Dimitris Vaasos from Omilia tells us how customer experience along with conversational AI was the combat mechanism through the pandemic
1. Tell us about yourself and how you came to be in your current role as the CEO at Omilia?Back in the late 1990s, I was living in the U.K., working for IBM and then for a U.S.-based IBM business partner. My role was to develop and deploy IBM’s voice platform across the world. I completed more than 70 installations over 3 years, across Europe, Australia, and the Asia Pacific, amassing considerable hands-on experience on the market needs, but also in the shortcomings of the technology. In 2000, I decided to go back to my home country, Greece, and start a family. That is where the story of Omilia begins.
2. Can you tell us about your journey into this industry?I founded Omilia together with my partner, Pelias Ioannidis, out of a spare room in my parents’ house, and we bootstrapped our way into a Speech IVR development and integration company. Our mission today remains the same as it was back in 2000 – to re-invent the voice automation industry, transforming it from an experience that everyone loves to hate, to an experience that delights!
3. What are some of the unique lessons you have learnt from analysing your customer behaviour?I never cease to learn, but those early-on lessons are the ones that helped shaped my vision most. In 2007, we were hired by a client to upgrade a Directed Dialog solution to a Natural Language solution for ferry ticketing using third-party speech technology. Believing the marketing of a third-party Speech vendor, we implemented the solution, only to discover, the hard way, that the tech was not mature enough to meet the needs of the real-world customer interactions. So, we rolled up our sleeves and did the only thing I could imagine doing: we analysed each and every call that went through the system, doing a root cause analysis of why the customer could not communicate with the system or why the system could not understand the customer correctly, and started to design and implement targeted solutions to solve these problems. Our moment of discovery was this: instead of patching the problem after it had occurred, we designed a framework that attempted to solve the problem before it happened. We developed a Conversational Dialog Manager that kept tabs on what the system was asking, while also the ability to use contextual information in order to interpret customer input. Such technology did not even exist back then in the market, we had to invent it. We took a big risk but the results were gratifying. In retrospect, I think that at that moment I took a very important decision: to never stop going after my vision, no matter the risk!
4. Omilia recently announced about raising $20M funding from Grafton Capital. How are you planning to use the funds?Up until this funding round, Omilia had been growing organically. This additional funding will allow us to expand our market presence in North America and Europe, and to accelerate the development of our Conversational AI cloud platform.
5. Omilia extends seamless end-to-end conversational experience for self-service and to help improve customer satisfaction with NICE inContact CXone (and Route 101). Can you elaborate more on the same?Confidence in providing good customer service is at an all-time low, exacerbated by high call volumes during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are partnering with top CCaaS providers such as NICE inContact, Genesys, and now with Route 101, and we have launched a one-of-a-kind partnership in our industry – combining Omilia Conversational AI solution with Natural Language Understanding capabilities, speech recognition engine, and omnichannel dialogue management platform, and cloud customer interaction management cloud capabilities. Through these partnerships, businesses in the U.K., Europe, and North America can now deploy sophisticated no-code Conversational Bots to automate up to 80% of their customer interactions, lowering their costs and achieving efficiencies at scale, all without sacrificing customer experience.
6. What were some of the hypotheses based on the trends you were already seeing?Well, the signs on the wall are clear to me: Covid-19 has accelerated the move to cloud even for the most traditional of enterprises. On-premise contact centres are being replaced by their CCaaS counterparts. This migration forces an unprecedented re-thinking of Customer Interaction strategies, with digital transformation leading the way bravely, capitalising on maturing technologies such as Conversational AI.
7. Why are there differences in the vision of AI tech between business leaders and technologists? How is this impacting AI adoption for enterprise?There is still a lot of confusion in the market around Conversational AI technologies, largely created by overly optimistic and misleading marketing that the big vendors have carried out over the last few years. This has overblown expectations for business leaders as to the business results they can achieve, and also for technical leaders as to how these results can be achieved. Too often, enterprises fall victims to a common pitfall: the “democratization” of Conversational AI technology by vendors whose product maturity is not yet at a level digestible by the masses. Therefore, enterprises are having a DIY go at Conversational AI, only to discover a year later the realities of platforms that are not ready for enterprise-scale deployments, especially in the hands of non-specialists. This phenomenon is the norm today in the market, and at best causing delays in the adoption of AI, and in some cases deterring enterprises away from AI altogether.
8. What are some of the major developments being planned at Omilia in the next couple of years?We are already underway to disrupt the Conversational AI market, with our no-code, sophisticated, pre-trained Conversational Βot Framework: OCP miniApps®.
9. What digital innovation in the tech space do you think will leave a mark in 2020?Massive migration to the cloud for enterprises, and digital socializing via Zoom for everyone! The pandemic made it clear that the human element is a single point of failure. Business Continuity Plans now call for strategies that mitigate the risk of needing people to keep your infrastructure and systems running.
10. How do you keep up with the rapidly developing tech world?We don’t.
If you try to keep up, then you are not leading, not innovating.But I think I understand what you mean here. Speed to market is perhaps the most important factor, and the cloud is certainly a necessity for any company that wishes to not fall behind. At Omilia we are not only offering our technology in the form of SaaS or PaaS, but we are almost 100% on the cloud for our internal infrastructure too. This allows us to move very fast, adopt new technologies easily without fear or the hindrance of sunk costs.
11. Which is the one go-to-phrase that you have believed in throughout your professional life?
Follow your heart.
12. We would love to get a glimpse of Omilia’s much-talked-about chic and fabulous work culture! Can you share some pictures of Omilia’s office get-togethers and fun activities with our audience?The lockdown has changed so many things for everyone this year.Even in remote working conditions, which particularly impacts global teams with offices and presence around the world, like Omilia’s, we make a conscious effort to support Omilians connect, engage and have fun together in either remote or lockdown conditions. This unprecedented holiday season, that’s somewhat gloomier than others, we are organizing a Christmas karaoke remote event for our employees, possibly along with their families; and we are dressing up in Christmas jumpers and other festive clothingfor our corporate meetings over zoom to elevate the spirits. Our team is already sharing photos with decorations and holiday recipes (see below). We are also looking for ways to support our community and institutions whose efforts we admire. This year we have picked a charitable institution that provides support and resources to children ages 6-18 whose families are in need.
Dimitris Vassos, CEO, Co-founder & Chief Architect at Omilia:
Dimitris Vassos is the CEO, Co-founder, and Chief Architect of Omilia, a global conversational intelligence company that provides advanced automatic speech recognition solutions to companies and organizations in North America, Canada, and Europe. Dimitris has significant experience in the field of applied speech and artificial technology, specifically, natural language understanding (NLU), speech recognition, and voice biometrics.