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The Need for Operators to Expand Call Centres

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Telecommunications sector of the country economy has witnessed over the past nine years tremendous growth in different sphere, aside growth in number of Nigerians who now have access to communications tool known as telephone, service delivery has also recorded growth.
What use to be the traditional services that both code division multiple access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) started with which is voice has been expanded to include such as services as internet, video among others. All these are made possible by technological upgrade embarked upon by operators in the industry.
The nature of services delivery by telecommunications operators whether voice or data is a system that allows service providers to install or set up telecommunications equipment at a particular location far from its operational base and deliver services to people within that coverage area.
What this means is that a telephone or Internet service provider that is based in Lagos with its main transmission equipment installed in Lagos can deliver services to such locations as in Sokoto or Uyo by simply installing another transmission equipment and transceiver station that will transmit calls from the sundry locations to the main switching centre probably in Lagos.
Subscribers to the service in Sokoto or Uyo as the case may be will enjoy the service without having to see the people rendering the service but agents not directly employed by the service provider as well as their equipment. The question that rises is how can these subscribers located far from the operational base of the operator reach out to the operator to resolve issues arising from service delivery? Such issues as recharging of phones, where recharge card numbers have been scratched off, Sim card issues among others. These issues are addressed through telephone contact to the operators’ call centre located mostly at operator’s operational base.
A call centre is a centralized office or building used for the purpose of receiving and transmitting a large volume of request by telephone. A call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product support or information inquires from consumers. Outgoing calls for telemarketing, clientele, product services, and debt collection are also made through a call centre. In addition, a call centre also receives fax, live chat, e-mail among others.
A call centre is often operated through an extensive open work stations that includes a computer for each agent, a telephone set/headset connected to a telecom switch, and one or more supervisor stations. It can be independently operated or networked with additional centres, often linked to a corporate computer network.
Increasingly, the voice and data pathways into the centre are linked through a set of new technologies called computer telephony integration (CTI).
Most major businesses use call centres to interact with their customers. Examples include utility companies, mail order catalog retailers, and customer support for computer hardware and software. Some businesses even service internal functions through call centre. Examples of this include help desk such as the ones banks have open to address issues arising from Automated Teller Machine transactions, and sale support.
Call centres are different from customer care, as the later refers to an office designated for physical resolution of issues associated with service provision. Call centres technology is subject to improvements and innovations. Some of these technologies include speech recognition and speech synthesis software that allows computers to handle first level of customer support, text mining and natural language processing to allow better customer handling, agent training by automatic mining best practices from past interactions, and many other technologies to improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction. Automatic lead selection or lead steering is also intended to improve efficiency both for inbound and outbound campaigns, whereby inbound calls are intended to quickly land with the appropriate agent to handle the task, while minimizing wait times and long list of irrelevant options for people calling in, as well as for outbound calls, where lead selection allows management to designate what type of leads go to which agent based on factors including skill, socio-economic factors and past performance. The concept of the Universal Queue standardizes the processing of communications across multiple technologies such as fax, phone and email.
Few years ago some telecommunications service providers advertised non-existent call centre numbers and this was quickly addressed by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). But today, the issue is no longer none existence of call centre numbers, but inadequate facilities at call centres to be able to take inquires and respond to such inquires even as services being delivered by operators especially GSM and CDMA operators have expanded. For instance, at inception these operators were providing basically voice service as technology has converged voice and data services which position them to expand their service offering to data and internet. To this end, as services are expanded so are issues arising from services increases thereby requiring operators to expand their call centres for effective service delivery. When operators rolled out service in 2002 they were rendering basically voice service, but with advancement in technology which now enables they to delivery internet and video, so is the need for them to expand both customer care centres and call centres to effectively handle issues from the expanded service offerings.
 The inability of telecommunications service providers to address issues associated with their service through contact centers led to NCC providing its own contact centres that will interface with subscribers and operators. Mrs. Lolia Emakporie, director, Consumer Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission NCC said that the establishment of contact centre by the commission has became necessary in view of several complaint by telecom consumers of luster attitude of service providers in addressing subscribers complaint about their service. She added that calls to NCC contact center is toll-free and on 0800CALLNCC, with multi-lingual dedicated agents in English, Pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages. The contact centre is to be operated on behalf of the commission by Interra Networks that will handle phone calls and emails from the 43 million and growing subscriber base on range of issues, but will be primary focused on resolving any dispute between the consumer and their service providers. The NCC will use Interras Business process Outsourcing (BPO) services to get ‘closer’ to the Nigerian consumer.
Through their outsourcing service provider, Apherion Outsourcing, Interra provides a host of BPO services which include Contact centre services, document management services, human Resource management and payroll Processing and Data Entry and Processing.
Service providers’ call centres have experienced changes since 2002, then GSM operators were running the centres by themselves and provided enough staff  to take calls though then subscribers were not as it is today. Then, callers to these centres were meant to talk to human beings and did not wait for a long time before they are answered. As subscribers of the operators increases the number of calls coming to their contact centres increased, and they found out that operating the call centres requires huge investment in  human resource and in an attempt to operate a cost effective call centre, as well as to reduce what they classified as hoax calls which are calls not made to the centre without presenting a problem but rather seeking interaction with the lady recipient as the case may be, that some operators introduced Interactive Voice Response system at their call centres. Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows a computer to detect voice and keypad inputs. IVR system can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR system can be used to control almost any function where the interface can be broken down into a series of simple menu choices.
It has become more common in industries that have recently entered the telecom industry to refer to an automated attendant as an IVR. This means that when discussing an IVR application, it is important to ensure that the person you are talking to understand the term to mean the same thing as you do. Generally-speaking, those with a traditional telecom background are more likely to refer to an Automated Attendant and IVR as separate things, whereas those from an emerging telephony or VoIP background are more likely to use the term IVR to define any kind of telephony menu, even the most basic Automated Attendant. Call centres use IVR system to identify and segment callers. The ability to identify customers allows the ability to tailor services according to profile. It also allows the option of choosing automated services. Information can be fed to the caller allowing choices such as: wait in the queue, choose an automated service, or   request a callback. The use of computer telephone integration (CTI) allows the IVR system to look up the Calling Line ID (CLI) on a network database and identify the caller. This is currently accurate for about 80% of inbound calls. In the cases where CLI is withheld or unavailable, the caller can be asked to identify themselves by other methods such as a PIN or password. The use of DNIS will ensure that the correct application and language is executed by the IVR system. IVR is often criticized as being unhelpful and difficult to use due to poor design and lack of appreciation of the caller’s needs. Some callers object to providing voice response to an automated system and prefer speaking with a human respondent.
A properly designed IVR application should provide the caller’s needs promptly and with a minimum of complexity.
It is against this backdrop that telecom subscribers in the country are agitating to the use of IVR as they are expecting human beings to attend to them and not machines.
In view of all these challenges, arises the question of how telecommunications services providers can improve on the efficiency of their call centre in order to meet both NCC standard as well as the increasing needs of their subscribers?
To this end, what readily comes to mind is outsourcing of the service to a different company other than the operator to enable them face their core function of service delivery. The way such arrangement is design enables the outsourced company to generate complaints either on hour basis to technical section as the case may be of the operator to ensure that such complaints are resolved at the shortest possible time.
This initiative has been adopted by MTN and Zain while GloMobile is on the process of adopting the initiative.
Industry watchers that spoke to Nigeria CommunicationsWeek are of the view that outsourcing is a good initiative as well as the use of IVR. But advise that subscriber be allowed the option of either talking to human being which may attract extra cost or machine at no cost. They say explained that in view of the literate level in our society such option is evitable especially when those that are not well educated call to the centres.

