The title above is obviously wrong. Because it was written by a human. The robots aren’t coming.
They are already here.
If you are a telco leader, you are already working hard to “digitally transform” your operations. Maybe you sent some of your team to Mobile World Congress to learn how to keep pace with the myriad acceleration of technology that continuously resets your industry. You might even have hired (or more commonly, retitled) a few good folks to work on adopting and harnessing the forces of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning.
Congrats on all of the above. And condolences, for you are likely already behind.
With robust deployments of AI underway, telcos are now poised to leverage the tremendous advances in algorithmic power, data proliferation and computing strength to achieve greater predictive possibilities, enhanced customer service and, ultimately, create a business model that delivers increased revenues. These investments are already generating buzz and returns at communication service providers (CSPs) across the globe. Even in an age of slim profit margins and an extensive and wide-ranging field of competitors, forward-looking CSPs are implementing new technologies to optimize resources and leverage analytical capabilities. That’s right. Robots.
The robots are already here. AI’s remarkable ability to generate rapid and precise predictions and prescriptions enables CSPs to make more intelligent decisions regarding current and prospective customers, and more. So as you think about your future, consider the follow 10 robot events that have already occurred in your industry:
1. Robot Retail Associates. Winners won’t need to ramp seasonal staff or onboard temp workers for the next iPhone launch. Robots will handle the masses. In Australia, No. 2 telco Optus has been grabbing share from No. 1 Telstra by advancing an innovation strategy. Last fall, Optus CEO Allen Lew and head of retail Frances Martin opened their game-changing new flagship store, complete with a connected kitchen, lounge room and entryway fitted out with smart home technology including door locks, doorbells, frying pans, scales, lighting, power points, fridges and cameras, with SoftBank’s Pepper robot greeting customers as they entered. Nice handshake, Pepper!
2. Robot Do X, Human Do Y. You have wonderful employees, but there are some tasks they simply cannot execute as well as a networked robot. Like credit scoring and fraud detection. Winning CSPs get them working together, with a feedback loop and a healthy employee environment where communication is valued, data-driven, personalized and ongoing. AI can assist by ensuring that employee sentiment is accurately and succinctly conveyed. Robots can also help CEOs pinpoint happy employees as well as those that are a “flight risk.” This isn’t “I Am Legend” or “Space Odyssey”: AI has the potential to create a stronger human connection and have a meaningful impact on employees’ lives. Says Dan Ford, 25-year telco veteran and head of communications at Vlocity, “Great software is helping good employees become even better. Telcos that are replacing their old legacy systems with telco-specific cloud apps and AI analytics to engage their customers are booking the biggest share gains today.”
3. Resell Your Best Robots. Some carriers are so good at deploying robots and AI that they offer their services to others. Last year, Verizon announced the launch of a new “business and technology venture” called Exponent, a B2B services offering to other global carriers that includes media services, cloud computing and big data and artificial intelligence. The suite of digital tools is designed for any carrier on the planet. Verizon’s big data and artificial intelligence platform offers users the ability to take the data they currently collect and use it toward activities such as “personalized marketing campaigns, laser-targeted advertising, and deep customer engagement.” Now the company is building an entire culture around big data and AI.
4. Internet of Things Telco (IoT2). Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be approximately 20.4 billion IoT units installed globally (there are about 9 billion today). If you don’t have a CIOTO — chief IOT officer — you will be disconnected from your customers. Other CSPs have CIOTOs.
5. Machine Learning = Machine Doing. Telcos that deploy automation technology are cutting massive hours of operation time. Cloud applications built specifically for telcos perform functions like Next Best Action (NBA) and Guided Selling, so employees can focus on higher value-added tasks like closing and solving. Telus, a top Canadian carrier, reduced new business account contract processing time from 41 days to under five simply by deploying a Vlocity app designed specifically for Telco Contract Lifecycle Management.
6. Bots that Break Down Legacy. Robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) are the new brawn and the brains of performance leaps in the future telco. Several leading telcos such as Telia are already grabbing quick wins through RPA while strategically introducing AI for continual optimization by implementing Salesforce and Vlocity apps to eliminate “swivel-chair processes,” activities that required humans to move back and forth among legacy back-office systems (usually by toggling between different screens). These bots leverage the Salesforce Sales and Service Clouds and Vlocity Communications Apps to verify contract terms and to manage service staff in the field. AI-assisted technology addresses nuanced customer needs and inquiries. Telcos that pursue an “AI-first” mentality have the potential to completely reimagine the customer journey. Chatbots and virtual assistants use advanced algorithms and natural language processing to simulate human communication and respond and navigate a host of everyday interactions including, product/service offerings, customer service requests, payment inquiries, invoices and more.
7. Robot Remotes. The days of flipping through the tiny-print TV Guide are long gone, and those annoying black remotes everywhere are following. Comcast, the third largest U.S. carrier by revenue, has launched XI Talking Guide, a voice-activated artificial intelligence tool that “speaks” show titles, network names and time slots. Basically, facilitating the fundamental aspects of television navigation.
8. Robots That Help Those Less Fortunate. Another positive aspect for AI and robots is the increased accessibility provided. Again at Comcast, the XI Talking Guide allows Comcast to reach a large audience of visually impaired customers. Over 57 million have a disability in the US that are advantaged by the deployment of AI-enhanced speech recognition technology.
9. Robot as Celebrity Spokesperson? Sprint has a new spokesperson. During the most recent Super Bowl, Sprint aired an advertising attack on Verizon using robot characters. Sprint is leveraging the “brand” of AI now to sell cell phones and plans (Adweek reports that Sprint has issued follow-up spots suggesting the robots are learning already how to sell them better).
10. “The Robot Tax.” CEOs need to confer with their CFOs and CIOs and ready for new regulations. Academics are proposing that I should be charging my telco for all the data it is using about me to train its robots. This The Economist article is onto something: customers of Google and Facebook and telcos like AT&T should really be demanding compensation for the data we give them — our data is helping them build and train their robots. I’d like to see that line on my monthly statement: “Congratulations! You earned a $42.69 mobile credit for use of your data to train our robots. Please call one of our robots today to claim your funds.”
If you are a communications and media CEO and just one of these “telco singularity events” happening today surprised you, it may already be too late for your brand. Because these are just a few of the many evolving benefits of AI that telco CEOs must consider embracing or risk being left behind. The key is to create a nimble, agile company mindset that’s inherently responsive to emerging technologies and the problems they solve. The explosion of data over the past 10 years and the need to quickly analyze it as efficiently and accurately as possible has left little doubt that companies in the digitally evolving telecommunications space must react accordingly: scale up investment, leverage new algorithms and begin mining the business benefits that AI technology provides.
If you don’t, there may come a day when you are wondering how a robot nabbed customer and board approval and grabbed the top CEO spot at your telco.
Rip Gerber is the CMO of Vlocity.