At the end of 2016, it was just an idea and now it’s ready to go – the first virtual support agent at NTT DATA Germany.
But what is new? Chatbots date back to the 90s (e.g. IRC Bots). The big difference lies in artificial intelligence. While years ago the “old” models were primarily addressed by IT specialists and followed a logic where they responded to a specific command with a predefined answer, the chatbot of today incorporates the new trend of artificial intelligence. The difference: The “bot” (the software robot or software agent) is not only capable of responding to fixed commands, but can also understand the individual questions asked by users. This form of technical intelligence is referred to as Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Christina Göhler, Competence Unit Manager and Nejib Kchouk, Lead Consultant in Automotive Aftersales are the project managers for the new “Virtual Support Agent Project”.
Question: Christina and Nejib, what motivated you to create a virtual support agent?
Christina Göhler: “For several years now, we have employed the concepts of knowledge management in our project environment, i.e. in the context of first and second level support. We aim to provide target group-appropriate knowledge for solutions to user problems, not only for support agents but also for dealers, the end users. Particularly this issue, the provision of fast, efficient help with error messages and prompt answers to our end users’ queries, is of increasing importance given the large number of knowledge objects (solutions and documents) and the growing complexity of system environments. Our expertise in knowledge management provided the impetus for the current innovation project.”
Nejib Kchouk: “When we hear the term “knowledge management”, we usually think of a collection of files and information. However, a well-structured knowledge management system offers much more than the solutions to problems. It facilitates the introduction of a diagnostic process – allows problems be unequivocally identified and understood. This can involve, for example, the use of decision-making trees that follow a certain standard and specified structure. The knowledge database in our project environment was created in this manner and provides the basis for the chatbot.”
Question: How exactly does a chatbot work in the support context?
Nejib Kchouk: “The chatbot can be viewed as a virtual chat partner. Users can seek assistance by entering questions into the system via a chat function. They receive appropriate answers or solutions in return. In principle, the response of the chatbot is comparable to that of a call center agent. The advantages of the chatbot are that it is available around the clock, i.e. 24/7, can communicate in more than 60 languages and is capable of responding to a query immediately (fast response time). If no answer is available for a specific question, the chatbot forwards the request on to Second Level Support. This is exactly what a call center agent does.”
Question: In September 2017, our NTT DATA parent company granted approval and the associated development budget for creation of a chatbot prototype. How were you able to convince our Japanese colleagues?
Christina Göhler: “First of all, we carried out intensive research to identify the best technology for our prototype. Then, we did some fine tuning on the planning. In my view, the intensive preparation and the application-oriented use cases from our direct project environment were decisive factors for the positive decision from Japan.”
There are also many other potential applications for the bot, since a support chatbot can help with diverse problems (not only IT issues) and make information available, independent of the sector concerned. However, one thing must not be forgotten: Every support bot is only as good as the knowledge management that lies behind it.
Find out what is important and why successful knowledge management is more than just documents filed on a SharePoint in Part 2 of our series “Chatbots in the IT Support Context”.
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