US sees bigger threat from AI than immigrants – move the wall!

Research from Northeastern University claims 73% of Americans believe AI will lead to a loss of more jobs than it creates, while 58% say the technology is a bigger threat to their job than immigration.

The second statistic is an interesting one as perhaps it will have an impact on the political propaganda campaigning which we have been victim witness to over the last 18 months. Being a bit more specific, the Brexiteers mission to tarnish the reputation of those horribly cultured Europeans and President Trump’s fearmongering mission to isolate the dastardly work-conscious Mexicans.

According to the data, 12% of Americans are worried about losing their job to an immigrant while 23% are more concerned about AI; the politicians have got it wrong, we shouldn’t be looking across our borders in trepidation, we should be pointing the finger at those nefarious geeks in California. Perhaps Trump can use the promise of building a wall around Silicon Valley as the foundation of his next campaign; American jobs for American HUMANS.

Interestingly enough the research also states the American people are not being bought out by the shallow and presumptuous claims from governments and technology firms that there will not be a downside to the technology. The table below, from the research, demonstrates there is a sense of realism about the technology.

Job Creation

AI has the power to be an incredible catalyst for positive change, but this positive change will come at a cost. The incorporation of ‘intelligence’ has been billed as the fourth industrial revolution, and just as there was with the other industrial revolutions there will be job losses, redundancies and the displacement of people. Right now not enough is being done to reskill those at risk or create an education system to allow people to take advantage of the information age.

These are the two areas of risk. Firstly, AI will make huge numbers of people redundant. It will of course create some new jobs for data scientists who can use this insight, but the data processing jobs which will be lost to create this analytical position will out-number the gain. The next question is how many of these redundant individuals will be qualified for the newly created position?

We doubt there will be many right now, as if they were qualified they would be working as data scientists not in a data entry position; it’s not like this isn’t a position in demand right now. The government has a responsibility to ensure these people are not simply left out in the cold when the AI revolution gains some traction as the companies themselves will probably start looking towards universities for talent as opposed to in their current operations. Are there enough initiatives in place to help these people transition to the digital economy? We do not believe so.

The second area of risk is in an individual’s education. We are going to take this slightly out of context right now as we are based in the UK, however national curriculums are not preparing students for the digital economy. Looking at the compulsory topics in schools right now it isn’t too dissimilar to what your correspondent had to endure during his earlier years. A huge amount has changed over the last decade, and a lot more will change over the next one; are we preparing our youngsters correctly?

IT is a compulsory topic, but these lessons are pretty basic skills. Almost every company is now reliant on technology, with software now being at the heart of this revolution. If governments are serious about protecting the best interest of people and their livelihoods in the long-term, surely coding, data analysis and other digitally relevant skills should be prioritized.

The industry and government has to be realistic about this technology. Yes, it can bring benefits but there will also be pain. New revenue streams and value add initiatives will be brought to an organization, but it is also an efficiency technology. Efficiency generally means fewer overheads, and in the business world the biggest expense is the payroll. Of course there are going to be redundancies if there is a technology which can do it cheaper and quicker; this is just a sensible business decision.

The negative side of the technology cannot be avoided, but the acceptance that it exists and is going to be much bigger than anyone is currently giving it credit for is a good starting point. The sooner the facts are accepted, the more effectively the challenge can be managed.

How about giving customers a better experience?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Orla Power, Head of Marketing for Brite:Bill (an Amdocs company) explores some research into CSP customer expectations and what can be learned from it.

Mobile operators and the telecoms industry in general have never been known for excellent customer service and for many that’s an understatement. However, as generations Y and Z start paying for their own telecoms services, a new type of customer with different preferences and expectations is entering the market place.

We have found that this has presented operators with an opportunity to reset the customer relationship with these new customers. Typically, generation Y and Z are service- oriented customers who are willing to change providers frequently and will do so if they are not having a good experience. In addition, they want to interact in ways that suit them, utilising all available channels. They value increased personalisation and being recognised as an individual with specific preferences.

This is all very different from the traditional telecoms approach of communicating via traditional monthly – most likely paper – bills and offering a call centre interaction for those who are prepared to wait. Now, the interaction is multi-channel and much more aligned to the rapid resolution of customer issues and desires.

Yet, we know that operators are still in the process of transforming their systems to enable them to serve customers effectively and all too often the integration points fail to work smoothly, giving customers inconsistent experiences and exposing operators to the risk of customers leaving at key churn points in the customer relationship.

Brite:Bill has recently conducted extensive research with our operator customers across the world and, as part of this, we gathered valuable insights from respondents. Key challenges that were highlighted from the research are similar to the issues we here from the Communications Service Providers (CSPs), including the existence of various churn points. Among these, operators were keen to point out that customers receiving their first bill can be a churn point.  It’s one they are aware of and can quickly address if the customer feels the first bill doesn’t match their expectations.

