NMT Language Spotlight: Papiamentu – ABC Islands

Most of us have had some extra time on our hands with the restrictions placed upon us from COVID 19. Some of us are engaging in new or forgotten hobbies, some exercising more (or less), and some of us devising projects to progress businesses or satisfy new interests.

In the Dutch Carribean island of Curaçao, Manuel Maduro has taken on a unique challenge – to build a Neural Machine Translation (NMT) engine for Papiamentu (PAP) – a Creole language derived from Portugese, Spanish, Dutch, English and French, as well as Arawakan and African languages. Today, PAP is spoken by roughly 300,000 people on the ABC Islands and by a diaspora of approximately 100,000 in the Netherlands. 

The word Papiamento comes from  ‘papia’, ‘pap(e)o’ or ‘pap(e)ar’ – ‘to chat’, ‘to talk’ and while in Curaçao and Bonaire it is known as Papiamentu, Arubans say Papiamento. For the islanders, language has been an important part of the island’s history and cultural development having experienced many influences over the years, from Spanish and Dutch colonisation to a large population of slave settlers from Africa.

Today, Curaçao has three official languages – PAP, Dutch and English, with Spanish also widely spoken. Because there is a need to have documents in many of these languages, there has long been a requirement for translation services. 

Curaçao

“Over the years there has been continuous demand for translation services,” says Manuel. “There is still only a small pool of translators in Curaçao, however the quality of the translation is increasing as Papiamentu education is improving. PAP became a compulsory language in schools from 1986.”

While translation quality has improved to meet demands there is also rising expectations for faster turnaround times and a relentless push to keep costs down which means technology is key to support translation efforts.

“We have to work faster and cheaper,” says Maduro. “That’s what got me thinking. In the past I was more old fashioned when it comes to translation technology, but I understand its benefits – maybe not for translating poems or songs, but for a lot of use cases it’s the way forward. It allows for smart efficiencies and scalability and allows us to be able to deliver on customer demands.”

Manuel is new to Machine Translation and decided to select a user friendly option to ensure a smooth transition to this type of translation technology.

“When I decided I wanted to start this project, I looked into a number of options, and while there were some viable ones, I found that the set up in KantanMT platform was the most intuitive and user friendly and it would likely lead to the most amount of success given the time I have to commit to the project.  I got in touch with Tony O’Dowd, Founder of KantanMT and he was very welcoming of the project.”

Because PAP is a new language, there are few resources to support translators. The first record of the language was in 1704 and the first written works date back 150 years. In the 1970’s there was a move by the government to establish the language which meant official words and spelling were established and a dictionary was released. However, despite the fact that PAP has gained a firmer foothold than other Creole languages, there is still a ways to go. 

“For PAP, there aren’t many tools available – it boils down to a few dictionaries and a word processor. It is a small language in the process of being codified, but with two different official spellings (Aruba and Curaçao decided to go their separate ways) and a basic set of grammar rules. It’s an ongoing process.”

Manuel is currently preparing to build his NMT engine and is excited about the prospect.

“I’m gathering all my translation memories at the moment. Over the past 20 years I have collected quite a large volume but as you can imagine, there is a little prep work to do.” says Maduro. “It’s an exciting project and I’m really interested to see the output. It will be a bit of a learning curve for me but I’m happy to share the results and update when the engine is ready for use.”

The team at KantanMT looks forward to seeing Manuel’s progress and is delighted that the platform was chosen for such an interesting and important project. We will update early in the New Year with results from the project. 

4 Ways for Higher Education to Maximise Success in Online Learning

In a recent post we looked at how Higher Education institutions might take advantage of the transition to online education and tap into new market segments to diversify income sources and offerings. 

And now, we look at four ways that Higher Education institutions can maximise success during that transition. 

The tips in this blog can be leveraged for servicing current students in academic courses and also when looking at ways to serve new education market segments. 

Maximise Success in Online Learning
  1. Understand your Audience

Doing your homework will serve your institution well today and into the future. Understanding your current student body and your potential student body can help arm you with information that can help guide your strategy. Things you really need to understand include: what access do they have to technology. What language do they speak and do you have the technology to support that language engagement? Are there any accessibility challenges that they might face and can you support that? What emotional support needs might they have and can your teams adapt to delivering this in an online setting? 

  1. Capture Data, and Test, Continuously

A key advantage of delivering education online is access to data. Make sure you prioritise data capture from the onset to validate prototypes and to continuously develop and optimise your portals. How can your teams learn from the data that’s captured, and how can you put the student at the centre, learning about them, and adapting the experience based on their behaviour. There are a lot of opportunities to use machine learning to enhance the digital experience of your learners, but much of this depends on the foundation you build at the onset. 

  1. Marry Human Needs and Trends

Just because a course is delivered online, doesn’t mean that human needs are dismissed, actually, they become much more important once the face to face interaction is removed. It’s the responsibility of the institution to ensure they are offering an environment and services to support students to thrive. 

Looking at core human needs and also trends can help during this process of ideation. For example – students need connection with others to support their emotional wellbeing, and there is a trend in peer based learning. How can we connect the two? This type of pattern matching can be really helpful when developing the online student experience. 

Other trends you might see as having relevance include: gamified learning, skill sharing, use of communication apps like WhatsApp, WeChat etc. Trying to find the intersection between  trends and human needs can really help you build something that hits all the boxes and that will truly benefit your students’ virtual experience and also offer you competitive advantage.

  1. Meet Engagement and Language Expectation 

A challenge for universities in delivering online education is ensuring staff are equipped with the right tools to support students while scaling limited resources like knowledge and expertise. Students want to engage with institutions in familiar ways, like they do with family or friends. Channels like chat, social messaging, communities, and self-service continue to grow in popularity, and students, just like customers – expect fast, personalised support.

