Viewpoint | 15 Dec 2019

Artificial brains and predictive care: Vodafone’s digital journey

Neil Blagden is Vodafone UK’s Director of Customer Operations and Digital

Vodafone UK is well on the way to becoming a digital first business, powered by the very latest technologies. But what does this really mean?

Simply put, it means digitising and automating as much of our business as possible – blending the best of tech with the best of human qualities – to offer even better customer service within a much more efficient operation.

For example, our chatbot TOBi, powered by IBM Watson artificial intelligence, is now handling about 900,000 customer interactions a month, and more than half of these are resolved without the customer having to go any further. That is an absolutely brilliant statistic.

And we’re using machine learning for what we call “intelligent care” – effectively a brain we’ve built designed to respond to customer needs in the way experience tells us they prefer. So one customer might like talking to TOBi, another might prefer web chat, another might feel more comfortable going straight to a human agent. We learn their preferences and steer them in the relevant direction.

We’re also using that same brain to predict what information customers might need before they even know they need it. So, for example, if a customer is generating unusual data charges, we’ll notice the change in spend pattern and send an SMS alert, offering proactive help.

So we’re on a journey towards full personalisation of customer care.

The Speechmark, Vodafone's digital hub, Southwark, London
The Speechmark, Vodafone’s digital hub in Southwark, London, is helping to attract “digital native” talent

And what’s really exciting is that as we invest in new technologies, we’re increasingly able to attract high-calibre tech talent. About 68% of our newly hired staff – some 200 people – have come from digital native organisations. These new recruits love our newly opened digital hub, The Speechmark, in Southwark, London; they like the scale of our ambition; the technologies we are using, and the security of a big, successful brand that generates tons of data for them to engage with.

Two years ago, about 90% of our tech talent was outsourced. Now nearly 90% is in-house. So we’re investing in our future and controlling our own destiny in terms of delivery, performance and intellectual property.

We’re also retraining our own staff in call centres and stores to become developers through our Code Ready programme, partnering with Makers, a coding academy in London.

In this highly competitive digital age, we have to respond quickly to changing customer needs and develop new services and products as fast as possible. We need to become more agile. So we’ve moved our digital web-sales and marketing experiences to a new, faster, more flexible cloud-based platform hosted by Amazon Web Services. And we’ve done the same thing with the My Vodafone app and have just started the movement of our digital web-service experience as well – so stay tuned!

We can now innovate at pace and improve the customer experience much more quickly.

With speed in mind, we’ve also brought all necessary specialisms together – from marketing to software engineering – into teams that can build new services from start to finish. As an example of what you can achieve with this agile approach, we built our VOXI product from scratch within about

six months. It’s now the fastest-growing youth brand out there and recently achieved a 73% net promoter score – a measure of customer satisfaction. And our new VeryMe rewards scheme has attracted 2.4 million customers in less than a year.

But where Vodafone UK is perhaps a little unusual is that we’re also investing heavily in our retail stores, where potential and existing customers can enjoy face-to-face interactions with our staff. We now have about 420 stores nationwide – doing our bit to revive the British high street.

Of course, these stores are also being equipped with the latest digital technologies to give our staff the tools they need to offer our customers the best possible experience.

We’ve achieved so much already on our digital transformation journey. But there’s so much more to come. So I’m looking forward to telling you more about our exciting plans next time.