We recently launched a Skift Video in partnership with IBM, What The Rise of Cognitive Tech Means for Travelers, which explores the travel industry’s shift into this new era of machine-learning tech.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is usually imagined as a physical robot, but that’s a common misconception. AI lives inside different devices such as the Amazon Echo, the iPhone, smartwatches, and even mirrors. If you interact with voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana, then you’re already using AI.
People usually use this type of technology in their personal lives to complete simple tasks, such as ordering food, setting reminders, and sending messages. But AI is just as useful in the business world.
In the workplace, AI can help employees focus on deep work and not be distracted by menial tasks (e.g. setting up meetings, filtering email inboxes, and checking reminders). According to McKinsey & Company, workers spend about 28 percent of their workweek managing email. By letting AI filter their influx of content, communications, and notifications, they can spend that time completing more demanding tasks.
AI also helps frontline employees be more efficient when it comes to customer service. Travel companies are implementing this technology into their businesses to help employees across sectors provide better customer experience.
For instance, Qantas Airways is using self-service tech to reduce check-in times by over 90 percent, while Air Canada created a self-service check-in system that is 80 percent more cost-effective compared to the traditional counter process. IBM and Panasonic are using cognitive technology (AI that uses natural language processing and machine learning to enable more natural interaction) to develop smart touch-screen mirrors. These double as a digital concierge to assist guests with their travels, aiding hotel staff in answering guests’ questions and managing food orders.
In the travel industry, 25 percent of companies have already implemented cognitive computing into their business. Another 41 percent of companies plan to adopt the technologies within a year.
Call centers have also started using this technology with the help from virtual assistants such as the Watson Virtual Agent, which assists front-line staff and expands their 360-degree view of customers. Watson Virtual Agent has an array of features that humans don’t, which maximizes the help a company can offer customers through a cognitive, conversational self-service experience. It includes elements such as tone analyzer, language translation, personality insights, and other system capabilities, that help employees develop better brand-tailored experiences.
Virtual assistants also minimize wait times for customers who have simple questions. For example, Watson cuts holding time by answering basic inquiries. If the question is something that can only be handled by a human operator, Watson will direct the customer to the right department within the enterprise and assist that employee by quickly accessing specific information in the company’s database. Virtual assistants also help travel companies and call centers by providing new employee onboarding and training systems, which lowers costs, both internal and external.
Cognitive computing helps employees working in the travel industry more effectively do their jobs by allowing them to serve more customers through multiple channels. For example, virtual assistants take action through a variety of platforms (chat, social media, etc.). This means an employee can be on the phone with a customer dealing with a complex issue, while the virtual agent is assisting five other customers with basic inquiries, at the same time.
Currently, 36 percent of travel leaders expect to have four or more cognitive projects underway in the next two years, according to an IBM survey. But 52 percent of survey respondents believe operational improvements are the best target for their future cognitive investments, which means that there are many other experiences employees and customers will witness in the next couple years. These experiences can be anything from smart trip planning, to an increase in chatbots using natural language to help customers search online for the best flight and cheapest hotel.
Cognitive computing already offers an impressive amount of experiences, but it has potential to go beyond chatbots and virtual assistants. If travel companies begin to experiment more with cognitive, they’ll see they can create programs that improve and streamline travel experiences and operations — which will make traveling easier to plan, experience, and enjoy.
This content was created collaboratively by IBM and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.