Vodafone, like any other telecom giant, is urgently looking for ways to reduce costs. Its revenues are not only under the pressure of newcomers in Spain and Italy, but they must also devote considerable sums to upgrading its network infrastructure to support faster 5G data speeds.
Working towards Cost Reduction
One idea of cost reduction that Vodafone uses is to automate some internal tasks performed by staff using simple robots and, in some cases, more sophisticated chat bots. The painful result is the decrease in the number of people on the payroll. For example, Vodafone has deployed robots called “robotic process automation” to automate back-office tasks such as data entry. As a result, Vodafone reported having laid off 900 people in the first half of 2018. Vodafone uses similar technology to automate the telephone conversations that its agents normally have with its customers.
Today, only about 1% of its customers speak to a chatbot for simple tasks, such as changing an address or enquiring after the details of payments. But Vodafone wants to increase this number to 60% by March 2021, which means that new job cuts are to be expected. Experts in technology and economics often disagree about whether the spread of artificial intelligence will hurt jobs in the long run. But in the short term, these software helps Vodafone reduce its workforce, and cuts are also the way the company defines the success of the software, according to a provider. Vodafone has been explicit about this – the number of FTEs, the number of full-time equivalent employees who have been reduced.
Outsourcing To Other Companies
Vodafone licenses the chatbot software from several companies, including IPSoft, based in New York. The flagship product of this company is the chatbot software called Amelia, also used by the Swedish group SEB and the insurer AllState. This insurer stated that the average use of call centers had decreased after using the software. Vodafone has been using Amelia for over two years. As is often the case, Vodafone first tested it internally, inviting staff to chat with the Amelia bot in the event of a computer problem or questioning of human resources.
In December 2018, Vodafone staff had 25,000 discussions a month with Amelia, and Amelia was able to resolve half of those questions. Karine Brunet, former director of Vodafone’s Technology Shared Services, revealed in a speech in the summer of 2018 that about 58% of the requests made to Vodafone’s IT support staff were directed to the bot. Vodafone now offers the same software to its customers under another name, TOBi, described above as a smiling cartoon. Clients sometimes connected to the bot if all the human agents were busy.
Vodafone has thousands of people in direct contact with customers, said a spokesman. But over the next few years, many of these agents will probably lose their jobs, as TOBi, currently available in five countries and five more in 2019, is becoming more sophisticated. Asked about the number of customer service agents who were fired following the use of TOBi, the spokesman did not respond directly.
The spokesperson could not be contacted by e-mail or telephone to clarify his answer. Heenan-Jalil also did not respond to several requests for additional comments. Chetan Dube, CEO of Isoft, described Amelia as a form of digital work and said the product had generated $ 250 million of revenue generated for IPSoft in 2018. IPSoft has been supported by two family trusts for 20 years. Own 99% of the company, said Dube. Dube admits that there are polarized viewpoints on AI, but indicates that companies are forced to use new software to improve their efficiency. All in all, it is certain that Vodafone will most definitely look forward to taking its chatbot tech across the continents of the world and perhaps even improve on it, to serve other industries.