Transitioning to an online environment will likely mean more questions and student support cases in languages that you may not be able to support at maximum capacity. At KantanMT, we’ve developed a platform to help you take control of this scenario. KantanSkynet provides AI powered translations to support teachers, mentors, and student success teams, enabling them to serve students in their native language in real-time while retaining the school’s voice and tone, and the authenticity of engagement that your institution is known for.

Now you can enhance agility by shifting the hiring focus away from language expertise to course knowledge and students understanding. With highly secure, regulated usage scenarios, KantanSkynet supports both private and public editor communities and omnichannel integration. Choose from LiveChat, Ticketing, FAQ, select-service content and chatbot services, among others.

Interested in learning whether KantanSkynet is the right fit solution for your college or university? Reach out to Jim Nolan today (jimn@kantanmt.com)

Identifying Market Opportunities for Universities

Like most industries, the Higher Education sector has had to do some quick reacting to ensure that it is supporting its customers (students) needs in the immediate time, and also supporting its staff as they adapt to a new way of doing things. While some Universities will have been better prepared for this, the speed at which the entire sector has transitioned and adapted is impressive.

University - new market opportunities

Yes, the move to online education for many was not a choice, however the path will hopefully ignite the imagination of the sector. As universities and colleges remodel how they serve their current students, it’s a great time to also look at their product portfolio to see if they can expand it to capture new opportunities.

The market for online education is big, and one where many players have a chance to take a slice of the pie. The market is projected to reach a value of US$319.167 billion by 2025 (for both academic and professional education which could indeed grow if the Higher Education sector puts effort and resources into creating new learning pathways and innovating in how they will deliver education.

See the future opportunity and plan for it

Right now, you might be thinking, “I just need to serve my current students and make sure that they are being looked after”. Of course, that’s true. However, doing some research and strategy groundwork can help satisfy both. If it’s within capacity, this is a prime time to accelerate your digital transformation and drive new channels for student acquisition, while also providing an exceptional experience for current students. 

Tools like the McKinsey Matrix can help you as you work through your new strategy. 

McKinsey Matrix

The matrix helps to identify profitable business segments and your organisation’s ability to drive profit from them. On the Y Axis, Market Attractiveness should indicate how easy or difficult it will be for your institution to compete in a market/segment and gain profit from it. And on the X Axis, you are looking to identify your institution’s position in relation to competitors. Strategic Management Institute has a great article explaining this in more detail.

While this process can take some time, it’s a valuable activity, not only to identify new areas of opportunity, but also to align your teams and plan a shared vision for what’s possible in the future. 

Sense checking your big bets

Once you have identified opportunities, it’s important to validate that these are indeed true and tested opportunities. One method to support in doing this is Assumptions Mapping. Here we’re looking to identify the assumptions we’re making. These are categorised into three areas – Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability. 

Answering questions like: who are my target customers, what technology do I need to make this happen and what legal risks might we face in doing this and mapping these on a board can hugely help in identifying areas which need more research and also which need to be tested. After doing this you will have a list of assumptions that are critical to test before embarking in any new area.

Assumptions mapping

Google offers some good tips on running workshops to help support this process. This resource also includes other methods you may incorporate during your exploration phase. 

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of activities to build out new market offerings, hopefully it gives you some inspiration to start the process. This is a prime time to ensure you’re building to support the future of learning, not just learning as we experience it today. 

Keep an eye out for next weeks blog – 4 Ways for Higher Education to Maximise Success in Online Learning.

Questions about how the KantanMT platform or KantanSkynet can help support your college or university in delivering a multilingual online experience? Email Jim Nolan (jimn@kantanmt.com)

5 Tips on Remodelling the Employee Experience

How HR teams can start building a new strategy to support them into the future

HR and Employee Success teams have had a tough time during the last number of months. Covid 19 is not something anyone could have predicted, and most were not prepared to deal with. In addition to their day to day business, HR and Employee Success teams now need to figure out how to support remote employees and also, a surge of employee queries around job security and other questions dominating the minds of employees around the world.

Employee Experience - Covid 19

Leading employees through an unforeseen change process means organisations need to use what is at their immediate disposal and react in the best way possible in that moment. But it’s also a great opportunity to start thinking about the future. Having a robust employee engagement strategy that’s scalable and dynamic enough to adapt to changing circumstances will be fundamental for organisations to survive and thrive in the coming years.

So how do you start? Well, first you really need to understand the current situation, identify quick fixes and also get to the heart of the matter – your employees and how they feel. Then, it’s about generating ideas, collaborating with peers, and testing and understanding the tools you’ll need to make it all happen.

Let’s take a look at some activities to support your change process.

  1. Listen, really listen

It all starts with listening and observing. Oftentimes what people need is not always obvious. If you start by getting to the heart of the issue and uncovering the unmet needs of your staff at this time, you can then use that extra time you didn’t use trying to do ‘everything’ and maximise the value of those 1 or 2 activities that will really make an impact. Some tools you can use for capturing information as you listen and observe are – the Customer Journey Map (your employees are your customers too) and the Empathy Map. 

The Journey Map helps you get an understanding of how your employees day to day is looking at different points in time and how you might be able to improve it. Empathy Maps can help you understand the inner world of your employees and uncover ways to satisfy their unmet needs. Miro and Mural are great tools for documenting these exercises. 

Empathy map
  1. Map it out

Trying to plan out a new way of doing things is hard at the best of times. Add to that a whole heap of worries and demands swirling around your head (which happens a lot in the middle of a pandemic) and it gets that bit harder. 

You no doubt have lots of ideas of how to improve the way your internal engagement teams work and I bet many of them are great, but they do no good sitting in your head. Start jotting down your ideas and the information you are capturing and plot it on a board. Using templates and structures and arranging your ideas and research in a visual way can be a big time saver. It also helps you communicate your ideas with others. Again, Miro and Mural can be used for this and Google Slides/Powerpoint are also great alternatives.

  1. Collaborate, communicate and learn together

During times of change it’s critical to collaborate and communicate in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that all voices are heard. Tools for remote collaboration you’ll probably already be familiar with are Zoom and Google Suite  – these provide an easy way to meet virtually and collaborate on shared documents. 

