Beverley Bartlett, Head of Digital Care at Vodafone

How generative AI will bring more human interactions to customer care

Generative AI is a buzzword in tech right now. Even those outside of the industry are intrigued by its potential. For Beverley Bartlett, Head of Digital Care at Vodafone, the technology's ability to transform how companies interact with their customers is what excites her most about her role.

“It’s an exciting job to have,” says Beverley. “Chatbots were in the shade, but I think generative AI has brought them under the spotlight. Suddenly everybody wants chatbots everywhere.”

Reinvigorating the chatbot

This wasn’t always the case. Back in 2015, when Beverley was working in banking, the focus was on websites and apps.

“At the time, there was a lot of hesitancy to introduce chatbots because there weren’t many great examples and marketing was positioned around great service from a real person. As a consequence, we faced a lot of funding challenges,” Beverley explains.

But she saw the potential of this technology if it was shaped properly. That’s when she began building a chatbot-based app for mortgage customers.

At first, she didn’t have any expertise in user experience or app building, and had to learn these skills on the job. But she did have 20 years of customer experience.

“I understand language and people, that’s my strength in an IT environment. I understand customer interactions and how to shape these experiences to be more human like. Back then, chatbots were being built with tech driven ambitions first. So they served a function, but didn't give the experience customers truly wanted and needed,” says Beverley.

Now, with the help of generative AI, Beverley believes we can make these experiences even better.

“We've become trained as users to use keywords to search for things, whereas now we want customers to ask questions as if they were talking to a person because it allows the bot to understand more context and get more accurate information,” she says.

Testing with TOBi

Beverley Bartlett, Head of Digital Care at Vodafone

Looking at Vodafone’s digital assistant TOBi, Beverley and her team are testing new use cases in Europe.

The first looks at scheduling appointments for installations and repairs. In the past, talking to a bot to arrange an appointment could be quite a linear process. With generative AI you can tell the bot to collect certain information, like customer name and location, convenient dates, times, and what it is they want fixed.

“This speeds up the process and takes away friction points, allowing the customer to have a more human-like experience,” says Beverley.

The second use case is around billing. Capable of answering how much a customer has paid and what offers are available to them, generative AI can handle the entire experience.

“If we come back to the premise of bots – they were always supposed to do basic tasks. Simple questions, with simple answers. But over time, customers started to ask all sorts of things. Generative AI allows bots to be more complex and that’s where it gets interesting,” explains Beverley.

This doesn’t mean we’ll roll it out everywhere. In simple digital journeys like ordering a new SIM, Beverley believes generative AI would be overkill.

She also tells us that the foundations of a good conversational experience don't change. Technology just allows us to do it differently.

It’s a long way from Yorkshire

Beverley’s first job couldn’t have been further from the digital world. “I did potato and bean picking in Yorkshire,” she recalls. “It was hard work for not much money, but it got me out of the house.”

After studying at university, she went into retail banking where she had a long and successful career but upon her return, after her third child, she was made redundant.

“I was devastated at the time, but now I look back and think thank goodness that happened because it allowed me to spend time with my kids,” explains Beverley.

Talking about the difficulties of balancing her career as a mother, she goes on to say that the point at which your career becomes more consuming often coincides with when your children are teenagers, and they still need a lot of your time, care and support.

“It’s a topic we often discuss in Women in Digital meet ups, one of Vodafone’s women’s networks,” she says.

Clearly not one to be beaten, London Marathon runner Beverley decided it was time for a career change and completed a master’s degree in business administration. Her dissertation was on the impact of technology when it mediates interactions with customers, which is what lead her to her role at Vodafone.

“It was a gift to get this job,” says Beverley, while also noting the hard work that got her to this point. “It’s been an adventure so far. A lot now lies ahead with generative AI so it’s a really exciting time.”

Beyond the bot

Beverley Bartlett, Head of Digital Care at Vodafone

When asked about the future of digital assistants, Beverley tells us, “There are lots of innovations both in and outside of Vodafone. Last year, the team in Germany built an augmented reality version of TOBi that attracted lots of interest, but first and foremost a chatbot must be effective at resolving customer issues. Whilst I see potential for avatars or physical representations of TOBi in stores, there’s no clear value add in the digital channels were most interactions take place today.”

Where she does see value, is giving bots more personality. Something that has been a long-standing challenge.

“One of the best and earliest chatbots I’ve seen that was successful at this was Rose, a virtual assistant for a Las Vegas hotel. It helped customers navigate what was on each floor and had lots of value attributes, as well as being super cheeky and a bit risqué,” says Beverley.

“It’s much harder for a telco or bank to achieve this but with generative AI, we can give bots characteristics to suit our customers and their interactions. For example, you can tell the prompt in generative AI, when responding to this type of question, to display the characteristics of A, B and C, giving more tailored responses. So, chatting with a bot should become much more fun.”