Features | 01 Nov 2017

Why our chatbot TOBi’s learning to use emojis – and other ways we’re engaging customers across digital care

Neil Blagden, Customer Service & Operations Director at Vodafone UK, talks about engaging customers over growing channels and the future of digital care.

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

TOBi the chatbot

Digital technologies are speeding up customer care and making it easier than ever for people to interact with us. Today, Vodafone offers multiple digital avenues for customers to get in touch. You can reach us 24/7 via our instant messaging service, Message Us; chat with our artificial intelligence chatbot TOBi; or ask Alexa about your bill – and more digital innovations are in the works.

In my previous post, I talked about why blending digital innovation with human interaction is the key to exceptional customer service. Even with the rise of innovations like virtual assistants, research shows human interaction is critical to customer satisfaction. Over three-quarters (76%) of British consumers say they prefer to speak to a person to solve customer service issues, according to Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey. That’s one reason why it’s so useful to have digital agents like TOBi the chatbot on hand to tackle basic queries, so that our human agents are freed up to handle more complex situations.

Since launching new digital services like TOBi in April and Message Us in July, my team and I have been working to improve our performance. At a time when new innovations like smart speakers are becoming increasingly popular with our customers, we’re making sure we’re present across more of them. Of course, it’s not enough to expand our digital presence – the main goal has to be providing an outstanding standard of customer care. As I’ll explain below, this means keeping customers engaged in multiple ways, whether it’s teaching TOBi additional skills and giving him more of a personality, or responding faster when customers get in touch via Message Us.

Teaching TOBi to use emojis and say “Woo-hoo!”


TOBi’s available in the eShop and the My Vodafone app, and customers love engaging with him – he’s quick off the mark, and understands what people need help with more than 90% of the time. Indeed, when asked how user-friendly TOBi is, customers gave him a rating of 89/100. That’s a top of the range result for this measure, and TOBi’s continuing to improve.

Currently, he’s trained to help people select SIM-only products. In the next few weeks, he’ll be ready to offer support at every stage of the customer journey, from helping you find the right product right through to checking out. If you need to complete a form, TOBi can help: he’s trained to understand if you’ve accidentally swapped the month for the day, and he’ll correct the form for you. With around 70% of our customers visiting our eShop on their phones, TOBi will soon be able to identify where you are and alert you if there’s a store nearby with the device you’re after in stock.

TOBi’s smart, but we also wanted to make him more engaging. One way we’re giving TOBi a bit of a personality is by teaching him to use emojis as well as common human expressions. For example, if a customer chooses a particular handset, TOBi might display a smiley face and say “Woo-hoo!” The aim is not to pretend TOBi is human – he’ll always introduce himself to customers as an artificial intelligence chatbot – but to make engaging with TOBi fun.

We’re also looking at other platforms where customers might want to access TOBi, such as Facebook Messenger, so watch this space for more TOBi news.

Making the most of Alexa and Google Home

Using Alexa, customers can request billing information, answers to the most frequently asked questions, and more. So far about 3,000 customers are using Alexa, and the feedback is positive – people are giving the service four out of five stars in the Alexa Skills store. And soon Alexa will allow customers to check their upgrade date.

There are additional developments in progress too, such as the ability to ask Alexa to make a call or send a text.

We’re also working on an integration with Google Home. Since the device can identify different voices and associate them with different accounts, we plan to enable customers to do things like request upgrades and top-ups using their voices.

Engaging customers over Message Us


When we began piloting Message Us in May 2017, we served 200,000 customers via the My Vodafone app. We’ve now extended the service to more than 2 million users. Before we roll out Message Us to all our customers, we’re optimising the channel and making sure we’re adopting best practices. Here’s a look at what we’re doing.

Right now our customer service agents are available to help with billing queries, as well as to ensure there’s a smooth transfer process to specific agents when customers have questions about upgrades. So far our agents are having thousands of conversations a day with customers – people love the convenience of being able to message us, and as we resolve their queries we’re continuing to work on fine-tuning communications and improving the service.

We’re also planning new initiatives to serve customers better. To help speed up queries, we plan to include some of the journeys TOBi supports in Web Chat in the Message Us window. And this month we’re launching our ‘Secure Forms’ feature, enabling agents to take payments to support refunds and collections. We’re training our agents to help customers with home broadband queries as well. There are additional improvements in the works – so stay tuned for more!

Recording our best ever customer satisfaction scores

Delivering exceptional customer service is my priority at Vodafone, and I’m really proud of the progress we‘ve made. Our Touchpoint Net Promoter Scores, a measure of customer satisfaction, continue to surpass all previously recorded levels. We’re also seeing our best ever “first-time resolution” numbers, which measure how often we resolve queries for customers the first time they contact Vodafone. Our UK care teams are growing as well – we’re making steady progress toward adding around 2,000 more customer service roles across the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland.

Step by step, we’re moving closer toward our goal to become the UK’s best mobile provider.