Conversational AI: Overcoming Turbulence in Aviation


To say that the airline industry has faced some challenges in recent years is quite an understatement. From global travel restrictions and fears of COVID-19 surges to rising prices for jet fuel, ongoing supply chain woes, and continued instability in the labor market, there seems to be no shortage of difficult circumstances. Tony Lorentzen, SVP and GM of Intelligent Engagement Solutions at Nuance Communications, shares how conversational AI can be a gamechanger in providing delightful customer experiences and the best practices to follow as the aviation industry makes its comeback.

At the end of the day, people still want – and often need – to travel. Airline ticket sales in February 2022 exceededOpens a new window $6.6 billion, up about 6% over February 2019. Overall, demand for airline travel appearsOpens a new window to be stronger than ever, despite higher fares.

Therefore, creating seamless, delightful customer experiences should remain a top priority for the airline industry. However, navigating these turbulent times requires re-imagining customer engagements and, increasingly, taking an AI-first approach to delivering superior customer experiences. Here, we cover three best practices for taking advantage of conversational AI solutions throughout the customer journey.

Best Practice #1: Implement Smart, Automated Systems 

Airlines can automate many customer self-service options with a conversational AI solution such as a virtual assistant or chatbot on board that gets them the answers they need quickly. For example, in the event of a flight delay, an AI-powered chatbot can automatically and proactively communicate changes via messaging, text, and email channels. This solution can even help customers quickly reschedule connecting flights as needed. 

Chatbots can also support customers who need special assistance, easing requests for wheelchairs or priority boarding. Because all of this can happen automatically, customers aren’t forced to wait in the queue during times of high contact volumes. Instead of “your estimated wait time is 22 minutes,” customers are seamlessly directed to self-service options to answer their questions.

Likewise, smart virtual assistants can recognize customers when they contact you, greeting them by name and proactively connecting them with their current itinerary and travel details. Conversational AI solutions can also anticipate the reason for the customer’s interaction, whether they’re seeking a change to an upcoming reservation, a potential seat upgrade, or check-in for their flight. It’s all based on where the customer is in their trip’s lifecycle and underlying business rules that guide your solution.

These intelligent systems not only help to improve the customer experience and streamline the more frequent interactions, but they also ease the workloads of contact center agents. Customer self-service options mean contact centers can handle growing contact volumes across all channels with ease.

See More: Are Group and Voluntary Providers ready for AI?

Best Practice #2: Escalate Complicated Requests to Human Agents

While many customer interactions can be handled automatically by conversational AI solutions, some need a human in the loop to effectively manage customer requests, particularly when human-to-human contact can make a difference in customer experience. For customers frustrated by lost or delayed baggage, as one example, having a live agent handle this interaction may be the right approach to meeting and exceeding expectations.

Let’s say a customer engages the live chat to report a baggage issue during an international flight. The virtual assistant can recognize the nature of this customer’s trip and automatically escalates this more complicated engagement to a live human agent. This proactive escalation can deliver a better customer experience through a combination of efficient, personalized interactions from an understanding and empathetic person.

Best Practice #3: Use Agent-facing AI to Guide Real-time Interactions and Boost Training

To complement customer interactions, agent-facing AI helps deliver faster, more effective service with a range of real-time support. For example, agent-facing AI can monitor a live interaction and serve up the next-best-action coaching that helps resolve inquiries more quickly while also providing agents with real-time intelligence that reduces manual effort at the moment. 

Even before the interaction begins, agent-facing AI can support agents as they seamlessly authenticate customers and help prevent fraud. Not only does this protect your customers’ privacy and information, but it also helps agents focus on helping the customer, rather than interrogating them to confirm their identity.

Like having a coach on the sidelines during a game, an AI-powered “coach” makes it easier for agents to answer customers’ questions successfully, offer to upsell opportunities, and efficiently move to the next interaction. And once the exchange concludes, agent-facing AI is ideal for uncovering training and improvement opportunities to optimize agent efficiency and productivity and customer satisfaction continuously. 

In all cases, conversational AI solutions keep the customer in control of their journey, where most people prefer to be. Airlines can reap a range of benefits when they are empowered to solve problems on their own, in their preferred channel, and engage a helpful live agent when needed. Whether increased customer and employee satisfaction scores, automated first contact resolution, or improved cart conversions, conversational AI delivers real-world outcomes to help navigate and weather any industry challenge.

Best Practice #4:  Integrate AI with RPA (robotic process automation)

Automation opportunities don’t end with customer interactions. Highly integrated AI and RPA solutions can automate complete end-to-end processes, minimizing the cost to service a customer inquiry. 

Take, for example, logging a complaint that the entertainment system on your flight was not working.  A virtual assistant can empathetically converse with the customers while collecting pertinent information about their itinerary, offering a credit to the customer to drive customer satisfaction, and also initiate the repair process for the local crew to address the situation, all in realtime, so that future customers don’t have the same issue. This reduces the cost to service the passenger while preventing a future credit and customer satisfaction issues.

How do you think the airline industry can recover better and stay ahead of turbulence in the future? Share with us on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window . We’d love to know!