A Sports Software Chatbot Case Study: The Fred Whitton Challenge Sportive automated assistant, advanced
We report on our AI chatbot sports software project to aid the organisers of one of the UK’s most well-known cycling events.
Leverageing ai powered sports software with our core Aktivebot chatbot the goal was to create an automated assistant available 24/7 to reduce time and effort needed by event organisers to respond to event enquiries whilst still providing an easy way to contact the events team if necessary.
The Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge is a charity event in honour of the late Fred Whitton consisting of a 112-mile charity sportive around the Lake District and is arguably one of the UK’s most well known and hardest sportives with over 2000 riders and 5000 applications this year.
The Fred Whitton Challenge has been running since 1999 and as a result is extremely popular with over 4000 followers on their Facebook page where a large number of ride questions were being asked via the message me button there. We wanted the AI chatbot to assist the event organisers in answering ride and registration queries and reduce the amount of time spent answering routine questions. We also wanted to provide the ability for users to look up their time for this year and previous years.
The chatbot we created is integrated within the “Facebook Messenger app” of the Fred Whitton page and users can contact it through the private “Messages” feature of their page, or directly through the Messenger App.
The sports software project
The project brief was for The Bot Forge to create an AI powered chatbot capable of handling event enquiries 24/7 which could be deployed into the Facebook Messenger framework and utilise rich ui elements. Future deployments could be aimed at website integration.
For such a long-running event, Human Race and the Fred Whitton organisers wanted to provide the optimum user experience and still make it easy for participants to message organisers directly through the chatbot if they wanted to contact a real person by messaging them directly.
The chatbot understands human language, leveraging advanced Natural Language Processing and answers questions such as “what is the fred whitton?”, “ I’ve injured myself at the weekend I need to defer till next year”,“ when can I get my race pack?”, “ help I need the GPS files for the route”, “ Is there any way to buy a jersey post-event?”,”I want to contact an organiser”, and “when will the results be available?” The chatbot replies to a question based on it’s own programmed data or points to the specific information on the Fred Whitton Website so that it works in tandem with the website itself.
Press the play button to watch a real conversation with The Fred Whitton Chatbot
We used Google Dialogflow to provide the NLP engine and Google Firebase for the fulfilment hosting. The fulfilment or web-hook is where we were able to compute more complex answers for the AI chatbot to give to users and create the correct responses for. For example when looking up users past ride times, the web-hook was able to look up past results for users from a results database. Facebook ui elements added rich content, particularly useful when asked about merchandise details and availability; linking directly through to the official shop.
The real challenge in creating the chatbot was leveraging natural language technology that can support the range of questions that event participants might ask: for example, all the different ways that people might ask about the route. We are helped in this process by our own Aktivebot pre-created sports events intents.
The chatbot includes the ability to provide small talk, which is used to provide responses to casual conversation. This feature greatly improved user experience when talking to the agent.
Initial question data
Initially, we imported the pre-created sports events intents (an intent represents a mapping between what a user says and what action should be taken by the chatbot).
We then looked at FAQ data provided by the Fred Whitton steering committee and historical questions to their facebook page which gave us some invaluable insight. Using this information we were able to create the conversational scripts and then implement the conversation ability with each question matching an intent
This was an iterative process. Matching user intents to core functionality and features and training the natural language processor to understand users and handle conversation failure scenarios gracefully.
The conversational UI was then fine-tuned, with rich elements implemented where necessary.
What were the questions?
Most asked questions by participants match the questions that the event chatbot is able to answer, i.e.:
- Questions about registration: deferring places, available places, waiting list enquiries.
- Questions regarding merchandise: jerseys for sale on the day.
- Questions about the ride: route details, information about closed roads, clothing enquiries.
- Questions after the event: results, photos availability, the next ride date.
The questions were often related to ride specific information. This meant that for an optimal intent matching rate, it was necessary to work closely with the event organisers to provide answers to specific questions. The capabilities of an ai sports software chatbot will improve over time, the more messaging transcript data the better so the more it’s used the better and more accurate it will get. Hence the training logs were checked multiple times a day and improvements made where necessary. By focusing on all questions answered it is possible to greatly improve the intent matching rate of the chatbot over time.
The training data was invaluable for perfecting the bot conversations. The process highlights any need for new responses as a continuous cycle of continuous learning.
The “training” of the chatbot can then be used from one year to the next. Any event detail changes can be carried out easily.
The sports software chatbot was launched on 21st March with the scope constrained to Facebook Messenger with no advertising whilst the chatbot was evaluated.
The high number of participants using the chatbot can be explained by the fact that visitors still have questions that the website itself does not answer or does not answer quickly enough. The chatbot was, therefore, a great place to provide up to the minute event information, such as information about closed roads and the slight route change which resulted in one more hill showing.
The chatbot was not heavily advertised so we envisage activity levels will improve as participants get used to the chatbot as a resource they can use and other strategies to engage users are utilised.
The chatbot was answering questions on the run-up to the event and also during and after.
The success rate of the chatbot to answer queries was overall around 60%. With more focused training over a longer period with another event in 2019 we expect this figure to rise until our aim of an 80% success rate is reached.
The chatbot worked well in Facebook Messenger as its one of the preferred channels for chatbots in general. Deploying the chatbot in a chat widget as part of the website itself would undoubtedly result in more engagement and something to consider for the future.
Help intents and the handover protocol were also very successful. If a user did not get a correct response and/or wanted to get help or contact an organiser directly this worked really well. The overall feedback from users was positive. There were always some intents which the bot would struggle to match the first time which would be handled gracefully; however, due to the ability to train the chatbot, leveraging AI the correct response would be prepared for next time.
I’m impressed with the chatbot it seemed to work well. I think it is a good source of help and with it learning as it goes along it would answer lots of questions going forward. If it cannot help it still contacts the organisers where we can answer.
Carolyn Brown: Fred Whitton Challenge Steering Group — Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge
The Fred Whitton Challenge chatbot still has many areas where it can be developed and improved, particularly by providing more integration with existing systems and utilising push notifications: this will be something carried out in the future.
Overall the success of the chatbot hightlights the benefits of deploying this type of ai sports software in sporting events and is definitely something to consider to give event organisers an advantage in a competitive market