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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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As selfie cameras rise, so must selfie etiquette

Selfies were once a sign of narcissism or self-obsession. Now they are the new normal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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You can blame Oxford Dictionaries for making the “selfie” respectable. After all, being named Word of the Year, as it was in 2013, does tend to soften some of the self-consciousness in this most self-conscious of actions.

Once seen as a symbol of narcissism and self-obsession, it is now the new normal, to the extent that most smartphones are sold on the basis of the front camera. Or, as that feature is now almost universally named by manufacturers, the “selfie camera”.

I was one of the hold-outs, having a near-allergy to the selfie. I still resist, but succumb more often than I would like. The reason for continued resistance is that it remains a big leap from the word becoming respectable to the action itself shedding its narcissistic image. 

For most, it’s already happened, and for that you can blame Ellen DeGeneres. She  choreographed the most famous group selfie yet at the 2014 Oscars, when she roped a bunch of actors into a group selfie, using the then-new Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. Her tweet of the photo became what was then the most retweeted posting ever on Twitter, and was estimated to have been worth a million dollars in marketing value to Samsung.

Ironically, it was Samsung’s up-and-coming challenger, Huawei, that came up with a new word for this type of selfie: the “groufie”. Thanks to an 8 Megapixel front camera on the new Huawei Ascend P7 camera that year which took the highest quality selfies – and groufies – possible on a smartphone at the time.

It didn’t end there, and selfies and groufies have morphed into variations like selfscapes (selfie in a landscape), skyfies (selfies from the air, using remote controlled devices) and jerkies (selfies to make an idiot out of yourself). I invented all of those on the fly, so it’s easy to imagine a new word emerging for every type of selfie.

Continue reading about selfie improvements through the years.

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Mickey’s 90th for SA

Disney Africa announced the local launch of the Mickey the True Original campaign, joining the global festivities honouring 9 decades of Mickey Mouse, his heritage, personality and status as a pop-culture icon.

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As 18 November 2018 marks 90 years since his first appearance in Steamboat Willie in November 1928, a series of world-wide celebrations will be taking place this year and South Africa is no different.

The campaign will come to life with engaging content and events that embrace Mickey’s impact on the past, present and future. The local festivities kick off in earnest this month, leading up to Mickey’s 90th anniversary on 18 November 2018 and beyond:

  • An exclusive local design project where ten highly talented South African artists will apply their own inspiration and artistic interpretation on 6-foot Mickey Mouse statues.
  • Once revealed to the public, the statues will form part of the Mickey the True Original South African Exhibition, inspired by Mickey’s status as a ‘true original’ and his global impact on popular culture. The exhibition will travel to 3 cities and delight fans and families alike as they journey with Mickey over the years. Featuring 4 sections highlighting Mickey’s innovation, his evolution, influence on fashion and also pop culture, the exhibition is in collaboration with Samsung and Edgars, and will visit:

o   Sandton City, Centre Court: 28 September – 14 October

o   Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Expo Explore Court: 19 October – 11 November

o   Canal Walk Shopping Centre. Centre Court: 16 November – 26 November

  • Samsung continues their collaboration with Disney as they honour Mickey’s 90th anniversary nationally at all Samsung and Edgars Stores. Entitled Unlocking the Imagination, fans are encouraged to visit these stores, take a selfie with a giant Mickey plush toy using their Samsung Galaxy Note9 and stand a chance to win not only a giant Mickey plush, but also an international family trip. Visit www.Samsung.com for more information
  • Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, a two-hour prime-time special, will be screened on M-Net 101 later this year. The elegant affair will feature star-studded musical performances, moving tributes and never-before-seen short films. Superstars from music, film and television will join the birthday fun for the internationally beloved character.
  • In addition, look out for special programming on Mickey’s birthday (18 November) across Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303), Disney XD (DStv, Channel 304) and Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309).
  • In retailers, Edgars will be stocking a complete collection of trendy fashion, accessories and footwear for the whole family, inspired entirely by Mickey Mouse.
  • Mickey will be the central theme of an in-store campaign nationwide this November and December, with brand new products, apparel, toys, as well as titles from Disney Publishing Worldwide, including books, arts & crafts and comics
  • Discovery Vitality and Disney are celebrating healthy, happy families this festive season by offering helpful and exciting tips and tricks on how to eat nutritious, yet delicious, foods, all inspired by Mickey. There’s also a trip to Disneyland Paris up for grabs. Log on to www.discovery.co.za/vitality for information.
  • And much more – check the press for updates

“Binding generations together more than any other animated character, Mickey Mouse is the “True Original” who reminds people of all ages of the benefits of laughter, optimism and hope,” says Christine Service, Senior Vice President and Country Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “With his universal appeal and ability to emotionally connect with generations all over the world, no other character quite occupies a similar space in the hearts and minds of a global fan base and we are thrilled to be sharing these local festivities.”

Mickey’s birthday is celebrated in honour of the release of his first theatrical film, Steamboat Willie, on 18th November 1928, at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Since then, he has starred in more than 100 cartoons and can currently be seen on Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303) in the Mickey Mouse cartoon series and on Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309) in Mickey and the Roadster Racers.

South African fans are encouraged to share their Mickey Mouse moments on social media using the hashtag#Mickey90Africa.

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