At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the theme was The Next Element - the idea that mobile is at the heart of everything we do. Yet for mobile operators still trying to make waves based on old competitive differentiators like network and price, the theme may as well have been You’re Falling Behind.
Mobile may be at the heart of everything we do, and telcos may hold the keys to mobile, yet somehow they are still struggling to keep pace with a new digital economy. Even famed musician and tech entrepreneur Will.I.Am noticed the trend, telling Campaign magazine that mobile operators have lost their role as facilitators of connectivity to iOS and Android, and that “now is the time to innovate.”
It is true there are at least a hundred different ways to approach innovation, however, they all lead back to one immutable conclusion: the only way to differentiate - and therefore to win - in today’s new digital landscape is through customer engagement. And today’s customers are more exacting than ever: they expect to engage with a brand they can trust, that responds to their needs in a highly personal, agile and immediate way, and they prefer to do it in the most natural, convenient way.
A Conversational Approach
A recent survey, conducted by Creative Strategies, polled the habits of mobile users all over the world. A full two-thirds of respondents said they enjoyed speaking conversationally to their mobile devices and were eager to see that same functionality expanded to places like their cars and living rooms. When asked what would encourage users to engage with voice-assistance more often, respondents agreed that greater functionality and better conversational accuracy are at the top of their wish list.
What does this mean for telcos looking to compete against their peers and a host of OTT digital upstarts? It is clear that customers are no longer satisfied to think like technology - they are now ready for technology to think like them. Artificial Intelligence has created opportunities for consumers to demand more of their devices while at the same time encouraging brands to deliver services and experiences that are instantly gratifying. What’s more, Natural Language Interaction (NLI) makes it possible to communicate with AI in a natural, conversation and completely human way.
A recent study showed that mobile users touch their phones, on average, over 2,600 times a day! Mobile operators are well aware this means they have thousands of opportunities to build loyalty and positive customer engagement. And while today those numbers are in touches, before long these stats will be measured in conversational interactions.
Delighting the Customer
Think for a moment on brands that you love. What drives your loyalty? If you’re like most consumers, it’s a sense of trust, an expectation of quality and an overall experience that fulfills a need and does so in an enjoyable way.
Organizations today sit on vast repositories of data and, at any given moment, must access and prescribe meaning to that data in order to serve customers. For telcos, who process billions of customer transactions a day, the ability to ‘delight the customer’ with timely and highly personalized experiences requires a herculean ability to process and analyze data. While Artificial Intelligence has been a boon to organizations who need to manage this kind of real-time data mining, it’s been far more difficult to gather data on natural conversations. Yet processing and understanding the nuances that come from conversational data is invaluable.
Think of your current conversations with Alexa and Siri for example. You might query about the weather, make simple commands like play music or find a recipe, or even use these voice-assistance technologies to remind you of your to-do list or help organize your schedule. While this request/command communication is convenient, it can’t take the place of a back and forth, natural language conversation where the AI is able to ask for more input, qualify the request, branch off the subject matter to provide relevant information or ask non-related questions, and then to be able to come back to the original query at hand.
It is precisely this type of natural interaction that leads directly to the delighted customer.
Yet even if the Siris and the Alexas of the world develop a way to be more naturally-conversant, they will never be designed to help telcos own their brand. Much like other OTT applications, when today’s operators yield engagement to outside voice assistance technologies, they are in essence handing over brand equity. For your customers to be truly delighted, they must be able to recognize that the experience they are having is directly related to you, their mobile operator.
The Telco Opportunity
Unlike any other industry, telcos hold a unique opportunity to build long lasting, loyal and mutually beneficial customer relationships. In comparison to their OTT counterparts, telcos do not require an intermediary entity to provide services to their end users. And this remains a vital competitive advantage.
While traditional telcos may feel attacked from all angles - device manufacturers, the Tech Giants, their traditional competitive peers and even aspirational digital upstarts - the truth is that those operators who seek now to differentiate in a rapidly shifting digital environment will emerge as leaders in a brand new economy.
Once telcos take advantage of AI functionality to not only collect, but analyze, previously unexplored conversational data, the sky is the limit for how they can choose to adapt and personalize their own unique service offerings.
Naturally-conversant AI applications allow telcos the opportunity to better utilize the data created by verbal communication with their customers - everything from voice tone to inflection to mood and preference. This information - long assessed on an individual basis from human representatives but never made easily understandable, accessible or comparable to larger data sets - proves invaluable to operators looking to compete in real time, in a digital first economy.
It is clear the digital generation is talking - sharing their preference to engage with brands who can provide instant gratification. That level of engagement from their mobile operators is rewarded with loyalty, and with a willingness to share personal information that will prove beneficial to the customer in terms of rewards and offers. As telcos better engage in these digital conversations, and offer their subscribers the ability to converse naturally with their brand, they will build the kind of relationships that will last a lifetime.