Personal may not be the first word that springs to mind when talking about chatbots, but Vodafone’s head of digital Jon Davies is adamant its digital sales assistant has improved the customer experience online by making it “far more engaging and personal”.
Vodafone originally launched its chatbot, TOBi, last April to improve customer service and offer advice on SIM-only price plans. But over the past year its remit has been rapidly extended; now in addition to guiding customers through what’s available it can also complete the transaction from start to finish.
The additional functionality it offers is having a big impact on the customer experience, according to Davies, who says “we are seeing significantly higher completion rates as there is now far less friction”. Rather than the 16-18 minutes it normally takes customers to complete a SIM-only transaction on the website, with TOBi it only takes eight.
“Ecommerce checkouts are pretty universal but customers still overlook a data field entry or misinterpret the way they’ve got to put in a date of birth or phone number, so inevitably you’ll get error messages or customers having to go back and correct,” explains Davies.
“What TOBi does is interpret that. If a customer fills out a form in the wrong format he will adjust it, correct it, play it back to the customer and say ‘I think you meant this – is that right?’ We see completion rates going up, conversion is two to three times what it is on the website, and that means transaction time is remarkably less. We were expecting it to improve, but we just weren’t expecting it to be quite that dramatic.”
This is reflected in its net promoter score (NPS), which he says is “getting up around the 80 level”, which is markedly higher than a typical linear web transaction, which is normally in the 60s.
TOBi can articulate why we are recommending a particular product in far more compelling terms than the website – he can bring it to life.
Jon Davies, Vodafone
The chatbot pops up like a messenger app, showing several preselected cards across the bottom and asking question about what customers are motivated by, such as data or price. It then guides them to the most suitable product and is capable of answering additional question about those products.
Once customers select a plan and add it to their basket, TOBi then runs through the checkout process, collecting personal details, doing credit checks, taking the card payment and then allowing customers to choose whether they want to pick up from store or have it sent to them.
“It’s much more engaging dialogue; it’s similar to the sort of experience you’d have with a member of staff in a contact centre or in retail and far more personal,” claims Davies.
Redesigning the digital experience
The chatbot is still being A/B tested and currently works on about 20% of traffic. Vodafone is in the process of working with digital transformation specialist MMT Digital to redesign its digital experience, including its online store, and as part of this it will be implementing a new “micro-services architecture” so it can extend the services TOBi offers.
The brand has launched SIM-only products on the architecture, and will soon enable the chatbot to sell handsets with contracts, with plans to add the ability to do upgrades in the autumn. Davies believes this will make TOBi “even more powerful” as Vodafone can add an extra layer of customer data to help inform suggestions.
“At the moment we are working effectively with customers as prospects, but when the chatbot helps customers with upgrades and tariff migration, it will be informed about their usage,” he says.
“The dialogue can then be even richer as TOBi can talk about recommendations based on customer data and present it in a far more useful way as it can articulate why we are recommending a particular product in far more compelling terms than the website – TOBi can bring it to life.”
The speed at which TOBi is being developed has accelerated as it has “caught the imagination” of people internally, according to Davies.
“Our board and CEO are very much on board. There has been a huge amount of engagement internally and as a consequence there is a huge amount of ambition to bring forward some of the benefits we believe TOBi can deliver,” he adds. “It’s allowed us to secure more investment for TOBi going forward.”
The UK is leading the development of the chatbot but it is being embraced by a number of other countries within the Vodafone group. That includes Italy, which is using TOBi across its website and through the app “so it’s going to become quite infectious quite quickly”.
Measuring the value of chatbots
Vodafone is using customer experience metrics such as NPS to measure the success of TOBi over time.
“We’ll take into account things like NPS, looking at usability and completion scores and then for service, we’ll look at interactions and how many of those are contained within the channel rather than being escalated into another channel, which is one of our measures for success,” he explains.
“Equally on the sales side we’ve got ambitions to drive a considerable volume of sales and upgrades through the chatbot and it will be measured through a combination of volume but also average revenue per transaction.”
Sales driven by TOBi are currently in six figures.
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