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Digital transformation of the travel experience is a priority for the airline industry, in part because of changes outside the industry. We compete with other airlines, of course, but also with the major internet companies that have raised the bar for customer expectations.
At the Lufthansa Group, where I’m responsible for the data generated by our hub airlines, from storage to business intelligence, we’re exploring ways that AI technology can further our transformation.
The returns so far are highly positive. AI has shown it can help us deliver more personalized customer service, a better employee experience and more efficient operations. To help accomplish this, we collaborate closely with IBM, our strategic IT partner and provider of the Watson services that power our AI solutions.
Exploring meaningful uses for data
AI promises to reveal the potential hidden in the data, both structured and unstructured, that we already have. First, however, it’s important to break silos of data and prepare it for AI processing. Our solution is terabyte-class big data systems, from which we build business data models accessible to AI.
To test AI’s potential, we developed a use case for service agents in our internal call center. Their job is to answer colleagues’ questions using their experience or by consulting various data stores. A Watson-powered expert system lets them compose queries in natural language. After analyzing our ticket database and other data to find similar scenarios in the past, the system proposes the best solution.
Call center agents love it because of their confidence in the AI-inspired answers. Lufthansa benefits from the system’s speed and because it lessens our dependence on individual employees’ knowledge.
Automating the airline’s manual processes
This success led to another internal proof-of-concept, an AI system to automatically update the many flight operations manuals whenever Germany’s Federal Aviation Office (LBA) changes legal requirements. Doing this manually keeps several employees quite busy. Watson’s intelligence and capacity for natural language processing, we believe, can dramatically reduce the manual labor.
As the internal use cases progress, we’re testing AI in customer-facing situations. The first is to help call center agents answer customers’ questions with a re-purposed version of the internal call center system. Chatbots can help us automatically route information to customers. And because delivering personalized service depends on knowing customer preferences, Watson can pinpoint those preferences to personalize service offerings.
Our early successes encourage us to apply AI to diverse operational processes and customer interactions. We expect Watson will help Lufthansa reduce costs, increase revenues and advance our mission to transform the travel experience.
Watch Lufthansa’s Mirco Bharpalania discuss digital transformation in the airline industry: