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The growing use of technology by SA companies to engage with customers has seen a rise in the use of services like chatbots and automated communications in sectors such as fast food, automotive, pay TV and insurance. 

According to Indian research firm Mordor Intelligence, the chatbot market is valued at $17.17bn in 2020 globally, and it is projected to reach $102.29bn by 2026, with a compound annual growth rate of 34.75% during the period. 

In SA, chatbots have gained popularity with consumer-facing businesses as a way to increase efficiency by cutting costs and increasing productivity. 

In 2019, Vodacom began to use artificial intelligence to save on costs, with its TOBi chatbot engaging customers more frequently. The chatbot can handle customer queries that would otherwise have been handled by a human operator. At the time of the initial announcement in November of that year, use of the platform had resulted in a 25% reduction in total call volume for the operator.

CompariSure, an SA fintech company, distributes financial services products via a proprietary chatbot platform that is used in messaging services such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

While some companies can create their platforms, others turn to third-party specialists to implement the technology. 

One company leading the charge in the local market is cm.com, a communications specialist that develops chatbot platforms for companies such as BMW and Coca-Cola. By working with Facebook parent company Meta, which operates the WhatsApp instant messaging service, cm.com also has integration for chat services in WhatsApp. The technology works via SMS, voice and Twitter. 

The US-based company operates in 21 countries, having been in SA since 2016. Locally, it competes with Clickatell and infobip. 

In an interview with Business Day, the company’s country director, James Bayhack, said revenue for SA had risen 40% in the 2021 financial year owing to growing use and demand for the technology from clients like insurer Hollard.

He cited KFC as an example of a company that uses the technology as part of its e-commerce offering.

“They’ve introduced this click-and-collect service over WhatsApp. You open up a WhatsApp channel and then through it you’re able to: one, determine the KFC that is closest to you; two, get a menu of food that’s available from that KFC; and three, order it and then go to that particular KFC and collect it.”

He said the click-and-collect service was part of the first phase. In the second “we’re going to enable a payment”.

In the course of doing business, chatbots have a number of common uses across sectors. For example: an acquisition chatbot can be used to start conversations that lead to direct sales, while a collections chatbot is built to help with collecting bills and payments from customers. In logistics, a “Where Is My Order” chatbot can communicate with internal or third-party courier systems to track down orders quickly for customers.

In media, radio stations like Jacaranda FM, 947, KFM, East Coast Radio and KFM use the tech to streamline and organise large volumes of listener engagement. “You can imagine as a radio station how many engagements they get during radio shows from people calling in, sending voice notes and all that kind of stuff,” says Bayhack.

While the technology is progressive, it is viewed by some, like many other instances of automation, as taking away jobs that could be done by humans.

MultiChoice has in the recent past gone through retrenchment processes linked to increasing use of automation in their call centres, owing to shifting consumer behaviour in favour of digital channels.



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