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Klaus vom Hofe

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Deutsche Telekom products: Customers participate in the development

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Smart home, digital assistant, gaming and more: Deutsche Telekom is working on many new devices and services for consumers. Consumers have a seat at the table during development. Their opinions are incorporated into new ideas and products. I was at one such meeting to blog about it.

Actually, we would have met this Tuesday in our "Telekom Design Gallery" for the Customer Café": Katja, Klara, Caro, Stephan - and above all our customer Christian. And me as a blogger from Deutsche Telekom Corporate Communications. "Customer Café" is the name of the monthly format in which Telekom brings together its product managers and developers with customers. The goal is to test prototypes and get first-hand opinions from consumers on ideas and concepts. 

Deutsche Telekom's "Customer Café.

Anyone who develops products in the dark and only reads consumers' opinions in coffee grounds cannot be successful. So what is needed is listening, as in the case of Deutsche Telekom's "Customer Café.  

Of course, the pandemic has also shifted our meeting to the virtual world. We are sitting in our workrooms. I feel a bit insecure at the screen. Like a foreign body in the round. Because I'm only there as an exception, to write about it later. But Christian sweeps away my concerns as I introduce myself and my role. " Everything's fine," he laughs into the camera when I tell him what I'm doing. Christian works in the IT industry. Like for me, this is his first Deutsche Telekom "Customer Café". However, he's been a tester on various test portals for years, as he says: "In the past because of the money, now out of fun and interest." He believes the view of those for whom the products are built is crucial.  

Just like Katja and Stephan. Both work in Deutsche Telekom's innovation team. She as a product manager and he as a software tester. And they both work on two machines that help customers with artificial intelligence. One in writing, the other verbally.

Let me introduce you to machines. One machine is called "Frag Magenta" (Ask Magenta). This is our chatbot or "digital assistant" from Telekom. It helps in writing with service questions, from Internet faults to contract extensions to bills. Computer Bild has named Frag Magenta the "Top Digital Assistant 2021. The other machine is our voice assistant for the home from Deutsche Telekom. It can be used to make calls or operate MagentaTV and SmartHome devices by voice, for example - and in a data-secure manner. It also addresses personal concerns, such as contract or bill issues. In the future, the "Smart Speaker Mini" will learn more and more of what Frag Magenta does in customer service.

A lot of programming work

Katja and Stephan work at the interface between the machines. They translate dialog texts, questions, answers and information from Frag Magenta into speech and the customer's spoken word into text so that Frag Magenta understands it. And they are developing new applications for service concerns that the Smart Speaker Mini is supposed to help with. Both know: That's a lot of programming work, even for supposedly small processes, like information about the bill. To get it right, they want to get a feel for it today: Is it enough for customers to find out their landline and cell phone bill amounts via voice assistant? Do they need the total amount? Or do they want to go deeper, for example, into the costs of individual connections? 

Christian doesn't yet know what it's all about. Like all the participants, he goes into the half-hour interview without knowing the topic. After all, he needs to react spontaneously. Klara leads the conversation with him. Among other things, she specializes in user research. Klara introduces the customer, starts with the structured questionnaire. Christian impresses me: He manages all his invoices and receipts in the cloud, wants to keep an eye on everything, as he tells me. Something I would also like to do in my private life, but never manage to do 😉. 

Deutsche Telekom customer Christian Baum shared his views at the Customer Café.

Deutsche Telekom customer Christian Baum shared his views at the Customer Café.  

Christian thinks that finding out the bill amount via a voice assistant is a "nice feature" - but it's less interesting for him personally. Precisely because he has his own proven view of his finances. Nevertheless, he is happy to continue judging, giving his view on the topics addressed. Klara also plays a voice dialog with the Smart Speaker Mini on the topic. Christian responds by describing how he would find the dialogue most helpful. He highlights a point where the device switches from its usual topics to the service topics of Frag Magenta, specifically the personal bill announcement: "Ich übergebe an den Telekom-Service" (I'm transferring to Deutsche Telekom' service). Christian's reflex: "Am I now landing somewhere else, for example on the hotline?" 

A valuable reaction for Katja and Stephan. Both eagerly take notes. During the entire interview with Christian, as well as with the five other people Klara and Caro interviewed that day. 

Incorporating the customer's point of view into everyday work

They all receive important impulses - and are enthusiastic about the Customer Café. In order to improve the dialog with the Smart Speaker Mini, Katja and Stephan are now tackling, among other things, the sentence that caught Christian's eye: "Ich übergebe an den Telekom-Service": They also noticed that customers speak of "Handy bill" (Handy is the term for cell phone in Germany) instead of "cell phone bill" - something that is crucial for a voice assistant to learn. The cell phone bill, they learned, is what the users are most interested in. That's because it changes more than the landline bill. "It's also important for them to learn about large deviations quickly, for example by the speaker proactively informing them in such a case," says Katja. "And best of all, why the bill is higher." For Stephan, the software tester, contact with customers or "users" is also very important for his work. He wants to look through their eyes at the applications he puts to the test every day. Some smaller ideas can be implemented very quickly. Others are more complex and must also fit into the overall concept of the speaker. The Deutsche Telekom experts are now sorting all this out in their team. 

The topic of billing via voice assistant is just one of many building blocks that are intended to make it easier for customers to contact Deutsche Telekom. The goal of the experts: In the future, people should be able to pick up on any dialog they have initiated at one point at Deutsche Telekom, be it at Frag Magenta, at the Smart Speaker Mini or at the hotline, at any point later on. Thanks to the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence. But until then, we still need programming work ... and more Customer Cafés. 

I enjoyed it! Thank you very much for having me, Christian Baum! I would also like to thank Katja Hellebrand, Caro Holter, Kristina Mann, Klara Punkenhofer and Stephan Feldmann from the One Conversation innovation project, as well as Astrid Eppstein and Susanne Lebkücher, who organize the customer cafés.

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