Malaysia Airlines: Taking off with a machine-learning-powered customer chatbot

About Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia Airlines flies approximately 40,000 people daily to more than 50 destinations across Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and New Zealand.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: Malaysia

About Amadeus

Amadeus powers travel. Amadeus’ solutions connect travelers to the journeys they want through travel agents, search engines, tour operators, airlines, airports, hotels, cars, and railways.

Using Dialogflow on Google Cloud, Malaysia Airlines and Amadeus created a chatbot that enables customers to search, book, and pay for flights, positioning the carrier to meet future demand and grow revenues from digital channels.

Google Cloud Results

  • Allows customers to use Facebook Messenger to book and pay for flights to 1,000 destinations in 150 countries
  • Increases the contribution digital products and services make to the airline
  • Creates a digital travel buddy for customers and helps enable the airline to meet future customer demand

Streamlines flight search, booking, and payment with more automated engagement

Digital transformation is taking off in the airline industry; carriers worldwide are using digital technologies to improve customer experiences, maximize revenues, and operate more efficiently. Malaysia Airlines – Malaysia’s national carrier, which flies to more than 50 destinations across Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and New Zealand, and transports 40,000 people per day – is leading the way in implementing new technologies and business models.

The airline embarked a couple of years ago on a three-stage transformation program that entailed digitizing technology assets and processes, digitizing business products and systems, and fostering innovation through hackathons and dedicated laboratories.

“A team in our iSpace Innovation Lab has been experimenting for the past year with mobility and ways of increasing our digital revenues,” explains Alwin Loh, Head, Digital Transformation & Innovation, Malaysia Airlines. “While we currently obtain healthy revenues from our digital channels, we constantly look for ways to increase these.”

“We discussed the recommendation internally and ultimately asked ourselves ‘what business can do things in this space better than Google, with its deep insights into customer behaviors and responses?’.”

Alwin Loh, Head, Digital Transformation & Innovation, Malaysia Airlines

With that goal in mind, the airline began working with chatbots to open another channel for customers to ask the airline questions, book and pay for flights, and view itineraries. After an unsuccessful proof of concept with chatbot technology from its incumbent cloud infrastructure provider, Malaysia Airlines started exploring options with travel technology provider Amadeus.

The airline had already forged a close relationship with Amadeus by migrating to the partner’s customer experience management and passenger service systems. Amadeus’ own proof-of-concept activities in artificial intelligence and machine learning had led the company to Dialogflow, a Google development suite that enables customers to develop conversational interfaces, such as chatbots for websites and mobile applications.

Deep insights key

“We said to Amadeus ‘let’s build a chatbot together,’ and its team recommended Dialogflow to us,” says Loh. “We discussed the recommendation internally and ultimately asked ourselves ‘what business can do things in this space better than Google, with its deep insights into customer behaviors and responses?’”

Amadeus selected Dialogflow after a comprehensive evaluation of machine learning tools and models for airline chatbots. “We found Dialogflow was superior in managing context in conversations and we anticipated Google would continue to invest in the solution, so we did not have any doubts about moving forward with the product,” explains Marc Charrier, Head of Digital Suite for Airlines, Amadeus.

“Google provided extensive technical support and if we experienced any issues, its team would work quickly to resolve them and provide advice.”

Alwin Loh, Head, Digital Transformation & Innovation, Malaysia Airlines

A conversational travel buddy

Malaysia Airlines and Amadeus created a business case for the development of a chatbot that could be accessed through the widely used Facebook Messenger chat application. The chatbot would be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and use natural language understanding to mimic human conversation, enabling it to act as a travel buddy for customers.

“We stipulated that customers could complete all the activities needed to book flights with our airline and our codeshare partners through the chatbot,” explains Loh. “By capturing the intent of customers who interact with the chatbot, Dialogflow would enable us to trigger activities such as booking information retrieval.”

Using Dialogflow prebuilt agents for specific use cases – in particular an agent that supports the location, creation, and management of flights – helped expedite development of the chatbot. “The prebuilt agents saved us time that otherwise would have been needed had we completed these builds ourselves,” adds Loh. “Dialogflow was also so intuitive that our team quickly picked up the skills to deliver the chatbot.”

Developed in three months

Development of the chatbot, called MHchat, took approximately three months and incorporated extensive user acceptance testing. The airline is now working on adding frequently asked questions to the platform so customers find it easier to access the information they need.

Malaysia Airlines and Amadeus engaged with Google early in the development process to maximize the project’s likelihood of success. “Google provided extensive technical support and if we experienced any issues, its team would work quickly to resolve them and provide advice,” says Loh.

“Thanks to the development of MHchat through Google and Amadeus, we have added a convenient new channel for our customers to interact with us. We look forward to working with them to identify and take advantage of further opportunities as they arise.”

Alwin Loh, Head, Digital Transformation & Innovation, Malaysia Airlines

New opportunities for airlines with Amadeus

For Amadeus, the product’s success proves the value the solution is bringing and opens up new opportunities to further innovate with airlines. “We are now marketing a white-label conversational solution to airlines called the Amadeus Chatbot for Airlines,” explains Charrier. The solution, which has been extensively trained in the travel context, is customizable to individual carriers to improve customer satisfaction, increase revenue opportunities, and deliver customer care cost savings.

The chatbot is Malaysia Airlines’ first, and unlikely to be the last, foray into using machine learning to deliver a better customer experience. With the chatbot stable and enabling customers to access up to 1,000 destinations in more than 150 countries worldwide through the Oneworld airline alliance, the airline is now preparing a marketing campaign to advise customers of the availability of the new service.

“We don’t anticipate the chatbot replacing any of our existing channels as social is still a very new way to conduct transactions,” says Loh. “However, we need to be prepared for customer demand to increase as this channel matures.” The airline is now looking at a range of enhancements to increase the value of the chatbot, including the ability to check weather conditions and to add voice capabilities.

“Thanks to the development of MHchat through Google and Amadeus, we have added a convenient new channel for our customers to interact with us,” concludes Loh. “We look forward to working with them to identify and take advantage of further opportunities as they arise.”

About Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia Airlines flies approximately 40,000 people daily to more than 50 destinations across Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and New Zealand.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: Malaysia

About Amadeus

Amadeus powers travel. Amadeus’ solutions connect travelers to the journeys they want through travel agents, search engines, tour operators, airlines, airports, hotels, cars, and railways.