By Levon Rivers
Head of Platforms and Special Projects, VML South Africa

There’s a new fear devel­op­ing among work­ers world­wide: the fear that soon they’ll be out of work because a robot, or some oth­er piece of tech­nol­o­gy, is going to replace them. In a coun­try like South Africa where unem­ploy­ment is par­tic­u­lar­ly high – in excess of 50% among our youth – we can­not allow tech­nol­o­gy to take over.

It’s a dif­fi­cult road to nav­i­gate. For our econ­o­my to turn we need to become more glob­al­ly com­pet­i­tive – but not at the expense of our cit­i­zens. We must find a way to work with tech­nol­o­gy that includes real peo­ple doing real jobs. We need to ensure that tech­nol­o­gy enables employ­ment, rather than steals it.

Enter dig­i­tal jobs. We know that young peo­ple who’ve had lim­it­ed for­mal edu­ca­tion can leapfrog tra­di­tion­al employ­ment bar­ri­ers to become the new dig­i­tal work­force of the future. South African com­pa­nies must har­ness this abil­i­ty and find employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties with­in their busi­ness­es for our youth.

We’ve been work­ing with a com­pa­ny called Digify Africa to do just this. They turn South Africa’s pre­vi­ous­ly unem­ployed young peo­ple into high­ly skilled dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tors, giv­ing them cru­cial edu­ca­tion to work in an indus­try that is expe­ri­enc­ing sig­nif­i­cant growth.

Together, we’re rewrit­ing the rules for cus­tomer engage­ment as we evolve the prin­ci­ples of BPO (busi­ness process out­sourc­ing) into DPO, or dig­i­tal process out­sourc­ing.

Despite their dig­i­tal savvy, cus­tomers don’t want their prob­lems addressed by bots. They pre­fer real inter­ac­tions with real peo­ple. DPO har­ness­es this and puts peo­ple behind the tech­nol­o­gy to enhance the ser­vice offer­ing.

Gavin Weale, founder and CEO of Digify Africa, says that DPO, as a smart, demand-dri­ven approach to skills devel­op­ment and job cre­ation, is a new busi­ness mod­el that address­es a triple bot­tom line of social inno­va­tion: peo­ple, prof­it and pur­pose

Traditional online engage­ment is assessed by how quick­ly mod­er­a­tors can close a query, often leav­ing cus­tomers want­i­ng more – whether it’s infor­ma­tion, con­nec­tion or con­ver­sa­tion.

But this is chang­ing as, increas­ing­ly, cus­tomers want and need an emo­tion­al bond with the brands they sup­port. DPO offers just that: access your brand dig­i­tal­ly, but engage with real peo­ple through real con­ver­sa­tions, not through bots or rote answers.

The con­cept is made sim­ple by the fact that dig­i­tal chan­nels are now the pre­dom­i­nant way for cus­tomers to inter­act with organ­i­sa­tions. Globally almost 60% of cus­tomers choose to con­tact their ser­vice providers dig­i­tal­ly.

DPO offers brands and their cus­tomers a way to engage on the plat­forms most suit­able to the cus­tomer. It needs peo­ple who can com­mu­ni­cate in an unscript­ed and gen­uine­ly warm way. People who can lis­ten and engage on top­ics that relate to cus­tomers’ con­cerns and needs.

And, of course, they need to pro­vide real solu­tions based on actu­al prod­ucts. In the process, they bring the brand to life for the cus­tomer.

A few months ago, South Africa’s out­sourced ser­vices sec­tor was named Global Destination of the Year by the Global Sourcing Association. At the time, South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said the country’s offer­ing com­bines glob­al best prac­tice with a tal­ent­ed and scal­able labour pool to attract inter­na­tion­al out­sourc­ing work into South Africa.

He’s right. It’s a start to win­ning the war on work. The con­cept of DPO can take us much fur­ther.

This new mod­el has huge poten­tial. We’re inter­est­ed not only in talk­ing to cus­tomers on social media, but in cre­at­ing a feed­er sys­tem into the dig­i­tal indus­try.

Our DPO teams are giv­en job train­ing and con­stant men­tor­ing, and we have a com­pre­hen­sive ongo­ing gam­i­fi­ca­tion pro­gramme to grow their spe­cial­ist skills. We accel­er­ate these teams for man­age­ment and lead­er­ship roles, and even enable them to be recruit­ed by oth­er com­pa­nies that want to ben­e­fit from the dig­i­tal future.

If every com­pa­ny in South Africa is not think­ing about how to cre­ate sus­tain­able employ­ment for our youth, con­sid­er this a clar­i­on call. Digital plat­forms offer the per­fect solu­tion as they tap into an eager pool of bright young brains that are des­per­ate to be used.

There are many ways to get with the pro­gramme. Find one or con­sid­er your busi­ness irrel­e­vant.