How AI Is Taking Airline Customer Service to New Heights

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In this special guest feature, Dermot O’Connor, VPE & Co-Founder at Boxever, discusses how AI is changing the world of customer service using airlines as an example and how leveraging this evolving technology allows marketers to do their jobs more effectively, automating the data processes that have become too difficult for humans to keep up with and providing them with the opportunity to use the insight gathered from customer data to build personalized offers that cater to each customer’s wants and needs. Dermot is an accomplished software technologist with over 12 years experience developing and delivering large, distributed, internet-based systems. Having been a key member of the core product team at Datalex in his early career, he moved to Salmat to consult on and build their promotional marketing SaaS product. He subsequently returned to Datalex and spent a number of years managing large development teams to successful deliveries of complex enterprise products. Dermot holds a BSc. in Computer Applications from Dublin City University.

If you’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’ve probably developed some strong opinions on Artificial Intelligence (AI). And while reports continue pouring in about how AI will steal jobs and make certain occupations obsolete, the reality is that smart solutions are actually helping many industries and individuals improve their overall operations – marketing being one of them.

The 2017 State of Marketing Report found that 57 percent of marketers using AI say it’s absolutely or very essential in helping their company create 1-to-1 marketing across every customer touch-point. For airlines or retailers with hundreds of thousands of customers, reaching them on a personal level can only be achieved through the use of AI and intelligent solutions.

The First Step to AI: Tackling Data

Would you send your friend an offer for free sushi if you knew they hated fish? Hopefully not. Customers expect a similar “friendly” understanding from airlines, which means giving them offers and content that’s relevant to them. The reason that AI has been able to enhance brand-to-consumer interactions is the explosion of available data. AI technologies are being powered with Big Data, so it’s important for airlines to use a Customer Data Platform to create a centralized and complete view of their customers.

Brands receive large amounts of data every minute through their online and offline channels. If this data is consolidated into a structured format and combined into one database through a centralized data platform, then marketers have a complete picture of their customer’s needs and desires and can deliver the right content at the right time. This consolidated data includes not only real-time data, but historical data on a customer’s past interactions with the airline. Consolidating the data through a Customer Data Platform allows for airlines to have seamless and meaningful interactions with their customers, regardless of what stage the customer is at in their journey.

Delivering A Personal Touch

Airlines have a massive opportunity to use their contextual data to create meaningful interactions with passengers. People love birthday surprises, and what better way to appreciate a loyal customer than by sending them miles or a seat upgrade on their birthday? These personalized interactions can happen in the air as well. With the help of an intelligent solution, airlines can be prompted to surprise frequent fliers with their favorite complimentary beverage or snack. These small touches go a long way in creating brand loyalty, but it’s impossible for airlines to deliver them at scale without an AI solution.

Improving the Quality of Customer Interactions

AI is crucial for strengthening loyalty with existing customers and delivering real-time service. For example, imagine an airline passenger has just landed in their vacation destination and learned their baggage was lost in transit. They are likely frustrated and searching for an airline representative who can help remedy the situation when they receive an email from the airline inquiring about their flight experience. This email shows a lack of understanding about the customer’s experience and has the potential to further alienate the customer from the airline.

With an AI platform, the airline could be alerted about the luggage issue in real-time, stopping that email from ever being sent and instead having an agent proactively reach out to the customer to help them with their lost baggage. These interactions demonstrate a commitment to the customer’s needs and help drive repeat business, even when a customer has an unpreventable service issue.

Embracing Bots for a More Human Experience   

Though it may sound counterintuitive, enabling AI to automate certain processes is actually allowing brands to become more human in their communication. Chatbots and other AI assistants help deal with routine communication in real-time, addressing service issues immediately that would have previously taken hours or days to address. They gather cues from verbal or textual communication, making the customer interaction a conversation and not a scripted service response.

Many industries can’t handle the volume of customer requests with human service agents alone, making AI the only viable option. Airlines have thousands of customer engagements daily, many of which require real-time responses. Bots or intelligent solutions can be used to communicate with customers when there are flight delays or during peak volume travel times. Airlines can also leverage AI to help prevent overbooking issues by setting rules and guidelines to ensure seats are assigned and booked appropriately.

Marketers shouldn’t view AI as a threat but a friend. It’s their secret weapon for creating more meaningful engagements with the modern customer – and the recipe for long term success.


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