Features | 19 Jul 2017

Blending digital innovation and human interaction is key to delivering exceptional customer service

Neil Blagden, Vodafone UK's Customer Service and Operations Director, explains why customer care in the digital age is about using technology to improve interpersonal communication.

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By Neil Blagden | Customer Service & Operations Director, Vodafone UK

As digital innovation changes how people interact with companies, it’s transforming the way we deliver customer service. In the digital age we need to be able to communicate with customers 24/7, via the channels people rely on the most. We also need to respond much more quickly to customers accustomed to getting instant answers from digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.

How Vodafone is deploying digital innovation

The digital improvements Vodafone UK is introducing today enables us to communicate with customers wherever and whenever it suits them. We’re also making it quicker and easier for customers to get the help they need. Deploying the latest technology is only half the story, however. I would argue the key to delivering exceptional customer service is blending two things: digital innovation and human interaction. By using technology to improve interpersonal communication, we can offer an even higher standard of customer care.

Let me show you what I mean with two examples – these are ways Vodafone is bringing people and technology together to provide customers with the best service possible.

Introducing ‘Message Us’

‘Message Us’ is our new 24/7 instant messaging feature, built right into the My Vodafone app. It solves a longstanding problem for customers – the inconvenience of having to set aside time to talk to us. Take Web Chat, for instance. Customers have to be available from the start of the conversation to the end to get a task done. And if you have to step away, you can’t resume communications when you get back – instead you’re faced with the hassle of starting a whole new chat, and explaining your situation all over again to a new agent.

‘Message Us’, on the other hand, works around your schedule. You can fire off a question, go on with your day, and receive a push notification when there’s a reply. You can dive back into the conversation whenever you like, and stay with the same agent while your query is being addressed. If you wish, you can request this agent the next time you get in touch, which builds familiarity and rapport.

To see how ‘Message Us’ works, take a look at the video below:


Coming up – Group Messaging

Later this summer, we’ll be launching a group messaging feature as well. Using group messaging, the agent you’re in touch with can add other specialists to the conversation instead of transferring you to someone else. Your preferred agent will stay with you to make sure you’re satisfied with the service. This is why I’m such an advocate of digital innovations like ‘Message Us’ – it allows us to provide a much more personalised experience for customers than ever before.

Getting more tasks done faster with TOBi

Another digital innovation that’s helping our agents serve customers better is TOBi, our artificial intelligence chatbot. Vodafone was first in the industry to launch an AI chatbot to respond to customer queries, and I’m pleased to say TOBi’s been a big hit. Customers tell us they love how quickly TOBi responds – our chatbot understands what people need help with more than 90% of the time, and he’s continuing to learn.

Check out TOBi in action:


With TOBi on hand to tackle frequently asked support questions, our care advisors have more time to devote to customers who need to speak to a person. This is why we’re always looking for more ways that TOBi can help. Starting this month, TOBi will be able to access customer accounts and perform simple tasks, like checking your payment plan and letting you know how much it will cost to roam. And if you’re shopping on our website, TOBi will be able to advise you on your SIM-only options. By the end of the year, TOBi will be completing lots more account transactions for customers.

What’s next for TOBi

In future, wherever our customers need assistance, I’d like TOBi to be there – online, over the phone and in-store. I can see TOBi working alongside our contact centre agents for example, doing quick searches and pulling up information in the background. Using interactive voice response technology would enable TOBi to answer customer queries over the phone. Eventually I’d like TOBi to be in our retail store terminals as well, so customers can get a speedy answer to a question, and then continue the conversation with an advisor if they need more help. By combining digital innovation and human assistance in this way, we’ll be able to provide customers with an even faster, more efficient service.

Our ambition: to be the best mobile provider in the UK

customer service call centre

Since my update in May, Vodafone has continued to make strong progress on the customer service front. Our Touchpoint Net Promoter Scores – a measure of customer satisfaction – are at the highest levels ever recorded. We’re also continuing to add to our care teams in the UK, with around 180 new full-time staff already taking calls at our Manchester and Newcastle contact centres.

In my earlier post I mentioned two major customer service honours – our Social Media and Web Chat teams bagged the Silver at the UK National Contact Centre Awards. In June, we were named the ‘Best High Street Retailer’ at the 2017 Mobile Industry Awards, and we won the Retail Innovation Award as well. The digital changes we’re making now build on the progress we’ve made so far, moving us closer to becoming the best mobile provider in the UK.