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VR lifts brands above crowd

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Telecoms companies have struggled to build an ongoing relationship with their customers, but that could be set to change with the emergence of technologies for interaction – like VR, writes MARK DE GROOT, Marketing Director EMEA – Digital Customer Experience.

Unfortunately for telecoms companies, there are only a handful of times when they are front of mind for their customers – when their core service is delivering a poor user experience (especially when friends on other networks have full reception or 4G in the same spot), when their operator is offering deals or promotions, when they receive a high monthly bill or when they are coming to the end of their contract and can trade up to the latest state-of-the-art handset.

These interactions all have something in common – they provide moments for reflection on whether or not the users are getting a good deal from their current operator, and whether there’s a better deal on offer elsewhere.

Traditionally, telecoms companies have struggled to build an ongoing relationship with their customers, but all that could be set to change with the emergence of new technologies and platforms for interaction – like VR to delight and excite customers and AI or chatbots to resolve issues quickly and smoothly.

Indeed, Oracle research  found that telecoms companies want to take advantage of these technologies as quickly as possible. By 2020, 80 percent will use technologies like VR, chatbots and mobile apps in their interactions with customers. Indeed more than a third (34 percent) are already using chatbots to some extent.

Expanding customer engagement

In general, telecoms companies have it harder than other industries when it comes to building strong relationships with customers. Most of us only hear from our provider when they are trying to upsell us additional contracts or when our contract is up for renewal. Opportunities for contact on a more regular basis are limited, which is why some operators put energy into ongoing offers and deals only available to their customers such as O2 Priority Moments in the UK or Vodafone’s entertainment bundles with Spotify, Sky Sports and NOW TV.

The bottom line across all customer interactions and regardless of what technologies are being used, is that telecoms operators need to focus on improving the ongoing relationship they have with individual customers.

Grabbing attention

Technologies like AI and VR clearly open new avenues in the scramble for customers’ attention. Telecoms companies are absolutely right to want to use these technologies, and I personally can’t wait for my network provider to start using VR to create immersive entertainment experiences. Just imagine witnessing in a live gig or sporting event through your smartphone and a VR headset.

With the likes of O2 sponsoring music venues and EE partnering with Wembley stadium, it seems some operators are already well placed to provide this kind of experience for customers.

Or how about a chatbot that provides a fast and accurate way to resolve issues? Not only will this be a benefit for customers, but it will also mean customer service staff can be freed up to work on more complex problems customers may be having.

But all the bright, shiny, new technology in the world won’t help a company engage with its customers unless that technology is able to maximise the insights gained from customer data.  If services enabled by new technology aren’t informed by customer data, they could potentially frustrate customers rather than delight them.

Overcoming the data mismatch

While telcos might collect copious amounts of information about their customers, Oracle research suggests they don’t always make best use of it. Only 37 percent regularly look at customer data to gain a better understanding of their audience. Yet 54 percent said they have a deep understanding of customer behavior and personalize their approach to match individual needs.

There’s a clear mismatch, and it points to the need for telcos to look again at how they handle customer data, and at what data they use.

For example, we found that 61 percent of telcos don’t include social or CRM data in their customer analytics. Yet the savviest companies understand that bringing together marketing, sales and service functions ensures that customers have a positive journey.

It is the data that’s the difference between launching a great VR-enabled customer experience and a poor one, and between a chatbot that can answer specific questions with a clear understanding of my account history and previous preferences, and one that can’t.

If telcos can get to grips with their customer data, they can use emerging technologies to take the relationship they have with customers to a whole new level.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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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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