This customer service start-up from Melbourne is getting major buzz in the...

This customer service start-up from Melbourne is getting major buzz in the US

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Alok Kulkarni

Cyara, which offers an Aussie-made SaaS platform enabling organisations to improve the delivery of multichannel customer service and customer experience, celebrated its 10th year anniversary this year.

Earlier this year, the company raised US$25M from US investors, PeakSpan Capital and Greenspring Associates, and opened its headquarters in Silicon Valley, which resulted in making this largely unknown Aussie success story famous in the US, with articles in Forbes and The Silicon Valley Business Journal, which highlighted Cyara’s innovative technology and aggressive growth plan.

“Australia continues to be a fantastic test market for us as it’s highly innovative, but we’re excited about our rapid growth globally, especially in the US. We always wanted to be a global platform. We recently opened a new headquarters in Silicon Valley, and have also secured USD$25 million in funding,” Alok remarked.

“One of the key reasons for this US expansion is that more than 60% of our revenue comes from the US. Another motivator was that the capital markets in the US, and especially Silicon Valley, are more mature in terms of the growth funding we needed.

“The restrictions the Australian government has put on company stock options were another factor in the move. In Australia, options can be offered to 20 employees per year, while in the US it’s unrestricted. I think this is something that needs to change in Australia,” he added.

On trends and predictions in customer service

“The market is moving towards using artificial intelligence technologies for less complicated transactions. Self-service transactions can cost around 3-5 cents, while a human-driven service can average $7-10,” says Alok.

“The benefit of having people involved is their ability to build deep relationships and solve complex problems, and this in turn drives sales. People are a key asset and they’re becoming more important because of that ability to build connections with customers.

“A key challenge for enterprises will be in trusting the customer experience built on AI technologies. We’re currently seeing AI being implemented for low-value add, transactional tasks. Because of the dynamic self-learning nature of AI technologies, it’s difficult to predict what responses they will give to customers, which is why testing will become a key part of providing customer service assurance. It’s a very interesting space that’s worth watching.”

The company is also partnering with Monash University to work with undergraduate and postgraduate students to foster innovative thinking and enable career opportunities for them at Cyara. It is planning to start a graduate program that will involve sending some of the graduates on a two to three month work experience trip to Silicon Valley.

“There is an incredible pool of talent in Australia that we should recognise and celebrate. I think this will be a great way to share talent and experiences across markets, and it’s integral to fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging the next generation of tech and business leaders in Australia,” said Alok.

What exactly does Cyara do?

Cyara provides a SaaS platform that enables organisations to deliver flawless omnichannel customer experience at scale by identifying issues before customers do.

“The whole point of Cyara is to automatically test customer experience systems from the ‘outside-in’ before they are rolled out, so that we can identify potential defects earlier in the development cycle – this can help reduce costs by up to 80%, decrease time to market, and ensure the customer journey is delivered flawlessly,” Alok explained.

“Manual testing typically covers a very small subset of test scenarios. Cyara is an expert in automating this testing process and discovering all the scenarios, as well as in providing automated functional testing for them. We also monitor the customer journey in real time and are able to identify defects before the customer is affected.

Cyara is helping organisations such as Google, Telstra, Tesla Motors, Westpac, NAB, Optus, ANZ Bank, the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Human Services, Sky, and many others deliver innovative and flawless customer experience.

“Businesses and our clients, like Barclays, are trying to implement agile ways of working and going to market. They’re also looking to innovate with new processes and technologies,” he went on to reveal.

“Cyara enables this agility and innovation by giving companies a platform that identifies issues and tests new processes and workflows. In turn, this avoids negative customer experience outcomes and negative media attention when the system goes live. For a client like Barclays which is handling tens of millions of calls a year, this can be critical to their success.”

What is the story behind Cyara?

We caught up with Alok for an interview in which he shared much more about his company’s origin and what it is trying to achieve.

Who are the people behind Cyara?

Luan Tran (CTO), Bonny Malik (CFO), and I founded the company 10 years ago, in 2006.

My family migrated to Australia from India when I was 17, and I studied electrical engineering at Monash.  After I graduated, I started working in the telco space as an engineer, for big names in the industry like NEC and Genesys, where I actually met Luan.

Luan also came to Australia as an immigrant (he was a Vietnamese refugee) when he was 7. We worked together on many projects while we were at NEC and Genesys (Luan was a software engineer), and started our entrepreneurship journey back in the late 90s with two start-up attempts in the hospitality and healthcare spaces. Unfortunately, neither of these start-ups really took off because we didn’t know the industries enough to sell the software products we built, even though they were quite innovative, and we also didn’t have the sales and business development DNA and contacts.

After these two experiences, I decided to go back to studying and completed an MBA at Melbourne Business School. Luan had the IT technical expertise and I knew I needed to add business and sales competencies to my own IT skills if we wanted to succeed. So when the time was right, we decided to build Cyara and partner with another business expert whom I met during my time at the University of Melbourne, Bonny Malik. I also decided to pivot my career to more customer-facing sales roles such as sales engineering and management.

Bonny, who also is from India, was working as the Australian country manager for an international IT assets management firm. We had become friends. He had a finance background, domain experience in the CRM space (closely aligned to our target market), great social skills, and significant startup experience. He worked for several software companies where he was in charge of driving sales within and outside of the ANZ region, and of tapping into new business revenue streams.

Getting the right product, in the right industry, with the right people, at the right time, and after 10 years of planning and preparing – that’s how it all started!

What inspired you to start Cyara?

When, back in 2004, I was in charge of architecting a modern customer experience platform for an Australian Government agency. The customer experience platform was designed to deliver market leading speech recognition technology for a more natural language self-service call centre platform.

It was the first project of this kind in Australia. But while it was innovative, it required us to put together several technologies on one platform, and unfortunately the technologies were not mature enough to support the volume of calls received. The platform ended up being overloaded pretty quickly, with thousands of calls not answered or dropped due to technology issues every week.

We realised that this could have been avoided if there had been a technology that enabled organisations to test the reliability of their customer experience platforms at scale before they went live. This would ensure that potential issues were identified and resolved before they got to customers. After that, monitoring technologies could also be implemented so that issues could be anticipated and identified proactively in real time before customers were impacted.

No one was doing this, even though today it is considered customer service 101. We soft sounded a few of the big telcos and banks across ANZ, and they confirmed they would be very interested in investing in these kinds of testing and monitoring technologies. That’s how Cyara was created. From there we built a SaaS platform, and we’ve had great names such as Telstra with us from the beginning.

What problem are you solving with Cyara?

We are helping companies in all industries – especially telco, financial services, government, retail, and travel – to improve the delivery of flawless customer experiences across all their customer experience platforms at scale, and proactively monitor these voice and digital channels from the ‘outside-in’ to avoid defects impacting actual customers.

Consumers today expect 24/7 customer service, through every channel (mobile, in-person, and online), and they want requests and questions answered immediately and flawlessly, if not in real time. I’m sure each one of us can relate to a customer service issue we’ve had and how difficult and frustrating that experience can be when we can’t get through and get the service we deserve from those companies. Companies are improving their understanding of these new expectations and are trying to build efficient omnichannel strategies to address these new standards of service quality, but most of them are lacking technologies that can actually help them deliver this flawless service and experience.

Many companies (including big names) are still receiving a lot of customer complaints that create tension with clients as well as tarnish their reputation. This is something that can actually be avoided through the use of testing and monitoring technologies.

With the digitisation of our economy and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation technologies, the delivery of customer experience is increasingly becoming more challenging. Being able to test everything before it goes live and while it is being used can be a real game-changer.

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