Always on? So are we. Find out first-hand how we’re smartening up your digital experience with Vodafone UK’s Customer Service & Operations Director, Neil Blagden…

Forget restrictive online forms, call centres that close at 9 or repeating your enquiry to lots of different customer service advisors; at Vodafone UK we’re revolutionising the customer experience to suit the way you want to interact with us. At the forefront of this transformation is Neil Blagden, Customer Service & Operations Director at Vodafone UK and he’s revealing a number of customer service improvements and innovations, designed to simplify your life. Read on to find out more about the technology Neil and his team are implementing across Vodafone UK’s voice, messaging and digital support services, and how you could interact with us throughout the years to come. Over to you Neil…

A more modern conversation

Have you met TOBi? Back in April, we introduced the latest member of our UK customer service team, and I’m pleased to say he’s settling in nicely. If you hadn’t heard, TOBi is our chatbot, there to help you with some of the most common questions our customers have, and we’ve got him on a pretty intensive development plan alongside other exciting digital improvements.

At the moment TOBi can assist with basic enquiries via live chat on the Vodafone UK website. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and predefined rules, he simulates human conversation and responds to customer queries to provide services and information – just like one of our regular advisors. Type something into the chat window like: “Can I activate my new SIM card”, and TOBi knows exactly what you need. He’ll then guide you through the specific journey you need to follow depending on what you’ve asked him.

So far, customer feedback has been positive. TOBi’s fast, he’s efficient, and he adds context to information that may be difficult to find on our website. He also knows his limitations. Equipped to recognise when a question is too complex, TOBi seamlessly hands over to a traditional advisor who can provide a human touch. While this new technology is truly speeding up access to information, we know we’re only just scratching the surface with TOBi. And having conquered customer service, we believe he’s ready to join our sales team.

From this month (July 2017), in addition to more basic and account enquiries, TOBi will also be able to help you through the purchase of SIM only plans on the Vodafone website. The idea is to increase the functionality of TOBi over time to the point where he’ll be able to help you purchase devices as well. Instead of browsing through all the options and completing multiple steps when you already know which phone or tablet you’re after, you’ll simply tell TOBi exactly what you want to buy, ask any questions as necessary and TOBi will complete the purchase for you.

Set the pace with Message Us

The way we interact these days is different to how we did ten years ago. Today, we might start a conversation now but finish it later. We send a quick WhatsApp message to our friends, go to the gym, run errands, and then pick the conversation up right where we left off – it’s just how we interact.

Yet it’s still quite normal when interacting with customer service departments for you to have to have to set aside time to have a full conversation, and then completely finish that conversation on the phone or on live chat before popping to a meeting, feeding the kids or jumping in the car – it’s hardly convenient. With traditional chat if you get distracted – and real life is distracting – it’s quite common to come back and find your chat conversation’s timed out. That’s it, game over – you have to start all over again. So when we thought about how we could improve the customer experience through technology, we thought: “why can’t talking to a customer service advisor be like chatting with a friend?”

“When we thought about how we could improve the customer experience through technology, we thought: “why can’t talking to a customer service advisor be like chatting with a friend?”

From this July it will be, with our new 24/7 ‘Message Us’ service in the My Vodafone app, you will be able to start and re-visit conversations with our advisors whenever it suits you. By allowing you to duck in and out of conversations with an advisor as you might in Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, Message Us flips the traditional customer experience on its head.

Because the chat starts from within your app, you won’t need to jump through verification hoops, we’ll automatically know who you are, and you’ll be able to see a full history of your previous interactions with us. When you start a new conversation you’ll be connected to the same advisor you chatted to last time (so long as they are working that day), which gives you a much more personal experience. There’s no need to take a chunk out of your day when you need to contact us anymore – just ping off messages as necessary until your query is resolved and we’ll work around your schedule.

Later in the summer we’ll also be adding a group messaging feature to Message Us, which will allow the advisor you’re chatting to, to pull other specialists into the conversation as required. This means you’ll no longer need to be transferred to other departments or advisors and be forced to explain your situation all over again to someone new.

As we see it, Message Us is just the beginning of this kind of interaction. Our advisors are already working in this way in Facebook Messenger and, over time, we envisage an integrated platform where, regardless of your channel choice, the platform will provide you with a single collated view of all previous interactions.

The power of voice

Though messaging is popular, particularly for simple enquires, we know sometimes you just want to pick up the phone and give our team a call. Everybody’s experienced the frustration of calling a contact centre with a seemingly endless list of options. Once you reach the final option, you’ve forgotten the first so you just key in any number before being bounced between numerous departments like a tennis ball, repeating yourself each time. We understand how frustrating that can be, so over the past 12 months we’ve implemented a cutting-edge natural language voice system to save you time and headaches.

Now when you call our contact centre, you simply tell us in your own words why you’re calling. For example, say “’I’d like to upgrade” and our interactive voice response (IVR) system will ask a few questions to make sure we’ve got it right. With more than 90% accuracy, you’re transferred to the correct customer service advisor or self-service function straight away. It’s reduced call transfer rates by over 20%, as you’re put through the correct team straight away, and improved customer satisfaction by more than 10%. From August, we’ll be taking this even further with voice biometric identification.

If you’ve ever forgotten a PIN or a password you’ll know how annoying and time consuming it can be. Some people combat this by using the same password for everything or writing their passwords down. But to be honest, that completely defeats the purpose and it opens you up to fraud. Once our biometric system is in place later this year, you’ll be able to use your voice to tell us not only how we can help, but also who you are, as well being able to use your voice as your password when you call our customer service team.

Biometric identifiers like your fingerprints, retina and voice are incredibly difficult to replicate, ensuring your account remains secure. Plus, because there’s nothing to remember, there’s nothing to forget.

With voice biometrics being used in more places throughout the home, and the introduction of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, it’s another aspect we’re exploring to help you access information faster. With our Ask Vodafone Amazon Alexa Skill, you can ask Alexa questions about Vodafone UK services, or for information about your Vodafone account. Once you’ve followed a simple authentication process, you can ask Alexa for billing data, account details and information about extras.

What’s next?

Looking to the future, simplifying our customer’s experience even further with the right digital investment is such an exciting prospect. There’s lots of data about our customers’ behaviour, which we could use to proactively contact or offer solutions before you even realise there may be a problem. It would enable us to eliminate a lot of frustration and ensure seamless connections. We could potentially even use this data to help beyond your phone and internet connectivity alone, for example when you go on holiday.

Currently, when you’re on holiday outside of the UK, we send you a message about roaming. However, in the future, if customers gave their permission, we could potentially use location information to let your bank know you’re travelling, and that you’ll need to use your credit card in Paris, for example. Today, we have TOBi to help with customer care via live chat online, but perhaps in the future you could ask TOBi in your own words to let your insurance company know you need to activate your travel insurance policy.

Being quick, secure and automated, I believe the role of the digital assistant is going to be vitally important to the future of customer experience. We’re certainly moving toward a world where the screen, keyboard and mouse will give way to your voice, your fingerprint, and your retina.

There’s just so much going on as we evolve our services to meet the future. But while we are leading the way, we’re committed to getting things right. So watch this space, as in the months to come we’ll continue to reinvent the way we do customer care. If we’re doing it right, you won’t even notice – you’ll simply be able to get on with your day.

Find out more… Meet TOBi – the newest member of our customer service team – and discover how AI is simplifying your customer experience.