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Voice of digital consumer growing louder

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The voice of the digital consumer is growing by the day and service providers need to respond by aligning digital capabilities with operations, technology and strategy, writes WAYNE HULL of Accenture Digital.

The collective voice of today’s dynamic digital consumers is growing louder, compelling goods and services providers to respond with enhanced organisational agility across their entire businesses. This means connecting the dots throughout the business by aligning digital capabilities with operations, technology and strategy.

In South Africa and globally, digital disruption is reinventing consumer expectations. This is driven by factors such as “always on” connectivity, pervasive social media, the rapid rise of voice recognition and artificial intelligence, and increasingly interactive user experiences across the entire customer lifecycle as well as across all channels.

Consumers expect their experience to adapt whenever they engage physically, digitally and emotionally. Today, advanced computing techniques can harness expanding volumes of personal data – search, social, geo-tagged sensors, payments, shopping carts, speech – to create the magic behind new hyper-personalised experiences.

A 2017 Accenture Digital Consumer Survey of 26,000 consumers in 26 countries, including South Africa, revealed four key findings about today’s digital consumers.

Artificial intelligence

Firstly, artificial intelligence is playing a central role in consumers’ lives. Consumers habitually use AI-driven features such as digital voice assistants. An overwhelming 84% of the 14- to 17-year olds surveyed currently use or are interested in using the voice-enabled digital assistant in their smartphone and about one-third of consumers in every age group are interested in these features.

In addition, consumers are increasingly comfortable interacting with AI-enabled capabilities, with 52% of all consumers interacting with their service providers through live chats or mobile messaging apps on a monthly basis and 85% of those saying it feels like it is easier to get in touch through these methods. Three out of five South African respondents interact with their service providers in these ways, with 89% of these saying they are a better way of getting in touch.

Engaging experiences

Secondly, engaging experiences are spurring the demand for smartphones. After dropping to a five-year low of 48% globally in 2016, consumer purchase intent rebounded by 6% globally in this year’s survey. In South Africa, there is an even more dramatic increase in consumer purchase intent from 52% in 2016 to 63% in 2017. A combination of factors could be contributing to this, but new experiences enabled by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are central.

New features and improved functionality are key drivers for smartphone purchases, globally and in South Africa. In fact, “accessing the newest and most innovative features” rose by 10% globally and 8% in South Africa as a primary reason as to why consumers are planning to purchase a new smartphone next year.

Consistent with their interest in hyper-personalisation, consumers have shown strong enthusiasm for AR and VR-enabled games for smartphones.  They are also interested in a range of AR/VR applications beyond gaming.

Globally, these include learning new skills (34%), meeting virtually with remote friends/family (29%), getting localised information about places they are visiting (28%) and viewing 3D manuals 28%. The results differ somewhat for South African respondents, who are interested learning new skills (55%), visualising clothes (40%), viewing 3D manuals (39%) and getting localised information about places they are visiting (38%).

New access models

Thirdly, a potentially dramatic shift in how people are buying and accessing devices and services is imminent. Consumers have strong interest – globally 77% and in South Africa 83% – in new device acquisition models, such as leasing/renting and used phone purchasing. More than three-quarters of global consumers who plan to purchase a smartphone are open to other ways of accessing a new phone.

eSIM2 may also affect purchase cycles and carriers’ relations with consumers as the chip allows device owners to compare networks and select services at will, directly from the device.

Managing data

Fourthly, consumers want to be more engaged in managing their data. Despite successful efforts to increase data security, consumer confidence in the security of their personal data is eroding. When it comes to personalised services, top consumer concerns include the security of financial data (90% globally and 93% in South Africa) and identity theft.

Accenture’s survey shows that 87% of consumers globally and 94% of South African respondents believe it is important to be able to review and control their personal data online, but three quarters of these do not find it easy to manage their data. Consumers also indicate they are not sure about who to trust as service providers as those considered most trusted in the past have declined in consumer confidence. Trust in device manufacturers has however grown.

It is now critical for companies to find ways to maintain trust as consumers sort out who to trust and how to operate in a digital world that is increasingly dependent on their sharing of personal data.

Capturing dynamic digital consumers

As AI takes centre stage as a key enabler, hyper-personalised services that deliver on today’s dynamic digital consumers’ expectations will need to constantly adapt and evolve.

As consumers rapidly adapt to these heightened experiences, their intrigue with AR/VR-enabled functionality may pull device demand along – at least in the short term – although this may not always emerge in the form of brand new devices.

In addition, as new access models evolve, doors will open to new types of interaction with consumers and new ways of nurturing the customer relationship.

Amidst all this hyper-personalisation effort, transparency is critical. Personalisation is only relevant if it accurately assesses and meets customer needs and this is dependent on understanding the personal data shared by consumers. Transparency in how customer data is collected, used and shared will be mandatory to gaining consumer confidence, as will empowering them to maintain control of their own data.

* Wayne Hull, Managing Director and Head of Accenture Digital for South and Sub-Saharan 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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