When Mount Agung in Indonesia erupted in November – spewing a cloud of ash nearly four kilometres into the air – thousands of residents fled the area, fearing for their lives.
Ash from another eruption days later was soon spotted in the airspace of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport leading to its closure, with hundreds of flights cancelled. Holidaymakers were left in a state of shock and confusion.
Assisting them to get home safe was Jetstar’s chatbot Jess. Only days before the eruption the virtual assistant, based on the Nuance Nina platform, had been upgraded with Facebook Messenger functionality.
During the disaster inbound traffic to the assistant quadrupled.
“We have been overwhelmed with the response. Jess has lowered our response time from up to 17 hours to zero minutes, and has already assisted more than 8000 customers with their enquiries, including 3000 customers during the significant disruptions in Bali caused by Mount Agung,” Liz McCarthy, Jetstar Group’s head of customer care and shared services told CIO Australia.
Jetstar launched Jess in 2013. On average Jess engages in close to 250,000 cross-channel conversations per month and to date has managed more than nine million conversations with the airline’s customers.
Last year, Jess was given Facebook Messenger functionality, allowing customer to chat with the AI and customer service team on the channel, providing context if the conversation had been started elsewhere.
Since the additional capability was added, Jess’ ‘first-contact resolution’ figure – the proportion of customer queries resolved through the chat session – has risen to 73 per cent.
“Jetstar’s expansion of its virtual assistant offering to Facebook reflects consumer demands to reach brands through their preferred online channels, similar to the way they communicate with friends and family. It also provides Jetstar customers with responses that are contextual and accurate, while forging closer relationships with Jetstar across channels,” said Robert Schwarz, managing director for Nuance Enterprise in Australia and New Zealand.
“Jetstar is a leader in the space. No other airlines have launched in multiple countries across Facebook Messenger and web, providing a seamless experience across the channel,” he added.
Jetstar said the technology – which as well as field questions can retrieve customer bookings, resend itineraries and adding baggage to bookings – had led to a significant decrease in calls to its contact centre.
“Calls to our call centres have decreased as enquiries through Facebook Messenger become more prevalent, and this is likely to continue now that Jess has extended to social media,” McCarthy added.
Bot you covered
Nuance has worked with a number of Australian organisations on the deployment of virtual assistants and chatbots as well as voice recognition and voice biometrics solutions. As well as on websites, in-apps and Facebook, Nina can also be extended to other chat channels like WeChat, LimeChat and Kik.
Last month Commonwealth Bank of Australia launched its in-app and online chatbot named Ceba – which uses Nuance for "cognitive comprehension, AI capabilities and integration" – to assist customers with more than 200 banking tasks such as activating a card, checking account balances, making payments, or getting cardless cash.
Locally Nuance also works with the likes of ANZ Bank, Department of Human Services, Department of Transport and Main Roads Queensland, Foxtel, Telstra, and Latitude Financial.
Nina is not the only ‘enterprise-grade’ intelligent virtual assistant on the block.
The National Disability Insurance Agency recruited Cate Blanchett as the voice of its IBM Watson powered online virtual assistant called Nadia. A trial began in March last year, with Nadia expected to be fully operational within a year. However, in September the ABC reported that the project had stalled.
IBM Watson is behind a chatbot launched in May last year by NAB subsidiary UBank.
In October the Department of Human Services revealed plans for two new virtual agents – Gus and Oliver. The department rolled out virtual assistant Roxy, based on Microsoft’s Cortana, in October to help staff process claims.
In November New South Wales government departments were given access to IPSoft’s Amelia virtual agent through technology procurement platform GovDC Marketplace.
An Opus Research report forecast "explosive growth" in the enterprise-grade intelligent assistant market. Spending on IVAs by the enterprise reached US$1bn in 2016 and is predicted to top US$4.5bn by 2021.
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