How AI is helping airline customer service reps get closer to customers

This is a viewpoint from Mikhail Naumov, co-founder and president of DigitalGenius.

It’s no secret that travelers aren’t exactly “best buddies” with airlines in terms of customer service. Air travel is already a stressful experience by its very nature, there is a lot of hassle and time consumed resolving issues like lost baggage, missed connections, or poor in-flight service experiences.

As airline customer service reps do their best to field every inquiry and resolve it as best they can, one technology is stepping up to help passengers befriend these frontline reps (instead of seeing them as an adversary) –  artificial intelligence.

Forward-thinking airline brands are already beginning to realize the benefits of placing AI technology, software, and systems in place alongside their human reps. In fact, 52% of airlines plan to implement some form of AI initiative into their customer service operations over the next five years. That’s because AI, combined with the right human agents, can take customer service for airline brands to places that simply haven’t been possible before.

The thing is, don’t get today’s sophisticated AI systems confused with chatbots, which have been around for quite some time. While chatbots can perform automated responses based on pre-set rules and formatting, AI learns over time and begins working alongside (not simply for) customer service reps.

As increasingly sophisticated AI befriends frontline agents, airlines are coming up with unique, innovative, and effective ways to help their service departments make nice with their passengers.

#1 Resolving issues more rapidly

Depending on the support channel, airlines are already able to formulate an initial response fairly quickly A chatbot can quickly direct the customer to FAQs, or an automated email response can be sent out instantaneously letting the customer know their query has been received. And while both are useful applications of digital technology, neither actually resolves the issue at hand. The customer has to take additional steps or a human rep might need to become involved, lengthening the Mean Time to Resolution (MTR) metric that’s so critical to airline support teams.

Today’s AI systems are changing all that, as their responses are not only immediate but increasingly in-depth and accurate over time. Rather than following rules and templates like chatbots, AI systems can assimilate data and formulate individualized responses that are more likely to resolve the issue quickly.

This also goes for issues that are being handled by human reps. Even if a passenger chooses to call in, AI can work simultaneously as the agent talks on the phone, bringing up useful information like customer history or potential fixes in order to address the problem in shorter amounts of time.

#2 Suggesting future flights & trips

Competition is fierce in the airline industry, and one of the biggest challenges is customer retention. One poor experience can drive a passenger to a direct competitor, or even to another airline segment altogether. And even when passengers do stick with a brand, they may do so reluctantly due to price, convenience, or miles accumulated. What airlines would prefer is not only more enthusiastic loyalty but revenue growth per passenger over time.

Direct marketing and promotions are normally a keystone of revenue per customer growth for airlines, but as AI becomes more prevalent in customer service and the call center it’s becoming easier merge service with sales functions. If a customer calls in with an issue, for example, the AI can suggest future trips or flights the passenger might want based upon data of past travel patterns (once the issue is resolved, of course). The AI might even wait days or weeks after the service interaction, re-contacting the passenger at the best time based on its analysis.

#3 Integrating with IoT & smart home

Two of the biggest consumer trends that are affecting virtually every industry is the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected smart home. It’s no different for airlines, as passengers now receive updates on flight information via their smartwatch, and look to their own virtual AI-enabled assistants like Amazon Alexa in the home. As these technologies evolve, airlines may be able to integrate their own customer service AI systems to improve the entire customer experience.

Although still theoretical in nature, and AI system may be able to tap into a caller’s FitBit data to detect how agitated they are when they’re calling and tailor a response accordingly. In fact, research is already underway in utilizing similar biometric data inflight to offer better customer care based on things like body temperature and heart rate.

Moreover, airlines are beginning to tap into the smart home with their own AI. United Airlines has recently experimented with a smart home app called “United Skill,” which integrates with Amazon Alexa to provide voice-enabled customer service. Passengers can use their smart home device to ask United Skill about flight updates, check themselves in, or ask the best way to resolve a specific issue. In the future, these smart home enabled AI could pass specific issues along to human reps, allowing customers to resolve issues hands-free while they’re making dinner or doing the laundry.

These are just a few of the ways that AI is working alongside service reps, as well as helping agents befriend customers themselves. In the future, agents and AI together will be able to focus more on true emotional customer satisfaction, which is critical in the rising Empathy Economy where brands need to foster deep, personal ties with customers. As airlines continue to develop strategies around things like rapid issue resolution and smart home integration, AI is poised to help make the skies friendlier than ever for each and every passenger.

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

Related reading:

A brief history of artificial intelligence

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Viewpoints

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.

 

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  1. Travis Bickle

    It’s all very aspirational. Chatbots are simply rule engines and in the flight booking domain their usefullness is very limited. True AI which goes beyond following a set of rules (i.e. learning) and can interact with customers is a long distance away. Great theoretical potential but for now little more than a buzzword which execs will be happy to throw around. This would have been a useful article if it included some actual examples of AI being used or trialled in the travel industry today.

     
  2. Stef Faller - The VA Hub

    Times are changing fast! Who knows what will happen next year. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time!

     
 
 

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