Flying High With Chatbots
Norwegian operates a short-haul network across the Nordics and to other key European destinations, providing customers with excellent quality at affordable fares. As part of their customer service strategy, Norwegian entered into a partnership with Kindly in 2019 and added a customer service bot, which is now one of the biggest in the Nordics. It handles up to 800,000 inquiries a year. What’s even more impressive is that 1 out of 5 inquiries is resolved by the chatbot, without a human agent having to get involved. That’s meant 30% fewer live chats and 5% fewer calls to the call center. In a large company like Norwegian, 5% is a significant reduction.
We recently had the opportunity to host a webinar with Edward Thorstad, the SVP of Customer Care at Norwegian. Here’s part of the conversation Edward had with our CMO, Tobias Arns.
A Conversation With Kindly and Norwegian
Tobias: What's the role behind your title, Edward? What do you do on a daily basis?
Edward: Norwegian is a large European airline and naturally we have a lot of requests from our customers wanting different information. It’s our job to facilitate that information and get it out to them in as simple a way as possible – in a way that they can understand and access easily when they’re on the go. We really want to help them so they can have a seamless travel experience.
Tobias: I can relate to that. When you are out there traveling and things go wrong, you want answers right away. What’s your overall customer support strategy?
I think customer service is evolving. Back in the day, companies provided a contact point for the customers to call them. Now we focus on pushing information out directly to customers. When we have changes to their planned itinerary, we push that information out to them. This is really where chatbots can come in and play a role. You can update it and when customers come looking for information, it’s readily available and accessible to them. We really want to try and remove the hassle from the travel experience. We want to make it simple and predictable. When things don’t go as planned, which will always happen, we want information to be easy to find.
Tobias: What made you decide that a chatbot would be the right channel for your strategy?
Edward: We’re moving into a world of self-service. We found that most people that contacted us had already visited our website. We were very interested in why they couldn’t find what they were looking for. That’s where a chatbot comes in. It provides a channel for our customers to get the information they need instantaneously and independent of customer support opening hours. The chatbot is integral in that way.
Tobias: How do you plan to develop the chatbot in the future?
Edward: We’re working closely with the team at Kindly to develop and drive it forward. We really see the chatbot being seamlessly integrated with other systems, like messaging apps and social media.
I think another great thing about the chatbot is when people travel, they typically have their phones with them. A chatbot is a really great tool on a mobile device. It’s really quite simple and manageable when you think of some other options. They’re not nearly as useful as a chatbot.
Tobias: In this age of self-service, what are some of your main goals for customer service in the travel sector?
Edward: I think one of the things we want to do with that customer service strategy is to provide a predictable, understandable experience that our customers can come to expect. We want people to understand what they're getting from us and what is expected of them. Think about IKEA. I’m never surprised that I have to put the furniture together myself. They’ve made that very clear to me – I expect it. If I didn’t want to put it together, I’d go somewhere else. The same is true for flying.
We want to make the process simple and understandable so that our customers can manage it easily. When they buy tickets, if they want to add bags, if you want to add a meal, select a seat, whatever it is, we want to facilitate that experience for them. And then, when things go wrong, we want to provide assistance on all channels that make sense for the customer. That just goes back to pushing information out to people, making it available to them. We give the chatbot all the information it needs to answer customer questions.
Tobias: Shortly after you launched the chatbot, the world changed quite considerably. I know that you were grounded for some time. How did your customer service strategy change during the COVID period?
Edward: The chatbot has been absolutely essential during COVID. One of the strange things about that time was that even though we weren’t flying, we were actually very busy and had more enquiries than before. We had a lot of customers who had to change their travel plans and flights were constantly being changed.
Even when things opened up again, there were guidelines in place about how you could travel and when you couldn’t. The rules and restrictions constantly needed updating. Compared to some other channels it’s very easy to update the chatbot with new dialogues so used it as a way of putting up-to-date information out to people. Customers could click on different things on the chatbot and could get different information about where they were going, and what the rules and regulations were.
"Our chatbot allows people who have relatively standard questions to get the information they need quickly. We can use our agents to actually focus on some really complex things that perhaps the chatbot couldn’t answer." Edward Thorstad, SVP Customer Care at Norwegian
Tobias: Has the chatbot changed your overall capacity, budgeting, and resource planning for customer service?
Edward: Absolutely! The chatbot allows us to resolve a lot of customer questions right away. We can then use our team to handle the more complex issues. But it’s not just about saving money. A big thing for us is constantly training the chatbot. We go through the answers that it’s given to customers, and see why it didn’t answer a particular question. We look at what we can do about it and how we can change it.
The chatbot also provides great feedback because customers can give it a thumbs-up if they find an answer useful. If a customer doesn't find it useful, we’re interested in that as well. Having the chabot helps us look at things more from our customers’ viewpoint, it provides really valuable insights.
Tobias: Let’s talk more about the data that you get in return. I assume people are really honest when they talk to chatbots, knowing they’re machines. Do you get valuable feedback about what people think about your company?
Edward: We have a team that carries out quality assurance on the answers that we get. We then go through and analyze that data. Yes, it can sometimes be painful. But it’s how we are able to learn and change things. We can alleviate the pain points that customers have. The data makes us aware of problems that we otherwise might not have seen. We really try to use the data to develop the chatbot going forward. We see the boundaries as limitless.
"Chatbots are valuable for any customer-centric company because they provide you with written data. If customers call in, the conversation has to be transcribed before it’s analyzed. It’s a lot easier with chatbots to get usable, anonymized customer feedback." Edward Thorstad, SVP Customer Care at Norwegian
Tobias: Have you reached your goals since the chatbot launched?
Edward: We’re well on our way! The reason I say that is that it’s never finished. We’re constantly going back and looking at how things can improve. But we’re very happy, we’re very satisfied. Over half a million people so far have given our chatbot a thumbs-up and said they got the information they wanted.
We just need to keep going forwards! That’s where we see the future – in proactive customer service. It’s about making it easy for customers to find the information they want, when they want it.