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Conversational AI is mainstream

Sindhu Hariharan I CIO.com

As businesses embrace real-world applications of AI-based chatbots and voice-powered assistants, investments and acquisition action in the space are growing year on year.

Data from Tracxn shows 2019 has already clocked deals valued at over $6 million in the segment till date, compared to $13 million investments raised by startups in 2018, across 11 deals. Frontdesk.ai, an AI assistant for the health and wellness segment, raised $2 million in a pre-Series A funding round led by pi Ventures, and AI-led conversational customer engagement platform Yellow Messenger raised $4 million last month in Series A from undisclosed investors.

Voice interactions, chatbots, AI-supported human concierges, and digital assistants largely make up the conversational AI market in India. While such solutions are gaining rapid adoption in financial services for sales and service needs, industries like hospitality and travel are also embracing conversational AI to keep consumers engaged and satisfied.

Conversational analytics is another growing segment, where companies evaluate service levels by reading into consumer sentiment using AI. 2019 also saw two major startup acquisitions in the segment in a span of two weeks. Haptik was acquired by Reliance Industries (by subsidiary Rel Jio) in a deal worth Rs 700 crore (including primary capital investment) earlier this month. The acquisition is being touted as Reliance’s move to rival Amazon’s Alexa and will give Jio an opportunity to leverage Haptik’s tech in building consumer solutions.

Marketing automation platform Netcore Solutions acquired Quinto.ai last week, securing access to startup’s AI engine and talent. Veer Chand Bothra, chief entrepreneur and evangelist, Netcore says the conversational AI market is in a “close to maturity” stage in India, and adoption by conventional sectors has “truly taken off ” in the past two years. “More acquisitions and tech partnerships will help this form of AI become mainstream in the next couple of years,” he said.

Uniphore, a Chennaiborn AI enterprise backed by Cisco’s John Chambers, is among few Indian AI players to taste global success. “We are seeing real use cases and adoption both in India and in other global markets we serve. In the customer service domain, conversational AI is becoming a mainstream platform to deliver differentiated CX,” Samith Ramachandran, VP and head of products, Uniphore, said.

Ramachandran expects to see more investments and corporate-startup partnerships as organisations strive to master customer service and experience. Deep tech investor and pi Ventures founding partner Manish Singhal is bullish on the space and judges conversational AI by its use. “The ‘human + AI’ model is interesting when it has deep problem-solving abilities, and we look out for such specific and deep uses of conversational AI.”

D D Mishra, senior director analyst, Gartner, notes that over 40% of Indian entities have either adopted or are in the process of adopting conversational platforms. “Culture often stands as a barrier; procurement departments in India are driven by the traditional mindset of headcount, which goes against automation and revolves around creating efficiencies,” he added.

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