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ChatGPT may well become the “calculator for writing,” PICTURE: 123rf
ChatGPT may well become the “calculator for writing,” PICTURE: 123rf

ChatGPT, the large language model that has taken the world by storm in a short three months, is expected to do away with a number of traditional jobs.

Experts say customer service and support agents now face the biggest threat to their job security due to the platform’s advanced ability to interact like a human. 

ChatGPT is a chatbot launched by AI nonprofit OpenAI in November 2022. It is capable of generating human-like text and has a range of applications including translation.

The platform has proved to be popular in its relatively short lifespan, reaching a million users much faster than Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites.

“What is chatgpt” was the fifth most searched for term on Google in SA for January, according to the technology company. 

The argument being made now is that systems like ChatGPT have the ability to actually be integrated into business systems, giving them more knowledge about how a business works, putting traditional workers at a disadvantage. 

CLEVVA co-CEO Ryan Falkenberg said: “It’s hardly surprising that people wonder what jobs ChatGPT and technologies like it might replace. Customer service agents jump to mind. After all, if it can convincingly tackle an MBA exam question, why shouldn’t ChatGPT be able to deal with your average customer query?” 

Falkenberg’s firm builds, deploys and manages chatbots, which it calls “IT virtual agents”, for companies in banking, insurance, telecoms, utilities and retail. 

He says ChatGPT stands out from other chatbots and digital assistants because it looks across the broadest possible selection of content on a topic and offers a single consolidated view, written in a way that feels as if an expert has authored the “single” response or answer.

Customer support staff have already been hugely affected by technology the world over.

In SA, MultiChoice cut hundreds of jobs at its call and walk-in centres in 2019. At the time, the DStv operator said the changes in the customer service model were in response to evolving customer behaviour as subscribers opt for digital platforms instead of telephone or walk-in services. 

The rise of ChatGPT and other competing platforms could signal yet another wave of disruption for this sector. For now, such AI is working through text, but developments are underway for these platforms to receive verbal input and output natural sounding and human-like voiced responses. 

This is further compounded by the range of knowledge that ChatGPT can have access to, already knowing a lot about a company’s specific products and services, based on information from websites and on social media. Anything that is in the public domain can form part of ChatGPT’s knowledge range.

“ChatGPT is not simply a smart librarian. It is able to perform like an expert, offering you a very specific, coherent and mostly complete response to almost any request or question you can think of. And while it does make mistakes, it gets an awful lot right,” said Falkenberg. 

By 2019, 46% of South African companies said they were already actively piloting AI within their organisations, according to Microsoft’s “AI Maturity Report in South Africa, conducted by EY. ChatGPT looks to be speeding up AI adoption rates. 

While good customer service is generally expected from businesses, exceptional service rose to prominence during the pandemic years, which saw businesses involved in an anxious scramble to win market share from their competitors.

“Many brands that differentiated themselves by leveraging excellent customer service came out on top,” says Arnold February, a regional investment manager at SME financier Business Partners Limited.

The third edition of the “Most Loved Local” report, published by Santam, found that South Africans rate a “good experience overall” as the primary criterion for small, locally owned businesses they deem to be the best in their fields. Over a third of survey respondents claimed their experience of a brand or business had become either more important or as important as other factors since the onset of the pandemic.

“Powered by digital tools, we can add a new level of personalisation to the customer experience, as well as more convenience, more choice and better customer relations based on data,” February says.

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