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Kiwi Startup Spotlight: Why this will be the year chatbots take on customer service
Fri, 2nd Feb 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Artificial intelligence and natural language processing are two technologies that are starting to gain enough maturity for widespread enterprise adoption.

Kiwi conversational engagement company Ambit saw the potential in this space and has a turnkey solution providing enterprise companies with conversational AI solutions.

TechDay sat down with Ambit CEO and co-founder Josh Comrie to discuss Ambit's journey and why bots are the ‘killer app' of artificial intelligence.

The startup has been customer funded to date and is planning to raise capital in Q2 this year to fund their platform development and expansion into international SMB markets.

Tell us a bit about what Ambit does.

Ambit builds bots that, as much as possible, emulate two people talking to one another. The term that's commonly used is chatbots, but we try to avoid using that term.

Our research found that there are around 100,000 chatbots live at the moment, but over 80% of them aren't artificial intelligence-enabled.

As a result, they leave the user feeling numb and like they had a fruitless interaction.

We haven't solved the Turing test yet, but our bots are able to create a rich customer experience.

How did Ambit begin?

Around 18 months ago, I was thinking of my next venture and pulled together a group of potential co-founders to find an opportunity and chatbots came up after we did some business model canvassing.

AI for a lot of people looks like a confusing mass of jargon and heavy lifting computer science.

I believe it will revolutionise how we do business, how we engage with customers and the type of businesses we're in.

In 2017, we started taking the platform we built to enterprise businesses in New Zealand, discussing what it is, how it works, and why they should do it.

With some support from other companies, we validated what we believed to be the right business model for us, and we've been growing continually ever since.

What business model did you decide worked for you?

We're an as-a-Service business, so our revenue model comes from build revenue and production revenue.

Our engagement with customers begins with ideas and a high-level bot design workshop, which then leads to scoping and signoff before construction of the first iterations.

Some of our current clients include mortgage broker Squirrel, Co-operative Bank, and energy provider Vector.

Why are enterprise companies starting to look into using chatbots?

There are three main problems they face that are spurring this.

The first is that customer engagement has become very different for most organisations - the modern customer is bombarded with 5000 ads a day.

Apps used to be an effective way of engaging customers, but people no longer download new apps.

The adoption rate of new apps has dropped off a cliff and people are spending their time on messaging platforms like Messenger, Skype, Slack, etc.

So chatbots enable organisations to communicate with their customers on a medium that's comfortable and preferable to them.

Secondly, there's the problem of cost to serve.

For most organisations, there's an objective for reducing the cost to serve customers while ensuring the service is still delivered on a basis customers want.

Bots can remove the mundane, process-oriented aspect of customer service, delivering it in a fun way.

Third, it's incredibly expensive for companies to develop new products, and 80% of them fail on the market.

Chatbots can give you an opportunity to ask customers what they want, what their problems are, and actively involve them in the co-creation of new products.

If you have already established a channel of communication the customer accepts, you can use it.

Why is now the right time for enterprise companies to consider an AI strategy?

Within the world of AI, bots are the most understandable application for executives from a deployment and business impact standpoint.

The technology has evolved rapidly over the last few years and the world is ready for this.

People want simplicity of communication, and they want access to technology on a timeframe and basis that works for them.

Having the always-on ability makes a big difference for people.

What are some of the challenges Ambit has faced on its journey?

The first challenge for us was customer acknowledgement.

Now bots have gained some presence, and people are starting to understand what we're able to achieve in a broad sense.

The second challenge for us is that the quality of the organisation you create is contingent on being amazing at attracting and retaining the right talent.

It's well-documented that there's a shortage of skilled IT workers in New Zealand.

We've dealt with it by hiring talented software engineers who have a proven track record in directing their own learning and have shown an interest in AI.

So we take great engineers, and turn them into great AI engineers.

The last challenge for us is that as we scale, we need the three key parts of the business – sell, build, deliver – to grow at the same rate.

Otherwise, we will end up with an inability to deliver or redundant capability.