Voyc: Artifical Intelligence from Africa to the world

August 02, 2020 00:12:53
Voyc: Artifical Intelligence from Africa to the world
Built in Africa
Voyc: Artifical Intelligence from Africa to the world

Hosted By

Emmanuel Paul

Show Notes

Soundtrack credit: Spark Of Inspiration by Shane Ivers – https://www.silvermansound.com.


Narrator: Have you ever contacted a customer care centre to lodge a complaint and heard this?

SFX: Phone ringing… click.. “This call may be monitored and recorded for quality assurance”.

Narrator: In this episode of Built in Africa, we’ll be taking a look at how South African startup, Voyc, is working to improve how call centres handle customer experience with its AI-based software

Narrator: Almost every organisation, especially in the finance space, that runs a call centre has to record and save all calls that come in. Later, a team of quality assurance professionals replays the recordings to study whether call centre agents are doing their job properly and resolving customer complaints satisfactorily.

But there’s a problem. An average call centre with about 50 call agents can accumulate up to 7000 hours of calls a month. Can you imagine having to replay 7000 hours of calls in a month? Even with a team of 10 quality assurance professionals listening round the clock, it’d still take another month to get through them.

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “In actual fact, only 2% of those calls are monitored. So they manually listen to only 2% of the calls. Meaning 98% of the time, if something wrong happens in that call, they only find out about it when you complain as a customer or when something terrible happens”.

Narrator: That’s Lethabo Motsoaledi, co-founder and CTO of Voyc. Voyc, spelt V-O-Y-C, is a South African AI software company that helps businesses automate monitoring of contact centre interactions and extract valuable insights.

At its core, what Voyc is doing isn’t necessarily new.

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “The call centre environment is very much full of large incumbents that pretty much do call recording software and technologies. If you run a call centre, you have traditionally very archaic software that does your call recordings. So they can do up to like 2 million recordings a month, never lose a call. 

In the previous years, those incumbents have started trying to look into speech analytics. They said ‘we store all your calls so we might as well start offering analytics for those calls’. Except the way in which they approached it  was similar to the way they approached a lot of things; it was very complex software, users don’t typically know how to use it and the analytics is not always as sharp as it needs to be, and it’s very much like a 6 to sometimes 18-month process before any of the analytics that you put into the system starts making sense for your company”.

Narrator: But Voyc has a different approach

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “So we approached it as, ‘we built some very easy, lightweight software that does some serious heavy lifting of machine learning and AI to analyse conversations.

Narrator: First, Voyc’s artificial intelligence automatically transcribes recorded calls to text. During the transcription, the software identifies any anomalies in a call, for example, a threat from a caller.

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “We use machine learning to pick up any key topics in the conversation so that.. An interesting example is a customer of ours that sells travel insurance. When Coronavirus hit, our unsupervised machine learning approach was able to pick up Coronavirus as a topic, to show that people were starting to be confused about the messaging around Coronavirus. So that’s what our unsupervised machine learning approach does.

We then also analyse emotion. That is, we look for politeness, impoliteness, frustration, anger, sadness, so that managers can escalate. So we found that a lot of customers were typically frustrated with pushy agents; agents forcing them to buy products they don’t wanna buy, or frustrated about customer service, or frustrated around the policies that they’ve received. So we make it a lot easier for customers to find that.“

Narrator: Lethabo says the software can go through 250 hours of calls in a matter of minutes.

Voyc didn’t start out as a company or product to monitor call centre conversations. Around 2016, Lethabo and her long-time business partner, Voyc CEO, Matthew Westaway had a challenge.

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “Just before launching Voyc, we had a user experience agency that analysed a lot of different interviews and at that time in 2016/2017, we were looking for software to help us quickly analyse these interviews. And failing to find any software, we built our own software that would help use analyse interviews and also use speech -detecting technology and natural language processing.

