Expedia.com's customer service options will get an assist from a virtual agent starting in the fall in a move that will complement email and phone support.
Next IT, which already works with Alaska and Continental airlines in the travel industry, will provide Expedia.com with its ActiveAgent solution to "deflect" some customer service calls and route them to the virtual agent using "human emulation software."
Expedia Inc. currently uses a blend of in-house and outsourced call center operations, including customer-service efforts in the Phillipines, El Salvador and Egypt.
The virtual customer service agent, which will be accessible from several areas on Expedia.com, would enable customers to get help booking their trips, check on the status of their reservations "and initiate actions using everyday language, just as though they were interacting with a live customer service representative," the companies say.
Next IT claims its ActiveAgent technology can produce "29% call deflection in six months."
Expedia Inc. says it made "signficant investments" in call center technologies in 2008 and 2010, and plans to do likewise in the future.
Given Expedia's global footprint, any savings that the Expedia.com virtual agent can provide may indeed be very well-received.
The virtual agent is slated to go live on Expedia.com in the fall -- which leaves plenty of time to conduct a naming contest on Facebook.
Ask Dara is out of the question... it seems that female virtual agents are the way to go these days.
The names Alex [for Ask Alex on Continental.com] and Jenn [for Ask Jenn on AlaskaAir.com] already are taken.
These pleasant-sounding virtual agents don't always get things right or understand your typed-in questions on chat.
For example, if you ask Alex if Continental flights can now be booked on United.com, Alex is evasive in her response about the merged airlines.
"To book a flight simply enter your cities and dates on this page," Alex replies, referring to a Continental flight search page. "You can book up to eight people online and reserve your flights up to 337 days in advance."
Jenn, at least, isn't afraid to admit what she doesn't know.
When you ask Jenn whether you can book sister airline Horizon Air flights on Alaskaair.com, Jenn concedes, sweetly: "I would love to help you, but I am not sure I understand your question. Can you please rephrase that for me?"
Well, Alex and Jenn -- and the as-yet-to-be-named Expedia virtual agent -- obviously won't be able to deflect every question.