Telcos are getting pretty good an impersonal communications

They might be slowly headed in the right direction, but telcos are still not great at relating to customers.

In the pursuit of relevance in the digital economy, personalised experiences are a hot topic, but the telcos are no-where near as good on the delivery front as the internet giants. There are of course many reasons for this, but one of the most apparent is the structure of the organization according to Intent HQ CEO Jonathan Lakin.

Here is the current state of affairs. The telcos have access to the same technology, a tsunami of information on the customer and (in theory) access to the same talent pool as the internet giants. The ingredients for success are on both the telco and OTT work surfaces, suggesting the organization itself is to blame.

The FANG companies are incredibly well-known for personalising experiences for customers. Not only does this create more opportunity to drive revenues, placing the right product in front of the right person at the right time, it creates a tie to the customer. The customer feels heard and has a stronger emotional connection to the brand, ultimately reducing churn. Both are benefits which would be of interest to telcos.

But the issue is structural. Telcos are organized in siloes, each of which is excellent at building an in-depth, narrow image of the customer. Whether it is insight on customer churn, or interaction and product history, the telco can build knowledge of the customer but without combining all of these images personalisation will never be a reality.

A good example is product offerings to customers, and a bugbear of many around the world. Whether it is offering products who have already been purchased, or even ones which might be out of the customers price range, without combining the siloes and making more use of the swathes of information available, personalised messaging will not be achievable.

The other issue for the telcos is that of priorities. Lakin pointed out that the main priority for telcos is profitability, which influences how products are developed and sold, and in turn evolving communication strategies and platforms. This not only creates a nightmare for integration in the IT department, but reinforces the siloes. The customer is sitting down the priority list, which is not going to aid the push towards personalised messaging.

Right now, the structure in not in place to create a personalised messaging culture. The ingredients are all there to create a sumptuous recipe, but the organizations are set up right.

Smart speakers starting to drive next era of digital

Years usually pass before the world realises a technology breakthrough actually happened and it catches on; the voice user interface might just have arrived at that watershed moment.

The fantastic breakthrough of touchscreen mobile phones is often attributed to Apple, though if you go back to 1992 IBM unveiled a phone called Simon which featured the first touchscreen. Apple didn’t invent the concept of touch screens, it simply innovated, making the iPhone a genuine smartphone as opposed to a PDA. This might seem like an odd introduction, but the same trend is emerging in the smart speaker world.

Amazon and Google did not invent the concept of the voice user interface, they simply used their brands to effect change and offer a product which was dutifully adopted by the masses which call themselves fans. In releasing their own smart speakers, the two internet giants did what other companies couldn’t; they normalised the voice user interface.

According to Nielsen’s MediaTech Trender survey, the smart speaker has penetrated the mass market and is normalising the concept of the smart home, as well as the idea of your voice being the control function. Across the US, 40% of homes now own at least one smart home device, with 24% owning a smart speaker, up from 22% in the previous quarter. Of those who currently own a smart home device, 65% plan to purchase more. Looking at the speakers themselves, usage is up, the average user interacts with the device for 72 minutes on the weekend and 65 minutes during the week, while 81% of users report using voice-command searches for real-time information, such as weather and traffic conditions, during a typical week. The more normal it becomes to use your voice in the home, the more acceptable it becomes elsewhere in the world.

Another interesting statistic from the report are the services synced to the speakers. Music streaming services are unsurprisingly the most popular, 53%, while the second most popular is shopping apps at 52%. With the user seemingly becoming accustomed to ordering goods through the smart speaker, there are a horde of new opportunities emerging, from grocery shopping to on-demand purchases linked to advertisements.

Finally, the most device synced to the smart speakers is the smartphone. This might seems like a very obvious statement, though only 32% of the respondents have linked their smartphone to the device. This is a small percentage of what is possible, though the potential to learn more about these individuals who have synced their devices is quite exciting. The virtual assistant is no-longer limited to the users home and can start to learn about habits in the big, wide world. This offers a much more in-depth opportunity to create valuable, personalised services.

As it stands, the smart speaker is little more than an entertainment product. 90% of users listen to music on the devices, 81% search for real-time information such as the weather, 68% listen to the news and 68% use it for alarms or timers. However, these devices are introducing new concepts and features which are gradually becoming accepted and normalised by the user. The voice user interface is an incredibly important one.

Just like the touch interface opened up new opportunities to make money, the voice interface will do the same. But this is a while down the road, mass adoption of both new devices and the normalisation of new concepts need to take place first. New ideas open the mind up to even more new ideas, including services and products, as well as blurring the lines of what would be considered intrusive or unacceptable. The smart speaker is playing a critical role here.