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Conversational AI moves into SA call centres

Chatbot technology is helping insurance companies leverage platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to engage with consumers in a natural and authentic form

Even before COVID-19 plunged the world into crisis, artificial intelligence (AI) – and more specifically conversational AI – was fast becoming a key feature in the digitisation of customer-facing industries like insurance. In fact, Gartner had predicted that 85% of customer interactions will be managed without humans by 2021.

There are many benefits to this: consumers will get instant service; companies will reduce costs; and human agents can spend their time solving more important issues. But despite the global industry moving in a digitised direction for some time, South Africa had been slow to adapt, resulting in an industry that was still heavily reliant on call centres to complete sales and provide customer service. That is, until the COVID-19 crisis hit.

This is according to Matt Kloos, CFO of CompariSure – a local fintech company that is leveraging its conversational AI technology to enable some of South Africa’s most well-established insurers to engage digitally with all consumers in the most natural and authentic form possible, via “chat”. 

“With the COVID-19 lockdown forcing greater and more rapid digital adoption in South Africa, we are seeing our technology being widely validated by demand from both end-consumers and insurers alike.”

Kloos explains that CompariSure’s proprietary chatbot technology, which leverages popular platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, has enabled heavy-weight traditional industry players like Sanlam, Old Mutual and Momentum Metropolitan to have automated, highly-personalised conversations with consumers – at scale.             

“Not only have sales levels more than doubled since lockdown began, but we have also had a surge in demand from insurers looking to partner with us, to license and use our conversational AI technology,” he says.

As the first and only authorised financial services provider (FSP) in South Africa to have successfully completed sales via a fully-automated Facebook Messenger chatbot, Kloos believes CompariSure is uniquely positioned to support the industry during this time of major digital transition. “Over the years, our team has perfected the art of partnering human empathy with machine learning to enable financial institutions to seamlessly integrate conversational AI into their service offering.”

Thus far, Kloos says they’ve partnered with insurers in two ways: “On the one side, we build customised white-labelled chatbot solutions for our insurance partners, enabling them to have automated ‘chat’ engagements directly with consumers, for either sales or customer service. 

“On the other side, insurers can also sell their products on CompariSure’s e-marketplace, where they gain access to our team’s digital marketing expertise,” he adds. “We have a brilliant team, including several members with PhDs focussed on machine learning, and what the chatbot is able to do never ceases to amaze me.”

Underpinning the tech firm’s chatbot technology is deep analysis of reams of data being generated via authentic conversations. “To date, we’ve had over 8 million touchpoints with end-users, with every conversation point and path being analysed so as to improve the customer experience,” says Kloos.

A tangible recent example he gives to demonstrate the chatbot getting “smarter” is around the question of education level. “As part of our life insurance quoting process, the chatbot asks users, ‘What is your highest level of education?’, with the reply options being: ‘No Matric’, ‘Matric’, ‘Diploma’ or ‘Degree’. Many users, however, respond by simply saying how far they got in school, i.e. ‘Std 9’, for example. Initially the chatbot did not understand the term ‘Std 9’, but after observing this pattern repeatedly, it eventually asked­­ our internal chatbot manager, ‘The user said Std 9. I think they meant No Matric. Am I correct?’”

While this is a relatively simple example of pattern recognition, the impact on society of conversational technology, combined with scientific data sciences, will be vast and profound, says Kloos. “We see our technology as being an enabler and providing a win-win solution for each stakeholder. End-users can access a broad range of quality products in the most natural way possible – a simple ‘chat’ – and insurers can interact with a broader segment of society at a lower cost than before, while also freeing up human agents to focus on more value-added tasks.” 

Kloos notes that the next logical step for the company’s chatbot is vehicle insurance and that CompariSure is also actively exploring opportunities beyond financial services with other consumer-facing brands.

Many say that COVID-19 hasn’t created any major new trends, it has simply accelerated existing trends, and Kloos agrees. “It appears that the adoption of conversation technology by both end-users and brands alike is a case-in-point,” he says.

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