Interview • 31.03.2020

Our bot is happy to assist you

Chatbots and AI virtual assistants automate customer service

Chatbots and virtual assistants – some think they are creepy, others consider them a part of daily life. Either way, they patiently answer frequently asked questions related to the opening hours of the nearest supermarket.

By now, some platforms do this so well, users may not even realize that they are communicating with AI technology versus a real person.

A young man in a denim shirt smiles into the camera...
Holger Budde, Conversational Interface Designer, Space and Lemon GmbH
Source: Space and Lemon GmbH

Holger Budde from Space and Lemon develops and trains chatbots for companies. We asked him whether modern retailers should consider using this technology and what that means exactly.

Mr. Budde, why do chatbots improve customer service?

Chatbots and smart assistants help automate any repetitive, tedious tasks and answer commonly asked questions like “What are your store hours? How do I get to the store? Do you have this brand available at your store?” By automating repetitive tasks, it also allows us to get a lot of data to feed and enhance the intelligence of the bots.

The questions might be repetitive, but the speech patterns vary. How is a machine able to understand the user’s intents and respond appropriately?

This is a complex process from a technical perspective. There are Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools that allow chatbots to analyze, get context and meaning to user input. Examples include Google Dialogflow, LUIS by Microsoft and Rasa Core (open source). These companies have already laid the groundwork for our purposes. However, you still have to prepare and train your chatbot for different applications and specific use cases.

You specialize in training chatbots for companies.

Our job already starts with the idea: What use cases do our clients have, what do users expect when they communicate with the company, and which conversations are best handled by the chatbot? We subsequently utilize the previously mentioned NLP tools to facilitate platform implementation. Next is the chatbot training: Does the bot correctly recognize and produce the right answers to user questions and where do we have to make adjustments?

What does this training process look like exactly?

A human has to tell the machine whether it understood and answered a question correctly. For example, the question "When will I receive my bill?" differs from "Why is my bill so high this month? There are three items on my bill that I don’t understand and I want to cancel”. There are messages and questions with so-called multiple intents. Training the bot to understand multiple intents correctly is a major challenge.

For the platform to operate and differentiate correctly, you need at least 30, but preferably 50 different expressions per intent. We use common sense to come up with expressions or rely on pre-defined responses and sets of questions we add to the platform. The machine also learns from continuous input and use as we are not always able to identify all possible expressions for an intent beforehand. That’s why you still need a human being who makes any needed corrections. We are still a long way away from Super AI without human masters.

One hand holds a smartphone on which a speech recognition application is active...
Source: PantherMedia/AndreyPopov

I imagine it’s an even bigger challenge to train a virtual assistant.

Written and spoken communication are very different. Spoken conversation is more flexible, more casual and you also have dialects to consider. Language is the most intuitive mode of communication. We use it every day and hardly ever think about it.

Yet that’s not the only reason spoken language will come out on top and has already become the preferred way to interact with digital assistants in many areas. For example, when I am in the car or in my kitchen and my hands are occupied elsewhere, voice commands come in very handy. However, when it comes to more confidential matters like personal data or payment arrangements, many users still prefer to type the information.

Chatbots were hyped at first. Now that the hype has subsided, we see a rise in voice applications. However, these assistants are ultimately multimodal: As a user, I don’t care whether I talk to my virtual assistant or type things in – my main concern is that my question is answered.

A voice assistant, a white box with an image of a microphone on it...
Source: PantherMedia/luca de polo

Can artificial intelligence perform as well as humans in the foreseeable future?

I believe in some specific cases, a chatbot can replace humans. Google Duplex is one example of this. It allows certain users to make a hair appointment of restaurant reservation by phone. However, instead of the user speaking directly to the restaurant employee, AI mimics and speaks for the user.

If companies use chatbots, should they be transparent and let users know they are communicating with a bot?

Yes, they should. It’s honest, and it is also a great strategy as the technology has not yet reached the point where everything works perfectly. Users are not so much interested in what the chatbot can do. They just want to ask their question or place their request in their own words. Users should be met where they are. You should give them examples and help them communicate with an AI platform. Otherwise, you run the risk of disappointing customers and their expectations.

Do you think companies and retailers should learn more about this subject?

Many users embrace chatbots and virtual assistants, especially Google Assistant and Alexa from Amazon. User rates are increasing. Users expect that service requests can be handled automatically without the need to drive to a store or wait in a phone queue.

Companies are already successfully using bots and assistants to reach their customers. This also means that companies now have to find ways to be present in these interfaces and stay relevant to users.

It doesn’t always take major technology initiatives that take years to implement. Companies can achieve a lot with simple but relevant use cases that help users do things faster and with more efficiency and convenience. For example, I always suggest that traditional retailers continuously manage and update their Google My Business accounts and always download the latest information pertaining to opening hours and business holidays.

Interview: Elena Blume

related articles:

popular articles:

Thumbnail-Photo: FinTech IoT platform for self-service financial transactions...
25.02.2021   #cash management #cash handling systems

FinTech IoT platform for self-service financial transactions

PayComplete, the new cash handling brand from SUZOHAPP, announces global launch

PayComplete, the new brand and identity of the cash handling division of SUZOHAPP announced its launch today. This new brand will invest in what is an Internet of Things (IoT) platform for broader financial transactions, running both on ...

