Future of Work News

Delta Elevates Customer Service Using AI-Based Virtual Assistant


Delta Air Lines is cruising into the AI game by testing Apple Business Chat-based support to augment its customer service. The test enables select U.S. customers to click on a “Need Help” link via an email, which will launch the Messages application on iOS devices as well as the FlyDelta app. That action will initiate a text messaging session with a Delta virtual assistant, making use of the company’s AI technology, or the option to speak to a human customer service representative.

The company said it expects participating customers to increase their use of the virtual assistant and AI technology for help with basic questions, which will result in reduced wait times for customer service throughout the company. The use of the text messaging and Delta apps also enables customers to save a history of their chats for future reference, a valuable addition to Delta’s customer service. The company plans to integrate mobile assist into its Delta app for all customers in the fall.

Delta may have found a way to distinguish itself from competitors’ customer service by increasingly leveraging AI. Airlines notoriously have a reputation for slow, old-fashioned approaches to customer service, resulting in frustration and a loss of business. According to Tori Forbes-Roberts, vice president of reservation sales, customer care and digital engagement at Delta, the use of AI and mobile messaging is meant to help customers as well as the company’s 7,000 global customer service agents.

“We’ve been trying to expand the channels to other electronic means as technology has evolved to give customers the choice of where and when and how they engage with us,” said Forbes-Roberts. “What that really says is we want to be available to our customers in the channels where they want to engage with us.”

“We want Delta customers to feel in full control of their experience with Delta, but know that we’re just a click or tap away when they need us,” added Rhonda Crawford, vice president of distribution and digital channels at Delta.

The addition of AI capabilities also eases some of the burden on busy customer service agents throughout the world. The virtual assistant is programmed to handle simple, common queries on its own, escalating more complex issues to human customer service agents. According to Delta, around one-third of all customer interactions through the test are currently handled via AI, significantly easing the burden on human agents. Questions typically focus on baggage allowances and upcoming trips.

Delta is planning to include additional capabilities to its virtual assistant moving forward, like the ability to make payments as well as use of messaging on non-iOS devices. The company also hopes to make the service available globally in the future.

“The philosophy with the [virtual assistant] … is that it does learn over time — [including] the types of questions the customers are asking — so we can continue to refine the responses and have as many conversations as we can, if that’s what the customer wants,” said Forbes-Roberts. “One of the things we’re working on is making sure the bot converses with customers the same way and with the same sort of voice and culture as our people … [We believe] that continuity as part of our brand is important.”

For more information about how AI is transforming customer service and the contact center industry, TMC is hosting a Future of Work Expo in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The event, which will take place from February 12-14, 2020, will explore how AI and machine learning may be used to improve business communications, collaboration, sales and marketing and contact centers and customer service.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Future of Work Contributor

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