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Chatbots have obvious applications for airlines and yet they have not been widely deployed by airlines. Airlines up to now have favored creating apps rather than using chatbots. Here we explore some of the ways that airlines could use chatbots.
As in most cases, there is a customer service use case for airlines whereby customers could ask questions about their bookings or airline services. These chatbots would be integrated with back end systems.
While these services could be provided by the app or website, it is much easier for the customer to simply ask the question in the chat application, such as Whatsapp, and receive the answer. For example, “what time is my flight leaving tomorrow?”. Provided they have authorized the airline to allow general questions about their booking from Whatsapp, they don’t need to log in to receive answers.
There are also customer enablement use cases for airlines that can result in upsell opportunities. For example, when the airline sent a reminder of the flight departure on Whatsapp, they could allow the customer to do things like upgrade, change seats or buy insurance etc. from within the chat app.
Instead of sending a check-in email with a link to the website to check-in, the airline could send a Whatsapp message asking the customer to check-in and allow them to check-in on the chat application. Generally, the check-in process does not require much information and could easily be done on the chat app. There is much less mental effort involved in providing information on a chat app versus logging into a website, so allowing customers to do this would result in more online check-ins and less effort on behalf of the customers.
One issue with the airline providing these services is that the customer needs to have data services working to use them which can be a problem for them when traveling. Most customers will have data as they have many reasons to organize this for themselves. RCS (the new upgraded version of SMS) may be available soon which would allow them to interact with the chatbot in an efficient way without data. It is, of course, possible to allow the bot to be used through SMS however this is not practical in general as the user experience is bad, in part because the SMS channel is cluttered.
Chatbots that provide alerts are also a good use case. Alerts could be provided on a chat application with SMS as a backup. The benefit of a chatbot alert versus an SMS alert is that the user can interact with the chatbot alert. The chatbot alert could provide the user with buttons that could be used to guide them to additional relevant information or even allow them to acknowledge that they received the alert. They could even ask questions about the alert and be provided with more information.
In order for alerts to function well, the chatbot needs to have Alert objects set up which can then be populated with relevant information. For example, a Cancelled Flight Alert object would require an airline employee to provide details of the flight that was canceled and instructions as to what to do. They also may provide details of other relevant flights and availability. The user could also subscribe to updated information regarding the cancellation and relevant flights.
A more controversial use of chatbots might be an inflight voice chatbot. This chatbot could allow customers to order services from the inflight assistants, purchase things or control the entertainment system. The question would be how economic would this service be to provide and what would be the benefit for the airline and the customers.
For customers, it would reduce friction to getting help and result in a smoother experience. From the point of view of the airline, it could mean assistants need to spend less time gathering customer requests, including food requests and therefore it may lead to needing fewer assistants on board.
Removing friction to purchasing things on board may lead to more sales. At the moment on short-haul flights, items are generally sold on a one-off basis by an assistant rolling a trolley down the aisle. While this may be the most efficient first pass, customers could order their food and beverages in advance of this and also order food and beverages at any other time as required.
In addition to more engagement with customers, the chatbot could provide valuable analytics on purchasing habits and allow airlines to introduce loyalty programs to optimize and customize customer sales.
Finally, chatbots can be used internally by the airline for all the normal reasons that companies use chatbots for employees. Chatbots can be used for expenses, holiday planning, IT support and business intelligence to name a few applications. In the case of an airline, the planning of shifts and holidays is much more complex than for a conventional company so there may be an opportunity to have a chatbot help manage this workflow.
In short, there are many ways that chatbots can be used by airlines. They can be used in all the conventional ways such as customer service or IT support, but there are also many specific use cases for airlines. Some of these use cases are currently provided through the airline app but some are completely new.
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