by Vinay Bansal
Telecommunications operators are generally very large enterprises, serving millions of retail consumers and thousands of enterprise / corporate clients. The sheer size of the customer base can make it very difficult to provide exceptional customer experiences for every individual.
Telco’s also operate in a very commoditised space – where the lion’s share of their business is in providing voice and data services to consumers, as well as enterprise connectivity and hosting services to corporate clients.
Any new technology innovation, marketing campaign or bolted-on value-adding services can easily be replicated by other industry players, thereby, providing a short-term first mover advantage at best. This means that the only source of sustainable competitive advantage is to be found in the area of customer service.
Customer experience will be absolutely pivotal to the success of any telco in the future.
The competitive landscape is intensifying, as hyperscale web services companies and over-the-top voice and chat players start encroaching on traditional telco ground, and as operators grapple with new frontiers like 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
With this in mind, we believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a crucial role in helping Telcos to provide excellent, personalised customer service ‘at scale’.
AI has captured the attention of telco execs around the world, as they start to acknowledge its potential in a number of areas of their business – from network monitoring and predictive maintenance to cybersecurity and fraud detection.
The biggest area of ‘AI opportunity’ however, is in enhancing customer experience: bringing together customer behaviour history, sentiment analysis, natural language processing, linguistic and statistical algorithms, ultimately helping in resolving queries and providing useful information to customers in real-time.
Despite what some may think, AI in customer experience extends far deeper than merely providing a ‘chatbot’ style interface on the surface. The true value is only achieved when AI-powered systems are integrated into back-end services such as CRM databases, billing engines and network monitoring tools.
It is imperative to think beyond chat. AI must register and interpret instructions from customers, relaying that information and interacting with a variety of enterprise systems, to help formulate the response that’s then passed back to the customer.
To put this in perspective, initial proof-of-concepts with Telcos have clearly showed the importance of one’s ICT services providers having domain expertise across one’s entire technology estate and knowing the business domain. They are then able to chart out the entire customer journey, put AI interventions in place and integrate with the larger ICT infrastructure – and then measure the success.
By introducing robotic process automation across the entire organisation, the AI tools on the frontline are able to operate seamlessly with back-end core systems, helping the telco in achieving the goals of simplifying and enhancing customer journeys.
Also, debunking another popular misconception, AI isn’t always purely about handing over customer service interactions from human agents to bots. There are a number of use cases where AI is woven into the escalation paths and rules. The system starts to sense increasing customer frustration, through certain word patterns or tone of voice, and then escalates customer conversations to a senior support agent or manager.
Furthermore, there are yet more opportunities in helping customers to find the perfect voice and data package for their needs or, in the case of enterprise clients, to select the optimal array of Cloud services, software licenses, hosting capacity, or any other services the telco may offer.
In the past we had basic, static analytics to facilitate the likes of cross-sell, up-sell and contract renewal. An AI-first Analytics approach to data and analytics is essential to go a step beyond and come up with options that truly excite the customer, based on a clear understanding of their unique needs.
Finally, AI-powered customer service tools enable a telco to appeal to a new customer segment, such as the young adults. These customers want to be able to control their engagement with operators (including choosing and modifying their cellphone packages, changing personal details etc.) using intuitive self-service portals and customer-friendly apps.
AI can present unique and differentiated experiences to these users, empowering them to complete many activities on their own, with the support of AI support agents that are on-hand whenever they may need them.
- Vinay Bansal is general manager – communications, South Africa, Wipro Limited