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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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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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