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1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010: Vimagino ,Bangalore,India

Posted on Thursday, Nov 4th 2010

By guest author Hema Kalsha

Vimagino creates intelligent software agents called angels, which can sense and respond to human emotions in customer interaction. These artificial agents can provide intelligent, interactive customer interaction during sales and support processes on websites. These angels have proved to be successful in converting 65% more visitors into customers than traditional methods and getting more value out of the customer life cycle.

Umakant Soni, CEO of the Bangalore-based company, has extensive experience creating and managing multidisciplinary teams with a functional focus on strategy, marketing, sales, and innovation. He took on corporate assignments upon graduating from IIT Kanpur, including BPO for back office automation call bases.

While Soni was studying the front office part of Wipro’s business, he realized that customer interaction can be automated, but that automation calls for integrating natural language programming (NLP), semantics, and core learning systems, which he realized was a bigger risk than Wipro was willing to take. So, he left Wipro and founded Vimagino in 2009 with one of his university friends, Gaurav Vaish, who is now Vimagino’s CTO. They were later joined by Sandeep Dey, another IIT peer and now VP of research and development.

Soni thinks that Vimagino is a first step toward creating a future in which machines and humans will understand each other and collaborate in a seamless manner. The company’s products include

  • vHelp angel, a chat-based “sentiment engine” that can understand questions phrased in different ways, show customers where to get more information, and sense when customers are beginning to be angry or frustrated and then transfer them to a human agent;
  • vHelp Rx, an intelligent desktop that can be used during live interactions, helping agents get relevant information quickly, build scripts for customer care, and be automatically reminded of service-level agreements (SLAs) when helping customers;
  • vHelp, an intelligent desktop for voice, chat, and e-mail interactions that shows agents answers that have proved useful for customer satisfaction;
  • AnswerBay, a knowledge management engine that creates category trees and identifies themes and concepts in a client’s documents, and saves agent’s answers to be added to the body of knowledge;
  • and vSento for automatic satisfaction analysis based on agents’ voice, e-mail, and chat transcripts.

There are three main benefits to using Vimagino, says Soni: First, it is easily integrated into customers’ websites without sacrificing any of their features or investment. Second, the system is always learning on the basis of customers’ emotional feedback to the answers the automatic agents provide, so if it makes a mistake and the customer reprimands it, it learns from the situation. Finally, companies gain important information about visitors, what are they looking for, what their intent is in visiting a site, and what they are happy with and not happy with.

The first pilot was for Wipro’s internal help desk, which was a lifeline for more than 100,000 employees. The challenges were figuring out how to have automated agents understand that complaints about “Toilet not working in Microsoft business unit” and request for “I need training in Microsoft technologies” were different, and how to handle them. After getting a 75% positive response from the tech-savvy audience, Vimagino felt that they had validation of their approach.

The founders also felt that this positive response reflected that many users were shifting to Web and mobile and away from voice-based customer interactions. At the same time, third-party BPOs don’t want to innovate because if they do, it cuts their own business. Further, because most companies think customer care should be outsourced, they don’t put many of their own IT resources behind it and are thus not encouraging change. Because of all these factors, Vimagino believed that this space was ripe for a disruptive shift for a new entrant.

Most customers, when they go to a company’s website, are looking for both sales and support information. And according to research done by Vimagino, up to 70% of customers’ questions can be tackled through an interactive manner on a company’s website. Only the complex problems need to be passed on to live support in a seamless manner, based on emotions expressed over e-mails or other resolution systems. As they handle more interactions, the intelligent angels in Vimagino’s products learn from these interactions using emotional feedback and thus get better at getting answers that help customers.

According to Jupiter Research, the total addressable market for online customer care automation is estimated at $1.5 billion, growing at a CAGR of 30%, and expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2013. IDC reports the outsourced customer care market was close to $85 billion last year, which is close to one-sixth of the total amount spent on customer care. The target segments for Vimagino are financial services, retail, travel, media, and entertainment.

The Web self-service market is crowded with well-known players such as RightNow, Cincom, Kanisa, which was acquired by Knova, Consona, and InQuira. Earlier this year, Jessica Tsai of DestinationCRM.com gave a rundown of the leaders. RightNow especially will prove a formidable competitor.

Vimagino raised $85,000 in seed funding in April of this year. The company has a small amount of revenue but is not yet profitable.

The founders are committed to creating a company with long-term value and believe in such a scenario they would be defining the paradigm of a new Web where interactive, emotionally responsive help would be synonymous with Vimagino, just as the portal is with Yahoo!, search with Google, and social media with Facebook.

Soni presented at the 1M/1M roundtable on September 23, 2010; the recording is here. Sramana advised him that because the market is crowded, presenting substantial exit barriers and long sales cycles, that an OEM strategy is a better approach. Sramana said she would connect Vimagino with some larger companies that could be good OEM channels.

Recommended Readings
The 1M/1M Incubation Radar 2010: Ringio
The Montana Mogul: RightNow CEO Greg Gianforte
Deal Radar 2009: Rocket Fuel

This segment is a part in the series : 1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010

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Quite interesting to see such companies emerging out of India.

Jatin Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 12:51 PM PT