 


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NITDA, FCT-UBEB, Collaborate To Foster Digital Literacy In Schools

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In a significant development in Nigeria’s educational sector aimed at boosting digital literacy among school children, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), is set to collaborate with the Federal Capital Territory Universal Basic Educational Board (FCT-UBEB) towards revolutionising the way young Nigerians engage with technology and equipping them with necessary skills to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

NITDA

The forgoing information is contained in a press statement e-signed by the Head of Corporate Affairs and External Relations at NITDA, Hajia Hadiza Umar.

As per the statement, the Director-General of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi , made this known when he hosted a delegation from the Head-to-Head Debate Committee of FCT UBEB led by its Ag. Executive Chairman, Dr Alhassan Sule, at the Agency’s corporate headquarters in Abuja to discuss possible areas of collaboration.

Mallam Abdullahi , who was represented by the agency’s Director of the Information Technology Infrastructure Solutions (ITIS) department, Oladejo Olawumi, stated that the collaboration aligned with a pillar of NITDA’s Strategic Roadmap and Action Plan (SRAP 2.0) 2024-2027 which was to Foster Digital Literacy and Cultivate Talents.

While stating that the pillar was key to the proposed educational board’s debate competition, the NITDA DG emphasised the importance of integrating technology into education to capture the interest and potential of young people.

“Children today, often referred to as digital natives, intuitively use technology and unlike us, who are digital migrants, these children seamlessly adapt to new gadgets and platforms. Therefore, it is essential to embed digital knowledge in their learning environment,” he noted.

Abdullahi disclosed that the agency had been providing infrastructure and resources to facilitate educational transformation as well as digital learning centres across all states of the country.

He added that the Digital Literacy for All programme was a national initiative of the agency which was designed to extend digital education resources to all corners of the country and urged the visitors to key into the programme while he asserted that it would be instrumental in enhancing digital literacy skills among students and out-of-school children alike.

Highlighting the agency’s focus on emerging technologies, Abdullahi stated that extensive research and development were being conducted in areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics which were pivotal for future skill sets.

While referring to a recent collaboration between the agency and the Abuja Enterprise Agency on a Robotics competition organised for secondary schools in Abuja to spur interest in Robotics and technology among students, he said “I think we can work together in this area and make sure that Robotics interest is geared up among the youth.”

