This is a revelation of a Saas company’s natural and easy progression by foray into a foreign market. Uniphore, founded by two humble tech enthusiasts Umesh Sachdev and Ravi Saraogi in 2008, today, stands tall in the business of Conversational AI technology.
Uniphore sells software for conversational analytics, conversational assistant and conversational security. The company has dual headquarters in both Palo Alto, California and Chennai, India, with offices in the United States and Singapore.
Over an interaction, Voice&Data gathered from co-Founder Ravi Saraogi on how Uniphore is riding high with its strong AI-based conversational service automation product far and beyond India especially in the APAC and USA. Before we understand from Saraogi how the expansion into the foreign soil was done, we need to first understand how the progression was built on the company’s inherent strengths.
Building an empire with a scalable conversational service automation platform
“When Uniphore started out in 2008, we embarked into a completely unknown territory which was the voice – a domain regarded tough. But Umesh and I always believed that there has to be a medium to divide/bridge the gap between humans and machines. As we started, the only thing that was prevalent in India back then, and especially in rural places, was the availability of mobile phones. And the only way people were using mobile phones was for talking and that’s where we believed that if people need information and if people need to carry out transactions and if mobile is the channel/medium of that conversation then the machine should be capable of understanding voice for it to deliver information and carry out the transaction. And with that as a thought for genesis, the organization got initiated,” begins Ravi Saraogi.
For Ravi Saraogi and Umesh Sachdev, the whole idea was to take that unstructured input (as voice) and deduce a structured output in the form of valuable data that could be sliced and diced for the analytics to play its part. As the years progressed technology took shape at Uniphore and voice-tech emerged as a convincible USP for the company.
“When we started the company, we just focused on voice/speech but over the period of last 10-12 years what has also happened is that the customers have also got into a place where they have started trusting technology more, and with the advent of new devices in front of them like smartwatches, Amazon Echo devices, Google Home devices, Apple pods, etc. voice substantiated itself as a super tech-power,” indicates Saraogi.
Saraogi rightly says the evolution with voice, which is now viewed as a form of data, is immense. Earlier, the machine was not capable enough to understand speech and second the responses from machines were also not accurate enough. But things have obviously changed now. Large enterprises also have now taken a view that if they have to really evolve in terms of their own capabilities and their own medium of interaction with their consumers, then they have to bring in tools and channels that are widely used by consumers today. Contact centers are where voice tech is largely exploited.
“As this evolution took place, we at Uniphore knew that we ought to align with the market needs and technology upgrade. To keep pace, Uniphore, over the years, constantly pivoted ourselves and started building on the layers of our own core capabilities of speech-tech creating multiple different IPs around it.”
Uniphore, today, reflects as a company capable of providing Conversational Service Automation platform, speech recognition in 100+ languages, voice biometrics, emotion detection, sentiment analysis and much more embedded into it.
With so much scope to do in voice, Uniphore expanded to span out its products, offering niche and rich services that can ultimately deliver a terrific customer experience.
Strengths that were strategically honed
“As part of the evolution, today, voice pre-processing, post-processing with AI, Machine Learning-based algorithms can be done. Over the last 4-5 years, another significant progress has taken shape in the medium of voice also. Earlier it was only the call centers that required tech for voice-based services. But now we have varied channels like chatbots, smart home devices, video streaming devices, etc. While there are varied channels available it is also important to understand that different verticals have a different set of consumers, whose experience needs to be enriched. With so much scope to do in voice, Uniphore expanded to span out its products, offering niche and rich services that can ultimately deliver a terrific customer experience. Not just this, our products are designed to help an organization bring in a lot of efficiency in their own processes, improve cost-efficiencies, and also generate additional cross-sell opportunities, thereby boosting revenue. So, over a period of time, Uniphore as an organization has evolved through its own capabilities, starting from simple speech tech to building a broad portfolio of Conversational Service Automation Platform,” shares Saraogi.
These products are fulfilling Uniphore’s vision to disrupt an outdated customer service model by bridging the gap between human and machine using voice, AI and automation.
As the company expanded, it became evident for Saraogi and his co-Founder that innovation aligning with the times of technology advances is key for sustainable growth. Uniphore’s innovation was webbed around conversational analytics. Understanding voice and text in all forms was Uniphore’s forte. Products like auMina – the Speech Analytics software; amVoice – a remote voice-based user authentication software offering security to phone-based transactions; and Akeira – software that automates conversations and reduces the cost of customer service for enterprises, all forayed deep into different verticals, giving Uniphore its due recognition in the market.
These products are fulfilling Uniphore’s vision to disrupt an outdated customer service model by bridging the gap between human and machine using voice, AI and automation. Uniphore is enabling businesses globally to deliver transformational customer service by providing an automation platform where digital agents could take over transactional conversations from humans and coach agents during calls and accurately predict language, emotion, and intent – all in real-time. Conversational automation and analytics, conversational assistant and conversational security are evidently Uniphore’s strengths.
The underlying analytics layer delivers real-time actionable insights to drive both automated human to machine conversations, as well as superior calls with human agents.
