Getting more done in less time is the holy grail of productivity drives, in our own lives, and on the scale of a manufacturing enterprise. Personally, I find that mobile devices enhance my productivity, whether I’m improving my knowledge, socialising with mates, or complaining to a company about poor products or service (I recently used social media, along with my powers of persuasion, to receive a new tyre for my Triumph Explorer!). Most of us who are comfortable with the modern age are on our mobile devices all the time, trying to squeeze as much as we can from every minute of our lives.
At the same time, our mobile devices are increasingly in contact with one form or other of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is rapidly working its way into the fabric of our lives, both on and off the job. And while AI has myriad functions, many of them are to do with productivity – helping us go about our busy days in the most efficient, hassle-free manner possible.
If that holds true for life, it makes even more sense when it comes to business. No matter where you stand in the manufacturing ecosystem, your customers have the same pressing needs and schedules that you do. When they take the time to place a call, they need answers to their questions and solutions to their problems – and they need them delivered with alacrity. Enter the chatbot.
The Evolution of Chatbots
First the caveat – not everyone is in love with chatbots. As a recent study by CGS (a customer support outsourcing company) purports to demonstrate, when the questions are complex, many people would still rather wait for a human representative. Just the same, chatbots are improving every day, and as they become more efficient and lifelike, our attitudes towards them are evolving.
In a sense, the CGS study’s conclusions could be turned on their heads. For example, CGS claims that:
Beyond simple customer support, many consumers still prefer human agents to chatbots. Nearly 50 percent of U.K. respondents and around 40 percent of U.S. respondents said they’d prefer a person.
CGS sees those numbers as negative. My take-away, however, is a little different. To me, it’s fascinating to note that a relatively new and socially challenging technology, such as chatbots, already has support from some 50 to 60 percent of the population. Note that in the US, only 40% of respondents said they’d prefer a person – that, to me, is verging on phenomenal. While I agree that a blended, bot-optional experience may be the best thing for some consumers (especially older consumers), I think that a 50-60 percent acceptance level is an excellent predictor for widespread chatbot acceptance. This is even more true I suspect, given the rapid evolution of AI and chatbot technology.
One of the most interesting innovations in chatbot tech is the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning, which allow chatbots to translate and interpret normal human input – whether spoken over a phone, or entered manually through a device. Unlike last-gen chatbots, new chatbots can summarize long texts, contextually relate words to the objects they represent, resolve ambiguities, and even use speech patterns to identify the emotional state of the person they’re speaking with.
Benefits of Chatbots in the Manufacturing Supply Chain
To my mind there are some compelling customer-service reasons to put chatbots on the to-do list:
- End-to-end visibility: To start with, the size and complexity of some manufacturing environments, especially as we move towards flexible, agile, pull-paradigm supply chains, makes Artificial Intelligence an enormous asset for end-to-end visibility. Where a human representative might struggle to supply a realistic delivery date, a chatbot can interpret massive amounts of resource, capacity and transportation information, and rapidly arrive at a realistic date for order promising and fulfillment.
- Order placement is just one area in which chatbot functionality with natural language capabilities demonstrably excels. For example, even when a human touch is required, there are often times when customers are forced to wait on hold. During those times, previously unproductive (and often musically objectionable), the caller can ask the chatbot questions that will shorten their time on the telephone – price queries, purchase history, status of a different order, etc. Just as robots are now working side-by-side with warehouse and shop floor personnel, the efficiency of phone representatives can be greatly enhanced by the presence of a chatbot.
Introducing Ken the SYSPRO Bot
If you’re still on the fence about chatbots, give us a call at SYSPRO and let us introduce you to Ken. Ken is one of the latest emerging technologies to come out of our pioneering BlueSky division. An offshoot of our Artificial Intelligence research, Ken is at the head of the chatbot class. He is intelligent, quick, and adept at ‘natural language’. Furthermore, he is extensible, allowing for future growth, and subject to regular updates. Beyond customer service queries, Ken can be easily customised to include new skill sets – as he extends across the enterprise his functions will be limited only by our imaginations.
At the beginning of your chatbot implementation, Ken will win friends by optimizing “self-service”. This will increase good will and reputation, which in turn will increase sales and profitability. As your company grows, Ken will grow with you – in terms of both usefulness and sophistication.
If you’re interested in staying a step or two ahead of your competition, I recommend you get in touch with your SYSPRO support team and find out how Ken can improve your customer ratings, and how his future-proof presence can bolster, and even improve, your bottom line.