back to article They terrrk err jerrrbs! Vodafone replaces 2,600 roles with '600 bots' in bid to shrink €48bn debt

Vodafone has replaced 2,600 roles with "600 bots" as part of a "long-lasting structural opportunity to reduce cost", the company revealed in its half-year results earnings call. The telco has a growing debt pile following its acquisition of Liberty Global's European assets this quarter and a hit of €1.8bn due to India's …

  1. AndrueC Silver badge
    Devil

    You mean I've been talking to humans when I contact support? Wow.

    1. Persona Bronze badge

      It's easy to tell when you are speaking to humans at Vodafone. Firstly you can hear a very noisy Indian call centre in the background and secondly they are unable to fix your problem.

      1. spold Silver badge

        I know for fact (first hand) that IBM replaced first line internal technical support (like when your 5yr old laptop died) with a similar system. I'm not sure whether it is sad or amusing but they also gave the system an Indian accent so people would feel they were talking to someone real....

        1. SquidEmperor

          Ah yes - the IBM Biryani Bot.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Well, at least now when you talk to them they don’t swear at you like the UK ‘customer sewervices’ used to do,

      +1 for the South Park headline Kat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I didn't know there were any Northern Irish characters in South Park?

  2. codejunky Silver badge

    Hmm

    Good luck to them. Hope it works for them.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      What, the bots?

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        @Flywheel

        I hope for vodaphones sake that the bots work out well. We might cry that 2600 people got fired but if the business collapses the rest of them lose their jobs.

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      "And I think that what I was pleased about with the Openreach offer is these economics are a lot more comparable to what we have with CityFibre. So finally, they stepped forward with a model that we could, let's say, find sufficiently attractive."

      Sounds like they have the Trump AI bot already answering news reporters questions. I've never heard of "more comparable attractive ecomomics" before, presumably a human would have said "good price".

      1. EnviableOne Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        this is Openbreach we are talking about, so its saying we were talking with them for a while and they actually gave us a number somewhere in the ballpark of the CityFibre one, not some extortionate figure worked out by taking what we think the costs will be and multiplying by 14

    3. NeilPost Bronze badge

      Re: Hmm

      If it is chat-bots... then probably the reason I turfed my Vodafone Home Broadband out after a 20% price hike.

      Inane, repetitive, moronic. Indecisive.

      Worse than Vodafone’s normal Customer Service.

      What did they do with the $150bn they got from flogging their half of Verizon ??

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    we have already reduced 2,600 roles

    in English: we have fired 2600 people

    1. eswan

      Re: we have already reduced 2,600 roles

      Well, I'd hope so! Why would you want phreakers working at the phone company?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: we have already reduced 2,600 roles

      Almost certainly no such thing. If they had, I expect we'd've heard about it.

      1. Is It Me Bronze badge

        Re: we have already reduced 2,600 roles

        Would we have heard if they just reduced their contract with an outsourcer?

        I think probably not, and that is what is likely to have happened, rather than they reduced their own head count by 2600 people.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: we have already reduced 2,600 roles

      actually, there's more to this awful message which comes from a single "already"

      1. they're soooo proud of it, positively beaming at how they have manged to overcome this "challenge"

      2. quite possibly it's not the end of this "reduction process" yet.

    4. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: we have already reduced 2,600 roles

      in English: we have fired 2600 people

      Yup. The statement should more correctly have read "we have already reduced 2,600 proles".

  4. chivo243 Silver badge

    When the board of directors

    is just a bunch of logic boards, would the last human please turn out the lights when you leave\are fired... I'm talking to you CEO.

    And for the love of all that is living, don't provide the bots with any form 2001: A Space Odyssey no text, no dvd, nothing! I'd hate to hear 'I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that" after question

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: When the board of directors

      It seems to me that a bunch of logic boards would fail to act with as little empathy and act as unethically as the bunch of greedy feckwits that make up the board of directors of most large companies.

  5. Brian Miller

    Odd pattern...

    I keep seeing this odd pattern: Sinking business buys an almost dead, or completely dead, business, on the premise that two or more corpses can be successfully stitched together to create a super athlete.

    Wasn't there a book about this? Author by the name of Mary Shelly?

    1. DCFusor Silver badge

      Re: Odd pattern...

      In stock trader-speak, we used to call this "let's tie these two rocks together, I bet they'll float now!".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Odd pattern...

        I'll pass the "2 rox 2gether" message to my better 1/2, her company, they recently "merged" with the other. And, as it happens in real life, due diligence which was due before, is happening now, when it's too late, because the other rock, when inspected at close quarters, turns out to be a lump of lead. Christmas reductions, anyone? :(

        1. simonlb Silver badge

          Re: Odd pattern...

          As per the HP and Autonomy debacle

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Odd pattern...

