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Robots in the right hands can be customer ally

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At the recent World Economic Forum there was much discussion about robots taking people’s jobs. However, this may not be the case as it will afford companies to up-skill their employees and place them in positions that cannot be handled by machines.

At the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, there was much talk about the power of automation and robotics, with business leaders and politicians excitedly discussing the incredible potential reimagining whole industries based on the use of artificial intelligence.

Some of the headlines which follow automation and artificial intelligence through the media do not always share the same excitement. There are understandable concerns that for every job done by a robot there will be a loss of jobs for real people; but it need not be the case. These technologies do not have to replace people. Of course those decisions will be up to individual employers but there would be a false economy in replacing people rather than redeploying them to other parts of the business, or helping them acquire new skills so they can add increased value.

Recent research from management consultants McKinsey & Company suggests just five per cent of occupations are at risk of being entirely automated because as automation transforms processes, people will find job opportunities to compliment the work machines do. More anecdotally, some businesses have countered suggestions they are replacing people with claims they are actually recruiting more people than ever as a result of the increased opportunities created by a business that is more efficient and productive.

While it is true that some applications of robotics, in industries such as manufacturing are doing jobs once performed by people, there is also a growing need for skilled technical staff that are able to manage, program and monitor robots and machine processes. There are career paths opening up all the time for people who can manage the process of automation and can help companies derive greater value and deliver improved services as a result.

This is true also in areas such as customer service. So-called ‘chatbots’, where a customer will have a conversation with a robot, by phone or text, are increasingly the frontline of customer service, handling specific queries, providing information and pointing customers in the right direction for further assistance. These chatbots can reduce customer waiting times and perform an important role in quickly handling routine questions. But they will not replace people altogether, even at the front line of customer service and certainly not at the backend.

There will still be people on the phone, on email and online for customers who do not get the resolution they were seeking or whose query cannot be easily automated. People will be required to deliver a tailored, individual level of service and will have the time and support needed to do so, because automation will be taking care of the high-volume, easily resolved enquiries.

Automation in the right hands is not about making people redundant, but rather letting them focus on delivering quality of service, while automation handles quantity. It should improve both customer experience and the experience of the people delivering it.

People will also still be required to manage the processes of customer service and ensure the technical management of chatbots is up-to-date on the latest offers, initiatives and policies. These roles will be more senior, opening up opportunities for career progression not always seen on the front line of customer service.

Whatever people’s reservations, the automation of customer service is coming and it is coming fast. Oracle research has revealed 80 per cent of businesses expect to be serving customers to some extent using chatbots by 2020.

However, the truly transformative power of automation is perhaps not in automating tasks which once might have been done by people, but rather automating tasks which simply could never be done by people, such as the complex analysis of huge volumes of data in fractions of seconds.

This will enable a further revolution within customer service.

Automating the simultaneous analysis of customer data, sales data, marketing campaign data and supply chain data will enable customer services teams to offer a far more personalised, premium experience to customers, tailoring special offers and recommendations just for them.

Sectors such as retail and banking are already exploring the potential of this revolution in customer service and momentum around its adoption is gathering all the time.

We should all be in no doubt that from now on, when we are engaging with a company, whether we are speaking with a human being who is offering a great service, or communicating with a company via their website, that is an interaction which will be increasingly be enabled and improved somewhere along the line by automation.

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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