Klaus vom Hofe


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She occupies a small space on the T-Mobile Austria website: Tinka is more than 400 years old and comes from another galaxy. At least that's what this chatbot tells customers when they sign in. Tinka answers questions instantly in text chat – around the clock. We introduced this digital virtual assistant here once before. Now, just after her debut on Facebook Messenger, she will be appearing at the Deutsche Telekom booth at MWC in Barcelona.  

Do you know Tinka? Everyone can contact her online. Via smartphone or PC, anytime and anyplace. Since becoming acquainted with this virtual digital assistant, I try this out quite often. It's fun, even if I'm not a mobile customer of T-Mobile Austria. This is my first encounter with a chatbot (chat robot) on the web. "What questions can you answer?" – that's how I start in order to get a feeling for how this all works.

I'll be able to get new insights about this at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Because Tinka will be a big Deutsche Telekom attraction there. She will appear as a life-size 3D model – and will respond to visitor questions about the company, the booth, its highlights and more. In other words, a really big show for a chatbot that otherwise appears in a small space on and greets website visitors with a smile.

Chatbots in trend

And even if Tinka only chats per text and doesn't yet have a voice, you can be sure that her instant assistance is needed and appreciated around the clock. Every month she chats with 50,000 customers and prospective customers, answering some 120,000 questions – about bills, cell phones and services, the Home Net Box for home Wi-Fi, network outages and more – you name it. And Tinka can also be very clever and playful: If you want, she'll give you some riddles to solve that have little to do with mobile communication. For example: How wide is the biggest mustache in the world?

Tinka is getting more and more questions all the time – that's the trend. One person in four says that he or she can imagine using chatbots, according to a representative survey conducted on behalf of Bitkom in Germany. Four out of ten say that chatbots are great for handling orders or complaints, especially when it comes to customer service.  

Now also on Facebook

Tinka provides up to 1,700 current and relevant responses which are sourced from the "human team" responsible for the chatbot. What's more, Tinka is now going to where her customers are. Since January, for example, she has been on Facebook Messenger, which started accepting chatbots last year. Opel's chatbot Chad is also there – in February he began to set up appointments for test drives automatically. 

You can get answers from Tinka by clicking on "Message" on the T-Mobile Austria website. This can all be quite a challenge for both humans and machines, according to Daniel Bayer from T-Mobile Austria Customer Service: "The questions on Facebook are rather detailed and involve a diverse range of keywords. This means that Tinka has to ask follow-up questions more often than on the website."

Precise collaboration

But whether it's Facebook or the website: If Tinka doesn't have the answer, she will still find help for you. For example, through the T-Mobile Austria Community or from human colleagues. All of this functions seamlessly. And is very convenient for customers, because the advisor sees the course of the chat, knows exactly what's going on and can take action right away. 

In her role as virtual colleague, Tinka is also able to help human advisors. Tinka serves as a knowledge database whenever colleagues need updated information fast. And many time colleagues refer customers to Tinka because her animations sometimes are more helpful than telephone explanations when issues arise. She also provides illustrated step-by-step instructions. One practical example is installation support for customers who have ordered the My Home Net Box for setting up their home Wi-Fi. This is not new, but Tinka gives it a new twist: "Tinka is a customer-friendly and central assistant for a wide range of matters that customers already take of online on our website," according to Daniel Bayer.

It goes without saying that Tinka is under constant further development. More intelligence, voice features, emotion identification … the future is already on the way. New developments are being made through the eLIZA program, the Deutsche Telekom initiative to bring artificial intelligence to its customer service in countries around the world.

Of course, we still have the mustache riddle to solve. Just ask Tinka by clicking on "Riddle." I wonder what you'll find out:

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Illustration: Robot with a book

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