Can AI help build customer trust? Vodafone reckons so

Source: Vodafone

Source: Vodafone

  • Vodafone Business has been assessing why customers in various sectors may lack trust
  • AI can help increase levels of trust, according to a new international study
  • However, the technology needs to be deployed with a human touch
  • Vodafone will use the results of the research to improve its trust relationship with its own customers

Businesses that use AI could see a boost in customer trust scores if the technology is deployed with a human touch, a new global study from Vodafone Business has found.

The enterprise arm of the telco group partnered with the London School of Economics to evaluate the level of trust expressed by customers across different industries, as well as to assess whether the reported levels coincide with the companies’ own perceptions of how trustworthy they are in their customers’ eyes.

The research, based on a survey of more than 2,300 businesses and over 5,000 customers in 10 countries, identified a “trust gap” of an average of 11 percentage points between these perceptions, meaning that customers do not trust companies as much as businesses believe they do. This divide is affecting business performance and represents missed opportunities, disappointed customers and even lost revenue, according to the report.

The research has also discovered that companies underestimate the importance of “shared values, humanity and consistency” when considering ways to win customer trust.

However, the study suggests that the use of AI can help close this so-called trust gap. 

Vodafone Business found that customers are “surprisingly open to AI”, and noted that businesses that use this technology to the benefit of their customers (such as to deliver greater flexibility, more satisfying products and faster, more accurate customer service) can almost halve the trust gap, potentially shrinking it to as low as six percentage points.

One of the reasons for this is that customers cited AI-savvy companies as being “more likely to make accurate, relevant predictions and were more likely to effectively complete day-to-day tasks”.

Furthermore, customers participating in the study also believed that such technologies “could make their own tasks easier to accomplish, providing tangible quality-of-life improvements”.

The research also suggests that businesses that deliver faster response times to customer requests for help see a 16% rise in their trust score, as satisfaction and consistency improve. It noted that chatbots, AI tools and related technologies could “certainly help businesses achieve this”, provided companies manage to address concerns related to privacy, security, humanity, values and consistency.

Vodafone Business, however, urged companies to be mindful of the impact of generative AI (GenAI) on customer trust. Even though the technology seems to have been well received overall, some 38% of respondents said implementing GenAI would make them trust a business less. However, 62% said it would either make no difference or make them trust a business more.

“Trust makes a material difference to a business’s performance. The trust associated with new technologies like AI, and how they’re used by businesses, is at an inflection point. The difference between eroding trust or winning it comes down to how businesses deploy these technologies,” explained Amanda Jobbins, CMO of Vodafone Business.

In fact, Vodafone Business is looking to practise what it preaches, telling TelecomTV that it is “looking at how the learnings from this new research can be applied in improving our own trust relationships with customers.”

The company is, for example, exploring ways to use GenAI for customer service enhancements, including by “enabling our TOBi virtual assistant to understand and respond [more quickly] to complex customer enquiries.”

Vodafone announced in January this year that it is working closely with Microsoft on the development of digital services and the use of GenAI across its operations and services, including TOBi – see Vodafone makes its digital services, GenAI bed with Microsoft.

In terms of industry-specific findings from the survey, the telco’s business division identified that the trust gap is higher in healthcare than in sectors such as retail, technology and public services. On the other hand, typically business-to-business sectors, such as construction and professional services, “foster a more trustworthy relationship because they have clear contract terms that promise results, which helps explain why their trust gap is so much narrower than other sectors.”

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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