Practical applications of natural language processing for inbound email handling at airline contact centres
Airline contact centers are in a pinch. Despite the growth of messaging platforms, chatbots, and dedicated portals, email traffic continues to grow. About 306 billion emails were exchanged every day in 2020, and the volume is expected to climb 4% annually over the next four years.
Experienced agents are already struggling to respond to today´s email volumes in a timely manner. And for every email that gets responded, the chain only grows with follow-up queries, pushing agents into a vicious circle. Eventually, fulfilling service level agreements is at risk, while customer satisfaction plummets. Intelligent automation of inbound email handling is part of the solution.
Natural language processing – the game changer
Artificial intelligence transforms the way businesses operate, and natural language processing (NLP) is part of that revolution. Already used in digital assistants and chatbots, NLP makes human-to-machine interactions more natural, dissolving the conversational barriers between both. Human-to-machine interactions are at a pivotal point with NLP opening new opportunities to use our natural way of speaking or writing to access different software features.
Marrying NLP with inbound email handling automation is a real step-change for contact center agents. Airlines have large teams of agents to handle emails. With growing customer interactions, maintaining acceptable service quality is going to be impractical with people-based teams alone. By offloading inbound email processing to an NLP core, the bulk of email traffic can be handled automatically, leaving human agents to resolve the more complex cases. Customers would benefit from higher value and faster service, while airlines would see customer satisfaction rise.
NLP applications for airlines
There's no doubt that automation generates efficiencies and lowers operating costs. For airlines, several business areas stand to gain from automating inbound email handling with NLP:
- Reservations: Booking enquiries, requests, and modifications still generate a high volume of email interactions in the B2B and B2C spaces. NLP and automation can alleviate a high percentage of what are often routine queries and responses.
- Loyalty: Similarly, loyalty programs handle a lot of emails related to retro claims, address updates, and other requests from program members and partners. A well-formulated NLP solution can improve the email channel´s service level through real-time responses, and even increase member loyalty through a superior customer experience.
- Cargo: Despite having dedicated customer service portals, a significant number of bookings-related exchanges spill-over to the email channel. Teams are often spread across geographies to manage regional variations in language and business operations. With the ability to support multiple languages, NLP can generate greater efficiency in inbound email handling.
There is much room for growth in the adoption of NLP for inbound email handling automation by airlines. Like the transformation chatbots introduced for real-time interactions between airlines and customers, mailbots have the potential to do the same for email interactions. The cost and process efficiency gains NLP-based automation can deliver for inbound email handling is a new area yet to be fully tapped. Artificial intelligence stands to amplify these gains even more as the system continuously gets smarter, further reducing contact center bottlenecks. Accelerated adoption of these technologies will help airlines deliver higher value attention, boost customer satisfaction, and even develop new revenue streams.
Priyod Chandran is a Principal Consultant in IBS Software's Digital Innovation & Consulting team with 14 years´ experience. He specializes in the application of emerging technologies in the airline industry and works with airlines around the world to bring transformational changes to their operations through innovation. Priyod holds a Master's degree from the Indian Institute of Management and is based out of Kochi.