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Chatbots change call centres

By EMMANUELLE SALON, Business Development Manager for Telcos in South Africa, at Wipro Limited

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The local contact centre industry is thriving and has seen substantial growth over the last four years, as South Africa became an enticing destination for offshore business.

Concurrently, telcos across the world are seeking to improve their customer experience and reduce operating costs, largely due to disruptive business models, ever-increasing competition and the rising digital wave.

This is forcing telcos to reinvent how their services are delivered and go beyond the traditional approach towards customer care and adopt more engaging and disruptive channels.

Digitising the customer care landscape will not only help telcos improve their online footprint, but also ensure they can slowly reduce human interactions and interventions needed to sustain such a model. This will improve customer experience and reduce operational costs.

However, contact centres face several challenges. When a telco must support more than 2 000 models of phones, modems and routers, the technical skills required of the customer support staff increase dramatically, as does the resultant average handle time.

Contact centres’ challenges remain high when trying to improve the desired customer experience across multiple channels as well as being operationally efficient and reducing costs, while developing agents’ skillsets.

In an increasingly complex, connected world, the contact centre becomes the interaction hub of the digital enterprise – responsible for support, interaction, education and data gathering. However, it will have to evolve to deal with more responsibilities and more complex issues.

The use of chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help address many of the biggest challenges that telcos currently face.

The industry is being impacted by digital revolution, with infrastructure coming under increasing strain as it supports more devices, connected cars, smart cities and the Internet of Things, all of which directly affects contact centres.

For contact centres, the challenge lies in that telecom networks are incredibly complicated, and inevitably, things can go array. When it does, people are quick to call up the customer care executives at the contact centre, who inevitably escalate issues to the management team, leaving customers frustrated. Hence, contact centres must be hyper-efficient; with every possible metric, output and deliverable enumerated, analysed and optimised.

As a result, the rise of AI and automation in contact centres has been embraced by telcos – typically by automating some simpler customer requests through chatbots and self-serve Interactive Voice Response technology (IVR).

For example, IVR technology (both audio and visual versions) saves customers and agents time by enabling things like choosing the right queue, ordering a call-back, or requesting to be reconnected with the same agent after a call drop.

Additionally, customer-facing chatbots can be used to provide instant answers and links to further information for frequently asked questions. This significantly speeds up service.

For smartphone callers, chatbots can be integrated with contact centre technology to manage smartphone communications that emulate the natural speech of a human agent. Not only does this simplify and streamline operations, it means average call waiting times and call handling times are reduced, giving agents more time to handle more complex queries.

New technologies, including Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems, Internet bots and AI tools will increase the range and complexity of care tasks that can be handled by machines.

Already, digital-native companies seamlessly mix chatbots and human-enabled chat seamlessly, so that customers often can’t tell whether they’re interacting with a machine or a human.

Despite the increased use of bots and AI, customers still want to interact with a human when they need help with difficult or high-value tasks. Research shows that more than 50% of customers want to interact with a human in case of a crisis, or when they need a solution to a problem with a product or service.

Skilled human agents are still the best guides for customers to navigate complex or highly-customised product and service offerings.

Those types of interactions are critical. They can be the decisive touch points that determine the customer’s perception of a telco. Moreover, these live interactions provide irreplaceable switch-sell and up-sell opportunities that might otherwise be lost.

Self-service, voice-bots and automation are not predicted to reduce overall agent headcount. If anything, this technology will be needed to support increased demand for contact centre interaction.

Today’s simplistic IVR systems are poised to be replaced by voicebots. However, as this happens, agents will handle an increasing load of more complex tasks.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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