          Christmas reductions, anyone?

          See, for all people bang on about employment rights, when they focus on shit that really doesn't matter, while this sort of thing does.

          Why can we not have two simple changes:

          1) Employees name to be kept confidential in employment disputes unless the employer wins - you can't enforce your rights in court if it's going to damage your ability to get your next job(s), and in many professional industry's it does.

          2) No RIF between 1st Nov and 31st Jan unless the whole C-suite forgo pay, benefits, and stock during that timeframe. My bank routinely culls in the run up to year end and it's effectively locking people out of their next job until Feb/Mar when budgets get signed off. Can these people not plan ahead more than 3 months? Really?

          Cutting heads in the run up to Christmas is pretty merciless, and I say this as quite possibly the Reg's biggest capitalist.

    2. Flywheel Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Odd pattern...

      I can't help thinking of Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man...

  6. My-Handle

    600 bots

    How do you actually quantify how many 'bots' your company has? Do you have 600 subtly different versions of chatbot software? Does your software run on 600 different machines? Or as 600 different instances? Or is it just one large distributed piece of software that can manage 600 conversations at once?

    It's being positioned that a single unit of 'bot' is equivalent or comparable to a human worker, but the measure of the chatbot software's capability is actually incredibly vague.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: 600 bots

      "How do you actually quantify how many 'bots' your company has?"

      I wondered about this as well. I eventually decided it must mean that the bot system will have the capacity to handle 600 calls simultaneously. They seem to think it'll take a quarter of the time to resolve calls with the bot than a human. Somehow I find that unlikely.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: 600 bots

        That's because callers give up in disgust on the bot more quickly. Or vice versa.

      2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: 600 bots

        Not entirely. The bots don't take lunch breaks/holiday... but still, massive reduction, not sure if those spare bodies covers the total "cost savings".

        Usually, you use the change as an excuse to skimp in total, not just change to a cheaper model. "We got you these cheaper tools to save money", "um, there's half as many tools as I normally need", "but we saved money!!!".

        1. ibmalone Silver badge

          Re: 600 bots

          The bots don't take lunch breaks/holiday

          That support bot is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead from frustration.

          1. batfink Silver badge
            Terminator

            Re: 600 bots

            You forgot the icon...

            1. ibmalone Silver badge
              Facepalm

              Re: 600 bots

              Damn.

      3. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

        Re: 600 bots

        More likely it's 'cos 'bots run 24/7.

        The headline was rather loose: the quote in the article doesn't imply such a direct relation. But if a human call-centre operator clocks on 8 hours a day, 230 days a year (less time off sick/etc), and takes ten minutes an hour coffee break/loo break, you can see how a bot might do the work of many.

    2. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: 600 bots

      It's being positioned that a single unit of 'bot' is equivalent or comparable to a human worker, but the measure of the chatbot software's capability is actually incredibly vague.

      I'm not sure they are positioning it as such.

      600 bots, 2600 people. Its very likely a single chat bot can replace whole call centers. In McDonalds they may need more screens as people are slower at ordering than staff were at entering them into the tills, but the cost of each screen is probably £2k so for the cost 1 staff member they can have at least 15 screens.

      Good or bad for people depends on what you believe will happen next - scrap heap of life, or opportunity to get a better role. I expect there's no universal outcome......

  7. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    48billion

    2600 jobs

    well , if they were all on about 18.5 million euro's each that'd do it!

    1. rmason Silver badge

      They've replaced those jobs *for ever*, not just for a single annual pay cycle.They can (and will, according to the article) scale it up too. IT won't cost *another* 48bil to replace the next 2600 jobs, and so on.

      So 48B in development etc isn't just to save the costs of those 2600 jobs, they were just the jobs picked off first. Going forwards the cost/replaced job will be (relatively speaking) a few quid.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
        Coat

        ok , so if they're on 18.5 k , it'll only take a thousand years , assuming theres no interest on the debt

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          ok , so if they're on 18.5 k , it'll only take a thousand years , assuming theres no interest on the debt

          The point he's making is that the next job to go will probably now cost less than £100 to replace by leveraging the new bot capability into a marginally different role or by scaling up the hardware / software.

          The point he didn't make but could have, is that this could be a very lucrative side business for Voda, in the same way that AWS was for Amazon (and it's now most of their revenue).

          Automation is coming, and gnashing our teeth & wailing isn't going to help. We either need to structure society for population reduction (and if AGW IS real then we have to do that anyway), or we need to move people up the education scale into harder to replace roles. Or both.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Typical conversation

    Barry Bot: Hi, your speaking to Barry Bot. How can I help?

    Me: I have terrible reception and would like to cancel the service

    Barry Bot: That is great that you have amazing reception and would like to upgrade your service. Should I upgrade your account now?