Because you may be new to virtual meetings, you could benefit by putting a structure together for the different types of meetings you have throughout the day and make sure you leave each meeting with some sort of next steps.

If there’s no one to take the lead on making remote collaboration and communication work optimally, consider hiring a facilitator to guide you through the process. A little investment can really prove to be valuable if your team’s productivity improves as a result. 

  1. Tool review and optimisation

When you have your action plan together and you’re ready to implement, you might notice that you don’t have the right tools to support the roll out. This could mean a tool review is required (as obvious as it sounds, having some technical staff to help is very much advised). 

Remember, think about the tools and technology that will support you both today and also in the future. Always think about scalability, efficiency and user adoption models.

  1. Central hub/global engagement

A challenge for many HR and Employee Success teams is scaling their processes to support employees all over the world. While you might have local teams, there are times, when the answers sit in HQ, which may be an English only speaking office. So how do you empower the staff in HQ to support worldwide employees in a way that retains your brand voice and your engagement standards?

At KantanMT, we have developed an AI driven translation application called KantanSkynet that plugs into your helpdesk software and provides instant translations for your teams. Employees sending in queries do so in their native language and your HR team can reply in English. Skynet then translates it back to the original language, and then sends the reply to a multilingual expert for review and potential edit before sending the final text to the recipient. 

We know that supporting a global workforce is hard and we want to make it affordable for you to do so, while retaining the quality and personal engagement that you aim for. If you’re interested in learning more about creating an internal help desk process with universal language capability, contact the KantanMT team today. We’re always here to help.


KantanMT

KantanMT is a pioneer in neural machine translation solutions. Its market leading platform, KantanMT, enables global organisations to customise, improve and deploy neural MT solutions at scale.  Their KantanSkynet platform enables modern enterprises to deliver digital content in native languages, with always-on, AI-enhanced, crowd-sourced translation services. KantanSkynet combines the speed and cost-benefits of machine translation with the authenticity and precision that only a native speaker can deliver.

KantanMT is part of the Keywords Studios Group, the largest provider of global services to the video games and media and entertainment industries. It has offices in over 50 locations and delivers services to 23 of the top 25 games companies.

KantanMT is based in the INVENT Building, DCU Campus, Dublin 9, Ireland.

Contact Centres Will be the Customer Experience Hubs of the Future

KantanSkynet is how contact centres can increase operational efficiencies and provide greater customer experience and create greater brand loyalty.

Many years ago, I worked with a software development company. It was a household name and shipped one of the most widely used drawing packages. It had clients in every corner of the world. The customer service unit, as it was then, was located in the basement of the office. It was easily identifiable as a CS, as it had the standard bank of agents, telephones, and standard scripts, and it dealt with 90% of all CS queries. Almost all incoming customer communications at that time where via telephone. There was the occasional email query – but they tended to be the exception. Information gathering from these calls was minimal, and certainly there were little or no analytical expended on trying to understand any customer trends and sentiments. The purpose of CS then was to offer a voice of support, but only in English, and it was cynically seen as a means of dampening down any fires with product issues. It was a minimalist and a dead-end process and it was regarded the poor cousin of all other departments and funded accordingly.

That attitude, which was not uncommon amongst companies, began to change once the communication channels began to multiply. The use of the web, email and multiple social media channels have been added to the telephone as ways of instant communications. Not only immediate, but effectively cost free, ubiquitous, and time unlimited. Add to this dynamic the opening up of the global market via online internet sales platforms and created is a worldwide web of customers with immediate access to a company’s customer service (CS) offering. With these developments it is no wonder that the role of CS has been propelled into that of being a vital customer-facing role.

CS

Companies now see the necessity to bridge customer engagement silos, such as sales and marketing, by developing ‘hubs’ aimed at enhancing and capturing the customer experience (CX). They have done this by introducing a strategised technology ecosystem as a way to harness the power of the client-customer interface, to the benefit of both parties. CS is no longer the poor cousin hidden in the basement of the office. In tandem with the growth of these hubs we have the expansion of data collection and analysis. Companies have woken up to the reality that the CX feedback channel presents a plethora of information they can use to shape the growth and direction of a company and its products.

The physical infrastructure of the cloud and highspeed computer processing has facilitated the hoovering up of vast quantities of invaluable data. These expanded customer service hubs are now providing a tremendous amount of information that is of key importance to all companies. Furthermore, the inflowing intelligence provides data that is personalised and comes from a contextualised customer engagement.  As such, it is information that gives a unique insight into a customer’s experience and provides priceless intelligence if captured, interpreted, and acted upon. Today’s technology-driven customer service hubs now bridges all customer touchpoints, enhancing the efforts of marketing, sales, customer services and even production and finance.

The volume of data incoming that allows this is phenomenal. It is no surprise that there has been a proliferation of Artificial Intelligence-driven (AI) products that enables companies to pull data from multiple social media sources such Facebook, Salesforce, Shopify, accounting packages, company mobile phones, CRM software, and remote laptops and to render this information in real time on a company ‘dashboard’. This information, once collected, is electronically collated and sorted in seconds and provides key management with an insight into market movements at a local level, customer sentiments by product, and can generate reports, flag trends and slice and dice the data to whatever analytic level management desires.

With this success, as often is the case, comes a new challenge: the one the hubs are now faced with is how to deal with the proliferation of languages now being encountered by globally focused customer service departments? It is no longer acceptable to have a CS team that can only deal with English language queries. Multiple surveys have demonstrated that most customers are willing to spend more money on products if they are confident of a good customer service backup. One of the requirements these customers now expect is to be able to interact with CS in their own language. As a result, for forward-seeing companies an AI-driven, multilingual customer service hub model makes sense. As more product channels and local markets emerge for these companies, additional scalability and language challenges will be encountered. And grow this markets will: the e-retail spend globally in 2020 is predicted to be 4.2 trillion US dollars. That is forecasted to climb to in excess of six trillion by 2023.

