Chatbots Are Trying to Figure Out Where Your Shipments Are

Date: Thursday, August 31st, 2023
Source: Wall Street Journal

Logistics companies are increasingly building artificial intelligence technology into their operations, but many say they’re taking it slow when it comes to incorporating the kind of chatbots that are becoming a growing part of the consumer scene.

Executives say they’re intrigued by the potential cost savings and efficiency of the ChatGPT-like tools known as generative AI. First, however, they have to make sure the digital approach won’t frustrate their customers who are shipping millions of dollars worth of goods around the world.

Freight brokerage RXO, trucking firm XPO, logistics technology provider Phlo Systems and shipping company DFDS are among the businesses looking at how generative AI could transform their customer service divisions by automating tasks such as tracking shipments, booking loads and declaring imports.

Companies have been searching for ways to use generative AI in their operations since software developer OpenAI launched its ChatGPT bot in November. That program and others like it can sort through huge amounts of information, recognize patterns, make predictions and respond to questions in a humanlike voice, enabling it to complete tasks that previously took hours in a few minutes.

Law firms have started using AI to perform legal research, draft documents and analyze contracts. Retailers are analyzing customer search queries and guiding shoppers to other products that might be relevant. Customers of travel company Expedia can chat with a bot to plan a trip, while people shopping at grocery seller Instacart can get answers to questions about recipes.

Logistics companies say generative AI eventually may be used to improve forecasting, procurement, inventory management and shipping decisions. For now, they’re experimenting with using the tools to run customer support, which they see as a natural application for the technology that can understand questions in plain conversational language and quickly respond with a thorough answer.

Experts say the technology could improve the customer experience by providing relevant, tailored answers to questions in minutes, as opposed to chatbots that are programmed with preset answers or human workers who need time to find the right answer.

But generative AI is still limited in its capabilities. The program is only as good as the data it has been trained on, experts say, and even then the chatbot occasionally answers questions incorrectly. Many companies have security concerns about training the system using proprietary data or customer information, leading some to ban their workers from using ChatGPT.

The stakes are especially high when using generative AI to make supply-chain decisions, industry experts say. Customer support in logistics involves helping retailers and manufacturers move large volumes of shipments by aircraft, trucks, trains and containerships, and the data behind those decisions is often proprietary, fast-changing and extremely complicated.



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