Design, development and evaluation of a chatbot that supports the interaction of a platform user

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Πούλιος, Ευάγγελος

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The current Thesis subject is: development of interactive dialog bot (chatbot) to support interaction between user and platform. To be more specific we chose to investigate the field of customer service, for the case of a hotel business. Customer service is an area where Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be utilized. That area is being examined regarding the adoption of new innovative technologies and the final delivered service quality. Today, the customer service industry tends to make good use of new AI technologies to offer an improved service benchmark but also to develop new approaches in the same direction. AI seems to be able to offer remarkable efforts and gradually replace the physical presence of man. The title of present Thesis was chosen as aim to approach a realistic field with the utilization of modern technologies and in particular AI. The title is specialized in the case of a hotel business, which is a characteristic example where software companies have already been employed. The final goal of the current work is to gain experience for handling technologies in fields where traditionally human resources have been employed and also to examine if these approaches can be the future of customer service. Among the ecosystem of the present dialog software frameworks, we decided to choose the option of Microsoft Bot Framework. Using that framework, we designed an application that can answer questions based on a knowledge base but also can collect details through a dialogue, between the hotel business customer and the dialog software, in order to inform the customer about the rooms’ availability. The knowledge base may contain questions - answers from the official list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) that the hotel has posted on its website, from other information that the hotel communicates with various ways on its official website, and finally from an already offered knowledge base from the framework, by selecting the friendly chitchat mode. The other part of the application, which informs about rooms’ availability, uses a language recognition service (LUIS) through a programming interface (API) to match the information entered by the customer with the pre-registered entities. Once the necessary information has been collected from the customer and verified through validation checks, it is forwarded to execute a query in a database designed to support the room reservation system. The final dialog application can replace the hotel business’s receptionist. Essentially, like a receptionist, it can answer questions about the hotel, as usually described in its official website, but also to execute queries in the room reservation system in order to inform the customer about rooms’ availability. The dialog application can be offered both on a hotel website and on social media channels, supported by the hotel. Below, we will describe the Thesis structure and we will end up with conclusions. In the First Chapter we introduce the categories of dialog software that exist today. We also mention basic terms that are necessary to understand the subject of conversational software. We continue with Chapter Two where we list four widely accepted frameworks used in the field of dialog software development. Of these, we provide more details about the Microsoft Bot Framework, which is our choice to use in current Thesis. In Chapter Three we analyze the utility of dialog software for the customer service industry. A typical case of this industry could be considered a hotel business. That was selected as a case for us to develop the dialog software application. In this chapter, we also define the goals but also the limits we have set for the desired functionality that our application will offer. Chapter Four is a brief guide to the steps we followed in order to create services that works with AI and are essential part of the basic architecture that we developed for the conversational software. Completing the Thesis in the Fifth Chapter we include the results for the design and development of the conversational software, while we also propose a heuristic evaluation methodology that can be applied to our application. We close the present work with Chapter Six where we cite a brief review. Summing up, aiming at this Thesis to develop a dialog software to serve/ support the interaction of a platform user, we conclude that this approach is quite promising. Existing frameworks, as the one that we have selected, enable the development of valuable software for services that until recently were available only by humans. During the writing of the Thesis, we became acquainted with the architecture that the development of a dialog software follows. The benefit of having an automated application for many business categories is undeniable. Such an approach, as AI is improving, will be able to offer increasingly better perspectives on conversational communication. Of course, as ourselves understand, a lot of effort is required to add additional features, in addition to the already classic features that are offered by dialog software. In any case, the general goal is to expand the functionality offered by the dialog application in order to cover a wider range of services. Specifically, in our case the examination of human speech as additional means of communication is certainly a subject of interest. That prospect is already being considered in the dialog software industry. This opportunity would certainly be a worthwhile approach to continue current work. And of course, this could be extended to support more than one spoken language.

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Human-computer interaction, Chatbot, Bot, Customer service, Microsoft bot framework, LUIS

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