"Our collaboration with Amazon is a great example of this commitment to putting the customer first."
Rail passengers in the UK whom equip their homes with the latest technology have been given an entirely new way to buy train tickets, after Amazon’s voice-activated media unit, Alexa, was given a booking functionality for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) operator, Virgin Trains. The world’s first travel operator to sell their tickets using Amazon’s devices, the franchise that bears Sir Richard Branson’s famous branding will enable its customers to purchase advance single tickets using only their voice.
The speak-to-purchase technology follows the launch last November of a service between Virgin Trains and Amazon that enabled Alexa users to receive up-to-the-minute information by talking to the small device. Both services are powered by the SilverRail engine, travel technology that ensures the flow of data into the rail system is consistent and accurate, and the booking reservation aspect is fulfilled. Tickets can be bought across Virgin Trains’ WCML route, in addition to a selection of journeys on the operator’s namesake, Virgin Train East Coast, which announced this year it is to end its franchise a year earlier than planned after it said it was unable to meet its financial obligations.
Commenting on the new Amazon-Virgin Trains service, Giulio Montemagno, Amazon Pay EU director, said the company was thrilled to work with Virgin Trains to offer customers a new alternative to buy their tickets. “With Alexa and Amazon Pay, Virgin Trains customers can now search, select and buy train tickets entirely through voice.”
John Sullivan, Virgin Trains CIO, said: “From finding train times online, to arriving at your destination, we want to make every journey with Virgin Trains amazing, and our collaboration with Amazon is a great example of this commitment to putting the customer first.”
Not the first occasion Virgin Trains has used the latest technology in an to attempt to improve services for its customers, Virgin Trains, which has been operating the WCML route for 21 years, has been using artificial intelligence (AI) at its customer service centre to fine tune the company’s phone systems. Automatically sorting callers to the call centre based on the initial responses given over the phone, the software sends that caller to what it believes is the correct department. Should the AI-controlled system get that wrong, however, the member of staff given the call makes the relevant suggestions or corrections that enable the system to improve through learning.
The announcement from Virgin Trains and Amazon came just days before the group representing UK rail companies, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), announced it would be launching a root and branch consultation to attempt to update a ticketing system that has not kept up with today's industry. Among the issues singled out by the RDG were inflexible season tickets that don't reflect modern working arrangements such as those who work at home as well as at the office, and ticketing systems that don't keep up with the latest technology.
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