Travel that’s virtually ‘Bot and sold
Intelligent, automated virtual assistants are customizing and streamlining the travel industry.
By the time Alex had turned 1 year old, she had correctly answered nearly 10 million questions.
Now, before you go suicidal with guilt over your lack of parenting skills, please understand that Alex is no ordinary 1-year-old. In fact, Alex isn’t even human, although many Continental Airlines customers might beg to differ.
Rise of the Intelligent Virtual Assistants
You see, Alex is the next generation of intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs) that are suddenly sprouting like dandelions after a spring rain. Most of us are familiar with Siri, Apple’s new iPhone automated personal assistant. Travelers booking with Alaska Air are familiar with “Jenn” in the same way that Continental and United customers know Alex. These new breed of travel ‘bots are rapidly becoming the darlings of the industry for their calm, dependable manner, and their ability to answer questions 24/7 without having to take a bathroom break.
These virtual agents are being created by Next IT, a technology company based in Spokane, WA. Next IT’s newest product is a more powerful offering dubbed ActiveAgent for Airlines. This next generation virtual assistant is designed to more quickly answer question concerning reservations, flight times, baggage fees, and more. In fact, this new breed of virtual agent can also offer upgrades for hotels or car rentals, a feature that excites the airlines because it has the capability of driving ancillary revenue on their websites. What’s more, IVAs would be able to call the customer’s attention to the benefits of paying for travels with credit cards that offer the most mileage points—recommendations travelers would normally only expect from a live customer service rep. How cool is that?
Superstar customer service
Alex and her kin were created to quickly put customers in touch with the information they’re looking for. With language-recognition and context-awareness technologies, she’s able to interact with customers much like a human would, understanding the true intent of questions people ask using their own everyday language. And to be honest, Alex is a superstar. Once a customer asks a question, Alex responds both in writing and audibly while navigating the customer to the web page that is most pertinent to the conversation. In the process, Alex has created a unique, intuitive and technologically satisfying customer experience.
Fred Brown, CEO of Next IT, said in a press release that the new service was developed from the detailed data-crunching of more than 40 million travel-related questions. The service “knows what airline customers are going to ask and what solution to offer to quickly and accurately resolve their request,” said Brown, adding that “it’s the difference between hiring a recent college graduate and hiring a trained professional with years of experience.”
Human Emulation Software meets travel
You can imagine that ol’ Fred is not going to make many friends among the college set, or anyone else looking for a job. But, hey, that’s the digital life in the world of Human Emulation Software, so we better get used to it.
The key to success for IVAs, according to Dr. Charles Wooters, chief scientist at Next IT, is transforming customer information into personalized service, a key factor in the future of customer loyalty.
Personalized customer service
In an article on Tnooz.com, Dr. Wooters said: “Airlines will know customer preferences, what ‘home’ means for a traveler, if he likes aisle seats on morning flights, and – most importantly for use on third-party aggregators – what his preferred airline is. The massive amounts of data that can be gleaned and analyzed from logged conversations give a true window into what customers really want.”
Dr. Wooters notes that passengers view airline flights as a “commodity, where price and schedule are more important than brand.” But he points out that beyond the hunt for the lowest fare, customers are seeking greater personalized service. “They want their individual needs to be recognized and will support a brand that demonstrates that it understands their expectations, needs, quirks, and specific requests,” he said.
Of course, nobody’s perfect, even Alex. With anything “new” there’s always a few hiccups along the way, particularly with technology. For instance, when the swine flu hit three years ago, Jenn of Alaska Airlines had no answer for questions because she’d never heard of influenza before. To be honest, it wasn’t her area of expertise. But with a little programming magic, in a few hours Jenn was a veritable encyclopedia of influenza info.
And while the patients were busy getting their swine flu shots, programmers were doing their best to make sure Jenn, Alex, and the rest of the IVA staff didn’t catch a virus as well.
So the next time you want to book a flight, don’t be surprised if you encounter an IVA who seems to know it all. Chances are, they just might.