Elaborating on the Agency’s ongoing initiatives toward achieving 70 per cent digital literacy in the country by 2027, he further disclosed that the agency was working to integrate digital literacy into the national educational curriculum and providing hands-on experience with technologies like AI and Robotics.

While stressing the importance of addressing the needs of out-of-school children, he mentioned “We are developing programmes in partnership with various stakeholders to attract these children through incentives like school feeding, coupled with digital literacy and other educational training.”

Abdullahi noted that the multifaceted approach would ensure that children were not only fed but also equipped with essential digital skills that would pave the way for a more inclusive and technologically proficient future.

In his earlier remark, Dr Sule commended the agency for their various strategic initiatives to ensure a sustainable digitally transformed economy in the country.

While stating that the head-to-head committee was saddled with the responsibility of conducting the FCT Basic Schools debate competition, he noted that 900 students in the FCT would contest in a debate.

Sule said that finalists from the competition would be moved to a reality house which will be aired live on different media platforms where they would be trained on AI and Robotics.


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Group Seeks Restructuring of N15Bn USPF

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Association of Telecommunications, Information Technology, Cable Satellite Network Operators and Allied Services Employers of Nigeria (ATICEN) has again called on Dr. Bosun Tijani, minister of Communications, Information and Digital Economy,  and Aminu Maida, executive vicecChairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), to make the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) work for the purpose it was created and be more accountable about the rural telephony projects.

Dr. Bosun Tijani, minister of Communications, Information and Digital Economy

According to the Association, the Fund should be restructured or scrapped if it continues to fail to achieve the purpose for which it was created. It noted that despite the Fund, the digital gap was still wider in the rural areas.

In December last year, the USPF committee led by the Minister unveiled a project on rural telephony powered by solar – one of the many initiatives that USPF aimed at expanding the communication network to rural areas across the country.

It would be recalled that stakeholders in the telecoms industry had called for the investigation of the Fund allegedly misappropriated. The USPF was established in 2003 with an initial N15 billion to promote the widespread availability and usage of network and application services throughout Nigeria.

The NCC charges telecom operators 2.5 per cent of their turn-over as licensing fees, of which 40 per cent of the licensing fees is transferred to the designated fund called USPF.

However, despite the Fund, a wider digital divide still exists in the rural areas as many rural communities in the country are yet to be adequately connected to the country’s telecommunication system.

This lapse has been attributed to the misappropriation of funds partly budgeted for that project by some officials who held sway in the sector in the recent past. Sensing the mismanagement of the fund, some players in the sector called on the Presidency and the National Assembly to investigate the utilisation of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) earmarked to bridge the infrastructure gap in the rural area.

They made the call following the non-impact of the Fund established by the Federal Government to facilitate the achievement of national policy goals for universal access and universal service to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in rural, unserved, and underserved areas in Nigeria.

The Fund is being managed to facilitate the widest possible access to affordable telecommunications services for greater social equity and inclusion for the people of Nigeria.

It would be recalled that a sum of N15.174 billion was recommended for approval as the Universal Service Provision Fund’s 2019 budget. Since it was established, the industry players said it had never had any impact on the telecoms industry, claiming that the fund had not been used for the purpose it was established.


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MTN Rallies MSMEs on Social Media Challenge to Promote creativity and innovation

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As the 2024 World MSME Day approaches, leading ICT company, MTN Nigeria has announced a social media challenge for MSMEs.

MTN

This challenge aims to encourage creativity and innovation in the way these businesses operate.

World MSME Day is an annual event that recognizes the vital contributions of the Micro, Small, and Medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the achievement of the nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to a report by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), MSMEs significantly contribute to Nigeria’s SDGs accounting for about 43% of the country’s GDP and 84% of employment.

To commemorate the World MSME Day celebration, MTN Nigeria has tasked MSME entrepreneurs who are active on social media to participate in a challenge.

The challenge requires business owners to upload a video showcasing their creative use of any one of the MTN’s business solution tools with the hashtag #MTNMSMEChallenge.

The winning business will be rewarded with free radio publicity, while four other business owners will receive exciting prizes. The challenge will run till June 27, 2024, on all social media platforms.

This initiative reflects MTN Nigeria’s ongoing commitment to supporting small and medium businesses in Nigeria. The company provides these enterprises with the right tools to perform competitively in the market and enhance the quality of their services.

Some of the business tools available for the MSMEs to utilise in the challenge include:

  • Meetings+: Powered by Zoom, is a video conferencing platform that integrates video, voice, and chat features and offers daily, monthly and yearly subscription plans – with current discounts of up to 55%
  • EyeSyte – A Wi-Fi/4G enabled smart device designed to provide real-time, 24/7 security for businesses, environments, assets, and homes. The devices will be discounted at 5% during the World MSME week
  • ESET from MTN:  A high-quality cybersecurity solution that protects valuable data and devices from cyber threats without slowing down work.

By encouraging the creative use of these tools, the company aims to empower MSMEs to thrive in the Nigerian market, ultimately contributing to the nation’s economic development.


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