Chatbots for Better Customer Experience in Air Travel
Most passengers will agree that communicating with airlines is often not a very pleasant experience, especially when in distress like a missed flight, re-booking, infant requirement, missed baggage, refunds, receipts, or any of the innumerable possible concerns. Though major airlines today employ thousands of on-call customer service reps, calling the customer care number often means navigating through number of interactive voice responses before speaking to an agent or getting the requested information. Queries over email can take longer and does not provide the kind of instant gratification that customers expect in today’s modern digital lifestyle.
There are several reasons for poor customer service experience, and one primary reason is that information is held by multiple entities within an airline – reservation, operations, commercial, loyalty. While each of them may be aware of the information relevant to them, it’s nearly impossible for one desk or department to provide a single comprehensive service to respond to all queries from a customer without a handoff.
Compounding the problem is that as events unfold in real time, which is commonly the case for much of the grievance calls, airlines are often clueless about who is impacted and to what extent, and how to pre-empt the customer service call through better intelligence. Considering that airline business is also highly seasonal, with significant spikes and troughs during holidays and abrupt weather conditions, keeping an army of customer service agents can put a serious drain on the economics of running an airline.
Further complexity comes from chunks of information that reside with different personnel at different locations, like ground staff, airport staff, airline staff, vendors, contractors, government authorities who are handling security etc., making aviation one of the most difficult industries when it comes information sensitivity and security. Airlines are caught up between keeping customers happy with quick service and being meticulous with following rules.
The information retrieval system used by most airlines do not help either. Most airline customer service desk use keyword-based searches using tools like Sharepoint or other tag-based searches for reference. Therefore, the accuracy of the results is subject to using the right keywords.
Chatbots for Better Customer Engagement
Chatbot technology has been evolving rapidly as a way to address some of the concerns listed above. Chatbots not only do an excellent job of retrieving information at top speed, they allow questions to be asked in natural language rather than relying on keywords.
As the technology evolves, chatbots are rapidly growing in popularity, especially since they can communicate through existing messaging apps on smartphones. Several studies show that messaging apps are the most widely used smartphone apps today. Statistics indicate that in 2018, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger had over 1.3 billion monthly users, while WeChat had 980 million monthly active users1. Chatbots work well because people are generally reluctant to download any special app for communication with airlines.
We experienced this with one of our clients, a leading airport in the UK. The airport authorities were keen to improve customer experience by providing information related to travel at the airport. They were dealing with dissatisfied customers who were not pleased with having to approach multiple parties to get different pieces of information. Since customers were mostly unwilling to download a separate app for queries related to the airport, we worked with the airline to build a Facebook bot. The bot was tightly integrated with the backend system and could seamlessly share travel related information through the Facebook Messenger app.
Customer engagement isn’t the only area where chatbots can help. They can help pilots search for EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) documents quickly, and assist in tasks such as crew briefing, retrieving information on passenger processing, manifests etc.
Nia can integrate information streams from Resolution desk, underlying PSS (Passenger Service System), loyalty, CRM, baggage NetTracer and provide an abstracted natural language layer to service desk agents as well as to the Chatbot so that it can infer and bring up the information from a wide variety of queries.
Nia chatbot can be used to book tickets, make ancillary purchases, track flights in real time, get information about upcoming flights and airport delays, as we have the ability to integrate a wide variety of internal and external data streams.
One could also imagine airlines using next generation chatbots on their direct booking sites to furnish useful information to customers such as the seat pitch and angle, food and drink menu for long haul flights, facilities available at departure gates. The possibilities are endless.
With the Infosys Nia Chatbot, we have leveraged its deep learning capabilities enabling it to read and internalize information from a wide variety of documents from contracts to user guides to different media. The Nia Chatbot is versatile enough to work both in terms of query responses as well as through natural language. Since it can immediately respond to even complex queries within seconds, it scores high on the customer experience quotient. Customers can even check in through their Facebook app, helping decongest check-in queues and helping better customer experience.
In the future, we can expect chatbots to become ubiquitous in aviation, bringing in advantages for both customers and the industry.
To know more about how we help the travel and hospitality industry, visit us at Infosys.com.