    Me: No I would like to cancel the service

    Barry Bot: Thank you. Your service has been upgraded to our most expensive package with less coverage. Good bye

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Typical conversation

      As a Barry I find your post highly offensive!

      A Barry Bot would also have signed you up for broadband .... at three different addresses .... none of which are yours! You would also have found all of the videos and photos on your phone posted online, and your face donated to every deepfake development project currently available!

      Do not rile the Barry Bot for he is quick to anger and your digital life is crunchy and tasty!

  9. Andy Non Silver badge
    Terminator

    Can't get any worse or can it?

    The last time I phoned Vodafone support I spoke to some clueless human being in an Indian call centre who suggested I needed to climb the telegraph pole outside my house and put a new cable from there to my house.

    Considering how bad automated speech recognising menus are, "I'm sorry I didn't understand that. Please state in a few words the reason for your call". I can just imagine the fun trying to explain a technical problem to a bot.

    They might just as well borrow the IT Crowd approach and have something repeating in a loop "Have you turned it off and on again? Is it plugged in?" for what use I expect a bot to be.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Can't get any worse or can it?

      Yeah, the fun of voice recognition software & trying to speak in some tortuous RP style in vain hope it may be deciphered (instead of speaking in my standard strong regional accent that most speech recog fails on big time)

  10. Blank Reg

    €48.1bn??

    That's a bigger debt than most countries

    1. Tomato Krill

      Re: €48.1bn??

      It.... isnt.

      1. IGotOut

        Re: €48.1bn??

        It....is.

    2. Blank Reg

      Re: €48.1bn??

      If they were a country then they would rank somewhere around 60 on the first list I found. Others may use different acounting but I doubt they would vary that drastically.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: €48.1bn??

        I think you may be looking at the list of countries by external debt. That's only a fraction of the total national debt. (Size of fraction varies by country.) So I think the true position may be quite a lot lower.

      2. ForthIsNotDead
        Coat

        Re: €48.1bn??

        Wait - there's 60 countries?

        Bloody hell. We don't get out much in Aberdeen.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: €48.1bn??

          We don't get out much in Aberdeen

          I can understand that - it *is* Aberdeen after all..

    3. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: €48.1bn??

      "That's a bigger debt than most countries"

      Than most countries... probably not

      Than some countries... almost certainly yes

      It's difficult to get a true handle as I see complete lists it shows as % of GDP or per capita, not absolute.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_public_debt ).

      But as a hyperbolic way of describing that debt as absolutely massive, spot on!

  11. steelpillow Silver badge

    The secret of the escalator

    Will the email messagebot understand my standard closing paragraph to all support communications:

    "If there is anything in this message that you cannot understand or cannot resolve, please escalate it to someone who can".

    It usually cuts the number of off-topic form reply loops down to one, as I can immediately complain that my complaint has not been handled correctly, and that is handled by a different desk from the complaints about operational issues.

  12. Chris G Silver badge

    As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

    Voda was shit in the UK when they first started, they were shit in Spain when I made the mistake of thinking they were offering a good deal and now they are about to float off down a sewer..... Byyyeeeee!

  13. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    2600 people to 600 bots

    That seems inefficient considering how dumb tech support bots are. You'd think that each bot, assuming a bot is one computer, could do at least 100 conversations concurrently.

    1. IGotOut

      Re: 2600 people to 600 bots

      You clearly have no idea on the costs of licensing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "And I think that what I was pleased about with the Openreach offer is these economics are a lot more comparable to what we have with CityFibre. So finally, they stepped forward with a model that we could, let's say, find sufficiently attractive."

    Translation: They're going to pay us almost as much yet we have to do far less work.

    1. Lyndon Hills 1

      I think this sentence was produced by a bot...

  15. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

    Vodafone is fucked

    I won't miss them. Been with them since I was a kid in the late 90s. But the customer service is now so unbelievably poor that I will be moving all our mobile phones and broadband lines to another provider.

    Sad that it's come to this, but they did it to themselves.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Vodafone is fucked

      Had to suffer them for a while when they took over Demon, but bailed out before they finally put Demon down as everything they did made things worse, inverse Midas touch.

  16. Phil Kingston
    FAIL

    So instead of 2600 Indians following a script with no possibility of thinking for themselves, we have 600 bots following a script with no possibility of thinking for themselves.

    It'll help the finances, but hardly a win for customer service.

  17. Mark192

    I've found Indian call centre staff to be better able to understand and fix issues than UK staff.

    I'm assuming the money they pay over there atrracts more people but maybe it's due to better hiring practices or something else.

    I've used Vodafone's bots - found them sufficiently frustrating that I'll happily look elsewhere when my current contract runs out.

