Is Artificial Intelligence gaining ground in Africa?  

By Avinash Ramtohul

Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings a whole new dimension to the drive for customer intimacy. The convenience customers experience weighs heavier than any reduction in privacy. Customers also increasingly express their willingness to welcome intimacy, motivated by improved personalized services.

There are two trends we see emerging with the delivery of customer service:

  1. customer privacy
  2. customer intimacy

Digital customer intimacy (commonly known as customer centricity) becomes possible when data about customers is available in abundance and AI algorithms consume this data to comprehend and act.

The correct, analytical use of data can enhance customer satisfaction and reveal business opportunities. AI adds weight to the customer centricity, while regulations (e.g. GDPR) put pressure downwards on the privacy pan! The favour will fall to customer centricity, at the expense of privacy.

Similar to this debate, is the one held 25 years ago with the birth of the mobile phone – a passing fab, was it going to survive? The answer emerged to be a no-brainer. Artificial Intelligence is set for a similar fate for all the good that it has in store affecting all spheres of lives of humans and enterprises.

The remit of AI being broader than what this article can realistically contain and effectively describe, we will thus focus on customer centricity and intimacy.

One would struggle to discredit the statement that “in today’s world, customer centricity is the mantra for success” arguing that it, is more of rhetoric than reality in African markets – perceptually late in accepting and adopting the digital revolution.

In fact, Africa seems to be emerging as a growing user of AI in the field of customer intimacy. Data, often termed as the new oil, is to AI what food is to humans. Sub-Saharan Africa today houses almost 1 billion inhabitants who are generating data everyday. By 2050, Africa will contain the world’s largest youth population who will rely much more on AI technologies than today’s generations X, Y and Z. The United States and some European countries are expecting an increase of over 30% in labour productivity with AI (according to a report, Fuel for Growth, by Accenture) compared to expected baseline productivity levels in 2035. Is this the next chance for Africa?

The browsing pattern of users generates volumes of data that reveal valuable insight about customers. This data can be modelled to help carve the next digital campaign, the next product to be launched and the service types that will sound most appealing to different segments of the market. Applying this logic to the banking sector, customers’ transactions can reveal hidden patterns in their lifestyle, spending/eating/drinking/clothing habits, not necessarily excluding those of her/his family members. This provides retail bankers with Ali Baba’s cave to explore. Valuables to take home could be innovative products that would compel purchase and predictability of the purchase.

We see this trend coming into realization with several African ventures already relying on AI and digital technologies. For instance, Africa’s digital banks birthed in 2017, target the youth segment based on convenience, simplicity and reliability. Accounts opened online and documents uploaded through mobile apps.

Regional banks, in Africa, have successfully deployed Chatbots for better customer satisfaction; data mined through strong algorithms to identify customers’ likes and dislikes, seasonality and propensity of purchase with a flavour of spending ability.

Today’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Experience (CX) systems come with embedded AI features, which handle tasks that could be mundane in nature (e.g. autonomously approving expense bills given similar parameters) and embedded with chatbots to ensure customers enjoy a 24/7  personalised service.

Executives save time they would have spent on mundane tasks, all the while customers enjoy a better experience, and that’s only part of what AI can do.

(Avinash Ramtohul is Oracle’s MD for Mauritius).


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