How AI is Helping Travelers Make Nice with Airline Customer Service


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There’s no doubt passengers are becoming more demanding when it comes to interacting with an airline. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that airline customer complaints had increased by over 70 percent.

Between missed flights, lost baggage, and poor in-flight services, airline passengers have many opportunities to complain. These messages are sent through review sites, social media, emails and messaging apps. However, savvy airlines are seeing customer service as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with their customers instead of just playing defense.

Increasingly, machine learning and AI are becoming critical facilitators in an airlines’ efforts to make nice with their passengers. From accelerating response times to enabling messaging apps, here’s how AI is helping airlines improve their relationship with flyers.

1. Speeding up Responses
One of the most important customer service factors in the airline industry is the speed of response. Today, 64 percent of consumers expect real-time responses to their issues and complaints, and 66 percent say they’re likely to switch brands if the service they receive across channels is inconsistent. This makes it crucial for airlines to respond instantly to every complaint to avoid damaging their relationship with customers or driving them to a competing airline in the future.

Utilizing AI in a contact center enables companies to accelerate the response process rapidly. By taking on repetitive tasks, machine learning unlocks more time for agents to provide useful service in a more personalized manner. This will, in turn, result in higher customer retention rates, as 42 percent of consumers show increased interest in re-purchase after an excellent and timely customer service experience.

2. Leveraging Social Media & Messaging Apps
In addition to improving response times, AI will unlock time and bandwidth which enables a contact center to open new communication channels such as social media and mobile messaging. This is important as customers are increasingly turning to messaging apps to connect with not only their friends but also the brands they use every day.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, for instance, leverages AI in its social servicing operation and handles over 130,000 social media mentions on a weekly basis. This reduces the burden of repetitive task for employees and frees up their time to communicate effectively with their customers through new channels. The trend of messaging apps reinforced with AI is on the rise, with channels like WhatsApp introducing new features and functionality geared towards businesses.

3. Making Room for Phone Calls
Whether it’s correcting an issue with frequent flyer miles or complaining about a poor in-flight experience, there’s nothing less enjoyable for travelers than having to call an airline over the phone. In fact, a recent study by Aspect found that 39 percent of customers would rather perform house chores than dial customer service over the phone. This is partly because customers typically associate phone calls with long wait times, multiple agent transfers, or complicated automated IVR systems.

The reality is, many customers would prefer to call if they knew that someone on the other end could solve their issue quickly and efficiently. AI is positioned to help airlines make this process more manageable in two ways.

– By letting AI systems solve simple repetitive queries via text channels, companies unlock more time for their human agents to pick up phone calls and speak with customers about complex issues.
– Some AI systems are capable of helping agents navigate the phone conversations with customers in real-time by providing prompts and suggestions to provide a faster resolution on the phone.

Ironically, with more airlines adopting machine learning and AI, having a quick and effective phone call with a human agent may actually become a real possibility.

4. Lowering Barriers to Entry
Logging an issue with an airline is often a time-consuming process, and many travelers would rather move on with their lives after arriving safely at their destination. While the internet and digital channels have made it easier for passengers in some respects, barriers to complain after a poor experience are still relatively high. Especially when it comes to getting a refund for a delayed flight. However, these barriers are quickly dropping as customers find ways to outsource their service needs to third-party providers.

For example, passengers can now log on to apps like AirHelp and Service, log their issues, and have the service conduct the entire customer service process on their behalf. The result for airlines is a steady increase in contact center inquiries, as third-party services pursue issues that many customers would typically give up on. These “concierges” are often more sophisticated and better equipped than an average traveler, and will, therefore, be a lot more demanding of the airline. For this reason, it’s critical that airlines look for ways to rapidly increase efficiency in their contact center. Tools like artificial intelligence will become a significant pillar helping airlines handle a rapidly growing volume of customer service complaints, no matter where they originate.

5. Embracing Human+AI
An important task for airlines is combining “high tech” with “high touch.” This means taking a holistic view of how machine learning will integrate with, and eventually work alongside, human agents to provide optimal customer service experiences for travelers. The key is figuring out the synergy between machine learning tools and customer service professionals working together in a seamless environment.

Airline service reps are helping train AI to complete repetitive tasks that free up time and energy. Just like an analyst works with Excel to do number crunching, customer service reps will leverage their own AI tools to perform more effectively on the job. With this combination, human agents will have more time to take on challenging tasks and do more of what they love.

As customers become even more demanding, the burden of repetitive tasks is compounding inside airline contact centers. While flights get delayed, and baggage gets lost, it’s all part of the game in the aviation industry. But airlines that figure out how to efficiently leverage AI in their customer service operation can go a long way towards maintaining and developing the trusted relationship they have with any passenger stepping on board.

Mikhail Naumov
Mikhail Naumov is the Co-founder & President of DigitalGenius— a venture-backed artificial intelligence company, transforming the customer service industry. In his role, Mikhail is focused on bringing practical applications of deep learning and artificial intelligence to customer service operations of growing companies and well-established enterprises. A frequent speaker on the topics of emerging technology, artificial intelligence & entrepreneurship. He is a leading voice in the Human+AI movement, focusing on the seamless interaction of human & machine intelligence in business application.


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