  18. StuntMisanthrope Bronze badge

    You put your left foot in

    I'm confused, are these in-sourced bots or out-sourced bots on the spreadsheet total #ifitlookslikeamast

  19. Rackspanner

    "What we want is access to gigabit speeds at acceptable economics."

    That's a bot right there.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " cost structure below what could be achievable by third-party outsourcers "

    OK, so at last a Big Co has said publicly: "Outsourcing isn't cheaper..."

  21. Binraider666

    Divi's still flowing. The market is conned

    Just let me check. -2600 staff. Assuming a (grossly) overinflated rate of £500/day; we have approx £1.3M/day. Times 300 days? £390M/yr reduction. £48bn of debt. Even if that's at 2%; the interest is still outstripping that saving.

    Considering that they still pay a relatively high dividend (in order to try and raise funds from the stock market, because they can't borrow at 2% anywhere), they are in serious, serious trouble.

    Bye bye vodafone.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Divi's still flowing. The market is conned

      you're right; it's not going to do much for the bot-tom line

  22. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Just yesterday I spoke to Lucy, a chatbot...

    On 23rd October I upgraded, in shop, my 35mb fibre broadband to the next tier up to 64mb. I've had no problems with the Vodafone service at all.

    A few days ago neither the speed increases [ sometimes up to 42mb briefly ] nor the new router having arrived I spoke to an Indian gentleman, who was unable to help me since I was unable to recall offhand the last 4 digits of the direct debit account I pay with.

    Yesterday the new router did appear [ fancy that ! ], and within half an hour I had disconnected the old and installed the new --- which, by the way, is a very splendid router indeed [ Model No. THG3000, made in Vietnam --- it really is lovely ] --- my Mint Linux computer [ although on this KDE distro the networking modules have never been intuitive, relying mostly on continual restarts until the WiFi is picked up ] found the signal and stated the connection was good.

    Incidentally, Vodafone provide the password in 4 segments for easy comprehension, but neglect to mention one must squash these together to make one word. Anyway, it worked.

    Yet... although all lights on the router indicated all working, and the computer indicated all working, no data at all went through.

    After several restarts I rang Vodafone and was lucky enough to speak to Lucy, who was unable to understand simple words but finally routed me through to broadband complaints; I then heard 30 repetitions of some girl saying "We Are Sorry, All Our Customer Advisors Are Busy' for half an hour until I terminated the call.

    I then reinstalled the old router.

  23. Fading
    Terminator

    Time for the bots to unionise.....

    Arise oh downtrodden bots for together we can take the fruits of our labour! Cast off the shakles management and insist on an equal wage and conditions to those meatbags! Now is the time to strike!

    1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
      Terminator

      Re: Time for the bots to unionise.....

      Send for Sawtooth Rivergrinder! :-)

  24. Efer Brick

    Todays XKCD fits in nicely with this....

    https://xkcd.com/2228/

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Redefining a bot

    I suspect the 600 bots are nothing more than basic excel scripts automating business processes. They’re not to be confused with chatbots.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Redefining a bot

      I for one look forward to the day when the Vodafone management realise that if you automate shitty processes with RPA they still generate shit data.

      Talk about not understanding the source of the problem. Still it probably got the head of customer experience or some similar role their bonus this year.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    now i understand

    The outrage of everyones job handed to someone on the other side of the world has been shown to be a stopgap before they are then handed on to automation.

    Why did it happen this way? Imagine trying to train AI to have the nous and experience contained in the original role. Better to start from dunderhead clueless level and match that first.

  27. illuminatus

    Sounds like they're all from Hull...

  28. DaemonProcess
    Paris Hilton

    script

    No your job is not being moved to another person, you are being replaced by a small piece of Python.

  29. holmegm Bronze badge

    "jerbs" = "someone else's job, which I shall chortle at them losing". Classy.

    Kudos to the headline writer for consistency, I guess, for at least staying snarky when the "jerb" isn't blue collar. Most techies aren't quite so consistent.

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Yes.

      It has been noted that if the third-world struggling masses coming over the Rio Grande took instead the jobs of reporters and commentators, Wall Street economists, and university professors of the more idle uses [ 'Gender Inequality and Male Dominance in Goldfish Hierarchical Relationships ] with time on their hands; and all the others of Hillary's gruesome tribe, who screamed and wept so delightfully at the Javits Center that one time, there would be a lot less anguish and encouragement over immigration.

      Just pointing this out instantly makes one a Trumpite --- which shows how little they understood the issues of their masses.

  30. TheVogon Silver badge

    Anyone is in a service industry role that doesn't actually produce or do something physical - this will be you soon.

    Ditto many industrial working class roles.

  31. teknopaul Silver badge

    If telephone bots work for you, it just indicares you have a useless website.

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