In these recent years, the use of chatbots in sales and customer services has become quite popular, and effects are apparent. Small online business were the fastest to adopt this new technology, and the results were satisfying: high increase in revenue, lower wage expenses. Yet, large businesses seem reluctant, raising the question of the adequacy of Chatbot against human: can they deal with such variety of conversations choice in a natural way? In the huge markets with various brands like Harafunel, Hanabot, FPT.AI, Chatfuel, Manychat…, making a choice proves to be difficult.

To answer this question, let’s look into FPT TechInsight’s newest interview with Mr. Tu Hoang Thai – Head of eCommerce Operations Department at FPT Shop.

First, we really appreciate your coming to this interview, Mr. Thai. Can you share with us the reason why FPT Shop decided to launch this Pike chatbot?

In 2017, with support from FPT Technology Innovation Department, FPT Shop had started to build our first chatbot. The functions at the time was pretty limited, it was able to answer 9, 10 frequently asked questions from the customer. To be frank, it was pretty disappoint compared to most expectations about what a chatbot can do. We deemed it a failure pretty quickly.

In 2018, FPT.AI introduced the Natural Language Processing (NLP), which can identified customers’ aim through conversation. This sparks the idea for FPT Shop again, and this time we aim to build a chatbot that can sell as well as answer frequently asked questions (FAQ) to reduce real-time fanpage operators. In reality, customers mostly have the same concerns, and employees will answer using the same set of data. Thus, we can re-organize the data set and filter popular questions to train chatbots. The possibility of question identification and automatic response for chatbots then no longer sounded out of reach.

The end result is Pika – the strongest Vietnamese chatbot, with the ability to respond to both multiple questions and simple ones, and can automatically suggest answers for following questions. Most chatbots on the current market applies single targets, such as buying assistance using keywords and scripts. Pika can do further: answering about stocks, product information, after sales services, and so on – all automatically, based on the needs of customers and flow of conversations, similar to a normal talk.

What is one challenge you have faced in building the chatbot?

Preparing the data set and training process was taxing. There was millions of records from stock, inventories, prices, images… to precise location, navigation, routes to particular shops…, all scattered around the system and connected to one place with API. The data is saved for chatbots to use with speed: no longer than 15 seconds to answer each inquiries, which means data processing needs to be prompt yet accurate. Predictions are also necessary so that the bot can prepare data, a task hard even for human, as they need time to think and search. Chatbots, however, makes this experience a quick and smooth one.

How do chatbots deal with “teencodes” or misspellings?

This requires quite the complex training. In real situations, the chatbot can understand even if customers send nothing but “iP X”. But with teencodes or multiple misspellings, it will suggest the option to converse with an operator instead.

The chatbot can understand even with just “iP X”.

Had customers ever felt annoyed when they found out they were talking to chatbots?

After the Lunar New Year, FPT Shop had asked customers who were advised by chatbots to fill in a survey. The results are: 65.7% rated 5-star, 2.7% rate 2-star, and 17.1% rated 1-star. That is a 4.5 average. Sounds pretty okay, right?

In addition, FPT Shop also held direct interviews with customers about their experience with chatbots. This is with the aim to further improve them to meet customers’ demand.

Had there been any time that the chatbot overcome your expectations?

Ever since Pika’s launch (November 2018), it had replace 4 employees per day, reduce 60% of the workload with quick processing and reach an accuracy of 70%.

In total, 65,258 customers had interacted with the chatbot, 274,789 inquiries had been processed in 2-3 seconds. As the first version only had an accuracy of 6%, we only expected the second version to be around 30% accurate. The real number (over 70%) had completely surpassed our expectations, and chatbot-advised sales are now up to 3,600 orders.

What is your next step in developing the Pika chatbot?

What we had now is only the first step. In fact, FPT Shop is currently seeking other solutions to further improve our chatbot, and consequently improve customer experience. We’d like to add payment via installment, as well as suitable product suggestions so customers can make extra purchases. In addition, as customers tend to abbreviate words, we want Pika to be able to identify and understand those. Our team also hold phone interviews with customers to understand their needs and expectations when conversing with a chatbot. At the moment, a link to FPT Shop homepage is sent to the customer if the chatbot is unable to respond, but in the future, we expect the chatbot to send images and videos related to the products, so the customers won’t need to do any extra research aside from chatting. Soon, we will launch the chatbot on our website, and hope customers will get new experiences when they visit FPT Shop.

Pika is FPT Shop’s answer to the ever-lasting question “Why can’t we reduce costs when there are so many things out there to replace human staff?”

What do you think about using chatbots to send advertisements to customers – an action very prevalent in the market?

We haven’t attempted that, seeing that if we are not careful, it can chase our customers away. First, we aim to get customers acquainted to Pika on the fanpage whenever they have questions, then, we hope they will get good impressions through these good experiences. Remarket may be a thought for the future, but only with careful consideration and higher personalization.

From where do your team get the motivation and resilience for this project?

Pika is FPT Shop’s answer to the ever-lasting question “Why can’t we reduce costs when there are so many things out there to replace human staff?” The management broad of FPT Group also motivate us to try out new technology in the business. Of course, failure is unavoidable when you are testing something new. So we, FPT Shop dives head-in to this first chatbot with FPT.AI, and try to together find solutions, and put it to actualization.

Do you have any advices for managers of medium-scale or retail businesses that are thinking about using this technology?

I only have one message to our readers: Technology is limitless, so you should feel free to explore. What humans can do, machines can do also in the future.

Thank you very much for your sharings!

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