Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Tue November 29 2016

Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Airline Customer Service?

Travel Technology Paul Thompson November 29, 2016

Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Airline Customer Service?

Photo courtesy of DigitalGenius

The use of artificial intelligence is become more and more present in our daily lives, often in cases where we aren’t even aware of it. In one recent adaptation, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is implementing AI, and TravelPulse spoke with Mikhail Naumov, President of DigitalGenius, creator of KLM’s AI system.

TravelPulse: What is a typical customer question from a KLM passenger that would be responded to by the KLM AI bot?

Mikhail Naumov: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines uses bots for delivering of boarding passes, gate change notifications, etc. These are separate, and not built by DigitalGenius. These are keyword- or action-based automations that make it easier for customers to get valuable information pushed to their phone in time of need.

The partnership with DigitalGenius is about the implementation of an Artificial Intelligence layer directly into the customer service operation at KLM. This means that the agents handling over 100,000 messages per week over social channels (like Facebook and Twitter), have an AI tool helping them accomplish the goal of efficient and personalized customer service. The DigitalGenius deep learning model is trained on historical customer service logs, and provides agents with suggested responses, which the agents can personalize and send out to customers. The idea is to empower customer service agents with the best technology to help them create efficient and genuine experiences for customers.

TP: Could you please explain for the common airline passenger how AI benefits them from a Customer Service standpoint?

MN: Quite often a customer needs help from an airline quickly. For example, when a bag is lost or an urgent rebooking needs to be made. In these cases, the customer's message often sits in a message queue, waiting for an agent to get to it, once they get through the ever-increasing list of messages from other customers that pile up during the day. 

READ MORE: What Technology Will the 'Hotel of the Future' Have?

The addition of the DigitalGenius artificial intelligence layer allows agents to handle urgent cases faster, while still providing all customers with the personalized level of service the airline is known for. Being in the customers shoes is all about getting your questions answered and your problems solved quickly and in a pleasant personal way. In this case with DigitalGenius, the best agents are supported by the best technology to make that happen.

TP: What is the benefit for KLM to use AI when handling customer questions?

MN: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is known as the most innovative airline, especially when it comes to customer service. By using artificial intelligence, they are getting ahead of the curve, and creating ways to help their customers faster and in more personal ways. By unlocking the time agents usually spend searching for answers, or performing other manual repetitive tasks — KLM enables their agents to focus on delivering an even more personal approach and resolution.

TP: To what level can KLM's AI work for a customer? Is it capable of reservation booking, seat selection? What about of they need a hotel or rental car when they arrive, can that all be handled?

MN: The AI is there to support the agent and the customer. Having been trained on historical customer service logs, it is capable of analyzing questions of all varieties. However, when it comes to taking complex actions, such as booking a hotel which is unrelated to the airline, the system will assist the human agent in finding the best ways to do so according to the brand's policy.

Singapore airlines also uses AI, but in a different way. They work with a company called RocketFuel to help them target potential customers in the UK, based on their online behavior. They began doing this in late 2014.

Even low-cost carriers are getting into AI usage. British airline EasyJet uses AI for their revenue management strategy, matching flight frequencies to demand, as well as onboard catering needs, which could lead to potential increases in ancillary revenue.

KLM is certainly innovative. This summer, they painted a brand-new Boeing 777 in a special orange and blue paint scheme, based on a Photoshopped image that received a huge positive response on social media last year — but this only goes to prove that they are in tune to their customers, and are listening to them in every possible space. And while the use of AI may seem foreign to many, its use is unavoidable if airlines are to encounter as many customers as quickly as possible.