Consumers now want to talk to businesses and find resolutions the way they talk to their friends and family, and this is pushing a big transition towards messaging channels, according to Adam Geneave, chief customer happiness officer for the low-cost Asian airline.

The carrier added support for Tencent’s WeChat in China earlier this year and was seeing significant adoption for the platform, Geneave said in an interview. In fact, the messaging tool since had grown to become AirAsia’s biggest communication channel in the Chinese market, he noted.

The airline’s engagement with customers through such channels played a key role in its business strategy as they enabled consumer queries to be addressed quickly, he said, and urged technology and other solutions providers to integrate messaging tools into their products.

According to Geneave, AirAsia currently provides WeChat support via a plugin developed by Salesforce, which suite of products had been rolled out over the past year as part of the airline’s overhaul of its customer service infrastructure. These included Salesforce Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud with Social Studio, Service Cloud, and Community Cloud.

The deployment enabled AirAsia service agents across eight markets to access a unified view of customer cases from all communication channels, encompassing online, email, live chat, phone, and airport communications.

With the transition into messaging evolving so rapidly, though, it has been difficult for the airliner and its technology partners to keep pace, Geneave said. For instance, support for Facebook’s WhatsApp still was lacking, he noted.

“We have been very vocal in wanting such support, including for Line and KakaoTalk,” he said, noting that WhatsApp processed 65 billion messages a day worldwide and there were 1 billion active WeChat users. “The way people are interacting is changing.” He attributed AirAsia’s plans to close all its call centers this year in part as a response to this trend.

The airline is estimated to fly 100 million passengers this year and 20 million of its service cases each year are facilitated on Salesforce platforms, which currently support more than 22,000 AirAsia employees in nine languages.

The data that runs through these systems also allow the airline to deliver personalized experiences and facilitate better decision-making.

Geneave explained that the different datasets were collated onto a single platform and managed at AirAsia’s command center. This was manned by duty managers who would track Salesforce dashboards to identify patterns that could affect its business and monitor tweets as well as other social media messages coming through on Social Studio.

This provided valuable learnings about its customers and, with these insights, enabled his team to work on projects and improve processes and systems to further enhance customers’ engagement with AirAsia, he said.

The ability to study the data and identify emerging trends also meant his team could be aware of service outages even before the IT team was alerted of it, he noted, adding that his team also tracked other relevant developments such as airports and other airlines that might and might not compete directly with AirAsia.

The airline in January also introduced its artificial intelligence-powered (AI) chatbot, named AVA, which could handle eight languages including Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese, and Simplified Chinese.

Geneave said the chatbot had been performing well and handled a significant chunk of queries coming through on its live chat. AVA also was deployed on the airline’s Facebook Messenger platform.

Apart from operating on a strong knowledge base, he said the chatbot also continued to learn from conversations it had with customers. His team also trained it on a daily basis, he added.

AVA’s deployment was critical to enable the airline to be more agile in the way it managed its customers, he said, noting that the chatbot could take on a significant volume and allow queries to be handled more quickly.

Geneave also pointed to the emergence of AI and machine learning technologies as a crucial development as these would further enable AirAsia agents to react more quickly and identify trends that otherwise would have taken hours to analyse.

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Beyond customer services, too, it would give airlines the ability to save fuel – for example, by improving the way it scheduled crew rosters and managed its resources, he said.