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AI benefits and pitfalls

A data driven sidekick

VodafoneZiggo customer service employees have a handy sidekick: TOBi. This smart chat robot can answer all the most frequently asked questions and gets better at it with every customer conversation. This is an excellent example of artificial intelligence: technology that lets computers 'think' and make their own choices. What else does artificial intelligence have to offer VodafoneZiggo? Data Protection Officer, Elske Feenstra, tells more.

"Artificial intelligence is an excellent tool to improve our services," says Feenstra. "TOBi takes a lot of work off the hands of customer service; the remote control for the Ziggo TV box can be voice operated; there’s more clarity about the lifespan of devices and how best to set them up."

These days, VodafoneZiggo also has Guru: software that helps personalise marketing communications for customers. "If we find out, for example, that someone is a sports fanatic, they’ll get a Ziggo Sport banner on the website. The data we're allowed to use for this and the resulting profiling are often subject to consent."

The company also uses artificial intelligence for employees, Feenstra explains. "HelloHR scans all our HR department emails. This programme sorts messages according to keywords and automatically sends them to the right HR team. This means the sender gets an answer faster, and the department works much more efficiently."

A trial is underway in which digital systems search for unconscious work and communication patterns. "This helps employees understand their work habits so that they can determine for themselves how effective these are. We could also provide this data to HR, although under conditions of anonymity or with permission. Who knows, this might provide a better understanding of employees' networks and work patterns so that in time we can better streamline processes and staffing."

The other side of the coin
"Artificial intelligence sharpens up business processes, a better customer experience - and therefore more sales. What's more, the technology is becoming more advanced all the time. This is something I'm keeping an eye on with great interest. But I also recognise the challenges because there have already been cases where the technology has gone too far and was no longer ethically responsible.”

For example, Amazon had a software programme to scan job applicants' CVs. "The applicants who came out best were invited. But eventually, the robot figured out that men were more likely to pass the test and has since sorted by gender. That was not the idea but could be the side effect of the 'black box' feature that machine learning brings with it. In Amazon's case, there appeared to be no way of overcoming it, so Amazon stopped using this screening method."

Staying alert
VodafoneZiggo must also guard against exclusion practices, says Feenstra. "It's not acceptable that customers who, according to our software, don't like Ajax, can't take part in promotions where they can win Ajax tickets, or young customers can no longer get a Ziggo mechanic because it's assumed that all young people can manage on their own with a manual."

"Fortunately, we don't do that anymore, but we have to be careful that this never happens by mistake either." She refers to the AI Regulation submitted by the European Commission. This lists the types of artificial intelligence that the Commission believes should be banned, including any that discriminate. "VodafoneZiggo is working hard, of course, to ensure that intelligent tools don't go overboard but continue to provide more efficiency and customer satisfaction,” says Feenstra. "In fact, this is a priority for 2022. We'll start a programme to continue to monitor the functionality and safety of AI applications. In my opinion, this should be a requirement for every AI application. To be continued, then."

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