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This is the tech that will change customer service

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Rather than obsessing about driving efficiencies, business leaders need to look at emerging technologies to find new revenue streams. IAN JACOBS of Forrester looks at five theologies set to change customer service.

As the age of digital business becomes pervasive, customer service professionals need to step up their planning. Technologies that seem futuristic now will become mainstream within five years. Moreover, completely new models of customer service, driven by new technologies, will require additional organisational models and ways of measuring their success – adding to the need for solid research and planning.

Forrester senior analyst serving application development and delivery professionals, Ian Jacobs, looks at five technologies set to transform customer care over the next five years.

Jacobs says that today’s digital reality has forever changed the way customers engage with companies. To illustrate, he points out how a customer of a large telecoms provider developed an automated bot which automatically tweeted the company as soon as his Internet connection dropped below agreed upon speeds.

Despite this new breed of customer, Forrester believes many companies are not prepared for a future where customers control the conversation.

“Emerging technologies proliferate through the consumer world well before they hit the enterprise, and yet only 16% of global business and technology decision-makers at firms that are prioritising improving customer experience are creating a dedicated user group for customer experience initiatives,” comments Jacobs in a new Forrester report: Plan Now for Customer Service in 2021.

According to Forrester, emerging technologies that can make a significant impact on the future of customer engagement and revenue generation include:

1. Two-way video allows customers and service staff to better engage

Despite the fact that the lower price of bandwidth and smartphone capabilities have brought video chat capabilities to an ever-greater portion of consumers, contact centres are not effectively making use of it. Those who are using video, also tend towards one-way video, which limits the benefits which they could be achieving through two-way video.

Two-way video allows the contact centre staff to see the troublesome router, fridge or radiator. Even the traditional service industries are making use of it, with a major global bank making use of two-way video along with co-browse facilities to help customers fill out complex applications.

2. Bridging the physical and digital worlds with augmented and virtual realities

The level of investment into technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is indicative that the technologies will have their day in the sun. As the cost of technology comes down, mainstream user adoption will increase.

“VR will allow customer service agents to project their presence into consumers’ worlds and be with them in their moments of need. There are already AR demos that show how consumers can take their mobile devices, hold them over an account statement, and have FAQs and account info show up right on their screens,” explains Jacobs in his report.

Although VR devices have a relatively low penetration rate at the moment, Jacobs says this will change.

“36% percent of US online adults are currently intrigued by the prospect of getting a wearable device; of that group, 25% would be interested in smart glasses. As adoption becomes more widespread, companies can create new experiences, such as an extension of the functionality of two-way video with step-by-step AR projections that walk consumers through technical repairs, whether for plumbing, printers, or pasta makers.”

3. Virtual assistants will continue the customer conversation

Improvements in speech recognition, natural language recognition and machine learning will lead to a new class of virtual assistants. Forrester says these developments will allow a conversational experience and, as the system watches agent-assisted interactions, it will learn what to expect and be in a position to supply answers on the fly.

Forrester does warn, however, that companies will need to carefully consider where and how they deploy virtual assistants, as well as how they escalate enquiries to agents without losing information already gained in the interaction.

4. Messaging apps will become the workhorse

Messaging apps have gone mainstream. Figures released from the messaging companies show that almost one in seven people on the planet make use of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger is not far behind and there are 700 million WeChat users per month. The need for in-app support is abundantly clear.

Embedding other channels such as virtual assistants and ticketing agents in the app offers organisations additional opportunities.

That said, companies will need to factor in the fact that messaging is an always-on, multiple engagement channel which will require companies to forecast volumes and schedule agents appropriately. Hand over between agents across shifts and based on requirement will also require some forethought before being rolled out.

5. Connected devices mean more relationship-driven services

ABI Research shows that by 2020 there will be more than 30 billion connected devices. The Internet of Things will transform companies from being product-based to being services-based. Airline engine builders are already selling their turbines by the flying hour rather than as depreciating asset, making use of in-flight data to optimise maintenance and maximise revenue.

This example clearly shows how brands can shift to lucrative subscription models. It also allows for companies to make use of multiple channels to engage, including AR and two-way video. However, this demands a relationship-centric approach for service and support.

“Custom care decision-makers with a focus on driving ever-greater cost efficiencies have been highly risk-averse and slow moving. But the change of pace inherent in the age of the customer will no longer allow contact centers to simply take cost out of the business. Emerging technologies can drive the types of customer service experiences that better cement customer loyalty as well as advance new revenue-generating opportunities,” Jacobs says.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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