Visitors to the T-Mobile Austria website are sure to meet Tinka there. For two years now Tinka has been the virtual customer advisor when it comes to questions about matters related to rates, products and more. In the future, this so-called chatbot will "get personal" and be more intelligent – Tinka will virtually know a lot about her customers when they have questions.
"I would like to order an iPhone 7" and "My bill seems too high" are just two of the some 2,000 questions Tinka receives every day from T-Mobile Austria customers. Tinka appears as a small illustration depicting a young lady along with a blank box for text input from customers or prospective customers. Tinka forwards the remaining issues to live chat with a human advisor, or to the customer forum, or – if required – to the online cell phone help desk.
In addition to questions about devices and bills, it's all about networks, rates, contracts, passwords and services like roaming. Those are just a few examples among many. "A lot of people think that they are dealing with a real person in the background," says Marvin Peters, the manager in charge of Tinka at T-Mobile Austria. Sometimes the customer questions sound complicated, so Tinka – like a real advisor – asks customers to rephrase them to make things easier.
Tinka will greet customers by name
Tinka is a so-called chatbot. In other words, she is like a search engine that has yet to be equipped with artificial intelligence. Mobile communications experts in Vienna provide Tinka with updated information all the time. Right now Tinka has more than 1,500 answers on hand. And the number is rising. At the same time. developers are working together with customers to optimize Tinka so that she can address customer needs much better.
Tinka is also becoming more clever. Developers have managed to connect her to an increasing number of information sources over time. For example, Tinka supports T-Mobile Austria customers when they set up their Wi-Fi at home via LTE. Or she tells customers how to insert SIM cards. Tinka also intelligently refers customers with very tricky questions to another channel to get just the right help. She only forwards them to a chat with a human advisor when she is certain that one is available, otherwise she recommends e-mail as an alternative. "Tinka is there to serve our customers all the time, without any delays, and that's important," says Dr. Jan Hofmann, the man in charge of Tinka at Deutsche Telekom Group Innovation. "But she needs broad and in-depth knowledge to efficiently help customers with so many different issues."
"Tell me a secret"
Tinka will soon recognize customers and greet them by name. She will remember previous conversations and be able to refer to them. If customer permission has been given in advance, Tinka will also know what the customer has already seen on the T-Mobile website and will thus know the customer's preferences. The dialog will then become much more fine-tuned and targeted to what concerns customers – whether it is their relocation, an incident, or their potential contract termination. All of this is made possible by a new data platform to which developers will connect Tinka. The virtual advisor will not only be available to customers at www.t-mobile.at, but also via popular messenger services. "Tinka should be wherever our customers are – and not vice versa," says Jan Hofmann.
In late October Tinka was a source of excitement in Austria: T-Mobile Austria launched a campaign by having Tinka's image disappear from the website – only to reappear later after much guessing about her fate. This even involved a staged UFO sighting in the sky over Vienna. Tinka returned with her own online presence , with a new look and more personality. Marvin Peters: "We have given her responses to questions about her character, like "Tell me a secret" or "Do you like soccer?"
Artificial intelligence is on the way
And what does the future hold? In the future Tinka will be able to learn thanks to artificial intelligence. As part of the eLIZA program, Deutsche Telekom developers are working to set up something like this in various places within the Group and for customers in several countries. Like her virtual colleagues, Tinka will be able to learn, store, and subsequently apply the best recipes for success from chat logs or genuine discussions between advisors and customers.
But a few technical steps need to be completed before that. Tinka will even be able to discern and show emotions. Will she replace human advisors? "Tinka will have more human characteristics, but she will always be recognizable as a robot," says Dr. Joachim Stegmann, one of Tinka's inventors at the Deutsche Telekom Innovation unit. "And many customers still prefer talking to a real person when they call. I'm sure that human advisors will still be here for them in the future."