When you’ve got a question about your journey, wouldn’t it be great if you could submit your inquiry and get a response immediately? DB Reisebuddy wanted to offer its customers just that.
DB Dialog and DB Systel teamed up to develop DB Reisebuddy—an artificial intelligence-enhanced travel assistant service based on IBM Watson® cognitive technology.
40%of customer queries answered by chatbot, freeing up agents’ time for complex issues
6 weeksto build a chatbot and train it to interpret and respond to common queries
Opensbrand-new channels for customer communication, improving services offering
Business challenge story
Meeting changing expectations
More than 5 million people travel with Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s largest rail operator, every single day. With so many passengers traveling on its network, the company receives tens of thousands of inquiries daily, concerning everything from ticket sales and fare information to train timetables, journey planning, refunds and more.
For DB Dialog, the business unit responsible for customer communications, responding to so many inquiries in a timely manner is a huge challenge.
Maren Reinsch, Head of Sales & Services at DB Dialog, begins: “We receive around 12 million inquiries a year. When customers have questions about their train journey, they typically get in touch via phone or email. When passengers ring our customer service helpline, they may have to wait on hold until an agent is free to take their call. Similarly, it may take a while for the team to read and research the answer, then respond to an email inquiry.”
In today’s connected, digital world, expectations around customer services are changing fast—for many people, call center and email services no longer fit with the way they prefer to communicate. To provide customers with a more convenient and responsive communication channel, DB Dialog wanted to introduce a smart travel service augmented with artificial intelligence (AI).
Maren Reinsch comments: “We have been thinking about launching an SMS and web chat service for a couple of years now. Digitization is a big focus area for Deutsche Bahn. We’re always looking to take advantage of new technologies to improve our services and ensure as seamless a journey as possible for passengers.”
Harnessing cognitive technology
To transform its vision of a smart, AI-enhanced multi-channel service into reality, DB Dialog turned to DB Systel—the business unit within Deutsche Bahn responsible for IT, digital research and innovation. During a series of workshops and brainstorming sessions, the joint team came up with the idea for DB Reisebuddy (“travel buddy”): a virtual assistant that helps customer service agents answer passenger questions sent via SMS and web chat.
Maren Reinsch recalls: “During the initial planning stages, we were approached by DB Vertieb, Deutsche Bahn’s sales subsidiary, who requested an artificial intelligence solution for a marketing and sales campaign at short notice. They thought that DB Reisebuddy was a great idea that would complement their campaign perfectly, so we set about finding a technology partner who could help us launch the new solution fast.”
After evaluating offerings on the market, including several open-source tools, DB Dialog and DB Systel selected IBM Watson Assistant, a robust platform for developing powerful AI solutions.
Susanne Auinger, Senior Partner Account Manager at DB Systel, says: “We have a long-standing relationship with IBM, so we knew they would be able to support this ambitious project even within a tight deadline. We were very impressed with the Watson portfolio. The fact that Watson Assistant runs as a service was another key deciding factor, as it meant we could get started right away without investing a lot of time and money deploying a supporting infrastructure.”
DB Systel worked with a team from IBM Services to integrate Watson Assistant with DB Dialog’s CRM system—the repository for customers’ messages. Next, the joint DB Dialog and DB Systel team worked together to develop the DB Reisebuddy virtual assistant, training it using domain-specific data to recognize and respond to common customer queries.
Alexander Aigner, External Consultant for DB Systel, remarks: “Thanks to the intuitive user interface and automated integration features, Watson Assistant is very easy to work with and to train. The availability of the technical resources was also very good. With IBM’s support, we were able to get everything up and running in just six weeks—a fantastic achievement, especially considering the size of our organization.”
Delivering clever, convenient customer services
Today, the DB Reisebuddy virtual assistant is on hand to help customer service agents answer passenger queries—before, during and after their journeys. Supported by the chatbot, DB Dialog’s customer service team can send personalized responses to customer queries within a very short space of time.
Maren Reinsch comments: “There are still real people behind the DB Reisebuddy service; although the virtual assistant can interpret and answer lots of frequently asked questions. The virtual assistant suggests answers based on its understanding of a given question, which human agents can then check, edit if necessary and then send out. This is to ensure that the customer’s question has been answered completely and correctly. In spite of this manual step, the virtual assistant saves the customer services team a great deal of time and effort by providing sensible written answers—taking the pressure off agents during busy travel times.”
With many common queries now handled by the DB Reisebuddy virtual assistant, customer service agents are free to focus on more complex queries.
Initially envisioned as a service to help customers with queries related to Deutsche Bahn journeys, the company has incorporated add-on services in partnership with affiliated companies.
Maren Reinsch elaborates: “As well as asking run-of-the-mill travel questions such as ‘Is my ticket valid for X train?’ or ‘Can I take my dog on X train?’, we allow customers to book hotel rooms, hire cars, and buy cinema tickets via the DB Reisebuddy service. This means that, for example, someone traveling to Bremen by train for a weekend trip can book the accommodation by SMS or web chat via our service. So instead of dealing with lots of different vendors, customers enjoy a single, convenient experience through Deutsche Bahn and can take advantage of special deals.”
During the initial marketing and sales campaign, which promoted a special ticket offer for Deutsche Bahn passengers, the chatbot provided the correct response to 40 percent of all inquiries. “It was a fantastic result, especially considering what an early stage the virtual assistant was at,” says Sascha Oberbüscher, Head of Promotional Partnerships at DB Vertrieb. “We were so impressed with the DB Reisebuddy virtual assistant; it was extremely encouraging to see that 40 percent of responses to free, open questions were automated.
"Reisebuddy was the perfect complement to the marketing campaign we ran together with one of our trade partners. We get a lot of simple questions from new customers. Artificial intelligence helps us to deliver a quick, accurate answer. The Reisebuddy team can then focus on more complex, unique questions, significantly increasing response times for these kinds of requests – that’s how we’re meeting customer demands for more reactive support.”
He concludes: “Feedback from customers has been very positive, and we’re happy that people have embraced the DB Reisebuddy service for this campaign. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with Watson Assistant to finetune the DB Reisebuddy chatbot to offer customers an even more responsive and convenient service.”
About DB Dialog & DB Systel
DB Vertrieb GmbH is the business unit within Deutsche Bahn AG responsible for sales system and infrastructure for passenger transport. DB Vertrieb connects more than 5 million passengers in Germany daily.
DB Dialog GmbH is, as subsidiary of DB Vertrieb, responsible for a large proportion of customer communications within the rail company and handles more than 12 million passenger travel inquiries every year.
DB Systel GmbH is the IT, digital research and innovation business unit within Deutsche Bahn. As well as providing digital services to the group, DB Systel focuses on the latest trends and future technologies including cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
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