s often too late.

“While replying to an email a few days later was acceptable five years ago, instant communication is what modern travellers expect,” says Paul. 

Black Cat Cruises needed to find a way to serve their existing customers without losing out on future sales. 


Meet Kiri – Black Cat’s 24/7 customer service superstar

To meet the demand for 24/7 customer service, Yonder customised a personalised chatbot for Black Cat Cruises called Kiri.

Kiri quickly became a critical team member, handling around 500 conversations a month and saving staff 10 hours of time per month.

In total, Kiri answers around 60% of customer questions and has a clickthrough rate to the online booking system of around 15 people per month, which represents a potential $3,750 per month in bookings.

Paul says providing people with an immediate response has been huge for the business, especially as only 10% of people leave their email address for a follow-up.

Helping people find the right cruises at the right time

Black Cat Cruises offers several different trips out of Akaroa, including Swimming with Dolphins, a Nature Cruise, and chartered cruises. The company also runs ferries between Lyttleton and Diamond Harbour up to 20 times a day and between Lyttleton and Quail Island up to four times a day.

Kiri helps travellers find the cruise they need quickly and easily. That help can make the difference between someone booking and not booking - if someone is uncertain then they’re unlikely to book. Kiri also helps customers get all the information they need upfront, leading to less disappointment if they book the wrong trip by accident, and ultimately to more glowing reviews for Black Cat.

“A good example is when people ask if they need to swim. If they’re asking that, we steer them to consider our Nature Cruise, because you don’t need to swim on this one. That means less disappointment if they don’t read the conditions clearly enough and helps keep them engaged to take a trip with us,” says Paul. 


Chatbots: An unexpected staff training tool

Another area where Kiri is helping Black Cat Cruises is, unexpectedly, with staff training and education.

Yonder does a deep dive into each business before deploying any technology, with a particular focus on FAQs. Having everything in one centralised, automated platform is fantastic for customers, but it also helps staff do their job better, and faster. 

“I had a staff member ask me how we handled entertainment vouchers. When I went back to her later that day, I discovered she’d asked Kiri and got the answer she needed!” says Paul.


Paul’s tip to anyone considering a virtual assistant

“Every customer who leaves your site because they couldn’t find what they were after is a missed sale…  Yonder is a tool to keep them there and help them find what they are after.”



About Black Cat

A cruise with Black Cat Cruises has been voted as must-do activity in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why - not only are the trips a unique experience but Black Cat is a leader in protecting the endangered Hectors and Maui dolphins (learn more here).  In fact, Black Cat is recognised as New Zealand’s first Eco-tourism operator.  

Black Cat spans two locations and operates year round.  In the beautiful Akaroa Harbour there are up to 4 daily departures of the Swimming with Dolphins trip and up to 5 departures of the Nature Cruise in the Akaroa Harbour on a 100 person vessel.  In Lyttelton there is a ferry running 20 times daily to Diamond Harbour and 4 times daily to Quail Island, a great place for day trips.  On top of that are chartered cruises.  There’s no time for rest at Black Cat.


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