The challenge of this colossal growth will test the flexibility and efficiency of Customer Service Centres and how they can handle a multilingual client base. In truth, it can only be met by employing a robust, scalable, multilingual AI-driven language solution. The more companies can communicate with their customers in their own language and understand their sentiments and expectations, the better they can shape, develop, and create a mutually beneficial customer experience. Consumers are now comfortable transacting online. This has been driven exponentially by the experience of the Covid pandemic. Customers now look to connect with brands that can build a relationship with them. Reports have shown that brand loyalty is crucially important to Millennials and Generation Z. These cohorts are willing to pay more for a brand that delivers an excellent customer experience.

There is a paradigm shift in customer/client communications. The world is getting smaller. The market is now a global one. All corners of the world are seen as sales targets. However, language and cultural self-identity are also important to consumers. This is the language challenge these CX hubs have to overcome. The question is how can these contact centres enable this? The answer is simple: by communicating with their customers in their native language. This is the exact scenario KantanSkynet was developed to deal with. To remove that language barrier and keep the customer-client conversation flowing by allowing:

  1. Any Agent, Answer Any Ticket, in Any Language
  2. Improve CSAT, increase FTR and TPH.
  3. To enable teams of any size to provide comprehensive multilingual support
  4. To allow companies to hire people for their technological skills and not for scarce and expensive linguistic skills
  5. To provide a scalable technology platform that provides a multilingual solution in real time on a 24/7/365 basis

In today’s business world, brands are looking to create a memorable user experience. A satisfactory CX has been proven to create a brand loyalty. And a financially viable multilingual solution is now recognised as a prerequisite to a successful CX package. The KantanSkynet platform has been designed to provide innovative companies with that multilingual solution that can deliver any digital content, in any native language, with an always-on, AI-enhanced translation service.

For more information on this solution, please contact Jim Nolan at jimn@kantanmt.com.

KantanMT

KantanMT.com is a pioneer in neural machine translation solutions. Its market leading platform, KantanMT, enables global organisations to customise, improve and deploy neural MT solutions at scale.  Their KantanSkynet platform enables modern enterprises to deliver digital content in native languages, with always-on, AI-enhanced, crowd-sourced translation services. KantanSkynet combines the speed and cost-benefits of machine translation with the authenticity and precision that only a native speaker can deliver.

KantanMT is part of the Keywords Studios Group, the largest provider of global services to the video games and media and entertainment industries. It has offices in over 50 locations and delivers services to 23 of the top 25 games companies.

KantanMT is based in the INVENT Building, DCU Campus, Dublin 9, Ireland.

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

Maximising Video Conferencing Effectiveness

It would be something of an understatement to say we live in challenging times. This applies to both at home and a work. And in common, the one thing that is saving us all from going into despair, or bankruptcy, is the plethora of communications channels open to us in the 21st century. However, for many using apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype etc it is forcing us to adapt to a way of working that we are not always comfortable with.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of working from home is getting familiar with video meetings and one of the most challenging disciplines to adapt to is selling via video. By necessity, all selling/buying at this time is being done remotely. Yet, people by nature prefer to sell/buy by meeting someone in person, to do so in a way that allows them to observe body language, to look a person in the eye, to size up the person sitting across the table. Sometimes, a sale can depend on developing a personal chemistry. So, in this blog I want to ask the question: “Is the camera stopping you selling? And how do you fix it?”

The New World Order

The world has changed over the past few months. People have had to adapt to not going to the office, not travelling to business meetings, to social distancing, and to working from home. And in some roles, working from home is not always easy. If you work as an administrator, it can be as simple as logging on to your company account and inputting data. If you are an engineer, then coding can be done from anywhere there is a viable internet connection. The same with translation. However, what if your job is sales? How do you approach that challenge? How does a salesperson fruitfully engage with a customer from a remote location?

Studies have shown that when it comes to selling:

  • 80% of the population are visual learners.
  • People buy from people.
  • People are more comfortable making big purchasing decisions face-to-face.
  • Eye contact builds trust.
  • Personal chemistry can oil the wheels.

So how do we sell in times when personal interaction is so limited? Today’s buzz words are “conference” or “video” calls. People are rushing to brush up on their Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp etc skills. This modus operandi has introduced an extra challenge for the salesperson, who is now expected to work their magic by projecting all of their warmth, technical knowledge, and sincerity via webcam. For them, it is not business as usual. In fact, it has become a whole new way of selling and they are having to learn quickly how to manage that. Where they were once confident walking into an office and presenting and selling to a person with whom they could sit down with and interact, they are now having to do that to a talking head. Not everyone finds such a way of communicating easy.

Video Conferencing

Are You Camera Shy?

Many people and even salespeople find it difficult to be themselves on video calls. Sales people I have spoken to tell me things like: ‘it’s not natural’, ‘we get nervous’, ‘we feel awkward’, ‘we don’t like how we look or sound on camera’, ‘we feel overwhelmed by what we have to manage’. Let us look at some of the challenges and, more importantly, the fixes for sales video calling.

Remote Selling

When salespeople are working remotely, they have:

  • No audience, no platform/stage.
  • To keep the energy up and client engaged.
  • To keep focused, ensuring that they keep the goal in mind.
  • Do their best to be a natural on camera.

Ironically, being a natural on camera does not come naturally to most people. It takes practice and rehearsal. It is another form of going on stage. Where before it was into an office or board room to an audience of people, now it is a talking head on hopefully a well-connected internet.

So how do you create the ambiance for acting in a natural way on a video call. Again, my sales colleagues gave me their top tips.

