Air Canada has announced its plan to incorporate artificial intelligence for customer service issues.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Air Canada’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer Mel Crocker said the airline’s experimentation with AI integration for customer service support would begin sometime in the summer.
Explaining one of the simple issues a passenger may encounter, Crocker said, “So, in the case of a snowstorm, if you have not been issued your new boarding pass yet, and you just want to confirm if you have a seat available on another flight, that’s the sort of thing we can easily handle with AI.”
The announcement came just over two weeks after Marvel star Simu Liu voiced his frustration on Instagram over the airline’s staff, whom he called “unpleasant” and “unprofessional.”
Crocker said the airline also hopes the software will be able to resolve more complex issues down the line through learning from past interactions.
An improvement in AI technology would mean that customers would no longer have to wait on the phone for an agent and, subsequently, call center agents could begin focusing on more complex problems.
While the idea may sound intriguing for employers and AI developers, labor advocates raised concerns over the job security of the affected employees.
“We are already looking into how AI is going to change the jobs of our members,” Kaylie Tiessen, an economist at Unifor, the country’s largest private-sector union, told the publication. “What’s critical for us is that companies consult the people who actually do the job to understand what skills they have been using to execute the task.”
Meanwhile, Crocker claimed that the airline is approaching the matter differently.
“We’re not going into this with a view of killing jobs,” he said. “But if we can use a human to solve something that requires a human touch, and technology to solve something that can be automated, we will do that.”
Employers have reportedly argued that by implementing AI into their workforce, the technology would take over the mundane jobs that some workers do not like doing. In return, the workers would be free to perform tasks that programs cannot accomplish, giving them a chance for better pay.
Although the investment cost for AI technology was higher compared to how much Air Canada pays its customer service staff, Crocker believes the company will save more with automation as the technology improves.
The Air Canada VP, however, clarified that lowering costs is not their main focus.
“But that’s not our primary reason for doing this,” he said. “The biggest benefit of AI to us is that it fundamentally creates a better customer experience. And happier customers means they are travelling more with Air Canada.”
Outside of Canada, about 73% of consumers from the Asian-Pacific region are expecting to see improvements in AI services, such as human-like quality, according to a recent customer experience report released by Zendesk.
Some of the upgrades to the AI customer service system mentioned in the report include the software’s ability to tackle complex problems and integration with voice-based AI and synthetic agents.
Adrian McDermott, chief technology officer at Zendesk, said businesses should now make changes and improvements in their AI as consumer demands are growing rapidly.
It’s evident customers have a grasp of what the future of AI-driven customer service will look like, with their issues being resolved in ways that are nearly identical to human support. We know businesses are working to make it better, but there is a growing realization that meeting customers’ expectations will require a more concerted effort. They are not willing to wait for companies to make gradual changes, a signal to businesses that change needs to happen fast.
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