Aer Lingus to deploy automated agent system

22 Dec 2004 has learned that Aer Lingus has signed a deal with a Californian technology company to roll out a new voice technology that “models the conversational intelligence of human agents” for the handling of fare shopping, bookings, itinerary changes, seat assignments and reconfirmations. The technology is understood to be central to an audacious plan by Aer Lingus to become the world’s “first transatlantic, low-fare carrier”.

Alameda, California-based firm Voxify claims to be the first company to create automated agents for call centres with the conversational skills to handle advanced customer service calls.

It is understood that the technology has been used within Aer Lingus’ North America business and the use of automated agents is one of several cost-cutting initiatives that Aer Lingus has taken to position itself as a pioneer in creating low fares on transatlantic routes.

According to Voxify, the effort has paid off with significant savings being passed on to passengers. For example, the airline recently revamped its entire transatlantic business and leisure fare structure. Premier business class fares have been reduced by more than 50pc and lead-in economy fares have been reduced by 20pc to 30pc.

Aer Lingus North America handles more than a million calls a year within the US. William Kane, vice-president of IT at Aer Lingus, said that internal studies demonstrate significant improvements in overall agent availability by providing Voxify Automated Agents. “In handling these calls Voxify’s automated agents, for the first time, are allowing Aer Lingus travellers to book their reservations 24/7, without ever waiting on hold. Moreover, because the automated agents are hosted and maintained by Voxify, we are able to significantly reduce the per-call cost of these calls.”

Aer Lingus’ executive vice-president for North America, Jack Foley, said that the use of automated agent technology was crucial in lowering cost structures while at the same time maintaining customer services. The deployment of Voxify’s Autopilot technology in its call centres will make it the first transatlantic airline to offer end-to-end reservations through an automated agent.

Foley said: “When we began this process we had strict requirements to create a high-touch experience even as we pursued becoming a low-cost carrier. Voxify’s technology, with its conversational intelligence, provides us with the best technological solution to handle important transactions, including reservations.”

Voxify’s Autopilot product is built on what has been described by the company as conversation engine technology, which imbues the automated agents with advanced conversational skills, enabling them to engage callers in sophisticated dialogue and understanding multiple pieces of information in a single response or adjusting to unexpected information provided by the caller, “closely approximating the effectiveness of a human being”.

Adeeb Shanaa, CEO of Voxify said in a statement: “Voxify has been studying the needs of companies in the travel industry for years. The key challenge in the industry is how to create an automated system that serves customers with the same skill they get when talking to a live agent. Our automated agents are the first to get it right.”

By John Kennedy