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This is the tech that will change customer service

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Rather than obsessing about driving efficiencies, business leaders need to look at emerging technologies to find new revenue streams. IAN JACOBS of Forrester looks at five theologies set to change customer service.

As the age of digital business becomes pervasive, customer service professionals need to step up their planning. Technologies that seem futuristic now will become mainstream within five years. Moreover, completely new models of customer service, driven by new technologies, will require additional organisational models and ways of measuring their success – adding to the need for solid research and planning.

Forrester senior analyst serving application development and delivery professionals, Ian Jacobs, looks at five technologies set to transform customer care over the next five years.

Jacobs says that today’s digital reality has forever changed the way customers engage with companies. To illustrate, he points out how a customer of a large telecoms provider developed an automated bot which automatically tweeted the company as soon as his Internet connection dropped below agreed upon speeds.

Despite this new breed of customer, Forrester believes many companies are not prepared for a future where customers control the conversation.

“Emerging technologies proliferate through the consumer world well before they hit the enterprise, and yet only 16% of global business and technology decision-makers at firms that are prioritising improving customer experience are creating a dedicated user group for customer experience initiatives,” comments Jacobs in a new Forrester report: Plan Now for Customer Service in 2021.

According to Forrester, emerging technologies that can make a significant impact on the future of customer engagement and revenue generation include:

1. Two-way video allows customers and service staff to better engage

Despite the fact that the lower price of bandwidth and smartphone capabilities have brought video chat capabilities to an ever-greater portion of consumers, contact centres are not effectively making use of it. Those who are using video, also tend towards one-way video, which limits the benefits which they could be achieving through two-way video.

Two-way video allows the contact centre staff to see the troublesome router, fridge or radiator. Even the traditional service industries are making use of it, with a major global bank making use of two-way video along with co-browse facilities to help customers fill out complex applications.

2. Bridging the physical and digital worlds with augmented and virtual realities

The level of investment into technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is indicative that the technologies will have their day in the sun. As the cost of technology comes down, mainstream user adoption will increase.

“VR will allow customer service agents to project their presence into consumers’ worlds and be with them in their moments of need. There are already AR demos that show how consumers can take their mobile devices, hold them over an account statement, and have FAQs and account info show up right on their screens,” explains Jacobs in his report.

Although VR devices have a relatively low penetration rate at the moment, Jacobs says this will change.

“36% percent of US online adults are currently intrigued by the prospect of getting a wearable device; of that group, 25% would be interested in smart glasses. As adoption becomes more widespread, companies can create new experiences, such as an extension of the functionality of two-way video with step-by-step AR projections that walk consumers through technical repairs, whether for plumbing, printers, or pasta makers.”

3. Virtual assistants will continue the customer conversation

Improvements in speech recognition, natural language recognition and machine learning will lead to a new class of virtual assistants. Forrester says these developments will allow a conversational experience and, as the system watches agent-assisted interactions, it will learn what to expect and be in a position to supply answers on the fly.

Forrester does warn, however, that companies will need to carefully consider where and how they deploy virtual assistants, as well as how they escalate enquiries to agents without losing information already gained in the interaction.

4. Messaging apps will become the workhorse

Messaging apps have gone mainstream. Figures released from the messaging companies show that almost one in seven people on the planet make use of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger is not far behind and there are 700 million WeChat users per month. The need for in-app support is abundantly clear.

Embedding other channels such as virtual assistants and ticketing agents in the app offers organisations additional opportunities.

That said, companies will need to factor in the fact that messaging is an always-on, multiple engagement channel which will require companies to forecast volumes and schedule agents appropriately. Hand over between agents across shifts and based on requirement will also require some forethought before being rolled out.

5. Connected devices mean more relationship-driven services

ABI Research shows that by 2020 there will be more than 30 billion connected devices. The Internet of Things will transform companies from being product-based to being services-based. Airline engine builders are already selling their turbines by the flying hour rather than as depreciating asset, making use of in-flight data to optimise maintenance and maximise revenue.

This example clearly shows how brands can shift to lucrative subscription models. It also allows for companies to make use of multiple channels to engage, including AR and two-way video. However, this demands a relationship-centric approach for service and support.

“Custom care decision-makers with a focus on driving ever-greater cost efficiencies have been highly risk-averse and slow moving. But the change of pace inherent in the age of the customer will no longer allow contact centers to simply take cost out of the business. Emerging technologies can drive the types of customer service experiences that better cement customer loyalty as well as advance new revenue-generating opportunities,” Jacobs says.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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