Jetstar Asia is rolling out a new digital assistant called "Ask Jess", which the airline said will save customers the trouble of navigating complex phone menus and being put on hold when they have queries.
Customers just go to the airline's website and chat with a computer programme that models a real call centre agent.
For example, ask Jess "what is the cheapest flight to Gold Coast from Singapore?" and "she" will probably reply: "Great, you have come to the right place!" and tell you what you want to know.
Since Australian-based Jetstar Airways introduced Ask Jess last November, it has answered 100,000 queries a month. Singapore-based Jetstar Asia is adopting a similar service.
With Ask Jess on its virtual frontline, it has helped to unclog the phone lines.
The airline's head of customer care, Mr Ian Watson, said: "With our fast-paced lifestyles, customers may not have the patience to navigate through websites or FAQ pages. Ask Jess will do the job for them."
The digital assistant is linked to the airline's internal base of flight booking details. "She" crunches data on the airline's website to provide customers with their answers.
Technology provider Nuance Communications developed Ask Jess by first analysing conversations between the airline's customer service assistants and customers. It then programmed algorithms to allow the digital aide to answer questions like a real person.
As these are simulated against real-life exchanges, the system even understands Singlish though it does not speak it. It can tell a passenger his flight details when he keys in his booking number, and refer customers to the appropriate links to determine Jetstar Asia's cheapest flights and its excess baggage charges.
If the system is stumped, it will hand you over to a customer service assistant on live chat to answer your queries.
Some travellers here find the service handy.
Two weeks ago, Mr Kelvin Chow needed to know if his 7am flight to Kuala Lumpur was cancelled.
"All I had to do was to ask Jess 'What is the flight status for 3K683?' and I got my answer straightaway," he said.
"Previously I had to wait 10 to 15 minutes on the phone before I got to speak to a call agent."
But there are limits to what this new efficient digital employee can do. It cannot book a flight although it can refer you to the appropriate links. Some customers would also rather talk to real agents than computers, unless the phone lines are really clogged.
Said Ms Elaine Soh, 36, an administrative manager: "It's a question of weighing time against trust in technology. Flights are important things. I prefer to get my answers from a real person, for accountability."
This article was published on April 9, in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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