Conversational AI startup NLX unveiled plans to augment United Airlines’ customer service with its multimodal virtual assistants.
NLX, whose previous investors include Jet Blue, will apply its chatbot and voice assistant tech to the task of interacting with customers online and by phone to answer their questions and adjust their travel plans.
United Airlines and NLX envision leveraging the AI to help customers more quickly and efficiently than is feasible with purely human agents. NLX’s Voice Compass service for conversing by voice with customers and guiding them through information searches and transactions makes sense as United’s chosen service. The AI representative can easily handle basic questions about whether a flight is on-time, check on requests for wheelchairs or accessibility needs, and otherwise serve as a shortcut to information on the website. United had noted a lot of repetition that a chatbot or voice AI could handle, freeing human agents for more complex queries and needs. NLX has claimed an automation rate of up to 70% of all inquiries.
“We’re really excited to be partnering with NLX and testing and experimenting with this multimodal piece,” said United Airlines director of customer contact center innovation and solutions Rachel Walker said in a joint presentation with United. “We feel like we found some really interesting segments of our population of travelers who are very technically engaged, and feel like they’re first adopters. But when it comes to travel, they get a little nervous and they want someone to hold their hand. And that’s where you can use this ability for someone to use a voice AI bot with something physical in front of them to walk them through step by step on how to do things.”
NLX raised $5 million in January, but the United deal could be an enormous boost for the startup. The rising interest in customer service AI extends across almost every business vertical, and the flight industry has not been an exception. For instance, Indian airline SpiceJet’s customer service voice AI, called Pepper, speaks English and Hindi and is built on Nuance’s AI platform and natural language understanding engine for both languages. Meanwhile, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has voice apps for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to provide up-to-date information and facts about the airport and its services. NLX has the edge in some ways, thanks to its multimodal nature, but the utility and value of the tech is easy to grasp.
“We at NLX employ a lot of multimodal technologies because we found that sometimes it’s just not practical to take a single channel approach,” NLX chief product officer Andrei Papancea said. “If you think about let’s say, maybe trying to cancel your flight. You call up, you say that you want to cancel your flight. There are two key elements you need to pick up from that interaction is that you have to collect your last name and email. My last name Papancea will never get transcribed right like forget about it. When you think about the challenge then, the voice channel is not perfect for that, but if you engage another channel say chat or web at the same time, you can solve the data collection problem and keep going from there.”