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Help your customers help themselves

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Setting up a self-service portal to enable your customers to help themselves is only half the job done. This is according to KEVIN MELTZER, Business Development Director at Consology, who believes that once a company’s self-service portal is up and running, the company still needs to advertise it, advise its customers on how to use it and be there to assist them should anything go wrong.

Once you have rolled out a Self-Service web portal, your job of getting your customers to make the switch to the lower cost electronic platform is only just beginning. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will go to the online Self-Service portal just because you built it – you have to let them know it exists and give them good reasons to use it.

Adoption marketing, assisted service and incentives are among the strategies you can use to entice customers to switch from channels such as the phone or the branch office to the Web. Let’s consider each of them in turn:

Adoption Marketing

Many organisations fail to make customers aware that Self-Service options exist and how best to use them. Adoption marketing is critical. You should market a new Self-Service platform just as you would market a new product or service and let customers know how it will benefit them.

You could, for example, send mailers to your clients by post or email to let them know about your Self-Service platform. Your monthly billing run could be the ideal opportunity to do so – simply add a flyer or a note about your Self-Service offering into the envelope each month. Online ads are also a great way of letting customers who are already using the Web know that they could be dealing with you online rather than through your call centre or stores. Call centre voice prompts are very effective for informing people what they could be doing online while on hold for a call centre agent to respond to their query.

Assisted Service

You need a change management programme in place to encourage customers to switch away from face to face and telephonic interactions towards using Self-Service systems. Many clients might be intimidated by Self-Service and may need some hand-holding until they become used to the system.

Think of this real-world example: South African cinemas had staff on hand for months to help patrons buy their tickets after they installed Self-Service kiosks. As a result, many customers quickly became comfortable with the system and now buy from kiosks rather than the counter.

You must have some form of support in place for customers who are trying to use your system: dedicated call centre agents to talk them through the processes, detailed FAQs on your Website, or employees at your store to demo Self-Service to customers.

If your customers battle to use Self-Service after they’ve been thrown in the deep end with no help, they’ll quickly go back to using your physical branches or your call centre instead.

Incentives

Younger and more tech-savvy customers might embrace Self-Service because they understand immediately that it’s convenient and saves them time, but many customers may be reluctant to make the switch. Incentives such as lower transaction fees, discounted pricing or loyalty points can be used to entice them to use your lower cost channels instead of picking up the phone to make a routine query.

Internet banking in South Africa has experienced rapid uptake as the incentive of lower transaction costs has become more apparent to the end users. Likewise ATMs experienced a surge in usage as soon as the banks starting charging more for withdrawing cash in a branch than using the ATM service.

Closing words

Companies that want to drive the maximum return on investment from their customer Self-Service systems must be ready to educate customers about the Web portal and to support them as they change habits established over the years. The success of a Self-Service project depends as much on your success in persuading customers to change their behaviour as it does on your technology.

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper

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Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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