Automobile Club of Southern California Announces new feature, Roadside Assistance ChatBot

Imagine your vehicle has a flat tire, dead battery, or needs a tow … and you could order a tow truck in as little as 35 seconds with just your smartphone. The eBusiness Innovation Team at the Automobile Club of Southern California, part of AAA, built a Roadside Assistance ChatBot that does just that, helping AAA members order faster service.

The ChatBot was the brainchild of Erik Robinson, vice president of eBusiness and an avid technophile. “Roadside Assistance seemed like a natural fit for our first chatbot since the number of request types is limited and members were complaining about long phone hold times,” Robinson said.

The Auto Club’s CEO gave direction that requesting Roadside Assistance via ChatBot should be akin to ordering a Lyft or Uber – a few simple steps.

With that in mind, the 4-person Innovation Team set off to build the ChatBot with a diverse skill set in software engineering, product management, quality assurance, and user experience and user interface design. Since the team is small, they leveraged existing artificial intelligence tools from vendors AAA has existing relationships with. They trained the natural-language understanding and machine learning tools to help ChatBot understand the same request asked in multiple ways.

Incorporating the Roadside Assistance map proved to be the biggest challenge, especially when users were on a highway with no specific address. It took many iterations, but the ChatBot now has a popular “Find Me” button, relying on geo-locations.

Since AAA users are a diverse user group, the ChatBot offers a menu of service options that can be tapped (ideal for mobile devices), or users can type in their request (ideal for desktop or laptop users).

The ChatBot launched as a pilot in St. Louis in the summer of 2019. The first assist was a flat tire request on historic Route 66. From there, the team read each transcript line by line to better understand how users engaged added features such as an additional way to authenticate AAA membership, an improved map, and lockout services. “It was a true iterative process,” said Laurie Sadow, head of User Experience for eBusiness.

Earlier this summer, the ChatBot expanded from AAA’s website to its mobile app and was recently added to the Roadside Assistance interactive voice response system, helping grow volumes dramatically.

The ChatBot, which offers tow, battery, flat tire, lockout, and fuel service, helped its 100,000th member order service this past week!

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with members expressing delight and surprise at how fast and easy it is to order service; some have ordered service in as little as 35 seconds. On average, it takes less than 4 minutes. A few members even said it was the best chatbot experience they’ve ever had.

Up next, in addition to reading feedback and analyzing transcripts to improve existing user experiences, the team is working on accepting payments, which will take ChatBot from simply a cost savings tool to a money maker. “Then we can really showcase the ChatBot’s value and it will be easier to expand to additional parts of the business,” Robinson said.