WestJet Customer Satisfaction Takes Off
WestJet, along with its regional airlines, WestJet Encore and WestJet Link, offers scheduled service to more than 110 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe and to more than 250 destinations in 20 countries through partnerships with other airlines. The carrier is based in Calgary, in the province of Alberta, Canada.
Customer service has always been important to the carrier, which was named the Best Airline in Canada by TripAdvisor for three consecutive years, from 2017 to 2019.
Yet the airline’s contact center was often overwhelmed during severe weather that caused it to cancel many flights. In such instances, customers could be on hold for 20 minutes or longer, according to Tania Hoque, WestJet’s manager of digital and innovation.
To correct this, the carrier sought an automated system that could handle basic queries, like flight status requests, freeing contact center agents to handle more complicated requests. The carrier also wanted something that could be built on top of existing platforms so customers wouldn’t need to download another app to use it.
WestJet started searching for a solution in 2017 and reviewed more than 100 options. It eventually chose Netomi’s AI system. WestJet signed with Netomi in February 2018 but didn’t go live until August of that year.
“We liked the design technology powered by artificial intelligence to help guests self-serve,” Hoque says, emphasizing Netomi’s neural network and reinforced learning capabilities. “It understands guest patterns.”
Once it learns guest patterns, the technology can apply that information to better respond to subsequent callers with similar requests.
Netomi also won the WestJet contract because, as a young, nimble company, it was willing to provide WestJet with 24/7 support and negotiate on price, according to Hoque.
“We are not a small company; we wanted to make sure that the technology handled all of our stakeholders’ needs,” Hoque explains. “We wanted to make sure we developed all of the right use cases.”
Since the system is automated, any mistakes in rollout would have multiplied quickly, she points out.
WestJet already had 1 million Facebook followers, so the company chose to debut the Netomi AI on Facebook Messenger. Rather than employ a generic interface, WestJet personalized the bot by naming it “Juliet,” after one of the airline’s first aircraft.
WestJet integrated the AI-enabled bot into Facebook Messenger, making it the first point of contact for customers, who were initially introduced to the bot via westjet.com, WestJet’s mobile apps, ads that click to Messenger, and posts on its Facebook page with a “Send Message” call to action. The AI was also introduced during on-hold times when customers called into customer support.
Juliet is deeply integrated with core business systems, so it can provide real-time information on everything from flight status, gate information, and booking availability to questions about traveling with pets, baggage fees, and how a bride can carry on her wedding dress, a surprisingly popular query, according to Netomi.
WestJet had already been having tremendous success with Juliet, but the technology really proved its worth when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in lockdowns, according to Hoque.
Today, Juliet handles 75 percent of WestJet’s queries without ever having to involve a human agent. Engagement with customers has increased fivefold. Since customers can get questions answered quickly, they’re more willing to ask additional questions, Hoque says. “The bot is helping build loyalty.”
When the pandemic first hit in March, the volume of queries going to Juliet increased by a factor of 40, Hoque says.
Based on its success with Juliet so far, WestJet plans to expand Netomi’s AI technology on its website, according to Hoque.
After installing Netomi's AI, WestJet was able to do the following:
- handle 75 percent of queries without agent intervention;
- increase customer engagement fivefold; and
- scale to handle 40 times the number of queries when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.