  • Being natural does not mean sitting around in your gym gear or shorts/t-shirts and lying in a hammock.
  • It does not mean you will not be nervous. Everyone gets nervous before going on stage. Even the most accomplished actors. Nerves can be positive if you channel that energy. It will come across to the viewer as a plus.
  • The camera is your friend. Get to know it by “practice, practice, practice”. Understand your body language, how you feel and how you look.
  • Do a dry run. Do not put yourself on the backfoot by fumbling with technical problems.
  • Talk as if you are talking to a friend, do not become laconic or robotic.
  • Ensure the camera is at the right height and angle for you so that you maintain eye contact. (nothing worse than looking up someone’s nostrils.)
  • Ensure you have at the minimum a neutral backdrop. Nothing more off putting that some distracting backdrop on the wall behind you.
  • Ensure the lighting in the room is not blurring your picture (e.g. direct sunlight on screen).
  • Do not look down at your desk or keyboard. It breaks eye contact, diminishes the engagement, and loses the impact of the presentation/conversation.
  • If possible, have your notes at the same height left/right of the camera so that it is comfortable to read them without having to twist your head.

Own Your Environment

You have the luxury of creating a user-friendly sales environment for yourself. Use that to your advantage. Try to envision what the customer sees from their end, and if you are not happy with what they will be looking at, adjust it.

  • Fill the video frame as best you can with your head and shoulders.
  • Gauge the best proximity to the camera, remembering this concept: Near = large and Far away = small.
  • Do not attack the space between you and the camera. No sudden forward movements.
  • Try not to move around too much, it can be distracting to the viewer.
  • If talking with your hands, ensure that the movements are controlled and deliberate.
  • Use your voice to convey what you want to get across to the customer by altering the pitch, tone, and pace.
  • Facial expressions, smile, laugh, and again eye contact is important.

Preparation & Review

As with most things in life, preparation is an important way of avoiding pitfalls.

  • Check your space/stage – nothing in the background to distract your client/lead.
  • Ensure that computer has the correct conferencing software.
  • Check your camera settings.
  • Do a mike check and ensure it is on and at the correct level.
  • Get yourself into the mental zone – energise you self mentally.
  • Be sure you have thought through what your customer might want, and be clear of the outcome you want?

When it is all over you should review how it went.

  • Review the meeting. Write down a memory-aid to remind you of any salient points.
  • Many apps have a recording feature. If you can record it, all the better.
  • Write down what went well.
  • Write down suggestions of how you can you improve?
  • Reassess your performance but choose no more than two things to work on.

And that is all there is to it! I hope these suggestions from the professionals help you. I want to thank my sales colleagues, especially Jim Nolan, for their input into the writing of this blog. Good sales hunting!

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

Working from Home: a Veteran’s Guide to Surviving the Covid-19 Emergency

Moving Home

I have been working from home for some 16 years now. Indeed, I feel I could lay claim to be a working from home pioneer. For me, it became a necessity when a child popped into the serene life of my wife and myself. My wife, being a college lecturer did not have an option to move her office to home. That left me to work out a system whereby I could do it. All those years ago the ‘home office’ was a rarely used model. Remember, for many an internet connection was a dialup process; Skype was a product recently launched and used by geeks like me with an interest in VOIP. Furthermore, WhatsApp, Viber etc. was were ideas germinating in the brains of some geniuses, somewhere. When I told my colleagues what I was planning I got a lot of ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ responses. For some it looked like I was pulling off a masterstroke. Thankfully, my boss had the same vision as me. He trusted me and knew that there was no technical reason for me not to work from a ‘home office’. He put faith in me, and I set myself the target of not letting him down. And so, it began and so it continues.

Setting a New Work Culture

From the start I set my own protocols to guide me to success in this new, laissez faire world. I want to share these with you as many of you have now been forced into the same environment and had to hit the ground running.

One thing I would recommend is having your own dedicated space. Artists will tell you that the beauty of a studio is that they can step away from their work when the juices stop flowing and can just as easily step back into it and pick up where they left off when the inspiration kicks in again. It’s the same with a home office. There’s nothing more disheartening than having disassemble and reassemble a workspace every day. I was fortunate in that I was able to dedicate a whole box room to it. It was complete with desk, telephone, fax and printer. Everything an office-bound worker needs. That meant I could get up at the end of the day and pull the door closed behind me. My trip home was a simple walk down the stairs. I only entered the office room to work. Mentally, it may as well have been the office I had left many miles away.

Home office3

Impose a Self-Discipline

To reinforce this mindset, I found it important that when I got up every morning I would shower, shave and put on formal working clothes. Now that didn’t mean I put on a suit and tie, but by the same token I didn’t pull on sweatpants and a tee-shirt. The temptation is strong to slip into loose, causal sports clothes, or worse, simply stay in your pyjamas. I don’t recommend that approach as part of going to work is getting psychologically into the mood for a shift in your day from one of rest and leisure to that of energetic pursuance of your work objectives. Dressing appropriately demarcates between the two stages of your day. Believe me, it does work.

One other advantage of following a proper dress code is the fact you will be ready at any time to take a Skype call from a customer, your boss or another work colleague. It is important that you look fresh, clean and professional. Remember, if you are talking to a customer you to them represent the company’s ethos. If the customer encounters someone who looks like the have just stepped out of the gym it will plant the seeds of doubt in their brain.

Work Office Hours

Remember that you are part of a larger team. A cog in a well-oiled independent machine full of similar cogs. Working set office hours makes sure that important symbiotic relationship that exists within teams is not interrupted. The team thrives on knowing that every member is where they should be when they should be. These days a message is only a nano-second away at any one time. If you decide to work hours that suit only you then you are removing a very important cog from the machine. We all have experienced the frustration of somewhat not be available to answer an important question, or to sign off an important requisition, or someone to look at a bug so that the build can be kept on schedule. Being remote from your team does not mean you can act removed from the team.

The obverse side of this coin is the danger that you become a workaholic. That is not a good thing for either you or the company. A clued -in boss will look warily at a workaholic and identify that person as a possible future glitch in the system. A benign boss will step in and tell that colleague to slow down and to take care of themselves. If overtime work is required then the team will step up to the challenges as a unit, and step down again when the objective is achieved. Workaholics inevitably burnout. It always happens. The body and especially the brain need regular rest periods. I suffered from burnout on one occasions many years ago. I was out of work for a month. No-one gained from my over enthusiastic approach to work.

