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.
Satellite Operators Push New Signal across Africa, Indian Ocean Regions
The Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), has started to broadcast a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) signal over Africa and Indian Ocean (AFI), providing its first open service in the region via NIGCOMSAT-1R Satellite managed and operated the by Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd., under the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy.
This early open service is provided as part of the programme, which pursues the autonomous provision SBAS services in Africa, to augment the performances of the satellite navigation constellations GPS and Galileo.
With improved accuracy to within a meter, and boosted integrity, availability, and continuity of safety-related applications, these SBAS services will improve flight safety and efficiency in Africa, and also benefit the economy in many areas as land, sea, and rail transport, as well as mass-market applications, supporting user safety, cost-effectiveness, and sustainable development.
The launched open service essentially aims to carry-out technical trials, and to undertake partner airlines field demonstrations for aircraft and rotorcraft, to demonstrate the benefits of the future operational safety-of-life SBAS services, expected from 2024. It will also include early Precise Point Positioning (PPP), and emergency warning service to populations, which performance will be proven through other demonstrations.
The signal-in-space is generated by a dedicated system tested, developed as part of the “SBAS for Africa and Indian Ocean” preliminary design phase, financed by the European Union, and awarded to Thales Alenia Space, Joint Venture between Thales (67 per cent), and Leonardo (33 per cent).
The “SBAS for Africa and Indian Ocean” is based on the European EGNOS (1) developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), acting under the delegation of the European Commission and operated by the European GNSS Agency GSA.
The system prototype uses as reference stations the SAGAIE network deployed by CNES and ASECNA with the support of Thales Alenia Space.
The signal is broadcasted via the SBAS payload on NigComSat 1R GEO satellite of the Nigerian Communications Satellite, and an uplink station deployed in Abuja, Nigeria.
It is compliant to the standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the minimum operational performance standard developed by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) organisation.
It will be visible in the whole of Africa and the Indian Ocean, up to the West Australian coast, and also in Europe.
Dr. Abimbola Alale, managing director/chief executive officer of NIGCOMSAT, said: “we are proud to be part of this ambitious program to provide satellite navigation services in the Africa and Indian Ocean region. The use of our geostationary communication satellite NIGCOMSAT-1R navigation payload to broadcast the first signal will be Africa’s premier contribution to SBAS as a regional satellite-based augmentation system for the continent.”
On his part, Benoit Broudy, vice president, Navigation Business at Thales Alenia Space in France, said the longstanding expertise acquired with the development of EGNOS1 SBAS in Europe, and KASS SBAS in Korea, combined with the new leading-edge satellite positioning technologies make Thales Alenia the ideal partner to best support countries to implement their own SBAS efficiently.
“The equatorial region represents also a key engineering challenge for such a system due to difficult ionosphere conditions, for which Thales Alenia Space has developed a proven solution,” he stated.
Mohamed Moussa, director-general of ASECNA, said the provision of the first African SBAS early service is a crucial major step forward in the development of satellite navigation in the AFI region, and in the deployment of the “SBAS for Africa and Indian Ocean” system, the navigation solution for Africa by Africa.
He said: “It demonstrates the ambition and commitment of ASECNA to enhance air navigation safety for the benefit of the whole continent, in line with my vision for the unification of the African Sky.”
ipNX, USTDA Ink Partnership Deal to Develop Nigeria’s ICT Infrastructure
ipNX, Nigeria’s pioneering and leading information, communications and technology (ICT) company and the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) have signed a partnership deal that will further support the development of Nigeria’s ICT and broadband infrastructure and help ipNX expand its fibre-optic network to more than 200,000 residences in Lagos and other locations, including Abuja and Port Harcourt.
A virtual signing ceremony that signalled the beginning of this far reaching relationship between the two parties was held on Thursday, September 17, 2020.
Through this innovative initiative, the USTDA is supporting ipNX to promote inclusive, secure and sustainable connectivity across the nation.
The agreements were made possible as a result of several engagements between the USTDA delegation to Nigeria and the leadership of ipNX; and will advance the goals of the recently updated Nigerian Broadband Plan.
At the Signing Ceremony, Ejovi Aror, group managing director of ipNX, said: “We believe that world-class connectivity and broadband internet access will be pivotal to the digital transformation and socio-economic development of Nigeria.
