How Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data Mining can help customs segment target audiences

Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali

Customs jobs are witnessing a further scientific improvement with communication approaches, such as Artificial Intelligence and data mining, are being introduced into the system globally.

How data mining can assist customs administrations globally to segment their target populations and have a better understanding of what their audiences are looking for were explained by experts from Microsoft, Accenture, and Meltwater at the 1st edition of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) Global Communication Strategies Conference.

The theme “Communicating seamlessly in the digital age” just concluded in Brussels, Belgium.

On AI, the experts explained how Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Deep Learning provide a tool for machine-human interactions that actually mimics a real conversation that makes it hard to distinguish it from a human-to-human interaction.

These explanations, according to WCO, were supported by Indonesia Customs which presented a concrete example on how they implemented AI, through Chat-bots to provide up-to-date and 24/7 customer service, whereas Antigua and Barbuda explained their future use of the technology.

In his opening remarks, WCO Deputy Secretary General Ricardo Treviño Chapa underscored the relevance of a coordinated communication strategy with the WCO assuming a leadership role in providing guidance on efficient strategies to raise Customs’ profile.

Deputy Secretary General Treviño emphasized the role of communication in realizing the strategic priorities established in the WCO Strategic Plan 2019-2022, adding that collaboration with stakeholders is at the heart of this communication approach. In conclusion, he stressed that the attendance at this Conference reflected the high importance given to communication by Customs administrations.

The Conference saw exchanges by a high-level panel on the challenges and the new communication landscape, the speakers highlighting that there were virtually no communication boundaries between connected objects and human beings.

The best approaches to reach out to targeted audiences were discussed between representatives from the WCO, European Commission Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD), European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The importance of inward communication was also highlighted, as well as the strengthening of the collaboration between stakeholders.

Members from all six WCO regions presented their best practices covering the communication tools, strategies, and channels that they use to reach out to their respective audiences as participants listened to experiences on how to overcome various communication challenges presented by the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Botswana, the Dominican Republic, Peru, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), the United States, and Vietnam.  

Experiences were then shared on the importance of internal communication and its linkages with external communication, transparency, performance, and motivation.

Speakers of this session discussed the three key components of communication, namely information, consultation and engagement, and promoted further consultations between the management and the employees, with regular meetings and informal activities to create emotional engagement.

Their conclusion was that messages would more effectively reach their target audiences if stories were used to connect with people and relate to their emotional experiences.

After learning the best story-telling techniques, namely by understanding behavioural insights, diversity and gender, using smart visuals and adapting strategies to local culture such as the use of drama and road shows in Zambia, the participants went on to learn more about the power of social media. The speakers dissected this channel of communication to understand the formula to effectively reach out to targeted audiences in a sea of information.

The 200 participants from more than 50 countries listened to tips from communication experts, namely: involving the public through crowdsourcing, using emotions or, in the case of Customs, sniffer dogs, producing entertaining videos or devising strategies to detect fake news among other strategies.

The conference provided a platform for informed dialogue between Customs administrations and its stakeholders on topics relevant to communication strategies in Customs in today’s hyper-connected world.

In his concluding remarks, the WCO Head of Administration, Mr. Hans Pieters, commended WCO Members for their participation and congratulated the speakers for providing interesting insights into ways to enhance the profile of Customs.

He informed the participants about the WCO’s communication plan and brandbook, and announced that the data collected during the Conference will be used in the upcoming Handbook on Customs Communication Strategies. He added that the WCO will also build a network of communication professionals in Customs administrations that may be extended to Customs’ stakeholders

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