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KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to Use Employee Voices for its Voice Assistant

Airline reiterated its commitment to merging technology with a personal touch

Kindra Cooper

KLM voice assistant

Many brands struggle to strike a balance between delivering a human touch versus offering frictionless experiences via emerging technology, while others have discovered how to blend the two. 

Last year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced four voice-activated services on the Google Assistant that would allow customers to browse destinations, book tickets, pack for the trip and check-in for their flight. 

At the recent VOICE Summit in Newark, KLM announced it was enhancing that service by recording the voices of its actual customer support employees to greet customers on the Google Assistant. 

Martine Van Der Lee, director of social media at KLM, explained that it’s part of the airline’s commitment to merging technology with a personal touch, by using actual human voices rather than relying on Google’s computer-generated ones. 

“Over the course of several years of experimenting with AI and voice interfaces, we felt something important was missing – and that was our own voice,” said Van Der Lee. “Our employees have become the voice of KLM.” 

KLM voice assistant

Martine Van Der Lee (right) with Peter Erickson, founder of MoDev, at VOICE Summit. (Image credit: VOICE)

Lee’s team is recording snippets featuring a range of employee voices, which will be synthesized into one audio voice, and is now using AI to scale it across languages, cultures and markets.

Each year, KLM, the world’s longest-running airline, fields over 180,000 queries from customers each week, handled by a team of 350 agents (the world’s largest dedicated social media team). 

Read more: Here's How Cutting-Edge Companies Use Voice of Customer Insights

When it first launched to the Dutch-speaking market in October 2018, KLM’s Google Assistant skill wasn’t all that different from a traditional IVR, said Van Der Lee. Upon opening the app, users would hear a summary of available services, select one, and be guided through the process. 

In its latest iteration, KLM has redesigned the conversation pathway to be more natural and open-ended rather than imposing a roadmap. The new KLM assistant greets you by saying, “Hi, how can I help you?” 

“If we already have a service available that can answer this question for you, we’ll direct you to it. If not, we either direct you to a human agent or we use this piece of information to train our data,” said Van Der Lee, who guides a team of 20 service and marketing experts. “So instead of pushing our roadmap on voice, we made a roadmap that is truly customer-centric.” 

Read more: Holland America Line on Embracing Emerging Tech While Delivering a Human Touch 

Instead of being purely transactional (buy a ticket, check-in for your flight), two of the four services are designed to be more personalized.

For instance, the Travel Guide helps you find a travel destination based on the flight duration, budget, travel dates and travel themes you pre-specify. It then suggests three destinations, including a brief description of each one. 

The user then receives current ticket prices via a link on their smartphone. Meanwhile, the packing assistant advises customers on how to pack their luggage based on their destination, trip duration and local weather forecasts. 

“For example, Bali, Indonesia, is one of the few [tropical] countries where you don’t need to bring a malaria net when you’re traveling, so that is a very relevant piece of information,” said Van Der Lee. 

She did not elaborate on when the new voice assistant skill featuring employee voices will launch, stating in closing: “More announcements in this field will follow very soon on how exactly we have approached this.”