Arabic | Automated customer service report
In this blog, we are going take a closer look at Arabic, a language that has a wide influence on many European and Asian languages. Most Arabic-speaking countries concentrate on the Middle East. Hence, the focus of our market insights will be on this region that has huge potential to grow and many interesting trends to discover.
Facts about Arabic
The majority of Arabic speakers (around 300 million) live in the Middle East and North Africa, where it is the native language of over 285 million people. Arabic is the official language of 26 countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Egypt holds the record for the largest Modern Standard Arabic-using population at around 65 million people. Next is Algeria, which has about 29 million. Then it’s Sudan with 27 million, and following behind in the list are Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Morocco
The differences between Arabic and English are quite significant. In terms of writing and reading order, Arabic texts are written and read from right to left, using a cursive script, compared to English which is written using Latin script and read from left to right.
Nouns in Arabic are inflected for three grammatical cases: direct, oblique and genitive. They are also inflected for two genders (masculine and feminine) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs in Arabic are inflected for person, number, gender, tense, mood and aspect as well.
However, the English language in fact has many words descending from Arabic influences. Over the centuries many English words were either borrowed directly from the Arabic vocabulary or indirectly through other languages which were influenced by Arabic. Words such as alcohol, candy, cotton, guitar, lemon, lilac, magazine, and sugar are all derived from Arabic.
Customer service in Arabic (in the Middle East)
According to the EF English Proficiency Index, the countries of the Middle East are among those with the lowest English proficiency level in the world. Although, there are exceptions such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which has 75% of its population can speak English, this is mainly because the majority of the population there are immigrants.
Businesses that speak Arabic are more likely to attract Arab customers. The Arabic language support provided by Nokia and BlackBerry was a big part of why these companies developed strong loyal consumer bases in the region before Apple and Android caught up.
At the same time, the majority of countries in the Middle East have tried to impose a quasi monolingual policy in favor of Arabic language (Miller, 2003). Recently, Qatar has issued formal laws in the protection of Arabic languages. The Law stipulates that universities and higher education institutions of the State of Qatar to teach in Arabic Language and conduct studies and scientiﬁc researches as well in Arabic. The law also indicated that names of commercial companies and trademarks should be in Arabic.
For companies seeking new customers in the region or in industries with less competition, language should be a top priority to accommodate.
Key customer service trends in the Middle East
- Digitalisation and protection of personal data
The digital infrastructure in the Middle East is well-established. According to Euromonitor International, the percentage of households with internet access is over 94% in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates).
In UAE alone, internet penetration is as high as 377 per 100 population in 2021, meaning that consumers have multiple devices at their disposal to do various online activities like e-shopping and online customer services.
Also, the Middle East region has a young population - the median age is 27 - indicating quick adaptation to digital innovations in customer services compared to older consumers who may prefer the human touch.
Along with this shift to online experiences, Middle East consumers become more conscious of the safety of their personal data. In a survey by PwC, 68% of respondents in the Middle East said they are guarding their data more strictly than before, compared to 59% globally. Furthermore, 55% of the regional respondents, versus 47% globally, say a brand’s ability to protect its personal data affects how much they trust it.
While digitalisation brings opportunities to your businesses’ customer services, the way you handle consumers’ concerns over data privacy will shape your brand image. It is important to assure customers and provide the strongest support for their privacy while providing online customer services in the Middle East.
- Human interactions are still important
As the COVID-19 lockdowns have accelerated digitalisation in customer services, the ease of restrictive measures will now challenge businesses in the Middle East to balance digital strategies with the establishment of a more “human” relationship with customers.
According to Euromonitor’s Digital Consumer survey, 62% of Middle Eastern consumers favor face-to-face interaction for customer service. The preferred channels for essentials such as food and beverages in 2020 continued to be in person at the store, for example, 55% of consumers in the UAE prefer this channel.
Hence, businesses that have identified the benefits of online services need to consider ways to help customers gradually and smoothly transit from physical visiting to online customer service. Having an Arab speaker ready to take calls from customers new to online buying will provide the caller with a sense of security in buying the product. However, if Arab speakers are not readily available or hiring involves high costs, businesses can also consider multilingual chatbots such as Algomo.
Today’s markets are generally unstable and fluid as customer expectations and behaviour constantly change due to advancements in new technologies. This dynamic market environment makes sticking to a single strategy less ideal for businesses and a blended and seamless omnichannel approach in customer services will satisfy customers’ needs better.
