How smart videos can change the face of customer service

For AT&T(s t) U-verse customers, one of the top reasons for calling customer service about their bills is questions about pro-rated charges. That’s a conversation that customer service agent typically take several minutes to explain to a subscriber. It’s no picnic for consumers and it’s a cost for AT&T each time someone calls in.
But in the last several months, AT&T has been reducing the number and length of calls to its call centers by relying on so-called smart videos from New York City-based SundaySky. The videos are personalized tutorials that are built on the fly using pre-scripted clips mixed with the subscriber’s own data. The system works off a video template that incorporates visual elements, narration and integrated information from a user’s account. Users end up seeing a video bill that addresses them, acknowledges their recent account activity and leads them through their biggest billing questions.
Since April, AT&T has been offering these videos to new wireline customers when they view their bills online. The operator is now cash-flow positive using the program thanks to a reduction in calls and call time, said Jim Dicso, president and chief revenue officer of SundaySky. And AT&T is now looking at extending the videos to wireless customers.

Dicso told me that the smart videos work because they’re an effective alternative to sitting on hold for users. And because they’re personalized, they’re relevant to a user’s specific needs. AT&T surveyed users and found that 90 percent said they found the video bill to be helpful.
AT&T and other corporate clients have additional reasons to like smart videos beyond just cost savings. The videos can not only improve the user experience and reduce churn but they can be another tool to upsell consumers on more products or encourage them to make certain changes, such as signing-up for auto bill pay or bill protection.
Dicso said the videos can work for all kinds of industries that deal with customers online. By addressing some of the biggest questions that tie up customer agents on the phone, companies have a better shot at diverting people away from a costly phone call.
“Our mission is to establish smart video as the paradigm for how businesses engage their customers with a highly personalized experience,” Dicso said. “It’s just another way to engage clients.”
SundaySky got started five years ago and began serving retail customers in 2009 with video showcases that let online shoppers get a deeper dive on products. But those weren’t personalized or built dynamically in real-time like the new smart videos, which first appeared last year. Now, AT&T, Orange and many other corporate customers are turning to smart videos to enhance their customer support. SundaySky, which has taken $17 million from Carmel Ventures, Globespan Capital Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, makes its money by offering its software on a subscription basis.
I like what SundaySky is doing. People want more personalized services and they appreciate when a company can cater to their needs, especially if it’s done in a visually appealing way. And if they can expect to get their answers in a two-minute video, it’s preferable than spending a lot more time potentially on hold. This won’t work for every industry and there are still always questions that just can’t get answered by a video. But it shows how smart use of personal data and dynamic video can improve what is usually a pretty big pain point for companies and customers.