How Chatbots in Supply Chain Are Setting The New Standard for Visibility

July 1, 2016

Supply Chain Management Chatbot

One of the biggest technological steps in customer service this year is the introduction of chatbots into customer interfaces. Consumer messaging is moving to modern channels, like chat apps, and now is a perfect time for companies to start providing customer service using these same channels. Recent research on chatbots by Gartner concludes, "By 2019, requests for customer support through consumer mobile messaging apps will exceed requests for customer support through traditional social media."

Companies like accommodation booking service Booking.com and retailer Sephora have already started automating their customer service using chatbots. Using AI bots not only allows companies to provide cost efficient service 24/7, but opens opportunities to share information with customers using images, videos, maps and other multimedia content.

A chatbots in supply chain are the ideal tools to achieve better supply chain visibility. Supply chain integrations and ERP systems provide existing data and interfaces that are a good basis for automated data retrieval when tracking shipments. When it comes to the exception that customers encounter shipped products and their deliveries are similar, the chatbot can handle reclamations and error processes automatically. And if the customer wants, they can switch to a customer service representative any time, who can continue the chat from where bot left off.

Chatbots Broken Down

Chatbots are made of three basic ingredients: a messaging platform, artificial intelligence and integration. Messaging platforms, like Facebook Messenger, Skype and Kik, take care of the actual chat UI. An AI using language understanding algorithms handles the user's inputs and parses them into a more technical representation which is used to figure out what the user intends to do. And finally, integration is needed to communicate with ERPs, databases or CRM systems to receive the required information and present it to the customer.

Chatbot architecture

When selecting which messaging platforms to support, more is always better. If customers can use the messaging applications they're accustomed to, the communication threshold is lower. Ideally, a chatbot will provide out of the box support for the majority of popular messaging platforms, all of which can be used with the same implementation. And as support for other platforms is added, they will be compatible with existing chatbot integrations.

The traditional way of providing supply chain information to the consumer has been providing a tracking code and a web form where the tracking code can be entered and tracking information retrieved. This has multiple disadvantages. When waiting for deliveries, consumers tend to be impatient and want to check for updated information several times a day, even when they know the shipment isn’t due to arrive anytime soon. Currently this requires the user to find the tracking code, go to the webpage, enter the code and submit it over and over again. The tracking codes are usually long combination of numbers and characters, (which can't easily be memorized by non-mathematicians) so customers typically copy them from their emails or other communication channels each time they'd like to know the current status. On the other hand, many of these interfaces require no user authentication, which makes the data publicly available to anyone.

With a chatbot, supply chain companies can make life much simpler for their customers. Shipments can be registered to a customer (using information provided by the customer) and since the users have already authorized the messaging platform, this same information can be used to automatically retrieve shipments and limit the visibility of the data. Even when using a tracking code, the user only has to enter the code once because the bot stores the context of the tracking code in its memory. If the user so requests, the bot will automatically provide status change updates.. And when extra information is needed from the customer (like delivery time window or when a customs clearance procedure is required) that information can be requested using the chatbot and automatically entered into your system without manual labor in between.

Skype chatbot

Modern messaging platforms support a variety of multimedia content, so instead of the traditional text based statuses, the customers can get their tracking information on a map or even on a more visual presentation that the bot can generate. The pictures of the actual package or even its contents can be shown to the user so that they know exactly what they are receiving. If the user requests general information, some guide videos could be played. Essentially, anything you can show on your website, you could be showing directly to the customer who is waiting for your delivery.

You already have the required data and interfaces, now it is the time to start using them to their full capabilities!

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