Commenting more about Uniphore’s strengths Saraogi says, “Different industries, different companies use the same product in different ways. We’ve got clients in banking, insurance, healthcare, BPOs, telecom operators, aviation, e-commerce verticals. Basically, any organization that provides customer service through a call center has the capability to deploy our product and get the benefit out of it. Another interesting fact that adds to our USP is that by virtue of starting in India it gave us an opportunity to develop the core base of the product in a local colloquial Indian language format like English, Hindi, and Tamil. English is Indian English, mind you. It’s far different from the standard forms of UK/US English. So, the platform created by us has the ability to not only understand different languages but also different dialects/accents/intonations/tonality/emotions within each of the languages as well. An intelligent, real-time combination of conversational analytics and automation plays a role in these products. The underlying analytics layer delivers real-time actionable insights to drive both automated human to machine conversations, as well as superior calls with human agents. The automation delivers a seamless customer experience by reducing handle time and improving resolution rates while quickly addressing the customer’s service queries.”
Invading markets Far East: A natural escalation for Uniphore
Last year in August, Uniphore raised a whopping $51 million in Series C funding led by March Capital Partners, with participation from Chiratae Ventures (formerly IDG Ventures), Sistema Asia, and other marquee investors. This round of funding is Uniphore’s largest to date and is one of the most substantial funding rounds in the conversational AI sector. The funds raised are deployed to accelerate its go-to-market in North America, invest in R&D for the next wave of innovation on its platform, and grow its talented employee base globally.
Questing Saraogi on how the funds were strategically deployed, he answers, “By 2017 our business in India had stabilized. Soon, we figured that there were enough opportunities for us outside India as well. Each time we raise funds we deploy it into R&D and product innovation. Later we broadened our focus on expanding our geographies, and operate from newer, unexplored markets. Today, Uniphore operates out of India, North America, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. And we recently opened up in Japan as well. What we intend to do in the upcoming months is to also have our presence in Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and some parts of Europe and Latin America as well. With all those geographies coming in place it’s obvious that we need more people and we need more capabilities not only around sales and marketing but obviously more capability around our delivery as well. We would be employing about 300 odd people in the next 12-18 months, the bulk of it in India and the rest in the USA, Asia Pacific, parts of Europe and far east.”
Demand vs Supply: Uniphore is one company that has always timed itself right. When there is a certain demand from a market, it was ensured that the service was met. The reason could be because the languages are complex and there are hardly any platforms or products which use this kind of automated application in local languages. As Uniphore had the built-up expertise in this, catering to the demand was not tough.
“The other factor that we bring to the table is let’s say we work with the large MNC which are not only present in India but in multiple different geographies. With the deployment in one country the internal referencing works really well for us because it allows us to go to different geographies within the same internal references and deliver the same kind of experience for the same organization but in different geographies because we do have language capabilities available,” says Saraogi.
For Uniphore, catering to local language-based services is easy. It was a natural progression for us because the product had the capability.
Explaining more he says, “Given that we had the readiness of delivering our product in multiple different languages across different dialects, it was typically a natural progression for us to look into nearby countries as language diversification is not new to us. Let’s take Vietnam as an example. Vietnam today is a very different market. It’s one of the fastest-growing economies in South East Asia. And their government is investing heavily in BFSI and new-age technologies. Contact centers have to be equipped with service offerings in the local lingo. For Uniphore, catering to local language-based services is easy. It was a natural progression for us because the product had the capability. Similarly, we saw that there were enough opportunities in nearby countries for us to deliver this in their local language. Today the platform is capable of handling more than 100+ global languages.”
Strong foothold in Japan: Uniphore has set the Japanese tone right! Japan – perceived as a complex market with the world’s toughest language – is Uniphore’s latest destination. Why is Uniphore so bullish on Japan? Saraogi explains, “This is one market, which we believe is as large as the US. The unique feature of that market is that the language barrier and complexity does not allow contact centers to expand their territory of operation beyond Japan. To support Japanese consumers, it is imperative to have automated Japanese language available to address customer queries. And also, the wages are high, demanding large-scale investments with high operations costs. We knew Uniphore could meet all these demands in a cost-effective, scalable way with our automated conversational service platform. Japan is one area we would really love to focus and go deep into its market in the coming years.”
The recently raised funds have now allowed Uniphore to explore the Japanese market. Uniphore has placed a team there and a bunch of pilots is being conducted with some large local enterprise customers and the results so far seem extremely positive, indicates Saraogi. In a matter of time, Uniphore expects to seal multiple large enterprises named as their customers.
The essence of diversity
Uniphore has evidentially captured a sizeable portion of the $350 billion customer service industry. The company is so vast in terms of its findings and research, which has compelled it to constantly create more and more IPs and patents around voice. With a sense of pride, Uniphore is marking its territories disrupting the contact center industry with innovations in voice-tech like never before.
But Saraogi attributes to another fact that makes his company walk around with pride. While winding up the interaction, he says, “One of the key things that we really pride in ourselves is the kind of diversity that we have been able to build it into Uniphore. It’s a diversity of geographies, it’s a diversity of age groups, it’s a diversity of gender. And today, Uniphore is one of the few organizations in India which has a great mix of gender diversity. And we are really proud of that and we believe that for any organization to grow, it has to be diverse. Ideas have to flow in from different parts of the world, different age groups, and different genders so that they can be utilized to carve success.”