Another key issue is the lack of personalisation in customer on-boarding communications. For customers that have been promised a tailored, personalised experience, receiving what are clearly standardardised form communications, using this less-favoured channel is an obvious source of discontent.

This is also highlighted in inconsistencies between the customer acquisition process and the on-boarding process. In the retail environment, the operator communicated its brand values as an exciting digital enabler and its capabilities to meet the needs of individuals. If the on-boarding resembles the experience your parents had getting a 2G voice phone in 1999, it’s clear there’s a gap between the promise made and the reality delivered.

Further irritations that CSPs are aware of at this early phase include the variety of different operator systems sending disparate notifications to customers. Some may be duplicated across channels such as SMS and email, while others might be about the same issue but use a different tone of voice or be untimely, for instance, telling them their router is on its way when, in fact it has already been installed.

These issues highlight the on-boarding challenges that operators face and clearly demonstrate the scale and scope of the customer communications challenges. In our research, we uncovered that 36 per cent of customers have switched operators in the last two years and, of those, 16 per cent switched because of billing issues. In saturated markets that’s a big issue and we estimate that for an operator with ten million subscribers the cost of churn is likely to be more than US$400 million.

This churn is not necessarily because the bill itself is wrong, it may be that the costs outlined are not clear to understand or the likely costs had not been properly explained at the time of sign-up. Our research uncovered that 68 per cent of customers say their bill is not clear or easy to understand. This has led to almost one-third of customers contacting their CSP because of billing issues.

More concerning, 18 per cent of customers said their first bill was more than they expected, causing the relationship to get off on the wrong foot and creating a climate of mistrust around the entire relationship. The fact that customers are still being surprised by the cost of their services and feel the need to interact with the call centre is costing operators significantly – both in the cost of call centre operations and in the likely increased churn because of dissatisfaction.

Our research also found that three quarters of customers currently have no interest in the information provided in their bill. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in receiving additional, relevant information via this channel. 56 per cent of customers want their bill to tell them how to save money while 29 per cent want the bill to tell them about relevant services.

Ultimately, customers want to receive the more personalised experience they get from other types of service providers. 29 per cent want their bill to include interactive graphs and icons so they can monitor and manage their consumption and 44 per cent want the bill to include what services they are spending the most or least on.

New technology, such as chatbots, will add another channel and dimension to customer communications and the bill will cease to be a static communication that simply states costs incurred. 39 per cent of customers say they would like access to a chatbot for bill enquiries, which rises to 50 per cent for generation Z customers, and almost a third (29 per cent) of all respondents think chatbots are a good alternative to a customer care line.

The new customer is enthusiastic and engaged, looking for more personalised relationships with their operators. As growth from new customers slows in saturated markets, the exciting news is operators already have valuable information about their customers and the tools in place to better serve them. They just need to utilise these more effectively to transform communications with the clarity and personalisation that customers expect.

Everyone thinks telcos are utilities except the telcos

It’s a trend which the telcos have been fighting hard to resist, but the growing wave of commoditization is seemingly starting to swallow them up.

The telcos continually deny they are utilities, but the fact they seem unable to branch off into value added services with any notable success is a damning trend. New research from The BIO Agency is just another stick to beat them with.

Let’s start with the most painful statistic; nine out of ten correspondents, all of which were UK consumers not necessarily industry figures, perceive their telco provider as a utility. According to this research, it’s not just journalists, the tech industry, regulators, enterprise organizations and vendors who view the telcos as utilities, it is Joe and Jane Blogg on the high street as well.

To support this claim, 64% of the respondents also consider there to be little or no difference between the telco. And to be completely honest, when it comes to selecting a new provider, your correspondent will tend to agree with the 64%; decisions are based on price alone. Sure, there might be the added bonus of content thrown in, but experience to date says this content isn’t very good. Excluding sport of course, but this isn’t something produced by the provider, just relayed to the consumer. And it generally costs extra as well.

Should the telcos want to continue this battle against commoditization, the perception of the brand and the business certainly needs addressing. Content is an area they thought this could be done, and quite frankly it hasn’t worked, perhaps the smart home is an area where this could be done, facilitating the relationship between the customer and the range of new services which will be prominent before too long.

Whatever it is, some value added service needs to be created, as you can guarantee the race to the bottom (in terms of data pricing) is certainly not going to change. Data is no different whether it comes from O2, EE or Three, the only thing which might differ is the quality of accessing it, which varies depending on where you are. Certainly sounds like a utility.

The final area we would like to draw attention to is the following:

  • 76% of people would not switch their telco provider if they had the opportunity
  • Though only 27% are likely to recommend their current telco provider

What this says to us is that customers can’t be bothered about going through the painful process of changing provider, but they certainly don’t give a monkeys about where their data is coming from. In this sentence, ‘data’ might as well say water or electricity or gas, the same attitudes are seemingly present.

The telcos are losing the battle of perceptions, but we’re not 100% sure this is one which they will be able to win.