Q&A: Telefónica Chief Data Officer Chema Alonso

Telefonica

Chema Alonso discusses Aura, a digital assistant that uses cognitive intelligence it has developed with Microsoft, that Telefónica unveiled at Mobile World Congress

Eurocomms.com: Aura aims to improve customer service by creating a personal data space that will be accessed via different channels like an app, Amazon Echo and a set-top box. How is Aura going to improve your customer experience KPIs?

Chema Alonso: Aura lets you control all your Telefónica services just by talking to it, through the most convenient channel for you at that moment.

It will answer questions and make proactive suggestions, without you having to visit a website or call customer service.

Aura builds customer trust, by being very transparent about what data is collected and how it is used – trust allows Telefonica to expand into new areas, and always with the consent of the clients, earn the right to offer them new insight driven services.

Aura enriches your life by helping you to discover new services powered by your information.

Services that can reward you, save time or money, improve experiences, or provide peace of mind – customers will engage more deeply and get more value from our services.

All these things provide reasons to stay with Telefónica, and reasons to recommend us to friends and family.

Telefónica will also be able to upsell new services to customers via Aura. Why is Aura going to be more effective at doing this than the methods you currently employ?

By knowing how you use Telefónica services, and learning from customer interactions, Aura will make more relevant recommendations at the right moment for you.

Customers will not be disturbed by sales calls, and whereas with adverts, websites, or information on bills, it may be hard for interested customers to follow up and add a service to their package, with Aura it is simple and quick - you simply say "yes".
 
What’s the difference between artificial intelligence and cognitive intelligence, and why is this significant in terms of Aura?

Cognitive intelligence is a subset of artificial intelligence that emphasises learning from data and interactions (rather than static algorithms) and working with humans to help people make better decisions (rather than acting independently).

Aura exists to help our customers get more from our services, answer questions and offer helpful advice.

It is there to offer them choices and to help them decide, the customer is always in control.

Customers can also choose to share some of the insights generated from their data with third parties. Can you provide an example of how this would work in practice and explain how privacy and security can be ensured?

In the Facebook Safety Alerts example, customers must opt-in both with Telefónica and Facebook so they are always in control.

When a major incident happens, Facebook asks "Who is in the surrounding area?"

For nearby opted-in customers we only send back encrypted anonymous identifiers that were created when the user signed up to the service.

To ensure privacy is protected their names, numbers or other personal information are not transmitted, nor is their precise location.

Facebook uses the list to notify customers to check-in, even if they are not logged-in to Facebook at the time.

This warns customers of possible risks, and provides peace of mind for friends and family sooner than was possible before.

Alongside Facebook, you have also collaborated with Unicef to develop new services based on Aura. What type of partners are you looking for exactly?

Partners must be trusted, so we will be careful who we invite to join Aura. Beyond trust, it is less about big brands, or particular industries, and more about identifying compelling ways we can help our mutual customers enrich their lives through their personal information.

We believe it is vital that customers see value in our partnerships, whether that is from providing them with peace of mind, cost savings or all sorts of rewards.

What was the biggest challenge you face in bringing Aura to market?

Those challenges still lie ahead, as Aura is currently a prototype and not available to customers yet.

We plan to roll Aura out to our largest markets over the next 12 months.

There has been a lot of focus on the fact that Aura will mean human jobs – particularly customer service roles – will disappear. What are your thoughts on this?

Companies thrive when their products are simple and intuitive to use, and meet the needs of customers.

Customers will be able to control all their Telefónica services just by talking to Aura, and this will avoid the need for many of the customer service calls we receive today.

This is a great thing for customers.

This also provides Telefónica businesses with new options.

We may reinvest the time saved in call centres to drive up customer satisfaction in customer service enquiries that Aura cannot cover, or they may decide to reinvest savings in other areas of the customer experience - e.g. in our stores, deploying networks, or developing innovative new services.

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