We have seen a tremendous increase in computing power over the past decades, with 6 billion people now connected through PCs and mobile phones. Over the next few years, we expect to see the emergence of 75Bn smart things (according to Morgan Stanley), such as smart toothbrushes, connected robot arms, and driverless cars. 

While the tectonic shift in technology truly excites me, the changes in the way a company can interact with its customers is more important.

Using the trillions of data points and interactions (e.g., iBeacon locations in airports, tweets, ANPR, online browsing patterns, shopping data), companies can provide increasingly more personalised communications and deliver more meaningful marketing.

We are in the “Age of the Customer” – and this could not be more relevant for the airline and travel sector.

The “Age of the Customer” in airlines

At Salesforce, we have the privilege of working with many of the leading global airlines, including KLM, Delta, Japan Airlines, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic. We are typically helping them to innovate in the following four areas:.

  1. Optimising B2B sales efficiency. We help create a single customer view across organisational silos, provide tools for analytics, bring CPQ optimisation and automate the processes. This enables the salesperson to sell more effectively, even while on-the-go.
  2. Creating personalised, seamless journeys. Based on a deep 360-degree view of the customer (including information such as flight data, preferences, shopping habits, location in the airport), we provide more meaningful connections with the passengers across all touch points. Examples include the roll-out of Facebook Messenger, the processing of feedback in real-time, and the development of apps pre-, during and post-flight. This has a significant impact on customer satisfaction and ancillary sales.
  3. Rapidly digitising processes. Perhaps more than in other industries, agility is key to airlines. Many fast moving airlines are utilising apps to rapidly digitise passenger-facing processes, such as compensation, and internal ones, like the Turn-Around process. 
  4. Deploying IoT to provide outstanding service levels. We see an increased adoption of IoT in various fields, including proactive maintenance and temperature-controlled cargo. Using our IoT Cloud, we are able to capture the data efficiently and act on it, e.g. by escalating cases in Service Cloud. This can clearly have an impact on the uptime of the aircraft and operational efficiency.

The importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business

In the consumer world, we are in daily contact with “smart” processes. For instance, Apple’s Siri understands requests through Natural Language Processing, Amazon is able to provide intelligent recommendations for next products, and Facebook uses deep learning to provide auto-tag functionality. 

Why should this be different in business? Salesforce had a vision to make enterprise software as easy to use as Amazon.com, why shouldn't AI in CRM be as ubiquitous and as easy to use as product recommendations on Amazon?

At Salesforce, we believe that adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at scale will happen over the next few years. Our goal is to empower everyone to discover insights, predict outcomes, recommend next steps, and automate tasks across all processes. To this end, we have introduced Einstein, our new AI product that includes predictive analytics, machine learning, deep learning and sentiment analysis. We built it as a new layer that we added to our cloud stack, to provide data ready intelligence to all of our cloud apps.

There are two primary benefits of putting AI in the cloud. Firstly, the massive scalability of our cloud platform caters to the extensive computational requirements that AI typically requires. Secondly, it can easily connect with the data currently in the platform (e.g., sales data, emails, calendars, social media inputs, IoT data) as well as connect with outside systems through APIs and connectors. 

AI use cases for airlines

Airlines can significantly benefit from AI in order to optimise B2B win rates, provide better B2C marketing and improve staff efficiency. Leading companies are already benefiting from AI in the following ways:

  • Predictive lead scoring. Salespeople typically face a challenge of identifying the top leads from long lists. Through machine learning, we are able to deliver “predictive lead scoring” - essentially a number between 1-100 that indicates how likely it is that the lead will convert into a successful sale. This allows the salesperson to focus on the deals that are most likely to close – therefore dramatically increasing productivity. Clearly, this principle applies to B2B and specialty sales at airlines, especially those with multi-brand selling approaches.
  • Intelligent marketing. With AI for marketing, airlines are able to track and understand the browsing patterns of unknown users visiting their website, across all devices. By coupling this rich information with sales data, our customers are able to very finely segment their audience. Next, we provide tools for ‘look alike modelling’. This will essentially create a long-list of prospects who look like the first set of people who bought certain tickets. For instance, airlines can create 100M users who look like the 1M users who bought tickets from the US to the Caribbean. They can then optimise the marketing to this segment and dramatically improve ROI. 
  • AI in customer service. Social media has become increasingly important as an effective channel to manage attrition and drive ancillary sales, especially with the more wide-spread adoption of Facebook Messenger. To manage the vast quantities of incoming messages at scale, leading airlines are experimenting with the adoption of AI with ‘chat bot’-like functionality. The AI will learn how to best answer to the questions from the passengers, using Natural Language Processing, Sentiment/Tone analysis and Machine Learning. 

Of course, AI can be applied to any process that provides sufficient data. I am personally excited about the intelligent ancillary product recommendations, predictive maintenance of engines, and intelligent case routing. 

Find out more

Please have a look at the recording of the Travel, Transport and Hospitality session from Dreamforce ’16. It features the following customer stories:

  • DHL’s take on B2B CRM
  • Pullmantur’s commercial transformation
  • KLM’s use of digital apps (TAT reduction, Facebook Messenger)
  • The Travel Corp’s approach to traveler and partner communities

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