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Broadband services

Comcast Eyes Augmented Reality Tech

DENVER -- Comcast is planning its next move in customer services apps, and augmented reality technology may be on the product roadmap.

Speaking here Monday at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo show, Anthony Fox, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) vice president of product management, said he's now looking at how technology from the well-known augmented reality company, Metaio, could be applied at Comcast for customer service. Appearing alongside Jack Dashwood, senior marketing manager for Metaio, at a session titled "Cable Has an App for That," Fox said he first saw Metaio's AR technology in 2013 and was intrigued.

Augmented Reality combines images from the real world with additional digital information. In Comcast's case, Fox talked about the possibility of allowing new cable subscribers to take pictures with their mobile devices of an image on the bottom of a modem or set-top. The image would then provide information to the Comcast system and allow the operator to initiate product provisioning automatically.

Cable companies, and particularly Comcast, continue to get blasted for poor customer service. But, as Fox explained, one way the company is combating the problem is by putting more choice and control into consumer hands. New apps might not make discontinuing service any less hard (witness tech blogger Ryan Block's now infamous phone attempt to cut off Comcast service), but they should make setting it up and using it a little bit easier. (See Despite Efforts, Cable Service Still Sucks.)

Today, Comcast has several self-service apps, including Xfinity Connect and Xfinity My Account. Fox says these apps have reduced call volumes at customer support centers, and that self-installations have doubled since 2011.


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Meanwhile, AR is gaining traction as a customer support tool. In his talk, Dashwood provided several examples of industries that have adopted the technology to improve service. Volkswagen has deployed an AR app for its limited-edition L1 concept car. Customer service agents use the app to perform a visual diagnostic scan and determine what issues may need to be addressed. Dashwood also talked about how AR apps have been created to help users with printer set-up and configuration.

The technology behind AR is anything but simple since it has to teach a smartphone how to "see" in the same way that humans do. But implementation may get easier once phones start to double up on cameras. Two cameras in a phone would create depth perception the same way that two human eyes do.

Fox didn't share a timeline for Comcast to start using AR in its self-service apps. But the company has talked about testing the technology in Comcast Labs since June 2013. Fox's presentation suggests implementation may be getting closer.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

dmixinc 9/24/2014 | 4:41:06 PM
Already using AR I am already working with COMCAST using AR in conjunction with their Directmail Campiagn. Allowing them to get a better ROI is the goal.
KBode 9/23/2014 | 1:09:39 PM
Re: Interesting... Hmm, yeah I can see some of that stuff working and cutting through some layers of support fat. Good examples of the possibilities. Still I guess it depends on how it's implemented. This is an industry that still often can't do some simple things -- like avoid asking you for your phone number seven times during a single support call (or in some cases pick up the phone at all).
brooks7 9/23/2014 | 1:03:03 PM
Re: Interesting... Kbode,

I am thinking of this as a replacement for the original call. In other words, a Sticker on the modem that says something that says: For Customer Service Scan Here!  The person scans with an app and it pops up a menu that replaces the voice call in menu and takes the customer straight to the CSR with the information filled out.  The CSR can then say something like, "Hello Biff.  I am sorry that you are having problems with your Porn Channels.  My name is Glitter...can you give me a bit more information about the problem?"

Could replace a lot of the IVR stuff that really annoys people at the front end of a Customer Service call (It takes me 27 button pushes to get a CSR!).  Alternately, it can say...Hey everybody is busy...would you like to wait on hold or we can call you when the next person is free on this number."  Or, "We have an Outage at your address.  Would you like a text at this number when its fixed?"

seven

 
KBode 9/23/2014 | 12:40:29 PM
Re: Interesting... It seems like a lot of that information should be on record already though? I guess I'd have to see this in implementation to see the real value. I guess this sort of feels like one of those instances where a company is trying to be innovative just to say they're being innovative. Seems like so many customer support issues that are very basic could use fixing before adding another technical layer.
brooks7 9/23/2014 | 12:38:36 PM
Re: Interesting...  

Gents,

I would have thought that this would be good for the very front end of the call.  Click on a QR code on the modem and scan the barcode....all kinds of information could be available for a CSR ahead of time.  Makes a number of assumptions, but I think there is all kinds of stuff that could be done that way.  I have friends doing AR for print adv enhancement.

seven

 
KBode 9/23/2014 | 12:24:05 PM
Re: Interesting... Seems like an added layer of complication, though. If you've already got a less technical user confused by the process of simply rebooting a modem, I'm not sure asking them to fire up an augmented-reality app doesn't just make things more confusing?
Mitch Wagner 9/23/2014 | 11:51:18 AM
Re: Interesting... I'm confused how that would work precisely. The customer service rep asks the customer to point the customer's cameraphone at equipment, and then the rep sees what the phone camera sees? 

I can see how that would be useful and lead to improved customer satisfaction. 
KBode 9/23/2014 | 9:07:03 AM
Interesting... This is interesting, but I don't understand how precisely this would benefit consumers? I guess you could have an AR app that walks somebody through the steps needed to reboot and test a modem, but is that really easier than talking them through it over the phone? I would think Comcast needs a simpler route toward improving dismal customer satisfaction rankings, like improving their subcontractor hiring processes first and foremost.

That said, if they actually do come up with AR apps that make a difference, I'd love to see them.
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