So, as you purposefully ‘go to work’ in the morning so too must you purposefully ‘go home’ in the evening. And don’t be tempted to sneak back to your desk later to look at an email or write a line or two of code. That is the slippery slope to your life becoming one of working with an occasional rest. Your brain needs a rest. You function better when you get regular rest. A brain-dead worker is no use to anyone.

Tell Friends to ‘Go Away’

One thing I learned very early in my life as a home office pioneer was the tendency of friends to assume that because you were at home they could call in for a chat and a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee became an hour-long break. It is an unwelcome interruption at a time when mentally you should be immersed in some work task. Think of it this way – how often do friends drop into an office to have a chat and a coffee with you? Never, I’d wager. So, you need to politely explain this to your friends. They will understand. It simply just doesn’t occur to some people that working from home is exactly the same thing as working from an office. Only the location is different. The good news is there is no need to be a total recluse, that is not healthy either. There’s no harm in taking a break and leaving the house to go off for a coffee somewhere. It is needed. It is healthy. In fact, it is recommended. You as a professional can best judge when that should happen. As long as you let your colleagues know where you are. These days having a smart phone at hand is enough to keep you in the loop.

It is also important you take a lunch break. I don’t mean a coke and sandwich at the desk. Get up, leave the office and go and have lunch somewhere else. Fresh air and different surroundings allow you to relax, it lets the brain have some welcomed down time and allows you meet other people. You will feel recharged after it. Just try and stick as close to the routine you would follow in an office environment.

Finally, talk regularly to your colleagues by Skype, WhatsApp etc. It removes the sense of isolation. Workspace is a synergetic environment. Trying to recreate that spirit of interaction is a challenge, but one that is much easier to overcome these days with the availability of so many means of instant communications. Make a purpose of facetiming someone every day. Hold team meetings online using Skype or something similar. Open your day with a quick Skype call and a coffee to one of your colleagues. It all helps bond the remote team. And now and again send your boss a funny emoji, but not too often!

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

How to Leverage AI for Competitive Multilingual Customer Service

The Trend

We will probably never know who handled the first customer service inquiry, but we do know who accelerated the growth of that service and that was Alexander Graham Bell when in 1876 he invented the telephone. No longer did a disgruntled customer have to jump into his carriage and travel back to the shop that sold him the defective goods. Thanks to Bell, the customer had immediate access to someone far away to reach out to.

That was the origin of the now taken for granted Customer Service (CS) model. Over the years, as telecoms invented new and cheaper ways to contact manufacturers, the industry has grown and evolved into a highly sophisticated element of any company. And these days it is clearly the one, and often the first, part of a company to adapt Artificial Intelligence as the go to solution.

In 2018 the Salesforce’s Chief Digital Evangelist, Vala Afshar predicted that: “The line-of-business that is most likely to embrace AI first will be the customer service – typically the most process oriented and technology savvy organization within most companies.” (Source: https://emerj.com/)

And time has proven him prescient as more and more companies have discovered the value of an AI-driven customer service model. According to a report by Oracle, 78% of companies surveyed claimed to have implemented or are planning to implement AI in the customer service department by 2020.

AI CS

According to a recent PWC survey, 77% of customers expect their problem to be solved immediately upon contacting customer service. What’s more, many customers interact with brands digitally – not occasionally, but exclusively. That means that technology is more central to the customer journey than ever before. Just as it has become easier for customers to get in touch with companies, it is becoming more challenging for companies to upscale to service this growing demand. This challenge of scale and timing are two tasks that AI can meet head on and win. The sophistication of the latest CS technology design guides users to relevant touchpoints along the pathway to a solution. The technology also has the added advantage of being able to capture a plethora of data and customer sentiment that companies can use to further refine their CX model.

The Language Challenge

However, with the success in CS technological sophistication comes a challenge: many companies rightly see their market as one spanning the globe, and with that reality comes the question of native language communication. They now find they are expected to deal with multiple markets and in the vernacular of those markets. In today’s world, most customers expect instant contact and in their native language. Thankfully, AI-enhanced machine translation is now available at a quality level that can help companies meet these customer demands. Machine translation technology can deliver an excellent multilingual service, and one that prevents human agents being overwhelmed by customer demands.

The adaption of AI-enhanced MT means that progressive companies that deploy this technology are able to shift their hiring focus from that requiring scarce language expert candidates to one where they can hire agents with a technology expertise and augment their skills with language technology. This fusion of human and machine model empowers companies to deliver a top-quality, language-specific and rapid customer service response. Fred Arens – Director, Gamer Support, Keywords Studios had this to say about the importance of such a model: “Actioning multilingual tickets improves user experience and the quality of our support services”.

Conclusion

Thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, customer service is a reality and is something that has snowballed in size since that first CS call. It is now predicted that the use of AI-enhanced customer service will increase by 143% by 2021. The reality of such a challenge cannot be ignored. The fact is most companies cannot afford to supply unlimited multilingual human agents working 24X7. That is why so many have turned to AI as an essential complementary aid to enable customer services to become more efficient. Customer service technology, when assisted by the abilities of machine translation, can provide a 24×7 multilingual solution. Customers are serviced in their native language in real time by MT-supplied translations.

Using MT technology tools like FAQs can be quickly updated, further reducing the need for agent interaction. In addition, the intelligence fed in through AI-driven technology provides a wealth of data that can also be quickly and cheaply translated into other languages so that head office can parse it to glean the information needed to improve their business intelligence. The ability to do this with speed can often give a company an edge over their competitors.

Multiple surveys have demonstrated that most customers are willing to spend more money on products if they are confident of a good customer service backup. As a result, for forward seeing companies an AI-driven, multilingual customer service model makes sense. As more product channels and markets emerge for these companies, additional scalability and language challenges will be needed. These challenges will test the flexibility and efficiency of Customer Service Centres. It can only be met by employing a robust, scalable, multilingual AI solution. And thankfully, that solution does now exist.

