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Mobile-first? Customer is mobile-always

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As smartphones reach saturation point in developing markets and make up a significant part of phone ownership in developing nations, customers are demanding an entirely different way of engaging with brands, writes NIRMAL NAIR of Clickatell.

The seismic shift towards mobile requires an equally bold response from organizations which hope to remain relevant.

Most companies spend time examining how younger customers are communicating. But the future-forward company should also be looking further down the line when planning on how to engage with their customers.

According to the 2016 Meeker report, the newly-dubbed Generation Z (ages 1-20) are bringing their new communications demands to the table. Generation Z is comfortable with as many as five concurrent screens, as opposed to so-called Millennials, who she says opts for two.

It’s clear each generation is spending more and more time on their mobile phone. Finding ways to allow for customer engagement over this medium should, therefore, be the number one priority for companies who hope to survive the next decade.

While South Africa is still suffering a digital divide, the growth rate in mobile internet usage is heartening.

According to World Wide Worx research, 14-million South Africans are using Facebook, with 12-million using it on their phones.

The majority  of South Africa’s adult population owns a phone, with smartphones taking the lion’s share – more than 28-million are now in use in this country.

Instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and BBM remain among the most popular internet activity for mobile users, driven largely by the youth, who tend to have higher usage, but remaining consistently high throughout all age groups.

So, if our customers are so reliant on their mobile phones – not only to access information, but as their primary means of communication – and, we can see that this will only grow over time as Generation Z become active consumers – should organisations not have already moved on from designing for mobile-first as a means to engage with their customer?

It seems abundantly clear that the next step in the evolution of communications should be a bold move towards mobile-always.

Companies need to respond to mobile moments

Mobile moments are a hot topic amongst marketers and technology heads alike. Research house Forrester has defined mobile moments as “points in time and space when people pull out their devices to get what they want in an immediate context”. And the company is advising clients that they are hugely important.

The complexity of ensuring your customer is able to access what they are looking for on their mobile phones is far bigger than most companies believe.

Many organisations have allowed their customers to use mobile chat facilities as a primary means of engagement. And this is a useful first step. However, while chat facilities may already deliver faster service results from contact centres (agents can manage at least 5 or 6 simultaneous chat sessions), it still misses the real tech opportunities which are available.

In October this year, Gartner’s Darryl Plummer predicted that, by 2020, the average person will have more daily conversations with bots than with their significant other. He said that with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and other conversational interfaces, we are more likely to interact with a bot and not even know it, than ever before.

The company also sees AI and bots taking over a significant amount of the day-to-day customer queries which face call centres.

Call centres have already started to adopt this technology to provide better customer service, increase call volumes and control costs. They see bots taking on more complex tasks, receiving inputs from more sources and at a higher rate than a human team could.

The third piece of the puzzle lies in workflow

With mobile chat, smart machine, AI and bot interventions, companies are well underway to reaching the goal of real customer delight. However, when workflow cards are added to the offering, we truly hit the efficiency trifecta.

So much of our business offerings could be handled by applications which automate and streamline day-to-day transactions. Enabling these in the chat stream puts the customer in control of how they engage with a company. Examples of transactions would include appointments, invoicing, selecting products or features, cost estimations, downloading collateral and completing a purchase.

By combining the efficiencies offered by chat facilities, smart machines, AI and bots, along with the efficacy of automating workflow into the core of the offering, companies can truly embrace the opportunity of mobile moments – a service offering which is designed with the needs of the customer first. More importantly, a holistic offering which has been crafted with a mobile-always ethos ensures organisations are taking care of immediate customer needs as well as future-proofing their offerings as new generations join the customer ranks.

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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