Flight Centre makes first swoop into AI with tech that can read customers’ emotions

Flight Centre makes first swoop into AI with tech that can read customers’ emotions
Edited by Travel Weekly


    Flight Centre is using AI to improve its customer experience and increase sales in young people – who are more likely to shop online.

    News highlights

    • AI has already been used to identify a number of customer pain points such as customers not being able to manage bookings
    • Flight Centre is introducing a feature on the app that allows customers to claim refunds from certain airlines within 72 hours
    • So far the AI is only being used on the main Flight Centre brand and not for subsidiaries such as Aunt Betty and BYOjet

    The travel giant has partnered with software-provider Qualtrics on a partnership that uses AI to understand customer sentiment about the brand.

    Deviating from traditional feedback routes, the AI allows Flight Centre to collect unstructured data as well as structured data.

    Whilst structured data uses traditional feedback such as surveys and satisfaction measures, unstructured feedback uses data collected from emails, chat, messaging, social and online reviews to understand the customer’s emotion and intent. As well as the message itself, conversational analytics will be used to understand a customer’s emotion through things like their sentence structure or frequency of message.

    Since the beginning of this year, Flight Centre has analysed millions of sentences of unstructured feedback shared by customers with Qualtrics AI.

    Andrew Stark.

    Currently the AI is only being used for the main Flight Centre travel brand and not on Flight Centre’s other brands such as Aunt Betty.

    Speaking to The Australian, Flight Centre’s global managing director Andrew Stark said the technology is not being used to solve individual problems, but is a tool to understand market perception.

    “We’ve got a customer care team so we’re not seeing this as a silver bullet to give us an overall sentiment or solve individual problems, but it will give us the average sentiment of the market,” he said.

    Bulk of sales are still in-store

    The bulk of Flight Centre’s trips – 75 per cent – are still booked in-store and the financial value of an in-store trip is still significantly more than an online buy.

    On average, in-store customers spent about $5500 on a trip whilst online customers only spent $1000.

    This could be attributed to the average age of the customer – in-store a lot of customers are in their 60s (and potentially retired) whilst online customers have an average age of 42.

    “There’s probably a moment in time between your 40s and your 70s where you have disposable income, you probably have the means to book larger top holidays and you spend more time travelling,” Stark told The Australian.

    A way to find customer pain points 

    Stark also said that AI had been used to identify a number of customer pain points including not being able to manage bookings.

    “Work is in play right now to have that rolled up within the next six to 12 months where there will be a function in our app,” Stark said.

    Flight Centre is also adding a feature in its app which allows customers to cancel their flights for some airlines within 72 hours.

    Not the only travel provider moving into AI 

    Flight Centre is not the only one using AI to boost sales. According to iTnews Intrepid has seen a substantial increase in bookings after employing AI, first-party data analytics and real-time behavioural analytics.

    Chief customer officer Leigh Barnes told iTnews that introducing “behavioural email journeys” during 2023 made a material difference to the company’s profits.

    A “behavioural email journey” is a targeted approach to customer engagement that send personalised emails based on someone’s actions, preferences and behaviours.

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