How artificial intelligence could create a personalised and perfect travel serviceNewsBy Viewpoints | May 30, 2012Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest article by Dr Charles Wooters, chief scientist of Next IT.Feels a little creepy – doesn’t it? But, this is the future of air travel (and how we will interact with technology in general).Airlines will know customer preferences, what "home" means for a traveler, if he likes aisle seats on morning flights, and - most importantly for use on third-party aggregators – what his preferred airline is.The kicker: these conversations won’t be happening with live representatives drawing from a knowledge base. Passengers will instead converse with avatars, equipped with artificial intelligence and natural language understanding.Recent news of life-sized holograms at three major New York airports has many passengers considering artificial intelligence and the technology’s real implications on their travel experience.Minds go to fanciful extremes like the Terminator or Minority Report and they wonder: "What do these things do?" or "What’s coming next?"Well to begin, the NY installations won’t be having true conversations with anyone.And they also aren’t the first of their kind in the travel industry: Manchester Airport became the first to use holograms back in 2011 for security preparation.United (via Alex) and Alaska Airlines (via Jenn) use enhanced conversational avatars online, to interact with customers, answer questions, and assist with the booking process.Conversational avatars are already engaging with customers everyday and present the path towards (counter intuitively enough) personalized service.The massive amounts of data that can be gleaned and analyzed from logged conversations give a true window into what customers really want.Rather than operating within the confines of links and search terms – customers can simply ask for what they’re looking for. With that, airlines begin to measure customer desire and store preferences.Transforming customer information into personalized service is a key factor in the future of customer loyalty.Why do it?Currently, passengers view flight as a commodity, where price and schedule are more important than brand. But beyond this hunt for the lowest fare, customers are searching for personalized service.They want their individual needs to be recognized and will support a brand that demonstrates that it understands their expectations, needs, quirks, and specific requests.At the same time, sensitivities around privacy and storing personal information, such as what "home" means, makes the integration a balancing act.In order for artificial intelligence to be truly effective in building customer loyalty in the future, airlines must be sure that transparency is built in around the technology.Building a strong customer relationship is contingent on the amount of passenger information an airline can store, understand, and act upon – but passengers want to know what information is being stored and have control over how their preferences are determined.There is no other way to deliver this transparency other than showing a customer the process behind an avatar’s decision making process.This is key to successful integration – rather than take control away from passengers, make the planning and booking process more transparent by engaging in conversation and revealing how actions are taken on the passenger’s behalf.This is part of the foundation to making artificial intelligence effective; it’s not just about the technology driving it, success relies on the trust that customer’s must develop on their own.The Manchester and NY holograms barely scratch the surface of the use of artificial intelligence in the travel industry.The real benefits come when the conversations between customer and technology begin.Airlines that interact and build relationships with passengers through customer experience technology will lead the brightest future in winning customer loyalty and the lifetime revenue that comes with it.NB: This is a guest article by Dr Charles Wooters, chief scientist of Next IT.NB2:Virtual assistant image via Shutterstock.