‘We are very positive that this project will play a crucial role in making our belief a reality.”
Aror added that with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the case for a vibrant ICT sector has never been stronger and the new partnership will bring ipNX a step closer to achieving its mission to continually leverage technology to create innovative solutions that help mankind thrive, while making a crucial impact to the lives of Nigerians across the country.
Mary Beth Leonard, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, said’ “These projects will support the development of Nigeria’s telecoms infrastructure and help to achieve the goals of the National Broadband Plan.
“The U.S. Government has committed significant resources to improving telecoms infrastructure in Nigeria and this support is crucial as we believe that investment in critical ICT projects will strengthen the resiliency outlined in Nigeria’s economic sustainability plan.”
Also present at the virtual event, the Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engr. Bako Wakil, who spoke on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, said: “The support this grant will provide to the telecommunications sector, in particular broadband, is in line with the National Digital Strategy and the National Broadband Plan.
“The NCC would like to congratulate ipNX as it shows the company’s integrity and commitment to be selected for this grant”.
ipNX also revealed that it intends to continue to work with USTDA beyond the preliminary stage, to execute many more projects into the future that will bring about the digital transformation and socio-economic development of major cities in Nigeria in alignment with the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy.
With their partnership, both parties fully agree that further development of the nation’s broadband infrastructure is key to unlocking the potential promised by Nigeria’s digital economy.
According to the World Bank’s ‘Nigeria Digital Economy Diagnostic Report’ released in 2019, Broadband is a key enabler to harness the digital economy transformation and high-speed broadband has the potential to accelerate Nigeria’s socio-economic development.
Manfa, ANSICTA Boss Pledges to Collaborate with NITDA for Establishment of Zonal Office in Anambra State
Mr Theo Manfa, managing director/chief executive officer, Anambra State Information and Communication Technology Agency, (ANSICTA) has hinted that they are ready to collaborate with National Information Technology Development Agency, (NITDA) for the establishment of the agency’s South-East Zonal office in the State.
He stated this when he led ANSICTA delegation to NITDA’s head office in Abuja recently.
Mr Manfa explained that the call for special requests by the state is necessitated by the fact that the state “has long been known as a home of innovation and entrepreneurship, through the various markets like Onitsha and Nnewi and the plethora of locally produced goods they spawned over time.”
He said that innovation and entrepreneurship are important elements to drive the digital economy which the nation is striving to create adding that the state has been watching with keen interest the activities of Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and NITDA which necessitated the intended partnership.
He requested NITDA’s partnership with ANSICTA in building an ICT Hub in Anambra State; hosting a NITDA regional office; hosting NITDA events and programs as a State and region; trainings and Skills development programs of NITDA where the State hopes to train 40,000 residents in the next 2 years in Digital skills; establishment of cooperation on the Nigeria Government Enterprise Architecture (NGEA) and the provision of the Unity Board where 150 units were requested for a program for secondary schools in Anambra.
ANSICTA also presented an award to the Director General for his “Outstanding Achievements in Driving theDigital Economy” which was received by Dr. Vincent Olatunji on behalf of the DG.
Dr. Olatunji responded along with comments from some of the Directors and said NITDA would be glad to cooperate with the State.
He said it was gratifying to note that Anambra State now has an ICT Agency as Gov Willie Obiano had visited NITDA 6 years ago and the agency had worked with the State in developing an ICT policy for Anambra.
The success of that exercise is the take off of the agency (ANSICTA) which is the execution arm of the policy developed by NITDA.
He further said ANSICTA was by the speech of its MD really in tune with the affairs and mandates of NITDA and stated that ANSICTA should make a formal application for the things requested at this meeting will be looked into by Management for approval by the Director General.
He also thanked ANSICTA for recognizing the hard work of the DG through the award they presented, which he said was most encouraging.
Michael Orekyeh; chief operating officer of ANSICTA was part of the delegation from Anambra State. while the Director General of NITDA, Malam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi was represented by the Director E-Government and Regulation, Dr. Vincent Olatunji; Director Office of ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship – OIIE, Dr. (Mrs.) Amina Sambo Magaji; Deputy Director of IT Infrastructure, Dr. Saidu Kumo; SA Technical to the DG, Dr. Mohammed Yahaya; Corporate Strategy Department, Dr. Taofik Yekini and other Directors and Key Management Staff.
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