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

Artificial Intelligence in Business – “The Future is Already Here”

William Gibson, a Canadian Science Fiction writer and the inventor of the term ‘cyberspace’ before the internet existed, has said of Artificial Intelligence: “The future is already here. It is just not widely distributed.” That quotation captures the essence of where we stand today on the cusp of a major explosion in the use of artificial intelligence. An explosion that will create the dynamic for many businesses to reinvent themselves, lifting themselves to a whole new level of productivity, product development and market penetration.

In many ways we are seeing the proliferation of AI in our own lives. It has slowly and subtly been making its presence felt it all aspects of what we do and how we do it. Anyone who has a ‘virtual assistant’ like an Amazon Echo or a Google Assistant, or uses Siri on their phone is already enjoying the power of AI. Today it is quite common for people to control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal commands. Some of these can even be done from a remote location. People turn on lights, adjust their heating systems, view callers to their house via video from afar. No longer is this the stuff of science fiction where many of us would have first encountered the concepts. That future is already here.

There is a saying that anything that can be digitised can be monitored. And that is the premise that underlies the development of many of the latest AI inventions. Nowhere is this seen more as in the development of businesses. This development falls under the acronym of IOT – the internet of things. IOT refers to any ‘thing’ that is digitised and connected via the Cloud. Obviously, the home gadgets such as the Amazon Echo fall into this category, but so too do such things as cargo ships, container lorries, product shipments, medical devices, lost mobile phones just to name a few.

An example of a company successfully deploying AI in business is the huge retailer Walmart. They have become a pioneer in the use of AI. They have partnered with SAP and now widely use SAP’s product called HANA. This product allows Walmart to hoover up statistics from across its huge network of 11,000 outlets servicing 250 million customers annually. The collection of this data in real time using AI, enables their backroom team to spot trends, monitor stock changes, identify possible areas of difficulty in logistics, compare outlet performances and make real time adjustments where needed. Walmart claims its system allows them to process half a billion data records per second.

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And indeed, the fuel to the AI engine is data. What the Cloud, high speed networks and powerful cost-efficient front ends have provided is the infrastructure needed to make the AI revolution a reality for many businesses. Add to this the ability to digitise almost anything and you get an idea of the power AI is bringing to the world of industry. An American company called Domo Inc spotted a desire in the market to better control and exploit the potential of such data collection. The company, which specialises in business intelligence tools and data visualisation, invented a cloud-based ‘Dashboard’ product that allows companies to pull data from multiple sources such Facebook, Salesforce, Shopify, accounting packages, company mobile phones and laptops and to render this information in real time on a Dashboard. The information is collected, collated and sorted in seconds and provides top management with an insight into market movements and customer sentiments, it generates reports, flags trends and slices and dices the data to whatever level management need to help them in their decision making. It also has a powerful predictive analytical function, an AI ability more and more companies are seeing as a powerful and necessary tool.

Anyone who has worked in sales can identify with the heart break involved between getting a customer to move from showing interest in buying a product to actually closing a deal. The churn and stagnation in the sales funnel is something many companies see as a weakness in their selling process. To address this challenge some companies have turned to products such as Apptus. That company provides what it calls “middle office” solutions, utilising artificial intelligence to optimise various financial and commercial functions, such as quote-to-cash, revenue management, and e-commerce management. Amongst other things the software allows is the identification of a customer’s intentions to buy and then works to close the sale. It also interprets the data mined to pinpoint a customer’s preferences and maps and predicts buying behaviour. Its success is underlined by the fact that it has now been integrated with many of the leading sales platforms, such as Salesforce.

The benefits and growth in AI can also be seen in the field of healthcare. A common use of AI in healthcare can be seen in the area of implantable devices. These devices, such as pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) are now digitised and allow practitioners to monitor a patient’s real time health. Data gathered by the devices is relayed to a central server where it can be monitored, and issues identified, and possible problems detected. The practitioner can also see if a device is performing below par, or even if it needs its battery replaced. The digitisation has transformed them from being dumb, reactive devices to smart, predictive mini machines.

AI programs have also been developed and applied to practices such as diagnostic processes, treatment protocol development, drug development, personalised medicine, and patient monitoring and care. Additionally, hospitals are looking to AI to support operational challenges such as cost savings, and management of staffing and workforce logistics. Software companies have identified healthcare as a growing market for AI and are developing predictive analytics solutions to help healthcare professionals manage patient needs, improve accuracy in diagnosis and better predict the efficacy of treatment plans.

So, AI is on the move across a swathe of industries, that cannot be denied. Yet the future that is now here is not yet being adopted by many companies. According to a 2017 www.bcg.com survey only 23% of companies had begun using AI in some capacity. At the low end of use were those who used chatbots. Those who were showing a more determined uptake were companies who had hired data scientists and had nominated CEO-driven AI programs. Those earlier adopters are having the successes others are missing. According to www.zooinfo.comearly adopters have achieved significant benefits – including efficiencies, cost reductions, improved customer experiences and a revenue growth.”

Making the move into AI is for many industry leaders is a no brainer. Yet, according to www.bcg.com… the gap between ambition and execution is large at most companies. Three-quarters of executives believe that AI will enable their companies to move into new businesses. And almost 85% believe AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage.”

Yet, for some executives it is seen as a challenge too far. However, one executive talking to www.bcg.com advised: “I don’t think that every frontline manager needs to understand the difference between deep and shallow learning within a neural network. But I think a basic understanding that—through the use of analytics and by leveraging data—we do have techniques that will produce better and more accurate results and decisions than gut instinct is important.

AI is on the rise. Its use is ubiquitous at many levels of business and society. It is clear, the future is here to stay.

(Many of the company examples given above are based on http://www.bcg.com reports).

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

Companies Who Snooze Will Lose as A.I. Changes the Game

“There is a global accord that A.I. technologies have the potential to revolutionise production and contribute to addressing global challenges.” (Economic Impacts of A.I. – European Parliamentary Research Service).

