This article is published by India AI on 29/04/2021
Installing an app, learning how it works, and non-stop typing isn't exactly a favorable user experience. How about talking to your brands through apps? This startup is showing how it's done.
Installing an app, learning how it works and non-stop typing isn't exactly a favourable user experience. How about talking to your brands through apps? This startup is showing how its done.
The go-to business playbook today involves some standard steps - build a website, launch an app, enable a bot within it.. etc etc. Every app, website or bot brings with its a unique flavour, with distinguished UI/UX, lending to a unique brand identity online. While this means more opportunities for developers and bot builders, to an average user, it also means added compliance. It means they have to spend that additional time and effort to learn their way around on new digital properties. For a digitally empowered generation like most of our readers, this may seem like a mere extension of ourselves. Last year, Indians were estimated to spend nearly 40% of their time on mobile phones for almost everything - shopping, entertainment or just plain connectivity. How enriching or easy was this experience? A question that companies now must seriously ponder over, especially with the massive shift to digital exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
One of the most exciting technologies poised to take off to become a commercial success is voice. A report by MMA and Isobar called The Voice Playbook, powered by Bangalore-based company Slang Labs, has outlined the various benefits that brands can leverage to enhance their offerings in voice technologies. There are some interesting data points that the report highlights:
Even today, majority of marketing efforts by voice technology entities are directed at urban users and digitally-savvy Indians. But COVID may have just changed all that with even digitally reticent embracing technology. If brands want to capture the entirety of the billion-strong market that India is, voice technology is the way to go, opines Kumar Rangarajan, cofounder of Slang Labs.
This isn't the first million-dollar idea that Rangarajan has conceptualised. For those who have been following the Indian startup ecosystem for sometime now would have heard of Little Eye Labs - the first Indian startup acquired by Facebook in 2014 for nearly $15 million. Following this acquisition, Rangarajan spent some time in California, where he was introduced to the unbridled and open nature of fostering innovation at the Menlo Park HQ of Facebook. "Boundless innovation is what I saw all the time there. It's deep rooted in the culture of a company like Facebook and the time I spent there taught me to think outside the box." It was around this time that Alexa, the Amazon voice assistant made its debut in the USA and became a sleeper hit. The uptake was enormous, as was the reception to building voice tech for the masses. Initially, Rangarajan wasn't very enamoured by the idea of voice assistants - they were generic and worked well for customer service. And this is when the next big idea struck him. Along with cofounder of Little Eye Labs Giridhar Murthy and former Amazon, IBM and Microsoft employee Satish Chandra Gupta, Rangarajan founded Slang Labs in 2017, with the intent of building voice technologies that would embody and amplify the essence of a brand.
Rangarajan says, "Despite all the rapid advancements in technology, a significant portion of users still feel there is a widening digital chasm between digitally-aware brands and their customers. Some challenges include a never-ending learning curve, inadequate app navigation and just that typing can be quite tedious. These gaps can be filled with voice," believes Rangarajan. Voice is truly ubiquitous - there is a certain comfort and ease of the spoken word instead of the written one. So, Rangarajan, Murthy and Gupta decided to "get customers talking instead of typing".
Slang's In-App Voice Assistants is a voice layer that is built atop any existing app. This is possible thanks to a series of Software Development Kits (SDKs) that allow apps to understand and respond to human voice. Once a company integrates with the SDKs offered by Slang Labs, a five-layer technology offering gets activated in minutes. The first is automatic speech recognition (ASR) to identify voice and process the data; this is followed by machine learning algorithms that convert speech from audio to text. Additionally, bucketing systems allow for the exact categorisation of user queries. Further, NLP is applied to deduce the intent of the user's query. Further extraction and conversion is done based on any data coming from the user. The SDK further converts the text answers to speech, and relays it to the user. The entire transaction takes place like a dialogue - and more questions helps the machine build context and ask expected follow up questions. The complete offering is powered by Slang CONVA - touted as the world's first voice assistant as a service platform. Currently, Slang CONVA is available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Kannada, with Malayalam in beta mode.
Slang Labs counts Spicejet, Big Basket, Udaan, P&G, and HT Media among its notable clients. The startup was part of the Google Launchpad Accelerator, and has been funded by Endiya Partners.
As voice is poised to form the mainstream of retail experiences, bigger retail brands would benefit from integrating end to end voice technologies, says Rangarajan. Flipkart's acquisition of Liv.ai, one of the early voice players in India, is a sign that the industry is moving in the expected direction. COVID19's impact on retail behaviour may have just accelerated this change.