David Solomito: Describe your company, the types of travel and hospitality work you do, and key travel and hospitality clients.
Andrei Papancea: At NLX, we enable organizations to build and manage next generation conversational experiences – personalized conversations that are automated, integrated, measurable, highly scalable, and available anytime and anywhere. Our core platform, NLX Studio, combines natural language understanding (NLU) and specialized text and voice analytics with channel-agnostic automation and integrations to drive highly adaptable conversational AI solutions for organizations in travel and hospitality. Through our channel alliances and partners, including AWS, we have been engaging with high-profile airlines, hotel, and restaurant groups and other travel and hospitality organizations. We recently sharpened our focus during the COVID-19 era to launch Voice Compass as a tailored solution to address servicing challenges being experienced across all customer-facing aspects of the travel and hospitality industry.
DS: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you helped clients manage through them?
AP: As has probably happened to many other companies servicing the travel and hospitality industry, we lost quite a bit of business at the beginning of the year. We were on the verge of signing multiple contracts late February and early March, but these deals evaporated as airlines started to feel the impact of COVID-related travel restrictions. Our prospective customers started to shift their focus from innovation to all-hands-on-deck business support. Our response? We put out a notice in mid-March for free COVID-19 support packages for the length of the pandemic. We got behind companies and organizations by offering assistance with their “contactless” support and managing the surge in contact center calls and inquiries from their customers.
DS: It’s been an incredibly difficult time for travel and hospitality companies, but we’ve seen many companies investing for the long run. With all the uncertainty, why has your company chosen to invest in travel and hospitality at this time?
AP: NLX is headquartered in the heart of New York City. During the first three months of the pandemic, our team personally experienced the impact of lockdown. We watched one of the liveliest cities in the world become a different place almost overnight. The absence of dining, entertainment, travel, and being able to interact with people safely made us realize just how reliant upon travel and hospitality we all are for our well-being. But we also understood that these difficult times are temporary. The travel and hospitality industry will rebound and life will return to normal. We are investing now because it seems not only necessary, but strategic. In an ever-growing and interconnected world more attention is being directed at improving automation, efficiency and to providing applications that support “contactless” interaction. There is also an upward trend in alleviating contact center traffic via engaging customer self-service experiences.
DS: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times on behalf of your customers and what are you most proud of?
AP: As a business owner, it was quite scary watching business come to an unforeseen standstill. After absorbing the impact of the looming pandemic, and the shock of losing several deals, in early March 2020 we rallied as a team to figure out next steps. One of the blessings in this entire situation is that we were given the time and space to think through our next move. We used the first few months of the pandemic to push the dial on the art-of-the-possible. We observed that most organizations, regardless of industry, were struggling to service their customers. They were failing to provide timely access to information. We decided to look at ways in which customers could be better served. From that innovation spark, I was proud to lead the NLX team in creating a powerful new CX product. Voice Compass is a purpose-built application that enables rapid design, build, and delivery of engaging customer self-service journeys. These journeys give customers instant and satisfying access to the information they want, when they need it, and at the same time reduce call center traffic.
DS: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
AP: Technology plays a paramount role at NLX. Our core mission is to drive operational efficiency through the power of Conversational AI technology. With increased focus on contactless technology, our platform is a key ingredient for success across industries to enable this transition. Voice Compass allows our customers to increase customer self-service through unique, voice-guided experiences called Journeys. Voice Compass Journeys are available 24/7, and instantly scale with demand. Reported customer satisfaction rates are on par with human agent interaction because the experience is close to having human assistance. Best of all, Voice Compass Journeys can be created quickly, and deployed at a fraction of the cost of human agent interaction. Use of Voice Compass enables human agents to prioritize attention on the harder customer problems that only humans solve best and reduce the tedium of addressing repetitive, time-consuming routine tasks that customers can likely address for themselves.
DS: How does building on AWS allow you to prepare for whatever the “new normal” in travel and hospitality will look like? How does the new AWS Travel and Hospitality Partner Competency help companies do the same?
AP: At the inception of NLX, we made a strategic choice to embrace the breadth and depth of AWS services as an advantage that grants us extreme agility in the market. Despite what the “new normal” will be, our strategy hasn’t changed. AWS has been a reliable partner throughout our journey to date. Best of all, as AWS continues to innovate, NLX customers are able to enjoy the benefits of those innovations through our products, in near-real time. I think the “new normal” represents a massive opportunity for the travel and hospitality industry. By accelerating adoption of new technologies now, organizations will become more resilient to current and future challenges. The AWS Travel and Hospitality Partner Competency represents a seal of trust for organizations looking to partner with companies like NLX to help them accelerate their adoption of innovative technology at the scale of AWS.
DS: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
AP: Having spent the bulk of the pandemic in New York City, my eyes have really been opened to how important travel is for our physical and mental well-being. Like others, I have maybe taken this too often for granted. Exploring new food, new places, and meeting new people – whether for work or pleasure – brings a quality to life that is totally experiential. I believe that in our ever-growing and interconnected world these experiences are core to our general well-being. I’m very excited for the travel and hospitality industry to bounce back so we can all take advantage of these experiences again. I am extremely confident that the industry will bounce back stronger and safer than ever because I see businesses of all shapes and sizes making every effort and accommodation possible to ensure better guest safety and improved service. These efforts do not go unnoticed. They will certainly pay off in the long term. For myself personally, I had a few scheduled trips in 2020 that got postponed. My much anticipated travel to Singapore and Bali is likely going to be one of the main trips I take as soon as it’s safe to do so.