Outside my house as I write this there is a team of workmen laying fibre optic cable connecting every house in my neighbourhood to a high-speed broadband service. The city (pop. 100,000) has plans to connect every house over the next few months. It is a jointly funded program involving the government owned electricity company and a private telecommunications provider. This got me thinking about how much the 4th Industrial Revolution is making progress across the land (for more on the 4th Industrial Revolution see: http://ow.ly/LOdV30qh4Dq).

When the first industrial revolution happened in the 100 years leading up to the middle of the 19th century, driven by the invention of steam power and new technology that could harness that power, how many people realised their world was undergoing a radical restructuring? Swept away by this revolution where the cottage industries and labour-intensive production techniques of the past, to be replaced by the “Dark Satanic” factories of Dickensian lore of machine-driven production.

Well, our generation is in the throes of an equally transformative revolution. This time it is being driven by the emergence of a maturing and dynamic artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology. For the first time in human history A.I. is allowing mankind to create machines with “human-like cognitive processes”. (Source: EU’s EPRS report, http://ow.ly/mWRn30qh5WI).

This ability is bringing about a transformation in our technical infrastructure, changing the means of production and fostering the invention of many more end-user products. It was not so long ago that the Internet of Things (IoT) was a vague term in our lexicon, but IoT products are proliferating at an unbelievable rate. All driven by our new A.I. abilities. Examples of these IoT products are: smart surveillance, automated transportation, smarter energy management systems, water distribution, urban security and environmental monitoring. A new technological eco-system is being created around us and it will continue to expand.

AI

Companies across the globe have identified the phenomenal growth in A.I.-related technologies and many are adapting. Other companies are struggling to understand how they can best harness themselves to this revolution. The fiercest competition for mastery of this change is taking place in two world regions, the USA and Asia. Lagging behind, warns the EPRS report, is the EU. As a consequence, efforts are underway in the EU to find ways of exploiting the potential of the new technological opportunities for its region and its citizens.

The global expansion of A.I. can be tracked by looking at the increase in the number of registered A.I. patents. There has been a noticeable upsurge in the registration of such patents. This upsurge in patents is now eclipsing the number of theoretical papers being written. The movement is from the theoretical to the practical. (WIPO 2019) The problem, from the EU’s point of view, is that only 12% of such patents are coming from its region. The EU sees it as an imperative that it helps foster an environment that incentivises companies to pursue this avenue of growth.

The majority of studies on the economic impact of A.I. emphasise that adoption of the technological can be significant. The consulting company Accenture, in a study of 12 economies, estimate that by 2035 those economies will double their growth rates through the use of A.I. This will happen because, they say:

  • It will lead to a strong increase in labour productivity (40%) due to A.I. technologies enabling efficiencies.
  • It will create a new ‘virtual workforce’ – also known as ‘intelligent automation’. This is technology that will have the ability to solve problems and learn from the experience of those solutions (for more on Deep Learning see my blog: http://ow.ly/ytsZ30qh5jC).
  • The drive for innovation will spread across new sectors leading to new inventions, new products, new markets and new revenue streams.

(See: Why Artificial Intelligence is the Future of Growth http://ow.ly/Xc8L30qh5kR).

The fuel for many A.I. innovations is the exploitation of ‘Big Data’ sources. According to IBM, there exists today 2.7 zettabytes of data online. A zettabyte is 1 billion terabytes. The growth of online business data is said to double every 1.2 years! (Source: Users Bring Real Value to Big Data Machine Translation, Wired). The volume of data available to industry today is mind-boggling. It is said that Facebook alone has in storage 250 billion images. It also has the data content of 2.5 trillion posts. Add to that one source of data that stored by other social media companies alone and the figure goes off the charts.

The data owned by private companies and government institutions is an incredible fount of knowledge on our world. Big Data is said to be valuable when it has volume (see above), it has variety (every subject matter under the sun now exists in data form) and it has velocity (the cloud and fibre optic solved that challenge). The consultants PWC say that there is now a virtuous circle of data, a perpetual loop, where new products create new consumers which creates new data giving better insights for the creation of new products – and on it goes.

As I noted earlier, the EU is determined to drive A.I. and the resultant economic gains over the next decade from this technology will increase. A McKinsey Global Institute report estimates that 70% of companies will adopt at least one form of A.I. and just under 50% of companies will adopt a panoply of A.I. technologies. The report predicts that by 2035 this adoption of A.I. will manifest itself in a $13 trillion boost to the EU’s economy.

One of the challenges the exploitation of Big Data sources presents is that of language. Needless to say, these repositories of information exist in multiple languages. For many companies this is the equivalent to having to decrypt a code in order to access a goldmine. However, A.I. has given companies the solution to this challenge in the form of Neural Machine Translation Networks (NMT). Machine translation now provides the way for companies to translate huge volumes of texts at very high speeds and at an affordable cost. NMT is also creating the means by which almost real-time translations can be provided for. This provides the means for companies to converse with end users and to learn the cultural nuances and sentiments of individual markets.

KantanMT’s KantanSkynet, a recent A.I. innovative technology, equips companies with both NMT married to a global of team of translators – a virtual workforce – that can supply 24/7 access to real-time translation services. This fusing of A.I. technology with expert human translators has created a potent solution to today’s language challenge. (To read more about KantanSkynet see my blog: http://ow.ly/yoPH30qh5Oz)

The 4th Industrial Revolution is happening all around us. It is pulling society in the definite direction of growth and massive change.  It is a reality that should not be ignored by any business with an eye on innovation, expansion and longevity. Every company should be looking at the opportunities being created by A.I. Let there be no doubt, the front runners in this race will get a start that will leave them as market leaders in the years to come. They will get a jump on their counterparts who are slower to adapt. A.I. is not going away. It is true to say that it is a case of “if you snooze you lose”. You’ve been warned. (See my blog on Big Data http://ow.ly/bRfw30qh5ou).

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT