Mobile operator MTN has announced a new service, MTN Chat, which will allow customers to recharge their airtime and data through WhatsApp.
Mapula Bodibe, MTN SA executive for consumer business unit, announced the new service at a press event in Johannesburg today, calling it "a world first".
"MTN SA is the first operator globally to launch this type of service, and it's just one of many innovations we plan to launch".
MTN Chat will let you receive notifications, check your balance and buy airtime and data on WhatsApp, rather than visiting a Web site or dialling a call centre. Later on MTN plans to add the ability to top-up voice as well as other options.
"Customer-centricity is the driving force behind MTN Chat because we are taking a solution for an often-required service, to a platform we know our customers are already using, in the form of WhatsApp. MTN Chat is helping customers simply and seamlessly manage their accounts off a secure and convenient platform they already know and love," adds Bodibe.
MTN already has 15.5 million customers actively using WhatsApp which made the messaging platform the easy choice for the new service to run through.
"This is a much easier stepping stone to move users from recharging on USSD to a service like this where we can give customers a much better user experience," says Gareth Murphy, MTN SA GM for online channels.
Murphy says that MTN Chat is launching on WhatsApp first but the platform is not limited to WhatsApp and in future plans to expand to other chat services like Facebook Messenger.
Murphy says the intention is to also integrate MTN Chat into MTN's planned instant messaging service when it launches. Earlier this month, MTN group president and CEO Rob Shuter announced that MTN was busy developing an instant messaging platform which it hopes will become the "African WeChat", with plans to launch it in two markets in the next month or so.
MTN Chat is driven by chatbot technology using natural language processing and artificial intelligence which allows it to identify keywords in responses rather than the usual number-based responses needed for USSD recharge.
MTN South Africa partnered with global customer engagement company, Clickatell, to bring this solution to MTN customers. Clickatell is an authorised WhatsApp Business Solution Provider.
"Our customers should be able to interact with us whenever and however they choose and working with the Clickatell team that has much experience in this space, allowed us easily integrate MTN Chat with our existing offering. This is an exciting development for our customers and we look forward to exploring new possibilities with Clickatell in future," Bodibe adds.
Global research by Gartner found that by 2020, customers will self-manage 25% of the relationships with their service providers without ever interacting with a human being.
"It's imperative that companies focus on improving self-service experiences to retain and grow customers and this is an important step for MTN, in addition to what we are doing to upgrade our overall customer journey," says Bodibe.
MTN also plans further expansions of the MTN Chat channel like the inclusion of services such as customer support, the management of upgrades and customer accounts, receiving balance notifications and the offering of customised deals.
Security is a high priority and safety and confidentiality features have been built in to MTN Chat to provide a secure means of communication. Customers interact with a single number that has a verification marker to mitigate fraud.
Pre and post-paid customers can register through a one-time-only process to get activated by means of either their credit or debit cards. Registered MTN Chat customers will also have access to an exclusive offer of 1GB for R49 when recharging via MTN Chat.
To sign up users just need to save the MTN Chat number (083 123 0011) to their contacts and send MTN a message saying "hi". Customers will be sent a link to opt-in and once they've opted in, they'll be offered a menu from which to choose their preferred service.