AI and the human touch: How to fly high in the customer experience sky

Vanipriya Moorthi

September 7, 20238 min read

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Picture this: You stroll into an airport terminal and finish your entire check-in process with just a simple tap on your smartphone – no kiosks to fuss with and no lines to stand in. 

Seems too good to be true, doesn't it? But that’s exactly what Alaska Airlines did to reimagine their passenger experience

Now, what's particularly intriguing is that Alaska Airlines was the first to introduce these check-in kiosks to the airport lobby. Yet now, they're boldly taking the lead on a new path by doing away with those very kiosks. 

Check-in kiosk

Source 

Now, you might be wondering: “Why would a company that established the trend now choose to break it?” 

According to a report by Hilton (The 2023 Traveler: Emerging Trends that are Innovating the Travel Experience), people are looking for more “frictionless” traveling experiences to streamline their trips.  

The results shed light on a fascinating trend: 53% of travelers are on the lookout for solutions that seamlessly marry technology with human-led innovation.  

This underlines the shift in expectations among contemporary travelers, who are anticipating not only an exceptionally convenient travel experience but also one that minimizes human interaction. 

Having said that, travelers aren’t solely relying on technology to improve their experience. Nearly 9 in 10 travelers want at least one thing to be personalized during their trip — anything from a daily greeting to a reservation recommendation. 

So, how can brands connect with customers emotionally and weave technology with the human touch to provide a fitting travel experience? 

Well, during one of our CX-WISE podcasts with Nathan Bennett, Buddy Waddington highlighted a critical point: 

Brands have such a heightened expectation to classically do more with less. We're in a hardened market. The demands to become more efficient while being more personalized are the highest they've ever been. And so, where it really lands is to leverage AI to make sense and unify all the data that's out there, funnily enough, in order to deliver a human experience right from a brand to a specific customer.

And Grant Hartanov chimed in with an insightful perspective: 

Equally crucial is a brand's ability to cultivate emotional connections across all customer touchpoints. This, in turn, begs the question: Are your potential customers willing to choose your brand over others, based on the emotional connection you've established?

To lend more credibility to our guest speakers, here’s some background. Grant Hartanov is the AVP of Sprinklr’s Unified-CXM Best Practices Group and has experience working with Deloitte in their strategy consulting practice and Marriott International as director of global loyalty. Buddy Waddington leads Sprinklr’s Insights and AI specialists across America and is passionate about responsible AI and the impact of technology on the human condition. 

And in this particular episode, Grant and Buddy impart their wisdom, insights, real-life stories and expertise on how brands can make the most of the power of AI to tailor exceptional customer experiences. They also explore the challenges, innovations, and surprising twists that brands can expect when embracing technological progress, such as machine learning, generative AI and ChatGPT. 

So, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for take-off into the horizon where AI meets the human experience!  

Table of Contents

Empowering travelers to embrace sustainability  

According to Expedia Group, nearly 9 in 10 consumers look for sustainable options when traveling, but 70% reported feeling overwhelmed by starting the process of being a more sustainable traveler. 

Buddy says that this presents a dual opportunity for brands — a chance to express their commitment to sustainability and to actively listen to their customers.  

As consumers are seeking trusted partners who can do more than just guiding them towards eco-friendly travel choices, they are more likely to go with brands that introduce them to newer, more sustainable ways of traveling. 

Research findings from Expedia Group Media Solutions on sustainable traveler expectations.

Source 

Yes, conversations around sustainability are buzzing. This marks a pivotal moment for brands to actively listen and engage in these discussions. The growing awareness of environmental impacts, such as the colossal water usage of data centers, has become a talking point across platforms. 

As brands innovate with AI-centric solutions, they're met with a fresh set of questions. Customers are curious and concerned about the bigger picture — the sustainability program. And Buddy envisions a scenario where brands are transparent, engaged and ready to converse about it with their audience.  

Brands coming forward to have an open dialogue regarding lessons learned, ongoing efforts and sustainable initiatives can be a game-changer. This approach not only deepens the connection with customers but elevates the brand's standing in terms of holistic brand equity. 

