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Airline bots for a better post-Covid-19 passenger experience

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12 June 2020

Airlines are facing a new era in which they have to reconsider how they operate to become more profitable, redefining a new experience for passengers while providing safety and trust. To overcome these challenges, aviation is taking advantage of the technology at its disposal for this purpose, and bots are playing a very relevant role therein

A bot or chatbot is a conversation assistant, chatting by voice or text, which enables a natural conversation between the system and any person. They learn fast through interactions and provide a better day-to-day customer experience.

In the current situation, chatbots can be key pieces in airlines to improve three important aspects:

  • It improves the user experience: it responds to the information needs that users occasionally have nowadays and it does it immediately and flexibly, since you can choose the means, written or by voice, that best suits the needs of any user at all times.
  • It reliefs pressure in customer support centers: After analyzing the data from airline call centers, it is estimated that between 30% and 50% of all calls received by any airline's call center could be subject to automation through chatbots and, similarly, between the 20% and 40% of the emails they receive.
  • It helps to keep social distancing: as a tool that helps to respect the health security measures that all airlines must take, it can play a relevant role. Any interaction that is automated via chatbot will avoid customer contact with airline, airport or third-party personnel, whether at counters, windows or any other space.

Following the trends on which the sector is focused, and after having been a participant in projects to implement various bot channels, at this specific moment I would bet on this type of solution over more widely used solutions such as the web or apps. This is mainly for one reason: active listening.

While in classic channels users are guided to different flows, in chatbots users are allowed to freely interact with the application, directly indicating what action or what type of information is needed at that time. The information is stored and, although at that moment the airline does not have this specific implemented, it will be easy to prioritize the options most demanded by customers to collect such functionality in the application. In addition, the implementation time is not a problem, since the architecture and the first use cases can be available in a short period of time; new cases can be incorporated in a few hours, which allows an agile response by of companies when incorporating new functionalities and information to the chatbot, thus reducing reaction time to the needs of users.

The use of chatbots on airlines is already quite widespread. Although in most cases, it is restricted to very specific functionalities, and it does not cover all business cases or uses 100% of the potential of this type of technology.

In most airlines that already use chatbots, they do so exclusively to provide the status of a flight to users or to answer frequently asked questions; only a small percentage of companies have added the functionality to use these channels to search and purchase tickets (with the payment redirected to the web) or carry out the Check-in process. There are many functionalities and processes based on this technology that are not yet being used, some of

them related to new passenger experiences such as boarding queue management, relations with airport or flight personnel, disruption management, baggage handling and billing or claims.

Based on my experience implementing these platforms, I can suggest some relevant practices that will contribute to the success of this type of projects:

  • Build the product in an iterative way: starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) that generates input quickly, solving the simplest cases and iterating on it to cover all the complexity of any process in this and in new channels.
  • Single training for all channels: to take advantage of synergies of works done in one channel and to apply it in the rest already implemented, or to be implemented, providing a continuity feeling for users when changing from one to another.
  • Single platform to manage several channels, present and future: it is important that it complies with all standards and generates economies of scale.
  • Graphic Flow Manager: to speed up new cases or new channels to be created with a graphical interface that makes its use easier and energizes creation.
  • Cloud-based solution: to prevent worrying about infrastructure or its scale according to the use and growth that the platform may have.
  • Different communication methods and language styles: to enable the use of both voice and writing and different styles such as formal or informal language.
  • Analytics included: to immediately and accurately disclose the use that is being made of your chatbot channels.
  • Satisfaction surveys: to find out users’ satisfaction through automatic surveys launched after each iteration and through the chatbot itself.

Historically, the airline industry has been one of the engines of digital evolution worldwide. Now, technology in the form of bots can help this sector at a key moment.

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