Overview of automated customer service in the Middle East
With the large customer base speaking Arabic, it is not surprising that the language is supported by many chatbot builders, including Watson by IBM. The key customer service trends in the Middle East indicate a positive prospect for the development of chatbots speaking Arabic.
While some linguistic challenges related to the complexity of the Arabic language initially delayed the deployment of chatbots in the Middle East, technological advances in the field of machine learning have introduced a wave of new automated chat services that use natural language processing (NLP) to engage customers in organic conversations in local dialects like Egyptian, Emirati, and Saudi Arabic.
Research by IDC in 2020 highlights that spending on AI systems in the Middle East will hit $374.2m in 2020, up from $261.8m in 2018 and a projected expenditure of $310.3m in 2019. Between 2018 and 2023 AI-based spending in the region will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 19%.
Across the middle east, around 30% of total AI spending will come from automated customer service agents, IT automation, and automated threat intelligence and prevention systems. The UAE market is one of the leading markets in the Latin America, Middle East and Africa (LAMEA) Chatbots Market, with an expected witness of a CAGR of 43.4% during 2017-2023.
Recently, Abu Dhabi's cutting-edge research hub has unveiled the world's biggest natural language processing model for the Arabic language, the Noor. It is the largest high-quality cross-domain Arabic dataset ever made. Before, the largest available Arabic model was AraGPT, a model trained on 1.5 billion parameters. Noor was trained on 10 billion parameters, which means it can tackle more advanced tasks and take in more complex instructions from humans to machines.
Hence, the Noor gives the Arab world a new edge in the push to digitalise as tools like chatbots, market intelligence and machine translation skew heavily to English and Chinese-speaking markets. This indicates a great acceleration in the development of automated customer service in Arabic.
Main application sectors
UAE stands out in adapting chatbot solutions in its banking sector. Liv, a mobile-only bank for UAE millennials has collaborated with an AI company to launch its AI chatbot, Olivia. This incorporation of a chatbot matches perfectly with the bank’s aim to be a platform that is simple and intuitive to use. The chatbot is powerful not only in answering the queries of customers but also in helping them better manage their budgets and transactions. Given the huge amount of complex services the fintech company can provide, it is crucial to leverage chatbots to provide customers with the most accurate and fastest responses.
It is expected that 85 per cent of all customer interactions in the Middle East will be processed without a human agent by the year 2025 (source: Jupiter Research). Kuwait’s 360 MALL was the region’s first shopping and leisure destination to launch a chatbot - ‘Nouf’, speaking English and Arabic. Retail businesses in the Middle East have long used mobile apps to better serve customers. The addition of chatbots to their existing shopping apps provides a much more convenient adaptation of automated customer service. Going beyond a live chat platform, ‘Nouf’ also acts like a personal assistant that is dedicated to improving customers’ shopping experience.
WideBot is a chatbot start-up based in Egypt. Recognising the extensive penetration rate of WhatsApp in the Middle East, it has later added WhatApp chatbots to its product line, in addition to website conversational AI. With a quite focused effort in Arabic-speaking chatbots, it is capable of interpreting Egyptian and Arabic slang given the wide varieties of Arabic across countries in the Middle East.
Among the rising trend for automated customer service, it has reported a surge in Arabic chatbot construction requests during the first half (1H) of 2020, a 100% increase on figures for the whole of 2019.
It faces heightened demand in the e-services and delivery sectors, with industries such as food and beverages, restaurants, government services, banking and healthcare taking the lead.
Arabot is a multi-channel and multi-language chatbot platform with a strong focus on Arabic. The channel focus of the firm is also WhatsApp, with additional features in marketing, sales, payment and collections.
The industry focuses of the company include Logistics, E-government, Telecommunications and Utilities. In 2022, it has helped Aramex, a leading global provider of comprehensive logistics and transportation solutions, launch one of the world’s largest WhatApp chatbots to date.
The company is also expanding into the banking industry, with collaboration achieved with the Saudi National Bank (SNB), the largest financial institution in Saudi Arabia and one of the largest powerhouses in the region.
In the Middle East, with its high penetration rate, WhatApps will serve as the preferred channel for providing customer support. Given the complexity of the Arabic languages, firms that provide Arabic-speaking chatbots generally concentrate their focus on particular languages. However, there are likely to be challenges ahead since technology support for building Arabic-speaking chatbots is still in development. Hopefully, future breakthroughs will bring more energy to the market and stimulate competition for higher-quality services.