Can AI Make Cable Smarter?

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy
12/28/2017



We've all heard about them and many of us have made them: complaints about cable customer service. Stung by years of criticism for poor service, the cable industry now is shifting its focus to a more modern definition, recasting the notion of customer care in the form of customer experience.

The key to enabling this new model is through artificial intelligence (AI), according to a new Heavy Reading report, "I Cable Robot: Can Artificial Intelligence Make Cable Smarter?. The report discusses cable's growing use of AI to improve service, including network management, daily operations and customer experience.

Rather than just focusing on better service appointment times and customer service calls, U.S. cable providers are evolving to automated operations that enable technicians to proactively manage network functions and give customers greater ability to self-manage their services, the report says. Cable operations are awash in data that serves as the oil to lubricate the machine.

"I think AI is going to change the customer experience profoundly," said Dave Watson, president and CEO, Comcast, during the 2017 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, where AI was a primary topic. Comcast is culling through its big data to enhance network performance, customer care operations and its X1 platform that increasingly is relying on AI-supported voice commands.

A comprehensive AI system will collect and aggregate data, detect patterns and responses, anticipate trends and behaviors and automatically take appropriate actions.

"AI is an overarching term that encapsulates all attempts to instrumentalize technology with the ability to think and act independently, much like humans do. It refers not only to the software and algorithms that render this capability but the hardware and control systems as well," said Sanjay Dorairaj, senior director of Comcast Innovation Labs, during SCTE.

The report includes recent cable provider initiatives for customer care, use cases for data-driven disciplines and a chart of technology suppliers that provide data management products for cable. Cable providers are applying AI disciplines in various ways, including:

  • Machine learning and proactive network maintenance (PNM) to detect and resolve service issues before they affect customers

  • Algorithms to provide anonymous insight into customer preferences, including when they might buy and when they might churn

  • Autonomous customer care to give customers tools to self-manage services, such as WiFi, and self-provision new applications

  • Virtualization and automation to provide greater visibility into the network and alert technicians and customers to potential issues

In early implementations of AI tools, providers are experiencing a reduction in truck rolls and service calls. Comcast has said X1 is increasing customer retention, usage and satisfaction.

The trick is to aggregate data, integrate it across various operating units and turn it into meaningful actions so that managers aren't drowning in a sea of numbers. Many of the speakers at SCTE said more techniques are needed to share data so that all operating units have visibility across the cable enterprise and managers don't end up in a situation described by CableLabs architect Karthik Sundaresan: "Lots of data, no knowledge."

AI will truly pay off when data becomes actionable, customers can control their experience and the network becomes proactive, Heavy Reading believes. But managers and technicians need to be careful about implementing AI so that they don't create new layers of frustration for customers. AI is only as good as the people who employ it.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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