Vodafone puts focus on AI and voice in renewed customer service push

Vodafone is focusing on AI, voice and its chatbot TOBi as it concentrates on customer service and an internal digital transformation.

Vodafone is trialling new voice authentication services, expanding the capabilities of its chatbot TOBi and working on 24/7 social media care and its ‘Message Us’ service as it looks to improve its customer service through a focus on new technology.

The company is trialling the new voice authentication service to make it easier for its customers to verify their identity, access their details quickly and receive an account update through Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa. Updates include billing data account details and information about extras.

“From an internal standpoint the move to voice is to do with fixing problems. It wasn’t a tech question it was a business question – what can we do to help our customers?” Neil Blagden, director of commercial and customer operations at Vodafone UK, told Marketing Week at a Vodafone press briefing yesterday (19 July).

The new ‘Ask Vodafone’ feature mean customers will be able to register and repeat a pre-recorded password to access their accounts without manually typing out or remembering a password. The company is trialling this now and aims to complete its pilot study by the end of the summer.

Vodafone is also developing its AI chatbot TOBi to be able to handle more account transactions by the end of the year. The chatbot, which was launched in April, can already offer advice on SIM-only price plans and will now be able to answer account-specific questions such as those to do with roaming.

We want to make sure our customers start and finish their journey though our digital channels.

Neil Blagden, Vodafone

The chatbot is based on IBM’s Watson and provides a fully integrated web chat with the customer. Its name was chosen by customers and it will be released across all markets in this form.

To avoid frustration, the technology uses a “sentiment” function to pass users onto a real advisor if the bot can’t help or if they are not satisfied.

Rather than taking away the customer service role, Blagden says it is allowing advisors to concentrate on more difficult customer queries by freeing up time spent on more simple tasks. The chatbot is used internally to help customer service staff with simple queries. It can listen and read what is going on and bring it back to the advisor.

“It’s about choice and optionality. For us the chatbot’s role is to take away the easy things so the advisors can concentrate on the more specialist activity,” Blagden highlighted.

Other focuses include extra attention on social media care on Facebook and Twitter, alongside developments to Vodafone’s ‘Message Us’ support service in the My Vodafone app. The service, which was introduced in May, has now reached a million customers and allows the customer to speak live to individual service advisors. They can see a “photo” of their advisor and the aim is to try to always connect the customer to the same advisor for a more “seamless” conversation.

“What we want to do next with messaging is to make it a one stop shop. We want to get to a stage where everything can be sorted in one place rather than pushing the customer to other departments,” Blagden explained.

“We want to make sure our customers start and finish their journey though our digital channels”.