EasyJet deploys Google’s natural language processing tech to bring voice search to airline app

Airline claims to be the first in the world to offer customers access to voice search capabilities within its mobile app

EasyJet is using the Google Cloud Platform’s natural language processing technology to enable customers to search for flight information using conversational voice commands via the airline’s mobile app.

Working in collaboration with its long-standing mobile app development partner, Travelport, the company is set to update its mobile app with a feature called Speak Now, underpinned by Google’s machine learning-based Dialogflow technology.

The offering is billed by Google as an enabler for organisations that want to add “engaging and authentic” conversational interfaces to their voice applications and chatbots.

In the context of the easyJet deployment, Dialogflow will allow customers to ask detailed questions through its app in a natural, conversational tone, and receive accurate and detailed responses back in a timely fashion.  

That is according to Daniel Young, head of digital experience at easyJet, who said the rationale behind using voice was to help cut the time and effort it takes users to find out the flight information they require.   

“Today on our booking pod, it can take around 12 taps and interactions [to source that information]. That includes typing in where you want to go, your departure airport, your destination airport, your departure date, your return date, and then obviously clicking search,” he told Computer Weekly.

“We’ve realised that we have a great opportunity to make that [process] frictionless by using voice technology there.”

The development of Speak Now started in May 2019, and easyJet is now in the throes of preparing for release, with iOS device users and English speakers set to be the first to benefit from the functionality from the end of September 2019.

“You can just talk to Speak Now like you’re talking to a human being and it will decipher the criteria and convert that into a search”
Daniel Young, easyJet

From that point onwards, easyJet will be the first airline in the world to offer conversational voice search capabilities to its customers, according to Young.

“It’s not about being prompted to tell us your destination, your departure date, or anything like that. You can literally just talk to it like you’re talking to a human being and it will decipher the criteria and convert that into a search,” he said.

Dialogflow supports more than 20 languages, and has also proven itself to be adept at understanding different dialects and accents, which Young flagged as a major factor in the firm’s decision to go with Google’s technology over some of the competing natural language processing technologies available on the market.

Particularly as being able to tap into that kind of capability will bolster the number of customers who can make use of the app and its voice search capabilities in due course, he said.  

Following a period of what Young termed “optimisation and refinement”, the company also has designs on expanding beyond using voice commands to search for flight information, he said.

“The ultimate goal is that they can go through a whole booking journey or any sort of change journey with us. So if they want to add dates, if they want to add bags, or even initiate the payment part, we’re hopefully going to do that all by voice and we’re pretty sure we can make that happen,” he said.

Dominik Wee, managing director of manufacturing and transportation at Google Cloud, said voice search capabilities were becoming increasingly desired by internet users, prompting brands such as easyJet to look for ways to incorporate it into their existing apps and services.    

“Travellers today are inherently mobile-first, so finding new ways to make it easier for them to search and book flights is key,” said Wee.

“Consumers already rely on voice assistants to play their favourite music, add items to a shopping list and order taxis. Speak Now is a great example of how voice assistants can make the customer experience better and more intuitive for travel.”

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