Speech, gesture, touch, sight – natural human behaviours that are seeping into our digital lives, transforming the way we interact with our devices, our customers and each other.
Advances in technology and software development have radically improved the computer’s ability to recognise – and act upon – human speech. As a result, we’re seeing faster than expected consumer uptake of voice-enabled devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Home Pod.
Voice technology has erupted in the last few years and continues to grow in popularity. According to eMarketer, the use of voice assistant devices in America soared by 129% to 36 million in 2017 alone.
With voice fast becoming a major communication channel for consumers, we decided to put it to the test within our notifications technology. In this post, we would like to share with you our experiences in our pilot project to add Alexa functionality to our Flight Status module.
The Development Experience
Amazon knows how to write good APIs (Application Programmable Interface) - the function calls that services provide so that developers can interact with them. Their scripting and accessibility made using their voice services very simple.
Google Home has a very similar set of APIs, so our pilot was easily replicable with that family of devices as well.
Overall our developers were amazed at how easy it was to integrate into our application, although that was also down to our future-proofed architecture designed to work with any communication channel.
The User Experience
There were a few issues we discovered with the Alexa voice processing. For example, here in the UK, it’s common to talk about flight numbers like “ZZ1234”. Alexa had a tough time picking up letters spelt out. Saying “FlyAway Airlines 1234” or just “1234” since “FlyAway Airlines” was the name of the skill worked fine. I have given a few demos of this and it generally works first time … amazing for a demo!
It can be a harder to understand with background noise and multiple people talking, for example, excited children about to go on holiday. But it can be useful in conjunction with the Alexa app to provide textual information that people can refer to, for example, instructions when things go wrong.
Messages and privacy
Since we started the pilot, Amazon has added the ability to send notifications to Echo devices. Alexa can then be used to deliver that message and respond. We think this is an excellent feature that fits our vision of brilliant communications in the travel industry. The one concern we do have is the lack of ability to verify who is receiving the message. With regulations around the world about informing passengers about flight delays or cancellations, can you trust that a child hasn’t dismissed the message before an adult has heard it?
We did try using “passwords” that were set up in advance, but it does detract a bit from the ease of use that you get from a voice assistant. It also feels a bit awkward to say random words along with the status command, for example, “Alexa ask FlyAway Airlines for the status of 1234 strawberry hat frog”.
Voice technology isn’t going be the communication channel that kills email … just yet. But it does start to make devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Cortana more than just toys.
They’re slowly becoming an intuitive tool that makes interaction feel much more human, providing that ever-sought-after brand to consumer connection. We’d recommend any airlines who aren’t trialling this already to start now.
15below will be demonstrating our Flight Status Alexa functionality in the User Lab at this year’s Customer Conference. For more information, join us at the Customer Conference or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.