Contact us? We’d prefer it if you didn’t.

In the past 18 months, I have booked two flights with a full-service ‘flag carrier’ airline, who profess that serving their customers is their number one priority. Both times I have experienced an issue with my loyalty card number not being saved during the booking process. And both times the airline has completely washed its hands of me once it had got hold of my money.

That’s because their business – selling flights – is now effectively a commodity to be serviced at the lowest possible cost in both financial and human capital terms. They want customers to self-serve at every possible stage. This means that the airline does everything it possibly can to avoid contact with passengers in the first place. In this case, it means hiding contact options away in a small font at the bottom of a long page, trying to force you down routes of unsuitable fixed FAQs, and interminable IVR systems and long call queues, on non-geographic, generic Customer Service phone numbers.

In an ideal world, self-service is fine. Probably basic questions around, say, luggage allowances or flight schedules can be handled with FAQs and clear signposting on the website. But once you ask anything more than these simple queries, this option falls down. It can’t handle questions asked in a way that doesn’t match the knowledgebase’s exact phrasing. It can’t cope with questions that haven’t already been pre-determined and entered by someone working on the website. And it certainly can’t cope with this passenger trying to find out how to fix her loyalty card problem! According to the airline, my problem didn’t exist, and they didn’t want to know it did.

It was at this point I was desperately wishing they had an intelligent virtual assistant who I could simply ask my questions to, and get a sensible, useful answer back, maybe having been transferred to a live agent if necessary.

In this and other customer-facing environments where it is simply not viable to employ and train enough staff to cover all the potential eventualities of customer queries 24/7, 365, having a permanently ‘on duty’ expert and professional adviser who can respond on your behalf is a no-brainer.

And when you can look behind the scenes and see all the questions and requests being asked of this Virtual Assistant – including the ones you didn’t know were even being asked! – then things really can only get better, as you can not only improve answers to questions you already know about, you can see where the black holes are and plug them immediately. This is what a Teneo Virtual Assistant can offer. And if I could ever get hold of anyone at the airline, I’d tell them!

Andy, who lives with his family in the UK, is Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at Artificial Solutions. A regular speaker at industry conferences and events, Andy delivers insight on the rise of AI, the challenges businesses face and the future of intelligent conversational applications.

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