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AI/Automation

Pandemic spotlights need for simplified and automated self-service tools – study

As the use of personal, in-home technical help diminishes during the pandemic, the need for broadband service providers and device makers to build and develop simplified and more automated digital self-service capacities is on the rise.

That's among the baseline findings of a survey of more than 600 consumers in the US and the UK from Sweepr, a startup that has developed a tech support platform underpinned by artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques for service providers and makers of routers, access points, IoT devices and other smart home products.

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they could not fix their own technical issues (such as raw connectivity, slow broadband speeds, issues with a modem or router or being able to access an online service like Netflix) when they cropped up over a 60-day period, a figure that rose to 73% among self-described, non-technical people.

The status quo of self-service tools is a mixed bag. Of those who failed to fix the problem on their own, 80% contacted customer support, and the rest just stopped trying. Additionally, 80% of all respondents who failed to fix problems on their own said they were transferred to a customer support center and discovered that a large majority (80%) of those live person half-offs were able to be resolved remotely without the need to send a technician to the home.

Although self-serve customer care tools are gaining adoption, there's still a big gap to overcome for service providers that utilize them. According to the study, consumers who tapped into a service provider's self-service tools said they were hard to find, and 71% said instructions for using self-service tools were not easy to understand.

The motivation for smarter self-service tools is pretty clear as consumers are highly motivated to avoid making service calls and experiencing possible long wait times, according to Sweepr CEO Alan Coleman.

Vast majority of problems are 'automatable'
With more than one in three survey respondents reporting that they spent an average of 90 minutes with tech support to deal with their issues, the opportunity is that 82% of the technical issues faced by surveyed customers are considered "automatable," explained Coleman, an exec who is late of Brite:Bill (now part of Amdocs) and Accenture. "Consumers have an appetite to self-serve."

The survey also found that service providers could be in prime position to offer more remote self-service capabilities, as relying on a broadband provider's online tools was slightly more favored and used by 38% of consumers, versus 37% for other online resources and 25% who asked for help and advice from family and friends.

But there's lots of ground to cover, as just 17% of successful resolutions were attributable to a broadband service provider's self-service support tools, the study found.

Using a voice-first approach, Dublin, Ireland-based Sweepr is targeting the remote, self-service market with an AI/ML and natural language processing platform. That focus, the company believes, enables it to take advantage of the proliferation of smart speakers and smart home hubs and use them to help sort out the context of in-home technical issues (i.e. "Why isn't Netflix working?"). The company also seeks to provide consumers automated and guided remedies and resolution paths before taking a last resort – ticketing and relaying the issue (with some underlying context) to a customer service rep of a service provider or consumer electronics company.

Sweepr, a company founded in 2017 that counts the Amazon Alexa Fund among its backers, is already working with multiple ISPs in North America and Europe representing about 50 million homes. It recently struck a partnership with AirTies, a maker of Wi-Fi access points and software.

Coleman wouldn't identify Sweepr's direct ISP partners. But they include both fixed and mobile service providers, including one that is delivering fixed 5G broadband service and a cable operator that has deployed chat bots and other self-service tools. He said inbound calls to the company have also increased during the pandemic as service providers seek out ways to better automate customer service capabilities as more people work from home.

Sweepr finds itself in a crowded field of customer experience and self-help vendors, including Veego Software, an Amdocs partner focused on IoT. Coleman acknowledges that others do focus on the diagnostic layer but sees Sweepr's differentiation stemming from its emphasis on the interaction layer.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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