A Study by the Federal Logistics Association (BVL) shows: There is great pressure to act in logistics, because the digital transformation of business models has not yet progressed as far as was assumed. At the same time, logistics processes are becoming more complex and deliveries have to be made ever faster, keyword same-day delivery. Logistics companies are therefore required to To close digitization gaps. Digital assistants, so-called chatbots, which are already widespread in the B2C area, such as in e-commerce, can help. But they also offer a good solution for logisticians to simplify time-consuming, paper-based processes.
Logistics processes: Chatbots can close gaps
Chatbots have long been part of everyday life in e-commerce. Dealers are increasingly using them in customer communication and advice to intercept initial service inquiries. A support employee will only be available as the Customer interaction called in when the chatbot reaches its limits, for example because the request is too complex. But use is also advancing in the B2B segment. Thanks to messenger services, users are already used to this form of communication.
In companies, chatbots are often used as a contact point in IT support to trigger tickets, or in the HR department, for example to support the onboarding of new employees. But not only in e-commerce or within companies Chatbots as a powerful interface between people and IT systems – the use of digital helpers is also recommended in the logistics area. There they are particularly suitable for those processes in which very simple queries or a few process steps arise – or in which external partners are involved.
Such workflows can be found in numerous places in logistics. It is precisely these that create gaps in the digitization of the supply chain that severely impair the efficiency of the processes. In many cases, logisticians use apps for these purposes. In comparison, chatbots are much easier to develop and maintain. In addition, employees don’t have to download an app first, but can use the chatbot via their (mobile) device. Most chatbots can be used in Messenger services integrate like Slack or Telegram. This means that users do not have to get used to a new program.
Order bot takes over reorders
Chatbots can take on a variety of tasks. For example, an order bot is conceivable. With such a bot, customers can inquire about the availability of products and reorder items. In this way, the operation of consignment warehouses at customers can be optimized. This is useful, for example, for reorders for hospitals or in the area of C-parts management. The procedure could be as follows: First, the user logs in to the order chatbot. This asks for the material or part number.
At best, the bot also shows a suitable product image. He then checks whether the required quantity of the material or part is in stock and whether a maximum order quantity has been exceeded. If all factors are correct, the bot triggers the order directly. For customers this means: You can (re) order products quickly without having to go to customer service. A time-consuming search for articles or product descriptions is completely eliminated. The dialogue with the digital assistant is limited to the bare essentials – in contrast to ordering in a web shop, which involves several steps.
Logistics processes: Query the order status of an order
In some cases, customers want to see the status of their order – a standard request that takes up a lot of time for customer service. A chatbot can relieve the support. The customer receives the shipment number by email with a shipping confirmation. He can now log into the chatbot, enter the consignment number and then find out directly where the order is. As soon as the shipment reaches a new status, the customer receives a corresponding message directly via the messenger.
Companies do not have to send a new email request or log in again every time. An extended function also enables a different time and place to be selected for delivery. This works much faster than by email. The use of form bots is also conceivable, for example for dangerous goods. Up to 40 aspects must be documented before departure. Examples of the categories queried are the condition of the goods being transported, the criteria for document control, general information about the vehicle driver and criteria for equipment or packaging control.
The digital hazardous substance form in the form of a chatbot turns the previously paper-based queries into a digital checklist that drivers and inspectors can easily tick off. In order to make the questions as understandable as possible, the bot shows appropriate visual material – for example a powder extinguisher. In addition, users can upload a valid driver’s license or ID card in order to minimize manual data entry. The checklist can then be digitally signed by the examiner and driver on the smartphone.
Platform for smooth logistics processes
As the third largest industry in Germany, logistics cannot ignore digitization. Logistics companies have often proven that innovative solutions are important – they developed classic freight exchanges very early on, which can be viewed as forerunners of modern logistics platforms. Using such a tool is becoming increasingly important due to the growing demand for information, data sharing, and visibility.
A smooth flow of goods is only possible if there is communication between vehicles and between vehicles and the infrastructure. For example, the Warehouse Management System (WMS) functions as the heart and brain of every warehouse. All logistics processes come together here. However, many companies shy away from using such a system – they fear high costs – and instead fall back on their ERP system.
The ERP system reaches its limits at the latest when companies want to control and map the warehouse processes in detail, from incoming goods to picking and shipping. The same applies to location-specific inventory management and process transparency in real time. In addition, compared to ERP systems, WMS allow the most modern technologies to be connected, such as mobile devices such as smartwatches and glasses, mobile printers or automation systems (conveyor systems, robots).
In addition, different storage strategies can be mapped with a WMS. As a rule, such a WMS is just one of several components of a modern logistics platform. The advantage of a platform solution: Companies can book modules and add-ons as needed and thus react flexibly to new requirements in logistics. In addition, providers often provide them as Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) so that companies can scale the solution at any time.
Chatbots as part of a modern logistics platform
Chatbots are an example of an additional feature. Instead of programming these – or a logistics app – yourself, they can be designed like a digital modular system. No programming knowledge is required for this, as users can create the solution themselves using a workflow editor. To do this, they need to define “intents”. These represent the foundation in the dialog between man and machine and help to understand and recognize user input.
Once defined, intents can be trained and expanded at any time, so that the chatbot learns and develops further. This is possible, for example, on the basis of customer and user feedback in order to further optimize communication. Thanks to the open architecture, these systems can be quickly integrated into the IT landscape of logistics companies and connected to various data sources. Implementation is very quick – and is often completed within a few hours. Customers and employees then access the system via messenger services. Role and authorization structures also ensure a high level of security.
Logistics processes: Is everything still a long way off?
The advantages of digital helpers in logistics are manifold. Chatbots are not only intuitive to use, they also digitize manual entries and can automatically control processes based on stored rules. In addition, users benefit from real-time communication that is possible around the clock and without any waiting times. Because chatbots neither get sick nor are they on vacation – and respond within a few seconds. Gartner assumes that by 2022, 70 percent of all employees will interact with conversation platforms on a daily basis, which also includes chatbots. They are therefore no longer a dream of the future, but are already able to reliably close digitization gaps in logistics today.
Further information on how time-critical processes in logistics can be optimized with the help of chatbots can be found in the innovation letter “Tightening complex, time-critical logistics processes – this is how it works with AI-based chatbots“From Arvato Systems.
Also read: Customer service: Arvato digitizes processes with a CRM solution from BSI
About the author: Bernd Jaschinski-Schürmann, who holds a degree in industrial engineering, is Head of Digital Supply Chain Management at Arvato Systems and has more than 20 years of experience in the areas of digital transformation, innovation management and business development – especially in the logistics, automotive, retail and manufacturing industries . He has already implemented more than 50 digital transformation projects as well as 40 new locations, planning and optimization. Jaschinski-Schürmann has been with Bertelsmann since 1996 and for Arvato Systems since 2007. Arvato Systems offers with the Smart Logistics Platform platbricks a cloud-based platform on which operational processes in logistics can be intelligently planned, controlled and executed digitally. (sg)