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Travel & Hospitality 05.21.20 BLOG 

How Airlines Are Helping Overwhelmed Customer Service Centers through Chatbots

By Niklas Schlappkohl, Senior Director of Travel Solutions at TransPerfect

Airlines Are Helping through Chatbots

How Airlines Are Helping Overwhelmed Customer Service Centers through Chatbots

With many of us stuck at home, a plethora of webinars have been springing up to give us a chance to continue our learning and interacting online. A few days ago, I tuned in to a webinar hosted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) about customer service during COVID-19, which included presentations by KLM, Iberia, Apex, and Mindsay.

In these days of global lockdown, travel, for many of us, has come to a screeching halt. While that means that new bookings for airlines have slowed to a trickle, airlines are dealing with a barrage of customer requests regarding cancellations, rebookings, refunds, vouchers, sanitary measures, and maintaining loyalty status, just to name a few. Some of the data presented in the webinar was staggering: Iberia received 450,000 WhatsApp messages in March, the start of the lockdown, up over 300% from the month before and peaking in the middle of March with around 15 times the expected traffic. This included 50 nationalities and a correspondingly high number of languages that needed to be covered. At KLM, an airline that was already leading in digitizing customer interactions, the situation was similar: volumes increased tenfold to 350,000 cases a week when the lockdown began.

At the same time, airlines are dealing with lower customer service center coverage due to local lockdowns. While in some cases, some of that can be managed by rerouting calls to employees working from home, often the technology required to best manage customer service is still located at the call centers.

At first, slow response times were common across the board, as this situation was a first in this century and a true first for the travel industry. But as Apex explained in their presentation, slow response times are also the top negative drivers for customer service, making them something that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Customers are more understanding of the high volumes during this unusual period, but frustrations grow through excessively long wait times, the inability to reach a representative, or simply no response at all. This pandemic has also placed an economic strain on many customers, and by automatically solving complex use cases with vouchers and refunds, customers are reassured by the airline.

For these airlines, the only way to handle this dramatic increase in requests at acceptable response rates was through chatbots. KLM launched “Corona bots” by extending the scope of their existing bots to handle more questions and redirect customers to self-service options whenever possible. The KLM rebooking bots were also able to gather initial data from customers so that service reps could focus on solving the requests, resolving 10% of the cases immediately.

Chatbots, once trained, can easily step in and pick up the slack, as long as they are intelligent and empowered. This solution allows customers to interact with chatbots while on hold for an agent and also communicates chat hold times. If your chatbot is properly equipped, the customer service issue may be resolved before ever reaching the human agent.

We are watching the world change before our eyes as we adapt to this pandemic. Airlines that leverage data and digital solutions to serve customers quickly and empathetically will be the ones to succeed first.

Whether you already have multilingual chatbot technology or are looking to get started, TransPerfect can help onboard your organization, train your employees, and enhance your chatbots to serve all markets and languages around the globe. Visit us here for more details on our chatbots or send us an email at We look forward to chatting with you.


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