Across Africa, there is a remarkable increase in activity to leverage the benefits accruable from artificial intelligence utilization.
One critical sector where AI use is growing rapidly in Africa is customer service. Customer experience is an area where businesses give a lot of focus since it is much easier to keep existing customers happy than having to constantly find new customers.
Increasingly, and within Africa, AI chatbots are helping companies to improve customer service, enhance customer loyalty and increase brand reputation. It’s just a matter of time before AI-powered chatbots become ubiquitous in our everyday lives.
Chatbots—AI-based programs designed to conduct a conversation in a convincing manner that replicates conversing with another human being—are increasingly adopted by African companies.
Safaricom PLC, United Bank of Africa (UBA), Barclays Africa (Absa) are among the many companies that have decided to ride the waves of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The potential benefits that can be accrued from the use of artificial intelligence and chatbots in customer service are numerous. This is evidenced by the advocacy for their use by tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. According to IBM, companies can save up to 30% of costs by using chatbots for customer service.
Here are just but a few AI chatbots used by various companies in Africa.
Zuri – Safaricom
Zuri is a chatbot assistant used by Safaricom PLC, a leading mobile network operator in Kenya. Safaricom introduced Zuri to its customers in December 2018, a year after Telegram messaging app added support for payments for chatbots.
Zuri enables Safaricom users to access services such as purchasing data bundles, airtime and managing subscription services. Users can also perform a broad range of tasks, including MPESA reversals, checking MPESA and airtime bundles as well as obtaining information about how to retrieve PUK numbers, unlocking their MPESA account and requesting a loan.
The use of USSD codes can be confusing and complex to some users and this is the gap that Zuri helps to bridge. Safaricom, which boasts over 33.1 million users, hopes Zuri self-care solution will enable the telco to improve customer service while reducing the number of calls to their call centers. Zuri is currently accessible on both Telegram and Facebook Messenger.
Leo – UBA Group
Leo is among the first chatbots used for banking purposes in Africa. It was launched in January 2018 by the United Bank of Africa (UBA) to enable customers of the bank to have access to select banking services including account opening, loan applications, account balance checking, cheque confirmations, bill payment, account freezing, and instant notifications.
Leo is a glimpse into the future of artificial intelligence and the numerous functionalities it could be applied to. With more people preferring unconventional banking over queuing in banking halls, it has become imperative to deformalize the banking process. UBA is committed to providing the high-tech, high-touch client experience and sees Leo as a fit for achieving this goal.
The AI-driven bot is available on both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and users have the option to receive premier league updates and weather forecasts at no extra cost. It also supports multiple languages including English, French, and Portuguese.
Since its launch last year, Leo has won several awards, including the Euromoney Award. When explaining how businesses are using Facebook to connect better with their customers, Mark Zuckerberg used Leo as an illustration at Facebook F8 event in May 2018 saying:
“Leo is doing incredible things”.
Big words, right? As of February 2019, Leo AI bot was boasting over one million subscribers across 17 African countries.
ChatBanking – Barclays Africa (Absa)
Barclays Africa (Absa) launched ChatBanking on WhatsApp two years ago to connect with customers through their conversational channels of choice rather than traditional SMS or email. ChatBanking uses artificial intelligence to answer simple questions posted by customers while allowing customers to bank seamlessly within their preferred social media app wherever they are.
The AI chatbot enables customers to check their bank balance, make payments to friends, view mini-credit reports and even purchase electricity bundles and airtime from the convenience of a conversational interface.
Last year, Absa said that it has more than 10, 000 customers registered on the service adding that in the first 20 days since launch, the bank received more than 300, 000 messages from customers using the platform. The bank also has a similar service on Facebook Messenger.
Founded by Nati Gossaye in Ethiopia, LangBot is quite different from the flock. With most chatbots focusing on customer care, Langbot’s primary function is language teaching and learning. The gamification and AI-powered bot allow schools, teachers or publishers to easily create AI chatbots which act as personal language tutors that teach or prepare learners for tests using content they create on the platform.
LangBot provides teachers with essential tools they need to develop their own lessons or plans and give personalized language teaching and testing to students. It is currently accessible via Facebook Messenger, and supports French and English languages.
AI-powered chatbots are gaining popularity among top companies in Africa mainly because of their ability to automate operations and provide more friction-less customer service. However, chatbots lack human touch such as empathy and some users may perceive it as distant or cold.
Security of user’s data is another key issue about AI chatbots. The fear that this data may be misused raises privacy concerns among users and may reduce acceptance among customers. A new report about the use of bots on Telegram says that adding a bot to a chat or channel undermines its security, potentially making it easier for a third party to intercept messages.
Nevertheless, AI-based chatbots are going big all around the African continent as companies continue to use them to help with day-to-day tasks unique to Africa.