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Take data toll-free

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Many businesses are adopting a data toll-free approach, where consumers can access a company’s website without having to pay for any data usage, writes ECKART ZOLLNER, Head of Business Development at Jasco Group.

A recent emerging global trend that is disrupting traditional data payment responsibility, is that of businesses offering their consumers free online access to their websites or other online platforms. Usually, consumers who wish to access a business’s online services, particularly via mobile channels, need to have enough data to do so – or they simply don’t go online at all. This has incited many businesses and service providers in South Africa to begin offering free access to their sites regardless of whether the consumer has any data left or not – but who covers the data costs?

The concept of offering toll free access to customer service channels isn’t a new one. Toll-free numbers that enable consumers to call businesses, at no charge to themselves, are still in effect today for both customer care and the selling of services and products. Today’s consumer, however, is more likely to access a business’s services, products or customer care centre via the Internet than over the telephone, meaning that businesses have had to change the way they offer their toll-free services to their market, shifting the same concept to an online platform.

At what price?

Data charges for accessing these “toll-free” platforms are invariably covered by the businesses who own the platforms, or websites. A business wishing to provide their consumers with free access to their sites – data or not – strikes up an agreement with one or many network operators which allows them to cover the charges for anyone who accesses their online site or platform. The charges that the person accessing the site would usually incur simply gets redirected to the business site owner.

Businesses offering this service can end up with hefty data bills, particularly for high traffic sites, however the benefits more than make up for the costs. Although there is the risk of incurring data charges which don’t result in sales, offering free access to their online portals means that businesses are able to effectively remove almost any barrier for consumers – potential and existing – to access their products and services. This translates directly into more site visits which means more sales and, ultimately, increased profits.

The disruptor differentiator

Providing free access to online portals also enables a business to stand out from its competition. It differentiates the business from others of its kind, and consumers are more likely to visit their site, free of charge, than those sites which require that they use their own data. Consumers see the perceived value of this service and are able to immediately feel the tangible effects thereof. They can “window shop” at no cost to themselves, which increases the possibility of impulse buying and serves to heighten the reputation of the business in their eyes. It’s a definite brand activator.

Despite the incurred data charges, businesses offering this service could actually end up saving costs. Businesses could shift most of their operations online and do away with physical, brick-and-mortar premises. This means fewer physical shops or offices, fewer employees and less need for infrastructure, all of which drag heavily at the bottom line.

Finally, businesses are able to tap into heretofore untouched markets. Consumers who would ordinarily have to travel for kilometres can access products and services at their fingertips – for free! Consumers who tend to use up all of their data before their month is up can still access platforms without worrying about the data charges. Suddenly, a business’s customer base can expand radically.

Integration is key

Any business who wishes to offer toll-free access to their sites and online platforms firstly needs a mobile commerce platform which will enable this functionality. Their platform must be able to integrate with their current operational systems, software, billing platforms and even customer relationship management systems.

Integration is critical to this process, to ensure full functionality and service delivery. A business would also need to engage with one or more network providers to ensure the charges for accessing their site, or specific portions of their site, are redirected to themselves and not to their customers.

Paving the way

Toll-free online access is the tip of the iceberg for similar services aimed at making it easier for consumers to access and buy products and services online. There are many other disruptive services starting to emerge in South Africa to simplify the buying process and widen the customer base. For example, companies that offer cardless purchasing, where consumers who don’t have access to credit or debit cards are able to use a ‘middle man’ platform to pay for products and services – consumers “buy” credit from a third-party provider, such as a mobile money service provider, who then pays the supplier for them.

It’s a short hop and a skip to a world of Internet shopping in which consumers are unencumbered by traditional shopper problems such as lack of accessibility or lack of a bank account, and South African businesses are acting quickly to be a part of it.

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Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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