December 18, 2019 | Written by: Utpal Mangla
Categorized: AI | IBM Watson | Telecom
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Nobody likes the prospect of having to get on a computer or pick up a phone and reach out to customer service. Call centers in countries around the world are notorious for long wait times, poor service and high customer churn. In many call centers, even the best employees are forced to dig for answers through massive instructional binders running into the thousands of pages as customers wait.
Many companies are turning to an online business model—powered by AI. Vodafone GmbH was one of the first telecom companies in Germany to launch an AI-powered live virtual agent, which the company calls TOBi. Since its launch in 2018, the conversational digital assistant has transformed the company’s customer service experience across multiple digital platforms, handling 100% of all messaging conversations. TOBi can analyze tone and intent—understanding more than 100 intents—and that’s helped Vodafone to handle 30% of all requests to TOBi without any human intervention.
For Vodafone customers, TOBi is a round-the-clock concierge, powered by IBM Watson Assistant, to provide personal service and answers, helping to clear routine customer queries—and help reduce overall wait times. Combined with TOBi’s consistent persona across all brand channels, Vodafone has moved to expand its use of AI into other areas.
“I’ve never seen such progress in a short period,” Vodafone GmbH’s Jörg Knoop told IBM earlier this year. “It’s exciting, and we are just getting started.”
Vodafone in Germany is just one of many telcos that are getting started in using AI assistants — or scaling that use much further. Through the third quarter of 2019, quarterly API volume for Watson Assistant in the Telecommunications, Media and Entertainment (TME) industry reached 153 million, representing YTY quarterly growth of 150%. It’s one of IBM Watson’s products and industries that led IDC to rank IBM as the worldwide market share leader in AI.
At Vodafone UK, TOBi has proven to be a powerful complement to human call center agents, with a blended human-bot chat capable of doubling productivity and reducing costs by 50%. The company says TOBi is resolving 70% of all customer inquiries and producing a bonus: a 70% reduction in cost per chat.
“While it can take a long time for digital transformation projects to come to fruition, the results are worth it,” Iris Meijer, Vodafone CMO, told IBM. “Our virtual agent TOBi has helped 3.4 million UK customers this financial year. Multiply this across the 11 markets where TOBi operates and you can get a sense of how such digital technologies provide the instant, accurate and helpful service that we all demand.”
TOBi is leveraging the same technology deployed at Orange Bank and many other companies across all industries to transform the customer service experience. Watson Assistant’s accelerating growth is a leading indicator of how global industries are moving into the second chapter of digital reinvention—a transformative phase that will see AI grow from limited forms of experimentation, like TOBi joining the customer service team at Vodafone, to widespread deployment throughout an enterprise.
“These tools will have to scale into all aspects of business operations—everything you and I do in our companies,” said IBM CEO Ginni Rometty at VivaTech in May.
New data suggests that’s exactly what’s happening, and dramatically so in telecom.
At VivaTech in May, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard said Orange Bank was using Watson Assistant to clear 80 percent of customer service engagements. “What I like in AI is that it is a learning technology, a technology which is improving every day thanks to this permanent interaction with our customers. So I think we will have major opportunities putting more and more AI-powered systems in our industry.”