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Social makes service visible

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Providing social customer service in today’s environment is no easy task. However, since social media platforms have evolved, customers expect responses in real-time and the responses are no longer private, writes MPUMI NHLAPO at T-Systems South Africa.

Providing social customer service and support in today’s multi-channel environment is by no means an easy task. Previously customers were forced to interact with organisations using a single medium (the telephone) that was private, one-on-one communication. Since the advent of social media platforms, even more communication platforms have been opened up and not only do customers expect to have their customer response queries addressed on these platforms in real-time, but these customer service interactions are now no longer private and have been moved squarely into the public domain.

Customer service now subject to public scrutiny

In light of the open nature of social media platforms, the impact of having the customer service business functionality moved into the open means that a company’s internal problem resolution process is now exposed to public scrutiny. In such a connected market it is no longer possible to compete solely on price, and customer experience has become the key differentiator and surest way to gain new and retain existing customers. By ensuring a seamless customer experience from purchase through to product support, an organisation can ensure that they remain relevant. This means being accessible to the customer at all stages throughout the life journey, and providing information and engaging on the platform of the customer’s choosing.

The reality is that most businesses don’t just decide to adopt social media and other digital communication platforms – they’re pushed into it. Ideally for organisations, they’d want issues to be dealt with quietly under the radar in a way that cannot negatively impact their reputation, but this is short-sighted. The reality is that consumers are discussing your brand, your product and your company, regardless of whether the company is on social media or not.

An opportunity for businesses to be responsive

Social media provides businesses with a valuable opportunity. By showing that they are skilful and responsive to addressing issues related to their business functionality, it has the impact of positioning their brand favourably.

Arguably this means that the impact of social media depends on how an organisation views social media and digital platforms.  If a business perceives social media as a threat to its reputation, this is indicative of the likelihood that they have not taken the time to fix the challenges they’re having internally. This in turn impacts their ability to service the customer. Smart organisations have seen social media as an opportunity to demonstrate how committed they are to providing relevant customer service, how open they are to communicating transparently, and in so doing they’re realising the benefits that come with being able to understand their customers better, and work with their customers towards service resolution.

Given that conversations are already happening online, how can organisations effectively monitor social media for conversations that are already taking place about them? The answer lies in technology, of course. There are already a number of smart social media and digital monitoring and listening tools – some of them open source and others proprietary solutions. Tools like these can be set to notify you immediately of any online mentions, giving you the opportunity to respond swiftly. Technology is also available to gauge the sentiment of online conversations, allowing timeous intervention that addresses the issue appropriately.

Shift from reactive to proactive customer service

Data gathered from social media and digital monitoring and analysis also has the potential to enable a transformation from a reactive customer service model, to a proactive one. From a business perspective, by engaging with customers on social media, organisations are able to spend more time getting to know and understand their customers, which forges a deeper engagement on a long-term basis as you earn their trust incrementally.

From a consumer perspective, if businesses use and analyse the data they’re producing on social media platforms, they’re able to access services and products that are more specific and relevant to their needs, and businesses get to know how to respond to their customers better. This in turn could lead to more proactive customer service and issues can be preempted before the customer is even aware that there are issues. Furthermore, the longer an organisation has been running social media analytics applications, the more data there is on which to build predictive capabilities that use trend analysis to identify patterns between data and common customer issues.

While there are still many changes that need to happen to existing customer service models before we can progress to a truly proactive social customer service model, it all starts with the acknowledgement that we truly live in the age of the customer. It is the “Internet of Me” as far as the customer is concerned, and all interactions need to be personalised and customised for each individual, according to their preference.

What will happen to businesses that fail to evolve their customer experience into a proactive and social one? By the time such a business realizes that they’ve made a mistake, it will already be too late.  Businesses that fail to keep up with moving social and digital trends lose customer relevance and they’ll be closing their front doors soon after.

* Mpumi Nhlapo, Head of Sales and Service Management, T-Systems South Africa

 

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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