While working as an IT manager for one of the betting firms in the country, Japheth Dibo experienced first-hand how difficult it can be to get good customer support software locally, at an affordable price.
The betting firm needed software to efficiently manage the vast amounts of feedback they were receiving from their customers either through voice calls or social media messages.
Most of the companies able to supply this kind of software were foreign companies, but these, he says, would charge them millions of shillings to deploy the software. Even then, implementation was slow, taking a month for it to become operational.
“A normal phone can handle two calls at a time. We needed software that could manage up to 1,000 calls coming in at the same time. Traditionally, this kind of software has mostly been developed by foreign companies, who unfortunately charge the same rates as in their countries of origin without considering their economic difference with Africa,” notes Dibo, co-founder of Dial Afrika, in an interview with Powering SMEs.
This inspired him to use his background in software development to build customer support tools that would enable companies to communicate with their customers easily either via voice or written text.
With only his background in technology, he could not run a new business alone, so in 2019, he partnered with Bernard Murwa, a commercial operations and analysis expert. Together, they invested part of their savings, as well as the money they received from well-wishers, to launch Dial Afrika.
Primarily, the firm would develop call management software to help mid-sized companies with between 20-50 employees manage phone calls coming in from their customers at the same time.
They would also create ticketing software to enable companies to manage customer feedback on their social media platforms. Integrating feedback from various digital channels be it Facebook, websites or WhatsApp onto one software would enable companies to respond quickly to queries.
“It does not matter which platform a customer gives their feedback or query from. Once the company responds through the software, from the other end, the customer may think they are receiving the feedback from the platform they used to send their queries,” notes Dibo.
They also developed artificial intelligence software which assists SMEs to analyse data coming in and make informed decisions without having to employ data scientists which may be an expensive asset to SMEs. The software can also help analyse positive, neutral or negative comments to enable companies to respond accordingly.
“It is mostly big companies that use these kinds of software because they are very expensive. If you are an e-commerce startup, how can you compete with a company such as Jumia, which, besides using the software, has the capability of hiring several data scientists?” argues Bernard Murwa.
So far, Murwa says, the company has managed to get a foothold in five African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Their biggest selling point has been that they can offer competitive pricing of their products.
“If you look at the software that is in the market, we are about 25-65 per cent cheaper than the most affordable and most expensive competing products respectively. This is not because we are trying to reach more people, or be competitive, but because most of our competitors’ pricings are structured to the foreign market,” noted Murwa.
He points out that good ICT legislation has also ensured that they can ride on the existing infrastructure of larger partners such as telecommunication companies to store their data, saving them the cost of setting up their own infrastructure.
Poor internet connectivity
Good as it sounds, Murwa says that there are still many issues impeding the full uptake of their products. One is poor internet connectivity in Africa.
“Infrastructure is still lagging a bit in some African countries and we have had to rely on partnering with telecom companies to be able to offer voice over internet protocol services. The market is also just now starting to understand the power of customer support software in helping businesses scale,” notes Murwa.
Meanwhile, Dibo says getting the right technical talent to join them in developing the software remains a challenge. Initially, attracting the right investors to get them to the next step was also difficult, but they have since managed to make progress in this regard.
“We have been able to get funding from Expert Dojo, an American investor, Metis Capital from Nigeria, and a private Kenyan angel investor, who will help us complete our product, improve on it, and hopefully launch in three new markets in Africa by the end of 2023,” note Dibo, who also called on investors to support local enterprises.
“Local companies have the knowledge and the capability to create products which rival those produced by international companies. The only difference between us and them is that we still do not have adequate resources to effectively implement these ideas.”