Levon Rivers is the head of platforms and special projects at VML South Africa. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - 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. 

Levon Rivers is the head of platforms and special projects at VML South Africa.

BUSINESS REPORT