Many of us have had an experience similar to this: You call an airline to make a reservation and get a digital agent on the phone. The call starts off fine, but when you ask if your friend can sit next to you on the flight, the digital agent stalls and sends you to a live agent. You then wait several minutes before you reach a live agent and, when you finally do, she has no call history and you have to start from scratch, explaining who you are and making the reservation a second time.
Eventually, your request gets resolved and you manage to book your flight. But the entire process takes more time than you would have preferred, and you’re left irritated and feeling like you’ll switch airlines the next time.
Situations like these occur because many airlines have separate systems for the digital agent and the live agent, often from different providers whose contracts restrict the integration of both systems. When the two systems don’t communicate with one another, the digital agent hands the call off to a live agent, and the information doesn’t transfer. Airlines are now working to integrate both systems, and there are at least five benefits to doing so:
1. Saves the customer time. Customers don’t have to start from scratch and can complete their reservation request in much less time.
2. More efficient use of the agent’s time. When the customer saves time, so does the agent, which gives her more time to upsell the customer on other services or deals the airline has to offer. The live agent can transition to becoming more of a salesperson and problem solver than a mere order taker.
3. More efficient back-end processing. In the past, any time a change was made the airline would have to input the change into two separate systems. Now, the change gets entered only once and both systems get the update.
4. Improved brand loyalty. The customer will remember his issue was resolved quickly and the live agent had a complete call history and knew and understood the customer’s preferences.
5. Personalized service. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable the system to learn more about the customer over time. For example, it might know immediately the customer’s seat preferences based on her flight time – towards the front of the plane on a connecting flight, at the back on the red-eye, or in the aisle during a daytime flight –so that when the customer books a future flight with the digital agent, the correct seat will be assigned automatically.
As the system matures, fewer calls would need to be routed to a live agent, so that only the most exceptional requests, or those involving sensitive information (such as a declined credit card), would need to be transferred.
A centralized platform is the most effective tool for integrating digital agents and live agents. It can connect disparate applications, services, and processes under a uniform customer experience, helping airlines to ensure data compliance, easily transform data, and more efficiently route information.
That said, integrating live and digital agents is a challenge, with legacy systems and processes often hindering progress. But the overall goals of an integrated system –improved customer service, brand loyalty and the ability of live agents to upsell services that customers really want – are well worth the effort.
When airlines succeed in doing this, they can win customers for life.