Harnessing AI to transform customer experience in telecoms
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 the General Manager of Communications in South Africa at Wipro Limited
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”