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How far is the future?

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The customer service environment is being shaped be technologies like AI, machine learning and augmented reality, but how long will it take for this to become mainstream? MICHELLE OSMOND from 1Stream, sheds some light.

In the movie Big Hero 6, the inflatable Baymax robot is a healthcare companion who can diagnose and suggest treatment based on the 10,000 medical procedures he has learnt, all within a two-second body scan. So, how far off are we from using such technology for customer service?

We are in fact already using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning on a daily basis when we use the Uber app to call for a taxi, or when Netflix suggests a series we may enjoy based on our viewing habits.

In the contact centre environment, this technology is being used to automate certain functions to enhance the customer experience, giving rise to the use of customer-facing chatbots and digital assistants that provide an initial layer of support that is accessible 24/7. The customer speaks to a machine and not a human agent.

Instead of going through long menus that force users to choose inadequate options and repeat their queries at every step, the chatbot uses automatic speech recognition (transcription) and text-to-speech (automated responses), to handle the initial contact and deal with basic interactions.

Intelligent routing

A chatbot must be able to correctly identify the intentions of the customer, and will have hundreds of possible scenarios available to it. It knows the entities involved, and what kind of immediate help can be provided. Ongoing training of the chatbot enables it to expand the range of interactions it can manage. It must also be able to detect the emotional state of the customer, and based on the interaction, transfer the call to a human representative if necessary.

For instance, a chatbot can handle a basic interaction such as an airport shuttle booking, but it will transfer the call to a human agent if there is a query it cannot handle, such as whether or not the shuttle will be able to accommodate a bicycle.

Machine learning

All the information and context from the contact is passed on to the human agent in order to swiftly answer the query and finalise the booking, and the chatbot will stay on the call to learn the correct response for future reference. This is machine learning being used to expand the chatbot’s knowledge.

Social media integration

When the power of AI and machine learning is combined with the integration of the contact centre function with social media, a powerful customer engagement is possible.

When a customer’s luggage does not arrive and they are frustrated, they may turn to the travel company’s Facebook Messenger to complain. A messenger bot will be able to respond with a view of the full history of the customer journey. The chatbot will be able to detect the tone and urgency of this interaction and will transfer it to a human agent if they are unable to resolve the query effectively.

Augmented Reality

These technologies combine and enable us to link all the data we have for customers and make it available to both virtual and human agents. By creating this dialogue between the customer, the human agent, and the chatbot, agents have the ability to access useful data previously inaccessible in real-time, bringing Augmented Reality to the heart of the contact centre.

The contact centre agent of the future

This shift to integration of all channels and the use of chatbots will not make agents redundant, but rather allow them to focus on developing their communication skills and manage the more nuanced interactions that chatbots are not able to cope with. Contact centre agents will become super agents, with sophisticated social interaction and people management skills.

This will make for a better customer experience with swifter responses on whichever channel suits that particular customer best.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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