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Chatbots in the Chain Featured

chatbotsYou’ve likely encountered chatbots even if they didn’t introduce themselves as such. Today you’re most likely to encounter them when you call a customer support hotline or online chat service. They ask questions and deliver answers and act surprisingly like human operators… except they’re much more quickly available.

That’s because they’re computer versions of the trained phone agents and there are as many of them available to take calls as are needed. They answer the questions quickly, record the questions and answers, and deliver high levels of customer satisfaction. That all seems fine when someone needs to know their bank balance or schedule a service call but are they sufficiently intelligent and flexible to be deployed for supply chain use?

Increasingly the answer seems to be ‘yes’ as eyefortransport (eft) reports in its Q2 Supply Chain Hot Trends report. More than 50 percent of Supply chain companies are evaluating chatbots for use in their business. The majority are considering them for customer service deployment, an increase from their 20126 Q4 survey where a scant 21 percent were looking at them. That’s a significant uptick in interest in less than 9 months.

Will supply chain use be different from banks and telecom operators?

Certainly the topics will be different but the uses are likely to be very similar. Customers want to know the same things they always want to know when it comes to orders and shipments; where are they, when will they arrive, and is the shipment complete. Thanks to the digitization of the supply chain and the addition of sensors like GPS and RFID, the answers to all those questions are already being tracked, often in real time.

It seems counterproductive to even consider involving a human in the collection and delivery of that kind of information. A human agent needs to view the log pertaining to the specific shipment. That means they need to look it up, then read the results, and then explain their findings to the caller. The caller who has already waited too long (in their opinion) to even talk with the agent.

Chatbots are already digital and can be trained by connecting their digital connectors to query the data feeds being populated by digital systems. A customer could engage a chatbot through a chat (email, twitter, a chat app on the web site) and identify themselves to the chatbot. The chatbot is already trained to collect and compile the most common responses immediately upon recognizing the caller, so at least 75% of the questions the caller may ask are ready to be delivered. The result is that the interaction is fast and effective, delivering the answer the customer wanted without a wait.

This can be taken even further with the use of voice-to-text (think Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa) where the caller simply asks the question and gets a vocal response whether through a phone call or an app on their device.

Studies have found that chatbots can increase customer satisfaction without increasing personnel costs. Chatbots are here and their use is growing. Are they also part of your supply chain?

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