It's about being a brand that not only helps people travel but also aligns with their environmental aspirations and values. 

Leveraging tech and the human touch for a personalized experience 

A significant 57% of travelers just want things to be as convenient as using a single app to map out, book and track their journeys. What's more, a whopping 70% of US travelers rely on their mobile phones while they’re on the move. 

Consumers want a complete and effortless journey — it's not only about booking a ticket, but about orchestrating the entire trip seamlessly. Thanks to technology, all the players in the industry, from travel agents to airlines, cabs and hotels, are now easily interconnected. 

Imagine being a traveler and receiving a thoughtful message about a flight delay — something like: "Hey, we apologize for disrupting your travel journey. Here are your options, and here's what we can do to help you." 

For Grant, this straightforward and proactive solution would make him more loyal towards an airline. It's all about being honest and connecting in a meaningful way that leaves a genuine impression. 

And using the right technology can definitely help a brand in delivering these tailored experiences. 

Read More: The convenience chronicles: Shep Hyken on unlocking customer trust and loyalty 

Acknowledging the power and potential risks of using AI 

As you might already know, AI has become an integral part of many businesses. Whether we accept the technology or not, it is here to stay. Period. 

Grant's perspective about focused AI, such as facial recognition and specialized models, opens up a world of custom experiences for travelers.  

In April 2023, Expedia joined forces with OpenAI to introduce personalized trip planning through ChatGPT in the form of a virtual travel assistant for iOS users. Other major players, like Kayak, OpenTable, TripAdvisor, GetYourGuide and Klook, have followed suit with ChatGPT plug-ins, enhancing customer experiences with real-time assistance in itinerary planning and bookings. 

Even airlines and hotels are turning to generative AI for customer service and automating tasks, which marks the beginning of an exciting journey towards a more seamless and engaging travel experience for all. 

However, the conversation in our podcast pivoted to the shadows that loom when such capabilities fall into the wrong hands as well. Grant's concerns put the spotlight on the delicate balance between innovation and responsibility. 

We all have witnessed this before in various contexts — from deepfake videos causing misinformation to data breaches that compromise privacy. The rapid pace of AI's advancement calls for an equally swift progression in ethical awareness, responsible usage and regulatory measures.  

While the thrill of innovation pushes boundaries, Buddy aptly notes that conversations around responsible AI need to persist to ensure technology remains a tool for good, rather than spiraling into a "Matrix" scenario where the ethical implications get overlooked. 

With AI's potential to reshape industries, understanding both its capabilities and risks becomes paramount. These conversations, encompassing excitement and apprehension, offer a beacon to navigate the uncharted territories in our AI journey.  

Understanding the art and science of customer experience 

Grant shared his recent experience in an art gallery, where he drew intriguing parallels between captivating artworks and the world of customer experience.  

He touched upon the profound impact that art has on people, emphasizing that every individual's emotional connection to a piece of art is unique. This realization shows the connection between art and customer experience — a space where brands can strive to be everything to everyone, addressing individual preferences while delivering a consistent narrative that resonates on a personal level. 

It vividly illustrates how customer experience, like a well-curated art tour, can guide us through a transformative journey. Just as the gallery curator enhances the art experience by sharing insights that we might have overlooked, brands can similarly enrich their customer interactions by offering guided perspectives and personalized approaches. 

Read More: CX is a love story: Howard Tiersky tells the tale of winning customers' hearts 

This analogy showcases how the harmony between art and science is vital in the customer experience, reminding us that understanding emotional nuances is as important as mastering technological innovations. It's this blend that's poised to shape the future of customer engagement in a uniquely human way.  

To get more of these fascinating insights, anecdotes and expert advice, be sure to tune in to the full episode of CX-WISE that we touched on in this article.  

Join us as we explore the world of AI-driven experiences and discover how brands are embracing this technological revolution to craft unforgettable adventures for every traveler. You wouldn’t want to miss this one, so take a seat, and let us propel you into the future of customer experience! 

Not a podcast person, you say? Well, we got you covered there as well. 

And with that it’s cut and scene! 

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