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Adam Geneave

‘Our chatbot was by no means the first in market. That was really deliberate,’ says AirAsia

Many companies have turned to chatbots to meet rising expectations for speedy replies and service, but consumers remain sceptical that a chatbot’s service is able to match up to that of a human’s, according to Forrester Analytics’ “Customer Service Chatbots Fail Consumers Today” infographic. According to the report, many consumers are still reluctant to trust a chatbot to resolve their service issues and as such prefer the human touch. However, manpower-intensive customer service is not sustainable, especially for airlines, which face sudden spikes in queries due to flight disruptions or natural disasters.

Faced with this conundrum, AirAsia embarked on a radical transformation over the past year, with a goal to launch a chatbot service that is of consumers’ satisfaction, so they can communicate with the company in a timely manner. The transformation saw the launch of chatbot AVA (AirAsia Virtual Allstar) which it deemed as witty, and even has the ability to crack jokes, so there is still a “humanistic nature”. During an interview with A+M at Salesforce Basecamp, AirAsia’s chief customer happiness officer Adam Geneave said when it launched the bot, it was all about ensuring that the bot talks to consumers in the right way. “If you talk to AVA and tell her she’s cute for example, you will see some of her personality coming through,” he said.

AVA was launched at the end of January this year along with a website and mobile app facelift. Available on AirAsia’s new live chat feature, AVA is currently able to communicate in eight languages. Besides ensuring that AVA has a human touch, Geneave said that being able to transition from the chatbot to a live agent is also important. In cases where a customer request has to be handed over, the live agent needs to have the full history and be able continue to conversation seamlessly, he said.

“Our chatbot was by no means the first in market. That was really deliberate, because we want to make sure when we launch the chatbot, it was going to be what we believe to be the best in market,” he said. Before launch, Geneave and his team narrowed in on the issues that the chatbot will be best able to help with such as flight bookings, adding flight meals, changing personal particulars, and checking flight updates and general company or product information. To refine the chatbot, the company taps into historical data and insights gathered from past service cases. He added:

I think because we put the right things in there we have had a really good adoption by customers.

Currently the airline manages 20 million customer enquiries and feedback cases through Salesforce every year, according to statistics from a press statement. Before AVA, Geneave said consumers waited approximately 45 minutes to speak with an agent via live chat and an indefinite amount of time to speak to an agent over its hotline depending on the traffic. However, the launch of AVA has allowed AirAsia to reduce the wait time to a few minutes via live chat, resulting in customer satisfaction rates rising to over 90%, Geneave said.

Keeping up with customers’ preferences

While customer service efficiency is an imperative in the airline industry, Geneave said its transformation journey in allowing consumers to communicate effortlessly at a time and channel of their choice has “not been easy” due to the fast-changing preferences of consumers. Consumers  today, look to contact companies the same way they are communicating with friends. In a bid to catch up, AirAsia launched a WeChat integration on its mobile app to better connect with Chinese consumers in particular. Geneave said this move allowed AirAsia to reduce some enquiry volume for its live chat team and enabled higher quality of service.

“It’s part of a proper transformation to be digital travel company and a digital airline. What we see is that customers have embraced that digital transformation very quickly and customers would now prefer to talk to us through a digital channel,” said Geneave.

Besides the implementation of chatbots, part of AirAsia’s transformation also involves training its employees to deliver the right tone of voice for existing and new channels. He explained that AirAsia is intent on ensuring employees undergo the right culture shift because the way a customer service agent responds to a consumer on Twitter or WeChat, is very different from the way it is done via email which is historically the main channel.

On technological innovations in the future, Geneave expects artificial intelligent voice market to grow. However, opportunities for the airline remain to be seen, according to him, as the technology is still green in terms of having conversations and enabling services such as sale of flight tickets. Currently the low cost carrier works with Salesforce on multiple touchpoints but it specifically engaged Salesforce to be an on-site full time and partner with its own in-house developers to help drive ongoing enhancements to the system.

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