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Social makes service visible

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Providing social customer service in today’s environment is no easy task. However, since social media platforms have evolved, customers expect responses in real-time and the responses are no longer private, writes MPUMI NHLAPO at T-Systems South Africa.

Providing social customer service and support in today’s multi-channel environment is by no means an easy task. Previously customers were forced to interact with organisations using a single medium (the telephone) that was private, one-on-one communication. Since the advent of social media platforms, even more communication platforms have been opened up and not only do customers expect to have their customer response queries addressed on these platforms in real-time, but these customer service interactions are now no longer private and have been moved squarely into the public domain.

Customer service now subject to public scrutiny

In light of the open nature of social media platforms, the impact of having the customer service business functionality moved into the open means that a company’s internal problem resolution process is now exposed to public scrutiny. In such a connected market it is no longer possible to compete solely on price, and customer experience has become the key differentiator and surest way to gain new and retain existing customers. By ensuring a seamless customer experience from purchase through to product support, an organisation can ensure that they remain relevant. This means being accessible to the customer at all stages throughout the life journey, and providing information and engaging on the platform of the customer’s choosing.

The reality is that most businesses don’t just decide to adopt social media and other digital communication platforms – they’re pushed into it. Ideally for organisations, they’d want issues to be dealt with quietly under the radar in a way that cannot negatively impact their reputation, but this is short-sighted. The reality is that consumers are discussing your brand, your product and your company, regardless of whether the company is on social media or not.

An opportunity for businesses to be responsive

Social media provides businesses with a valuable opportunity. By showing that they are skilful and responsive to addressing issues related to their business functionality, it has the impact of positioning their brand favourably.

Arguably this means that the impact of social media depends on how an organisation views social media and digital platforms.  If a business perceives social media as a threat to its reputation, this is indicative of the likelihood that they have not taken the time to fix the challenges they’re having internally. This in turn impacts their ability to service the customer. Smart organisations have seen social media as an opportunity to demonstrate how committed they are to providing relevant customer service, how open they are to communicating transparently, and in so doing they’re realising the benefits that come with being able to understand their customers better, and work with their customers towards service resolution.

Given that conversations are already happening online, how can organisations effectively monitor social media for conversations that are already taking place about them? The answer lies in technology, of course. There are already a number of smart social media and digital monitoring and listening tools – some of them open source and others proprietary solutions. Tools like these can be set to notify you immediately of any online mentions, giving you the opportunity to respond swiftly. Technology is also available to gauge the sentiment of online conversations, allowing timeous intervention that addresses the issue appropriately.

Shift from reactive to proactive customer service

Data gathered from social media and digital monitoring and analysis also has the potential to enable a transformation from a reactive customer service model, to a proactive one. From a business perspective, by engaging with customers on social media, organisations are able to spend more time getting to know and understand their customers, which forges a deeper engagement on a long-term basis as you earn their trust incrementally.

From a consumer perspective, if businesses use and analyse the data they’re producing on social media platforms, they’re able to access services and products that are more specific and relevant to their needs, and businesses get to know how to respond to their customers better. This in turn could lead to more proactive customer service and issues can be preempted before the customer is even aware that there are issues. Furthermore, the longer an organisation has been running social media analytics applications, the more data there is on which to build predictive capabilities that use trend analysis to identify patterns between data and common customer issues.

While there are still many changes that need to happen to existing customer service models before we can progress to a truly proactive social customer service model, it all starts with the acknowledgement that we truly live in the age of the customer. It is the “Internet of Me” as far as the customer is concerned, and all interactions need to be personalised and customised for each individual, according to their preference.

What will happen to businesses that fail to evolve their customer experience into a proactive and social one? By the time such a business realizes that they’ve made a mistake, it will already be too late.  Businesses that fail to keep up with moving social and digital trends lose customer relevance and they’ll be closing their front doors soon after.

* Mpumi Nhlapo, Head of Sales and Service Management, T-Systems South Africa

 

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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