Thumbnail-Photo: What the payment future is about
08.03.2021   #mobile payment #brick and mortar retail

What the payment future is about

Interview with John Kolthof, Chief Commercial Officer, CCV GmbH

We asked our CCO John Kolthof about the future of the payment industry. What megatrends does John see and how do they influence CCV’s day-to-day business? Read more in our interview. ...

Thumbnail-Photo: The 6 technology trends affecting the security sector in 2021...
15.01.2021   #security #brick and mortar retail

The 6 technology trends affecting the security sector in 2021

The trends are shaped by how and why technologies are used

It’s useful when looking forward to first look backward: hindsight has a wonderful way of providing context for future-gazing activity. And when looking back over the past year, one insight could understandably be that attempting to predict ...

Thumbnail-Photo: More than 400 Danish Coop Stores Now with Electronic Shelf Labels...
29.01.2021   #electronic shelf labels (ESL) #price labelling

More than 400 Danish Coop Stores Now with Electronic Shelf Labels

Back in 2010, the first Coop store implemented electronic shelf labels from the IT company, Delfi Technologies.

Store no. 400 became Irma at Islands Brygge in Copenhagen, which has undergone a major renovation project, where investments have been made into several initiatives to improve the shopping experience – this includes electronic shelf ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Vending machines: Customers alone in the store...
18.01.2021   #sales promotion #food retail

Vending machines: Customers alone in the store

Combi City-Markt makes round-the-clock shopping possible – without staff

Shopping after closing time? That’s possible at the Combi City store Bünting in Oldenburg. At the 24/7 vending machine, late at night shoppers have the opportunity to stock up on everything they need from the supermarket's ...

Thumbnail-Photo: A completely new experience at ICA Kvantum with Breece...
15.12.2020   #electronic shelf labels (ESL) #price labelling

A completely new experience at ICA Kvantum with Breece

ICA Kvantum in Lerum has invested in new technology: A cloud-based electronic shelf label

ICA Kvantum Lerum has for a long time been looking for a supplier of electronic shelf labels (ESL), so the staff no longer have to spend time and resources on changing paper shelf labels. It was important that it should be a ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Southeast Asian online and offline health and beauty partnership...
06.02.2021   #online trading #e-commerce

Southeast Asian online and offline health and beauty partnership

Grab brings beauty products from over 2,200 Watsons stores to customers’ doorsteps

A.S. Watson Group, an international health and beauty retailer, and Grab, Southeast Asia’s super app, announced the largest O+O (online and offline) health and beauty partnership in Southeast Asia, spanning across six Southeast Asian markets ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Klarna starts cooperation with Verifone
23.12.2020   #digitization #self-checkout systems

Klarna starts cooperation with Verifone

The idea: a shopping experience in stores that is unique worldwide

Klarna, the leading global payments and shopping service, announces a strategic partnership with Verifone, a global leader in payments and commerce solutions, that will make Klarna available as the first-ever buy now pay later solution to millions ...

Thumbnail-Photo: Tackling sustainability challenges in the food packaging industry...
04.02.2021   #sustainability #food retail

Tackling sustainability challenges in the food packaging industry

Tetra Pak calls for collaborative innovation

Tetra Pak has introduced a new collaborative innovation model with leading paperboard producers, a move aimed at tackling the food packaging industry's sustainability challenges. The traditional operating model of a linear supply chain has ...

Thumbnail-Photo: BAUHAUS introduces new click and collect technology...
10.03.2021   #electronic shelf labels (ESL) #price labelling

BAUHAUS introduces new click and collect technology

New solution helps store associates pick items for Click & Collect orders

With help from electronic shelf labels and handheld terminals, it has become much faster and easier for BAUHAUS to navigate through the store to find the right items. A new solution that also saves a lot of time on replenishment.With a product range ...

Supplier

CCV GmbH
CCV GmbH
Gewerbering 1
84072 Au i.d.Hallertau
Delfi Technologies GmbH
Delfi Technologies GmbH
Landgraben 75
24232 Schönkirchen
iXtenso - Magazin für den Einzelhandel
iXtenso - Magazin für den Einzelhandel
Celsiusstraße 43
53125 Bonn
EuroShop
EuroShop
Stockumer Kirchstraße 61
40474 Düsseldorf
Axis Communications GmbH
Axis Communications GmbH
Adalperostraße 86
85737 Ismaning
Reflexis Systems GmbH
Reflexis Systems GmbH
Kokkolastr. 5-7
40882 Ratingen
SALTO Systems GmbH
SALTO Systems GmbH
Schwelmer Str. 245
42389 Wuppertal
APG Cash Drawer
APG Cash Drawer
4 The Drove
BN9 0LA Newhaven
GMO Registry, Inc.
GMO Registry, Inc.
Cerulean Tower, 26-1 / Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku,
150-8512 Tokyo
Citizen Systems Europe GmbH
Citizen Systems Europe GmbH
Otto-Hirsch-Brücken 17
70329 Stuttgart