chatbots, customer engagement, shivakumar ganesan

Shivakumar Ganesan, cofounder and CEO Exotel

Cloud telephony company Exotel, which has raised around $100 million in the last 15 months, including $40 million from Steadview Capital early this year, looks to transform itself as a full-stack customer engagement platform and expand its presence in the Middle East and SouthEast Asia. It powers more than 40 million engagements for over 6,000 companies in India, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa. Its clients include Ola, Swiggy, Flipkart, Urban Company, HDFC Bank, Zomato, GoJek among others.
Shivakumar Ganesan, co-founder and CEO of Exotel believes human-machine interactions will only improve with better technologies. “At the moment, we are just skimming the surface with chatbots. I envision a future where chatbots will be able to offer specific assistance towards achieving an outcome for a given situation for a customer,” he says in an interview. He discusses the future of customer engagement, how acquisitions have helped Exotel, cost of customer engagement and more. Edited excerpts:
How is customer engagement changing with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), chat bots etc?
As many aspects of our everyday interactions turn virtual, customer expectations are at an all-time high. Customers expect businesses to value their time, ensure easy engagement, and deliver bespoke solutions for their needs. AI and chatbots are able to match some of these expectations by providing round-the-clock consumer support, thereby changing the face of customer engagement.
With the right AI technology in place organisations can reduce operational costs, increase efficiency and improve customer experience. In this uber-tech age, consumer satisfaction is directly related to the experience they have with the company and AI can be used to constantly improve it.
How have the acquisitions of Ameyo and Cogno AI helped? Are you looking for more acquisitions? If so, in which areas?
These two acquisitions have been very strategic, as they have allowed us to offer an all-in-one cloud platform and adapt to new ways of communication for connected conversations.
With these alliances and the UL VNO license (Unified Licence Agreement for Virtual network Operator), our company now provides full-stack customer engagement solutions for enterprises, on cloud. These include monitoring customer sentiments, onboarding of new customers, zero-contact resolutions for existing customers, and various digital sales and support use cases. We will be on the lookout for more collaborations, specifically in new geographies in emerging Asia.
Quite often, customers engaging with chat bots want to connect with a human. Obviously, there are limitations of bots. Are these getting any better? How will engagement with chat bots be, say by 2030?
Chatbots today have some limitations like gauging changes in human emotion, language sensitivity, responding to complex queries, and such. We do appreciate that as the tech stands now, companies who find the right synergy and balance between human and AI interactions, tend to perform better than companies which depend exclusively on just one solution.
However, thanks to deep tech and machine learning, chatbots are becoming more intuitive and gearing towards simulating human-like conversations quickly to get consumers what they want when they want it. Thus we are confident that things will change rapidly in the years to come with AI-driven chatbots radically redefining the customer engagement landscape. Conversational AI trends going forward are focusing on mainstream development of Emotional Intelligence in chatbots. I believe this will soon become a more critical skill set for executing higher order tasks and innovative thinking. This will happen as machine learning models will begin to understand context and the emotions of the user and adapt accordingly.
At the moment, we are just skimming the surface with chatbots right now. I envision a future where chatbots will be able to offer specific assistance towards achieving a positive outcome for a given situation for a customer.
Do you see customer engagement being run entirely by automated systems, without human intervention? If so, by when?
I don’t think the customer engagement segment will be completely automated by AI. A hybrid between humans and AI is the likely future. There’s a lot of research being carried out in this area and as new technology evolves I see chatbots perform more complex tasks and cover a wider spectrum of customer engagement processes from managing leads, to converting them into sales while responding to bespoke consumer needs.
With fewer humans in customer engagement, how is the cost of customer engagement changing for enterprises?
Well, there is already substantial evidence that automation in the customer engagement section is helping companies save up to 30% or more in terms of costs. Companies are beginning to see the long-term benefits of this one-time investment. Automation has set in motion an entire cycle of savings for companies — right from the costs invested in hiring, to infrastructure and training, to name but a few.
How do you see 5G impacting customer engagement, if at all?
The availability of 5G will allow enterprises to provide better and faster customer experience with digitally enabled applications. With 5G mobile data will become more ubiquitous and thereby IP calling will become mainstream in enterprise use cases.

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