Exotel, the company that works behind the scenes for companies like Uber, Flipkart, Ola, Quikr, Practo, and Nearbuy, has now come of age in its cloud telephony business. Essentially, cloud telephony takes all the stress and a lot of the cost out of handling phone-related operations for businesses, such as private branch exchanges, and delivers web-based automated telephone systems.
In an interview with Moneycontrol, CEO Shivakumar Ganesan of the six-year old Bengaluru-based company talks about their journey and the way forward and how voice will take over video as the next big thing in cloud telephony. Edited excerpts:
Q: How has cloud telephony market progressed for you in the last couple of years?
Though cloud telephony has been in use in India for over half a decade now, our early days were spent educating customers about how cloud telephony can help their business.
With the boom of e-commerce and marketplace businesses in the last few years, cloud telephony has grown.
With Exotel, the biggest change we have noticed is that businesses have realised that one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for software.
Today, cloud telephony in India is being used for cases such as powering and tracking customer communication for field workforce like delivery agents, salespersons, servicemen, etc., safeguarding customer privacy (number masking) and improving operational efficiency and agent productivity.
Q: What are the kind of services that businesses are looking for from a cloud telephony provider?
A: Today, businesses interact with their customers mostly outside a traditional call centre. This includes conversations with delivery personnel, drivers, vendors, service providers, etc. Organisations such as Ola and Uber use our services for number masking which enables number anonymization. Number anonymization allows people who hail cabs to talk to the drivers and vice versa without having to use their own personal numbers. We have safeguarded the privacy of 30 million people in the country last year.
They’re also using our services for automated phone calls, SMS updates, missed calls, etc.
Poor delivery rates, especially for cash on delivery (COD) orders were a problem for the e-commerce and logistics companies in Southeast Asia. With the help of Exotel’s automated calling services for COD confirmation, first-time delivery rates have improved up to 18 percent.
Automating phone calls and SMS during their busiest seasons helped them work with a lot more parents without any one child’s admissions falling through the cracks.
Q: With the telecom policy slated to release this year, what would you like to see incorporated for the cloud telephony business?
A: We would like the NTP to work towards a no licensing model for services built on top of telecom.
The best way to boost innovation amongst OTT (over the top) service providers and cloud telephony players is to do away with the bureaucracy of licensing. For small players and businesses in nascent stages, this serves as a serious deterrent. While we would like to see the TRAI and the DoT working towards making this a reality, we understand that this is a long process. Meanwhile, we would like to see clear guidelines laid out for the licenses required for services built on top of telecom and clear timelines for implementation.
There is also a need to encourage innovation in the telecom sector. If licensing becomes simple, we will definitely see this happen. To make it easy for companies to innovate, we should also keep in mind that exit plan needs to be simple for these startups, in case the business model doesn’t work.
They should also look at a convergence of voice, video and text as a means of improving enterprise productivity. Mobile numbers should be classified as sensitive information, and access permission for apps should be monitored closely.
There should also be national security guidelines for OTT players including the likes of WhatsApp on the same parameters as the network businesses.
Q. What is the potential of cloud telephony for government services? Are you working with any government clients?
A: Cloud telephony has a huge potential in the government services sector. We have worked with a lot of municipal corporations, including ones that worked to measure the effectiveness of the Swachch Bharat campaigns. Given that everyone has access to a mobile phone, a phone call is the best tool to reach out to the masses.
Cloud telephony can provide easy access to the state machinery by providing citizens of a certain area to call a common number with their issue/feedback. This eases the process of being heard by the right department in the government.
Cloud telephony can also power such public outreach programmes that can be scaled to reach a billion people in a matter of few seconds.
Q: With chatbots and automated interactive systems becoming the norm, how is your business getting impacted? Do you build these systems in house or outsource them?
A: Implementation of AI (artificial intelligence) and chatbots into cloud telephony is now seeing an uptake. Reliability is one of the largest challenges of cloud telephony keeping in mind the fact that we cannot completely bank on the internet and telephony infrastructure of our country. Our systems are built in-house.
Q: What is the next big technology frontier in cloud telephony?
A: Voice will trump video. We see this slowly becoming a reality. Even people who don’t know how to type will be able to use voice as a control system on their devices.
Voice analytics is the next big development in cloud telephony. Voice has become the primary mode of customer outreach. This has created a huge demand for the availability of voice-based analytics, which will provide crucial intelligence to improve efficiency.
Sentiment analysis of phone conversations with customers would lead to better customer engagement and satisfaction. Voice is here to stay and grow and we will be at the forefront of it.
Q: What are you looking at in terms of investment and revenues this year for Exotel?
A: Exotel continues to explore future avenues of growth. Our leadership is quite bullish on certain industries, especially the startup sector, and we continue to invest in building even more intuitive and integrated solutions for our customers.
We are not in a position to disclose the revenue numbers right now.