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Flight Centre and Air NZ harness Amazon’s Alexa

January 24, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

“Alexa, ask Flight Centre for the cheapest flight to London.” Both Flight Centre and Air New Zealand have announced that they are using the services of Alexa, Amazon’s “intelligent personal digital assistant” due for launch in a couple of weeks.

Flight Centre says it “has added voice capabilities to its digital portfolio” as part of its digital transformation.

Flight Centre “will release a voice skill for Amazon’s Australian launch of Alexa, in time for when devices hit stores from early February”, the company says.

Using voice, customers will be able to ask for the cheapest flights to their chosen destination with their preferred airline, cabin class and travel dates. Customers who provide contact information can also request a call back from Flight Centre’s travel experts to kick-start their booking enquiry.

It will be interesting to see how this works. Some callers hate speaking to robots and prefer the human touch early in the transaction, but perhaps that’s a generational thing.

Flight Centre’s Head of Customer Experience, Darren Wright, signalled the cloud-based voice capabilities of Amazon Alexa as a natural progression.

“This technology closes the loop for us – our customers will be able to follow up on an ad they hear on the radio, for example, and request flight details just by asking a simple question.

“We can then follow up their enquiry with a call and provide a seamless and swift customer experience,” he said.

Continuing its digital transformation theme, Flight Centre will build on this initial release to enhance the skill and will roll-out voice-activated capabilities via Google Home in the near future.

Flight Centre partnered with Australian Voice Experience (VX) agency, Versa, for the bespoke skill development. Customers can access Alexa on Alexa-enabled devices such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus. The devices are now available for pre-order online and will hit stores in a couple of weeks or so.

Meanwhile, in a separate but parallel initiative, tech-savvy Air New Zealand is set to become one of the first airlines in Australasia to launch on Alexa.

An Air New Zealand feature to be made available through the Amazon Alexa skill store will allow its customers to conveniently check their flight status.

Air New Zealand chief digital officer Avi Golan says launching on Amazon Alexa will give customers another convenient channel to engage with the airline.

“Voice is an increasingly popular channel in this market and to ensure we use it effectively we’ve spent considerable time researching user habits on voice services,” he said.

“What we’ve learnt is using services like Alexa can require a step change in behaviours so it’s been critical that we keep our skill simple initially and make it easy for customers to use.

“Imagine having your hands full making last minute travel preparations and being able to ask Air New Zealand to confirm your flight time without having to manually look it up on a device. As more people become familiar with this type of technology we’ll look to build on what we can do,” Golan says.

Air New Zealand’s Alexa will initially be available only in New Zealand and Australia but the airline plans to roll it out to other markets in future and add further skills.

The airline has been experimenting increasingly with artificial intelligence. Last year it introduced its online chatbot Oscar to help customers with commonly asked flight, baggage, lounge and Airpoints queries. According to the carrier, Oscar’s performance has “steadily improved with every interaction and today he averages more than 900 conversations per day with customers and boasts a conversation success rate of more than 70%”.

Edited by Peter Needham

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