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.
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