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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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Projection tech transforms retail

By TIMOTHY WILSON, visual imaging business account manager at Epson South Africa

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Display designs, such as those found in retail stores, are no longer confined to static visuals on pull-up banners, 2D print and posters. The increasingly popular use of projection technology has ushered in new and exciting ways to create immersive displays using rich media and high-quality visual content to go beyond the four walls of traditional marketing.

In the past, projectors were lamp-based and prone to failure when used in a harsh environment, such as a retail store. Today, newly introduced laser projection technology has unlocked a range of capabilities.

Transforming the way brands engage with audiences

Creative techniques such as projection mapping, which can be described as the projection of video, animation and other colourful displays onto 3D surfaces, have completely transformed the way brands engage with audiences and can live in retail spaces, concert halls and even sports stadiums.

Projection mapping offers venues wide-spread creativity in using lighting in small or large environments, as was the case with Epson’s showstopping kinetic portal, which implemented projection mapping on a 360 degree vortex at the largest AV and systems integration show in the world – Integrated Systems Europe 2019. Driven by a new, affordable generation of projectors, mapping not only covers flat walls and traditional projections screens but also irregular shapes, objects, and even entire building façades.

When projecting on a larger scale, such as at events and music concerts, the process of visually combining several projectors to display one single seamless image might sound simple enough in principle but can prove to be a challenging task in reality. To overcome this challenge, experiential marketers are adopting the use of image edge blending, which refers to the process of stacking multiple projectors to create a single overlapped projection that appears continuous and clear.

It’s due to these advancements that displays in retail and events no longer pivot just on aesthetic appeal but can now deliver immersive consumer experiences that drive engagement and increase foot traffic. This is starting to drastically change the way that retailers, events and even restaurants host, engage, entertain and communicate with their audiences.

Projection is driving growth in experiential marketing

Consumer interest in the transition towards projection has seen this technology take centre stage at leading retailers such as Mall of Africa, events by brands such as ABSA and restaurants like Saint, transforming their environments into immersive spaces through projection that displays captivating imagery and video.

Saint restaurant in Sandton has pushed the boundaries of branding and displays, transforming all surfaces into a visual delight. Patrons entering the restaurant are greeted by a visual experience within a dome, featuring a series of moving, constantly changing artworks – such as a starry night sky or a replica of the Sistine Chapel – projected onto walls and the ceiling.

In fact, EventTrack research, which showcases the current state of marketing around the globe, highlights the continuous growth of event and experiential marketing. It notes that high-quality projection technology, more specifically its ability to emit stunning visual experiences, has grown in popularity to become the go-to tool for event organisers and retailers looking to captivate and engage with consumers.

The future of projection technology

Projection technology has proven to be an outstanding, much more cost-effective and reliable form of marketing collateral – setting an entirely new standard for high-resolution projection.

Sandton City recently embraced this market-leading technology with the installation of a virtual aquarium in its Centre Court. This installation centred on creating a 3D mapping concept that enabled shoppers to select an undersea creature from a touchpad to swim across digitised hoarding.

With capabilities to meet the demands of large-scale projection and the ability to effectively transform the way brands remain visible at shopping malls, restaurants and retail spaces – the unprecedented imaging power of projection technology has set a considerably high bar when it comes to retail and event displays. 

Epson, which is not only pioneering imaging technology and innovative projection solutions, is also the market leader when it comes to high lumen laser projection, having recently announced its 30,000 lumens laser projector (EB-L30000U) which will officially launch in 2020. This high-end installation laser projector, complete with 4K enhancement, is aimed at rental and staging companies, hospitality markets and visitor attractions, which is yet another progressive step towards transforming the way marketers engage with their consumers in the 21st century. 

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GoFundMe hits R9bn in donations for people and causes

The world’s largest social fundraising platform has announced that Its community has made more than 120-million donations

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GoFundMe this week released its annual Year in Giving report, revealing that its community has donated more than 120-million times, raising over $9-billion for people, causes, and organisations since the company’s founding in 2010.

In a letter to the GoFundMe community, CEO Rob Solomon emphasised how GoFundMe witnesses not only the good in people worldwide, but their generosity and their action every day.

“As we enter a new decade, GoFundMe is committed to spreading compassion and empathy through our platform,” said Solomon in the letter. “Together, we can bring more good into the world and unlock the power of global giving.”

The GoFundMe giving community continues to grow with both repeat donors and new donors. In fact, nearly 60% of donors were new this year. After someone makes a donation, they continue to engage with the community and give to multiple causes. In fact, one passionate individual donated 293 times to 234 different fundraisers in this past year alone. Donations are made every second, ranging from $5 to $50,000. This year, more than 40% of donations were under $50.

GoFundMe continues to be a mirror of current events across the globe. This year, young changemakers started the Fridays for Futuremovement to fight climate change, which led to a 60% increase in fundraiser descriptions mentioning ‘climate change’. Additionally, the community rallied together to support one another during natural disasters like Hurricane Dorian and the California wildfires, where thousands of fundraisers were started to help those in need.

The report includes a snapshot of giving trends from the year based on global GoFundMe data. It also includes company milestones from 2019, such as launching the company’s non-profit and advocacy arm, GoFundMe.org, and introducing GoFundMe Charity, which provides enterprise software with no subscription fees or contracts to charities of every size.

Highlights from GoFundMe’s 2019 Year in Giving report include:

  • Global giving trends and data
  • Top 10 most generous countries
  • Top 10 most generous U.S. states and cities
  • Biggest moments in 2019

To view the entire report, visit: www.gofundme.com/2019

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