And so we went to market with a product that did exactly that. The more companies we engaged with, the more people asked, ‘why aren’t you in the call centre business?’ because call centres would drastically need this kind of technology”. 

Narrator: Voyc kicked off as a company in 2018. But in spite of the apparent demand, Lethabo says it took them a year and some months to figure out a product-market fit. 

In early 2019, they had a short stint in Nigeria via the Google Launchpad network. Though the startup was in conversation with telecom operator, MTN Nigeria and a few other companies, none of the talks yielded anything. Also, via Standard Bank, one of its clients in South Africa, Voyc got access to its affiliate in Kenya.

Eventually, they came to settle for the insurance industry as their primary market. Lethabo gives some insight:

Lethabo Motsoaledi: “The business of insurance is typically, usually conducted over the phone. So you can’t walk into an insurance company and buy insurance. You can only usually buy it over the phone and for that reason, the call recording is the contract. This means that they have to almost go through a hundred per cent of the sale so that if they need to claim later on, they can 100% know that ‘we sold the right thing to the customer’.

And so typically, insurance companies have a team of QA people that listen to the call… That’s their job description, like they go to work everyday to listen to those calls… So it means that they have an existing budget for quality assurance. So when we approach them and we say ‘we are automating this process so that your quality assurance team can essentially cover a hundred per cent and focus on the most important things’, it’s a no-brainer in terms of the conversation. 

We have seen other companies, such as those retail, want to engage, yet the need for it is not as urgent as insurance”. 

Narrator: However, there’s another challenge, this time a regional one. 

In most parts of Africa, insurance is still a fledgling industry which means there are only a handful of companies that Voyc can work with. Also, due to minimum wage disparity across Africa, pricing is difficult

Lethabo Motsoaledi:  “Our business model used to charge per hour and then we also moved on to charging per agent. But the challenge that we faced in South Africa, and Africa (which we have expanded to through South African companies), is that typically, the quality assurance person is paid minimum wage, which is lower than the cost of running Voyc an hour. 

So if we look at how much call centre people are paid in Africa, that amount is so much lower that we are more expensive than people so… because we automate the role”

Narrator: This means that the price Voyc charged per agent per hour was higher than the minimum wage of agents per hour so some clients found it difficult to pay.

So what do you do as an African startup that isn’t solving a continental problem? You solve a global one by treading international waters.

 Lethabo Motsoaledi: “So if we were really to put ourselves as are we solving an African, I would say ‘no’ because we are an African startup, we are fully an African-born solution but are we solving an African problem? It’s a no because the financial industry, the insurance industry and the problem we are solving is not set up exactly the same way in the different markets in Africa’; South Africa being the unique one, a few other markets, we’ve seen the case with Malawi and Nigeria but the majority of the population don’t buy insurance in that way or they don’t operate over the call centre in that way.

So, in a sense, you would say ‘no’, we are not solving an African problem per se but a more global problem that happens to have pockets in Africa”.  

Narrator: Voyc moved its headquarters to the Netherlands from where it plans to serve the UK, US, Australia and other international insurance markets similar to South Africa’s.

With this mindset, the startup has been able to secure a dozen clients including names like 1Life Insurance, Bryte Insurance, Momentum, and Stangen Insurance. The amount charged per enterprise starts at $2,000 per month or $25,000 per year.

So far, Voyc has been able to raise a significant amount of capital from angel investors and US-based seed accelerator, Techstars, but the company isn’t big on announcing its funding.

Now that Voyc has figured out its market, the startup is focused on growing its customer base while solving other existential challenges like diversity and fair treatment of companies and customers, not just in Africa, but around the world.

Thank you for listening to the Built In Africa Podcast.

This script was adapted by Muyiwa Matuluko

Research and interview by Heritage Kene-Okafor

Sound design by Oghenekaro Obrutu

This is a production of Techpoint Africa

I am Oluwanifemi Kolawole

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For more stories on startups and innovation in Africa, please visit Techpoint.africa

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