Big Interview: How AI will shape the future of travel contact centres

Big Interview: How AI will shape the future of travel contact centres

AI is everywhere, it's in our every day lives and we might not even be aware, but are we aware of it in business? We spoke with Jason Roos, CEO of cloud-based software company Cirrus, to get his expert insights on one of AI's use cases - travel contact centres

The rapid development of AI means all kinds of organisations are looking at the impact the technology could have in their industry. AI tools have surged in popularity for personal and professional tasks, with ChatGPT achieving over 1 million users just five days after launch and being enthusiastically adopted by a wide range of sectors. With the refinement of emerging AI developments, the potential for changes in how we work is only just being realised, especially in customer-facing businesses such as travel and tourism.

How do you envision AI transforming the operations of travel contact centres in the near future?

AI is one of the most significant changes to the travel industry in years, and adopting it now can help companies stay ahead of their competitors by offering customers personalised assistance, faster support, and more. It will revolutionise travel contact centres by automating routine tasks and providing intelligent automation for instant customer support. Nearly 40% of travel industry customers say they’d prefer to deal with AI to assist with travel plans, which can help travel contact centres reduce staff costs while attracting more customers. AI can also more easily track customer preferences to make personalised recommendations, as well as make interactions across multiple channels easier and smoother. 

What specific challenges do you believe AI can address within the travel industry's contact centres?

One of the biggest problems in travel contact centres is high call volumes and long wait times, with 59% of contact centres reporting that call volumes are growing beyond their ability to process them. AI can address this, acting as a first point of contact for callers. For routine inquiries, AI can help provide accurate and timely information to customers, improve overall customer satisfaction by delivering personalised and efficient services, and also support employees to handle more customers with less stress.

Can you provide examples of how AI technologies have already improved customer experiences in travel contact centres?

AI technologies have improved customer experiences by offering virtual assistants that can deliver support at any time of day, which is vital since around half of your customers will expect a travel business to be available 24/7. This AI support can be very accurate thanks to natural language processing, which helps it understand and respond to customer queries in real time. AI can also implement intelligent routing systems to connect customers with the most appropriate agents during full-service hours. AI is one of the most significant changes to the travel industry in years, and adopting it now can help companies stay ahead of their competitors by offering customers personalised assistance, faster support, and rapid solutions.

How does Cirrus Response's contact centre solution leverage AI to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of travel-related customer interactions?

Cirrus Response's contact centre solution utilises AI to automate repetitive tasks and route inquiries to the most suitable agents. It also provide real-time insights that help agents to offer personalised experiences, and enables self-service options through conversational AI, resulting in improved efficiency and customer satisfaction. Our AI-powered solutions focus on productivity, as well as making it easier and less stressful for customer service agents to assist customers.

Are there any ethical considerations that travel contact centres should keep in mind when implementing AI technologies? How does Cirrus Response address these concerns?

Ethical considerations with AI use include data privacy, transparency in AI decision-making, and ensuring AI systems do not perpetuate biases. All of these are concerns for users, who want to know that their data and information is safe, while knowing any information an AI system gives them is accurate and fair, with no unexplained decision-making. With many customers trusting travel agencies with their personal details, Cirrus Response prioritises data security, making sure that all AI solutions follow strict GDPR guidelines. We also focus on transparency in AI algorithms, and we are always happy to explain our processes and stand by them. These AI solutions are also continuously monitored to address any biases or unintended consequences from the data sets they work from.

What impact do you anticipate AI will have on the roles and responsibilities of customer service agents within travel contact centres?

AI will augment customer service agents by handling routine inquiries and tasks, allowing agents to focus on more complex and specialised customer needs. This will lessen the pressure of answering many customer inquiries at once. AI will also give agents the information they need, at a glance, to support customers, helping customer service agents be more efficient. Additionally, agents can evolve to become experts who can assist with more complex needs. They can also operate as brand ambassadors and relationship managers, providing higher-value assistance and empathy to customers. While there is concern that AI could lead to job losses, it seems likely that we’ll see more job advancement and changes, with customer service agents focusing their energy on different roles and tasks.

How does AI enable personalisation and customisation in travel contact centre interactions? Can you share any success stories or case studies?

When customers use an AI-powered travel solution, it can easily track and analyse customer data, preferences, and past interactions. All of this helps you deliver tailored recommendations and offers, without customer service agents having to research what is appropriate for the customer. For example, AI-powered chatbots can suggest personalised travel itineraries based on customer preferences, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and increased conversions, with over 90% of travel customers happy to spend more for personalised assistance and experiences.

What are the key metrics and indicators that travel contact centres should track to measure the success and ROI of AI implementations?

Key metrics include customer satisfaction scores, reduction in average handling time, first contact resolution rates, customer retention rates, and cost savings achieved through AI automation. These metrics all reflect the improved customer experience and operational efficiency driven by AI. While there is significant potential for cost-saving, this should be measured carefully against customer satisfaction scores and retention rates. It’s important to balance these to ensure that you meet internal customer satisfaction goals.

What steps can travel contact centres take to ensure a smooth integration of AI technologies into their existing infrastructure and workflows?

Travel contact centres should start with a comprehensive assessment of their existing processes. This will let you identify areas where AI can add value. Once you know where to add AI, it’s important to develop a phased implementation plan. This should include proper training for all customer service agents and supervisors to minimise user errors and issues. You also need to plan seamless integration of existing systems with AI experts, and regularly monitor and refine AI solutions to make sure that they meet the specific needs of your travel company. No two companies have exactly the same needs, so a tailored approach is vital.

Looking ahead, what future advancements in AI do you foresee having the greatest impact on travel contact centres, and how is Cirrus Response preparing for them?

Future advancements in AI, such as natural language understanding and generation, sentiment analysis, and emotion detection, will have a significant impact on travel contact centres by making AI solutions even better at understanding what customers need. This will improve the success of AI-powered solutions. Cirrus Response is actively researching and developing these technologies to enhance our contact centre solutions, enabling more human-like interactions and deeper customer insights.

In what ways do you believe that these advancements will revolutionise the customer experience?

AI will revolutionise travel in the future by helping contact centres provide highly personalised customer experiences and faster resolution times. AI-assisted agents can have instant access to a knowledge base that provides them with the latest information about products, services and solutions. This will help agents meet and even exceed customer expectations, and provide the best resolutions possible to customers’ queries.

For example, AI can quickly scan a customer’s past travel preferences and suggest relevant packages in response to a query. AI can also make customer service faster and more efficient by suggesting the best next action for an agent to take. This could range from giving a customer additional information on their travel plans or suggesting alternative options. This, combined with sentiment analysis to help guide agents through customer conversations, will help contact centres provide the very best experience when arranging travel plans.

Looking ahead

With AI becoming more common in the workplace, it’s vital to look at how AI-powered solutions will continue to shape change in travel contact centres. Generally, AI is expected to deliver greater productivity for companies and higher customer satisfaction, as callers expect 24/7 AI support from organisations they deal with. Additionally, it’s crucial to carefully monitor ethical concerns regarding AI, such as bias and privacy. It’s also incredibly important to plan a smooth transition to using AI in your business, as this will directly affect how successful AI is in helping your company achieve its goals, save money and improve customer support.