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New Zealand Innovation Awards: Innovation in Technology Solutions, Air New Zealand

It’s one of Aotearoa’s best-known international brands, in part because of its creative inflight safety videos. But Air New Zealand is also gaining international attention due to its desire to innovate and its clever use of technology to enhance the customer experience.

Air New Zealand facilitates 16 million customer journeys each year. And its customer innovation programme was introduced to address various pain points. There’s a wearable tech wristband for children travelling by themselves, a mobile app that allows customers to order coffee and pick it up at participating Koru Lounges, biometric bag drops, AI-powered kiosks, a chatbot called Oscar that answers customer questions, an Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system that features an easy-to-navigate design and a number of unique apps, including Seat Chat, which allows customers to message others onboard. In addition, its personalisation greets customers by name and allows them to purchase food and merchandise from their seatback using Airpoints Dollars for delivery worldwide. Customers can also set preferences and favourites that are retained for future flights.

As the company itself says: “We measure the value of this programme of work through our customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores. Our Insights team measure CSAT across all stages of the customer journey and we’re seeing these investments are helping to shift the dial. An independent company surveys over 80,000 of our customers annually for these scores. We don’t just have one CSAT metric but have separate metrics measuring each of the 15 steps in the customer journey. This enables us to pinpoint pain points.”

And it’s working. The improvements it has made to its IFE system have improved satisfaction levels by 7.4 percent over the past four years, while the brand perception of ‘being innovative and inspiring’ has lifted 12 percent between 2014 and 2017. 

Embracing the new rather than protecting the old takes confidence, of course. And the airline has it in spades. Recently, it announced the arrival of Sophie, a digital human created by Soul Machines to answer questions about New Zealand as a tourist destination and the airline’s products and services. Powered by artificial intelligence and possessing an advanced emotional intelligence and responsiveness, Sophie was shown at the unveiling of Air New Zealand’s “A better way to fly” campaign. Sophie uses neural networks and brain models, and received additional AI support from IBM’s famed Watson. For her specific role with Air New Zealand, Sophie learned specifically about New Zealand and Air New Zealand, tweaking her Kiwi accent and perfecting her facial expressions.

When it comes to flying, it’s the little things that count. And, as Air New Zealand sees it, digital enables and enhances outstanding personalised experiences, whether through the website booking or inflight entertainment. But it’s more than just digital. It’s always customer-oriented.

Evaluator comments:

Air New Zealand’s customer service technologies are world class. The amount of consideration that goes into user experience is clear,  and it’s a great example of innovation developed by putting customers at the heart of what they do.

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