• Monday, June 24, 2024
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MTN, 9Mobile are building chatbots: Why it matters


The chatbot market in Nigeria will soon get two new entrants, according to an industry source familiar with the matter.

The source told BusinessDay exclusively that two telcos, MTN Nigeria and 9Mobile, are on course to launch their chatbots soon.

In 2018, financial institutions in Nigeria like United Bank for Africa (UBA) and the defunct Diamond Bank led the way in the chatbot market. While the latter bank has been merged with Access Bank, UBA’s chatbot named Leo is still active.

Sources told BusinessDay that both MTN and 9Mobile are looking to deepen customer experience with chatbots. For 9Mobile it may be part of efforts to rebuild its voice and internet subscriber base which has been depleted in the past four years and only starting to recover in July. A source at 9Mobile said the chatbot is still in production and would be unveiled to the public once it is ready for launch.

However, a prototype seen by the source shows that it is a generic chatbot widget that will be resident on the telco’s website. It will be able to respond to basic customer requests.

BusinessDay can also report that some fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) in Nigeria are also working on chatbots which they plan to release as soon as possible. Thus, the chatbot market in the country looks to be picking up finally.

The global chatbot market is projected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2019 to $9.6 billion by 2024. Analysts say the global disruption brought about by the pandemic has forced many organisations to embrace automation systems to help save costs and respond to customer requests at scale and chatbots are one of the key technologies driving this change. A report in 2018 found that the number of chatbots on Facebook Messenger increased from 100,000 to 300,000. UBA’s Leo is part of this population.

But the market is still nascent in Nigeria and banks are already beginning to reduce the momentum they showed in 2018 when after UBA’s announcement of Leo, about four other banks followed in quick succession.

Read more From Leo to Ada: Nigerian banks get creative with chatbots

Over the months, indications have emerged that customers are not so in love with the chatbots as the banks’ had anticipated. Diamond Bank’s chatbot called Ada was rested as soon as the merger with Access Bank was completed.

“The problem with Chatbots is that most of those at the forefront of the technology don’t understand its practical applications,” Muyiwa Ogundiya, a certified chatbot professional, said. “There is really no product person. Just developers, hence the user experience or in this case conversational experience ends up being very very poor. This is not only in Nigeria but all around the world.”

He says for the new chatbots from MTN and 9Mobile to attract users, they have to be proactive and not reactive. Many of the chatbots launched by banks in 2018 merely reacted to questions customers asked and the responses to customers’ requests were done in a monologue fashion.

This is why more global companies are opting for conversational chatbots. There are different classifications of chatbots.

Conversational chatbots are by far the most advanced chatbots that utilize artificial intelligence. These chatbots use artificial intelligence and natural language processing in order to deliver the best experience possible to the user. Thanks to these technologies, the bot considers the different words that form the sentence, analyzes them as well as any available context in order to get a contextual understanding of a question. It can then apply that understanding towards the resolution of the query.

“Would you not like it if UBA Leo for instance would send you a list of financial articles from different sources every morning? Or imagine if Leo was to send you a mini post on how to access forex in these trying times. Or how to cut down on energy costs with the hike in electricity tariffs?” Ogundiya said.

Chatbots are a long way from addressing the problems Nigeria has in financial inclusion since users would necessarily require an internet connection to be able to chat. It is, therefore, safe to say MTN and 9Mobile would not be targeting customers at the bottom of the pyramid, rather the focus would be on those with access to the internet. The addressable market there is limited.

Beyond the ability to afford the internet, is the challenge of actually convincing the paying customers to use the chatbots. Not many internet users in Nigeria know what a chatbot is, it’s relevance, and how to use it. Hence, beyond just launching a chatbot, the telcos will need to invest in education.

In addressing the relevance of chatbot, the telcos would need to draw a fine line between its many intrusive messages and the chatbot service. On several occasions, telcos have drawn the ire of subscribers with several unsolicited messages.

In the case of banks, promises of making faster transactions were part of the incentives that attracted users. The telcos would need a strategy different from the banks to convince customers of the usefulness of their chatbots.