Chatbots are one of today’s hottest tech trends, with a market expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 24.3 percent, on track to reach $1.25 billion by 2025, Grand View Research projects. While customer service is the most popular business application of chatbots, the technology’s impact is being felt across multiple industries, including the supply chain industry. The number of supply chain businesses using chatbots grew from just 21 percent in the last quarter of 2016 to 51 percent in the first quarter of 2017, Eyefortransport reports. Supply chain managers are using chatbots for customer service as well as other important applications. Here’s a look at three ways chatbots can potentially revolutionize traditional supply chain management.
Automating the Ordering Process
Just as other industries are using chatbots for customer service, the supply chain industry is starting to use the technology to make the ordering process easier for customers. Traditionally, customers who order from supply chains need to gather background information before ordering, such as product information, cost analysis and inventory levels. For instance, o-ring supplier Apple Rubber features the seal industry’s largest inventory of o-rings, with over 8,000 sizes and a wide range of custom materials such as fluorocarbons, fluorosilicones and neoprene. In order to make a selection, customers need to know some important specifications, such as whether a given type of material is suitable for handling the temperature and chemical environment of its intended application. To help customers make this determination, Apple Rubber’s website provides an online material selection guide, chemical compatibility guide and seal design guide to help answer customer questions.
Answering questions of this nature is generally a routine matter of looking up the relevant information, so this can usually be handled by chatbots. Chatbots can also determine if a customer needs human assistance, and can automatically notify the right department or representative. Not only does this save suppliers time handling customer service, but it also helps customers get the information they need for ordering more quickly, improving the buying experience and customer satisfaction. This can be particularly convenient for customers who want to place an order during odd hours when human staff is not available.
Speeding Up Internal Communications
Chatbots can also speed up internal communication processes for businesses. For instance, an employee who works for a supplier might need to look up product information in order to answer a customer’s questions. Traditionally, this might mean calling another department within the company. Consulting a chatbot may help the worker find the information they need more rapidly.
Chatbots can also help facilitate internal training for suppliers. A knowledge base underlying a chatbot can be used to store information from experienced employees. Newer employees in training can consult this database via chatbots in order to find answers to frequently asked questions. For instance, a warehouse worker learning the picking and packing process can consult the company chatbot to get answers to questions about standard operating procedure. Mobile Coach sees chatbots as the future of training.
Improving Shipment Speed and Accuracy
Chatbots can also help improve shipping speed and accuracy. One of the most time-consuming tasks in package delivery is picking the right item out from warehouse shelves and delivery trucks. Delivery truck drivers spend half their time digging through piles of packages looking for the next box to deliver. Chatbots coupled with digital package tags and virtual reality goggles can verbally instruct warehouse workers and truck drivers how to quickly locate the desired package.
Chatbots are already helping customers on the receiving end of the supply chain process. UPS recently launched a chatbot that enables customers to find nearby UPS stores, answer questions about shipping rates and track packages. Suppliers can similarly use chatbots to find information when preparing packages for shipment and to track packages.
Chatbots are capable of transforming the supply chain at multiple points. Suppliers are already using chatbots to help customers place orders faster by automatically receiving answers to frequently asked questions. Chatbots can also serve as internal communication tools for providing support to customer-facing employees and training for workers. Chatbots can further improve the speed and accuracy of the shipping process, as well as help suppliers prepare and track packages. As chatbots become more integrated into business at large, they will continue to transform and ultimately revolutionize supply chain management.