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Vodafone ploughs £140m into new SuperTOBi chatbot rollout

SuperTOBi builds on existing technology of Vodafone’s while leveraging the telecom’s new partnership with OpenAI and Microsoft.

By Greg Noone

Vodafone has said it will spend £140m on deploying a new generative AI chatbot across Europe. Named ‘SuperTOBi,’ the model is the latest generation of the telecoms firm’s TOBi chatbot used to respond to customer service inquiries. This new iteration, however, harnesses technology developed by OpenAI and Microsoft as part of Vodafone’s strategic alliance with the latter. SuperTOBi has been rolled out in 13 countries across Africa and Europe, with other markets to follow over the next five months. 

In a statement released earlier today, Vodafone claimed that customers in Portugal were already benefiting from using the new chatbot when booking appointments with customer service representatives. First-time resolution rates of queries, said the company, have “increased from 15% to 60% and Vodafone’s online net promoter scores…improved by 14 points to 64 points.” 

A Vodafone store in Greece, used to illustrate an article about the firm's new chatbot, SuperTOBi.
A Vodafone store in Greece. The UK telecoms company has announced it will plough £140m into rolling out its new chatbot, SuperTOBi, across European markets. (Photo: Shutterstock)

SuperTOBi latest example of genAI enthusiasm in customer service

According to Vodafone, SuperTOBi can understand enquiries made in 11 different languages. The chatbot can engage in natural language conversations with customers, in line with similar models rolled out by Klarna and Softbank. Like the latter firm, Vodafone also utilises a generative AI assistant named ‘SuperAgent’ for staff dealing with more complex enquiries. “In Ireland, SuperAgent is assisting agents by sending a summary of its online customer conversation to the agent, so customers don’t need to repeat themselves,” said Vodafone. “It also only uses information from Vodafone’s companywide and private knowledge database, ensuring that the information is more reliable than public sources.”

Corporate usage of generative AI in customer service is predicted to rise as more companies embrace the ability of the technology to deal with mundane enquiries, freeing up human agents to tackle knottier questions. While there have been notable cases where such models have hallucinated wrong or misleading answers to consumer inquiries – most infamously DPD’s model, which provided one user with a haiku on the theme of its creator’s uselessness – up to 72% of business leaders polled in a recent survey expected AI would become more important in customer service this year. 

Vodafone leveraging partnership with Microsoft

Vodafone’s decision to invest £140m into SuperTOBi’s rollout follows its signing up to a decade-long strategic partnership with Microsoft in January. That deal saw the telco commit to investing over £780bn into cloud services provided by Microsoft’s Azure division and make a commitment to “extend its commitment to distributing Microsoft services” to its wider customer base. In return, Microsoft promised to invest in Vodafone’s IoT network of 175 million devices – a savvy move on the part of the big tech giant, concluded Gartner analyst and telecoms expert Jason Wong. 

“Microsoft’s investment in Vodafone’s IoT platform supports the ongoing pivot of their immersive tech investments to the ‘industrial metaverse’ to support frontline workers,” Wong told Tech Monitor earlier this year. “Vodafone’s intentions to open the Azure-based platform to developers and third-party communities could [also] accelerate Microsoft’s generative AI expansion in Europe and important emerging markets in Africa.”

Read more: Will AI customer service kill the call centre?

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