At the Festival of Marketing 2018, Jon Davies, head of digital at Vodafone, revealed some fascinating insights about the development and success of TOBi, the commerce-enabled chatbot that helps people buy new phones and SIM only plans.

Let’s look at some of what Davies shared with the audience.

First some stats

TOBi is delivering:

  • conversion rate +100% compared to website
  • transaction time -50% compared to website (with abandonment rates markedly lower)
  • usability score >90/100 (highest of anything we’ve got)
  • touchpoint NPS >65 (getting close to contact centre levels).

These are impressive numbers that show how easy people find it talking to TOBi.

TOBi

The three waves of TOBi

TOBi started out handling simple FAQs through webchat, as well as handling end-to-end sales of SIM plans. This was then extended to new handsets, where complexity is greater because of the range of upfront payments available.

In wave 2, Vodafone is experimenting with integrating TOBi with backend data, allowing it to answer questions about customer accounts, but also to serve as an agent assistant (effectively a knowledge management tool).

In wave 3, the plan is to roll out kiosks in store to allow people to carry out transactions such as pay-as-you-go top-ups.

The extent to which the company is innovating is highlighted by a change in role for some frontline support staff. Davies says that five employees in the Manchester customer centre have effectively shifted roles from frontline agents to conversational analysts who help to programme TOBi.

The quirks of teaching a bot to chat

The learning curve has been steep for TOBi, who is quickly learning many colloquialisms and quirks of the English language. One excellent anecdote from Davies involved TOBi routing callers to Vodafone’s bereavement team when they said that their “phone was dead”. The fix was easy, but it shows the challenges of training a sophisticated chatbot.

Learnings from building TOBi

1 Establish trust

TOBi admits, when he first starts chatting, that “I’m a machine” and “nearly as good as my human colleague”. Vodafone found customers were far more polite and abuse levels dropped when TOBi was upfront about his true nature. Trust is built, too, by this admission.

2 Build confidence

Gradually build use cases for your chatbot. Throw too much at it too soon, Davies says, and customers won’t believe your bot is that good.

3. Nurture a personality

Vodafone have played with the language TOBi uses, and it helps to make the interaction more fun.

4. Provide agent support

Don’t leave your bot to its own devices.

Vodafone’s digital transformation

Davies really gave the impression of Vodafone as a dynamic business, one he describes as “ambitious”, where “once a decision is made [the comany] will go hard and quickly towards whatever it has in its sights.”

“Bureaucracy is lower,” says Davies, adding that he was given his capex and then was able to come back and demonstrate the value his team were adding.

Vodafone’s digital transformation has four key dimensions, according to Davies:

  1. Architectural rebuild within the digital stack (telcos are traditionally designed for retail and contact centres but not digital)
  2. Changing the frontend experience
  3. An operating model change (Vodafone has going agile over the last couple of years, starting in engineering but now scaled across business)
  4. Vodafone is in the process of scaling its digital hub in London (currently recruiting).

That re-architectured tech stack is visualised below, with intelligence sitting in a digital experience layer that serves touchpoints such as TOBi, app, web and contact centres.

vodafone tech stack

What’s next?

TOBi will eventually support more complex customer needs, augment more human interactions, and become predictive (understand customer history and intent).

Davies discussed extending the tech to service B2B customers, and TOBi is soon to be rolled out on Facebook Messenger and other touchpoints such as smart assistants.

For more on chatbots, read Econsultancy’s Marketer’s Guide to Chatbots.