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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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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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