“I get by with a little help from my friends” are familiar words from an old hit. A friend is always there when you need him – a true buddy you can rely on. He is by your side in many situations, even when travelling with Deutsche Bahn. The “Reisebuddy“ personal assistant from Deutsche Bahn is not made of flesh and bones and yet it is exactly what you need: a virtual friend who is available to answer your questions before, during or after a trip. With this virtual service, customers can obtain information more quickly or book additional products. For example, a person who is travelling by train over the weekend can use the Reisebuddy to book accommodations or a rental car by text message or a webchat. Instead of having to deal with many different providers, the traveller receives a single trip from one source. In addition to the standard offer, the traveller can also access a wide variety of additional information and services that can be accessed throughout the travel chain. The Reisebuddy accompanies the end customer like a personal concierge. The goal is to create a travel experience for the customer that is as pleasant as possible all the way to the destination.
Artificial intelligence reduces work
In principle, the DB Reisebuddy is a digital extension of customer service, where a wide range of customer demands are processed and questions are answered. DB Dialog receives several thousand requests per day – a total of approx. 12 million per year – on ticket sales, ticket prices, timetables, travel routes, reimbursements and much more. Initially, all customer concerns were answered by employees. To simplify the work of customer representatives, DB Dialog together with DB Systel developed the intelligent travel assistant. The digital assistant now uses an artificial intelligence (AI) component from the strategic partner IBM. It is a popular service for which around 15,000 users have registered to quickly obtain information by text message or in the Internet chat.
Up to 40 percent of all requests can already be answered in an automated fashion.
The virtual assistant suggests answers on the basis of its understanding of the posed question. “Up to 40 percent of all questions can already be answered in an automated fashion,” says Maren Reinsch, Department Head of Sales & Services at DB Dialog. “This saves the team time and frees them up to dedicate more attention to solving complex matters.” Although the assistant is already able to correctly interpret and answer a large number of posed questions, the service is still operated by employees who check the suggested answers, edit them if necessary and then send them to the customer. This ensures that the questions are fully and correctly answered. The bonus: All corrections flow into the system training and thus improve it continuously. “The AI automatically learns on the basis of what employees enter. Moreover, an editorial team examines the texts to ensure that they are technically correct,” says Maren Reinsch. Despite these manual steps, the virtual assistant already saves the customer service team a lot of time and effort.
The idea for the DB Reisebuddy was developed by DB Dialog together with DB Systel. DB Dialog is responsible for the operative execution and continued development of the service. All services needed for this are made available by DB Systel, tailored to the specific requirements. DB Dialog thus receives AI and IT expertise, consulting and design of the solution, and implementation and operation from a single source. For this purpose, the digitalization experts at Deutsche Bahn maintain their relationship to the strategic partner IBM, where the chatbot technology was developed. DB Systel assumes the part of the enabler during development and is especially responsible for two factors that are critical to success: The architecture for the DB Reisebuddy ensures an open system and thus provides for the capability of integrating and orchestrating a variety of access channels that might be connected in the future, such as Facebook or Whatsapp. “The technology behind the Reisebuddy is based on the IBM Watson Framework, Open Source technology and internally developed orchestration components. Its open architecture enables various systems to be connected and the supports the exchange of data via a corresponding platform. This is conducted on an orchestration layer developed by DB Systel,” says Susanne Auinger, Senior Partner Account Manager at DB Systel.
The insights that we have gained from the Reisebuddy and the AI trainings can also be applied in other areas.
The initial training approach is, in turn, relevant to the basic understanding of human language and takes into account, for example, technical language, normal speech and sentence formation. “The insights that we have gained from the Reisebuddy and the AI trainings can also be applied in other areas, such as in FAQs in the entire Group,” says Susanne Auinger. Instead of creating a separate FAQ training for each railway company, the results can be orchestrated to flow together – and any missing information can then be supplemented for each business segment. Another service developed in parallel, Assistify, is based on AI support to answer complex questions: In an intuitive chat, Assistify aids the Support Team of DB Dialog with customer questions by means of an explicit search through Deutsche Bahn knowledge bases.
The hard work of everyone involved has borne fruit: The Reisebuddy is not only an important aid with regard to customer contact, but is also an example of a successful, open and transparent collaboration between internal and external partners. Maren Reinsch says: “When the focus was on moving the service forward technologically, DB Systel was an excellent partner for us. If our partnership had been less effective, we would not be where we are today.” The smart application of artificial intelligence is also appreciated outside of Deutsche Bahn in a field with a traditionally more classical approach: At the international event “Women Leaders in AI” in New York, Maren Reinsch was honoured for her work. Congratulations!!