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This is the tech that will change customer service

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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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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