Meet Marvin, Synertrade’s Procurement Chatbot

By Jon Hansen

I believe that it is through this collaborative lens in which chatbots are more than an added feature but an extension of humans that we should evaluate new and exciting technology like Marvin.

First Siri Now Marvin?

I dutifully put in my destination coordinates, and after clicking the “Directions” button, immediately followed by the “Start” button, Siri instantly chimes in to tell me where to go so that I arrive at my desired destination on time and with little hassle. It is, as Rick said to Captain Louis Renault as they both walked away into the foggy Casablanca night “the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Like you, it is hard to imagine life without my phone. I have the world in the palm of my hand with every possible app ready to do my bidding by simply saying what I want. For a guy who grew up listening to the radio and watching a black & white television with rabbit ears, it can blow your mind. The fact that chatbots are now making their way into the world of procurement is even more exciting.

Meet Procurement Chatbot Marvin

The other day I was introduced to Synertrade’s Marvin. As is the case with most of the procurement chatbots, we are in the very early stages of their development meaning that the upside is significant. In the case of Marvin, besides telling jokes – no cover charge, of course, he can do things such as learn your mannerisms and filter your invoices from the last three, five, or ten days. In other words, Marvin doesn’t just want to be your friend; he wants to make your life easier. But this is just the beginning.

Ultimately, chatbots like Marvin will use machine learning to help coach users to try new strategies, such as running an auction on a product or service for which they typically haven't run an auction.

Some have even suggested that a chatbot’s ability to plug into real-world events and provide instantaneous line-of-site solutions to potential supply chain interruptions is a possibility. Given such assertions, I can’t help but wonder, had chatbots existed back in 1999, how the now famous Nokia-Ericsson case study on supply chain risk would have played out?

Nokia’s supply-chain management strategy allowed it to switch suppliers quickly; it even re-engineered some of its phones to accept both American and Japanese chips, which meant its production line was relatively unaffected. Ericsson, however, accepted Philips’ word that production at the plant would be back on track in a week and it took no action. That decision cost Ericsson more than US $400 m in annual earnings and, perhaps more significantly, the company lost market share. By contrast, Nokia’s profits rose by 42% that year. – Procurement Insights

As it turns out after a lightning strike took out the Philips microchip plant in New Mexico, interrupting the flow of mobile phone chips, Nokia fared quite well because they had a contingency plan in place, while Ericsson didn’t.

Given the above circumstances, while a chatbot could have sent out an alert that there was a problem, it was advanced human planning that allowed Nokia to make the seamless transition to alternative suppliers. In the absence of a plan such as was the case with Ericsson, would a chatbot have been able to find an alternative source in real time without advanced planning?

Finding A Human-Chatbot Balance

I believe that to utilize and develop chatbot capability fully starts with knowing where human efficiency and responsibility ends and chatbot capability begins.

Knowing where we should draw this line I believe is the key to effectively utilizing digital assistants such as Synertrade’s Marvin to their full potential and our maximum benefit.

Within this shared responsibility context, what does the emergence of chatbots in the business world mean? To get an answer, I turned to my good friend Shep Hyken, who is not only a bestselling author – if you haven’t yet, you must read his book The Amazement Revolution, but is also a sought-after speaker and expert on delivering great customer service.

Shep had this to say when I asked him the question, “with the rise of chatbots, what impact will they have on the business world and more specifically customer service experience? If you were to write The Amazement Revolution today, how would chatbots fit into your service landscape (if at all)?”

“Hi, Jon – Great question. If writing about it in The Amazement Revolution, I would emphasize at least two things. First, we can't afford to lose the potential "emotional" connection with our customers. Digital relationships are typically void of emotion. So, using the chatbot properly – for true ease and convenience of the customer is great. Second is that there must be a balance between digital and human. There are times when the human connection is imperative. Too many companies are so caught up in the technology that they lose sight of that. The best companies understand the balance.”

Shep talks about balance and rightly so. However, to get to that point of equilibrium, there has to be a firm understanding of the role that chatbots can and should play in alleviating workloads while enabling humans to stay connected and strategically productive.

And I believe that it is through this collaborative lens in which chatbots are more than an added feature but an extension of humans that we should evaluate new and exciting technology like Marvin.

Having said all this, have you met Marvin? When you do, let me know what you think, and I will share it with your fellow readers.

 

About the author

 

Jon Hansen

Jon Hansen is an expert in all areas of Supply Chain Management and Procurement. He is the owner of Procurement Insights and as a lecturer/speaker he is also a business radio talk show host. He writes blog posts for SynerTrade North America, to share the best practices and knowledge around Digital Procurement.