Chatbots—artificial intelligence (AI) systems that enable customer engagement via SMS, speech, or chat applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp—are increasingly becoming a popular method for organisations to interact with their consumers.

While chatbots are not widely used by companies in Africa currently, a number of startups on the continent are looking to deepen this use case of AI. One such is ChatBots Africa, a Ghana-based startup that helps small businesses automate customer interactions and sales channels using social chatbots.

Founded by CEO Ronald Tagoe and launched in January this year, ChatBots provides organisations with AI-powered conversational bots to interact with their customers via WhatsApp. 

With WhatsApp being the most popular instant messaging app in Africa, boasting billions of users, ChatBots Africa’s solution allows companies to personally engage at scale with people on a platform where they’re already spending a lot of time.

“Our solution enables clients to hold real-time conversations with customers, build brand credibility and boost engagement in a way that drives sales and enhances business efficiency,” Tagoe told TechCabal in an interview. “Even when customer service personnel aren’t available, chatbots work around the clock to attend to online visitors.”

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Prior to starting Chatbots Africa, Tagoe co-founded mNotify, a communications company that offers SMS and voice technology services to corporate organisations. He has a computer science background with a master’s degree from the University of Leicester.

“My passion for AI and social commerce adaptation in Africa inspired the founding of Chatbots Africa,” Tagoe said. “The goal is to empower African SMEs to increase revenue and enhance customer engagement using AI and chatbots.”

ChatBots Africa currently has eight active clients and 10 bots waiting to go live across Ghana and Kenya.

Tagoe has so far bootstrapped the startup with plans to raise a seed round before the third quarter of 2022, as well as expand a team of six full-time workers and seven part-time sales staff. “We’re also currently applying for accelerator and funding programmes,” he said.

Championing enterprise AI in Africa

AI is expected to add more than $15 trillion to the total global economy by 2030. Much of this value will be realised in advanced economies like the US and UK, with only a few countries currently adopting the technology in Africa.

The lack of skills required to design, develop, and maintain AI-enabled systems is a major barrier to their adoption on the continent.

But Tagoe notes that this isn’t a problem with ChatBots Africa platform, which he explains is built for all ranges of experiences, from the complete newbie to the advanced user.

“Chatbots are mostly no-code or low-code tools and thus have low barriers to entry or adoption,” he said. “With our platform, you don’t need any coding skills to get results. It also comes with step-by-step video training.”

Still, the startup has found driving adoption to be a challenge, which Tagoe says is down to the fact that most SMEs haven’t fully grasped the potential impact chatbot solutions could have on their businesses.

In the long-term, Tagoe envisions Chatbots Africa championing AI bot adaptation for enterprise use cases in Africa. 

For instance, the platform does more than just connect to clients through WhatsApp but can also be customised to sync with other tools used for day-to-day business tasks, including sales and marketing. Bots can update company spreadsheets with new information and even ping customers with reminders and alerts if they abandon their shopping carts.

“Essentially, we provide a more personalised and conversational approach to customer engagement,” Tagoe said. “But our platform also works with many business apps to make its use seamless and convenient.”

To him, it’s in the best interest of businesses in Africa to embrace automation of their customer engagements and repetitive tasks. 

“Likewise, consumers should be comfortable interacting with bots and trust that their queries would be handled with urgency,” he added.

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Michael Ajifowoke West Africa Reporter, TechCabal

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