The words artificial intelligence send up red flags with some people, evoking images of robots gone haywire trying to take over the human race, Inbenta CEO Jordi Torras noted during a recent conversation with CUSTOMER magazine. That’s not the case at all, he said, explaining that AI is just a computer technique to make life more efficient. And that’s exactly how Torras set out to use it when he founded Inbenta.
CUSTOMER magazine recently spoke with Torras to learn more about the man and his company.
Tell us about your career history.
Torras: I started my entrepreneurial career in 1997 after an epic brainstorm with my brother one night. Together we founded SBD in Barcelona, a professional services firm. We grew to more than 200 consultants by 2004 and were acquired that year by the French firm Alten Technologies.
In 2005, I founded Inbenta to help clients improve online relationships with customers using revolutionary technologies like artificial intelligence and natural language processing. The first beta version of the Inbenta Semantic Search Engine was released in 2010, thanks to an awesome team composed of linguists, software architects, and customer care specialists. In 2012, I moved to California with my family to continue to grow Inbenta. Just one country manager, MeeSun Boice, and myself started the U.S. office. We have since grown 500 percent and continue to experience rapid growth today.
What sparked the idea for Inbenta?
Torras: I created the company after realizing how frustrating it was to find information on particular websites. I saw that Google (News - Alert) was doing a great job at bringing me to the right website, but finding information within those websites was a challenge. I specialized in artificial intelligence and natural language processing as an undergraduate and recognized an excellent opportunity to incorporate them into a solution for this common problem.
For those not familiar with Inbenta, what exactly does it sell and to whom?
Torras: The short version is this: we help our client's customers help themselves. In other words, we enable the customers of our clients to be able to find information on their websites easily and intuitively, thanks to our AI-based technology. This results in millions of dollars in savings for our clients by avoiding unnecessary and redundant calls to call centers and emails to agents, which improves online customer satisfaction significantly.
Our cloud-based software can search huge and detailed lists of FAQs even if the customer types a query in his or her own words with misspellings and grammatical errors. Our software is able to understand questions and provide the most relevant answers. This allows call center agents to focus on more complex questions instead of spending time with repetitive ones that could be found on a website. Our software also greatly helps internal searches for company intranets and can be used as an easy system for agents to search complex answers.
We have a team of computational linguists that are constantly improving our clients’ understanding of their customer questions. Each client has its own linguist assigned to its account. Every month, our clients receive a linguist’s report outlining ways to improve their answers and FAQs based on the questions their customers are asking.
Reporting is also key to any business. We provide a self-service, real-time analytics dashboard for our clients to use and check on all incoming customer support questions coming through their search portals. This dashboard also quickly shows deflection and self-service rates.
Who is your target customer?
Torras: Our clients range from small and medium-sized businesses such as Farmgirl Flowers in San Francisco, to enterprise companies like Ticketmaster and Schlage Locks.
What are your big initiatives at the company?
Torras: Currently we are focusing on new features that will make customer search even more effective. We also have an eCommerce search that is already seeing great conversion rates for our clients.
Quantify the results Inbenta and its customers have you seen so far.
Torras: We are seeing our customers reach a 90 percent deflection rate or higher. That means that their customer support departments have to focus directly on only 10 percent or less of customer issues. This allows more resources to be dedicated to the complex problems that require an agent. Also, our customers love working with us. We currently hold a 99 percent client retention rate.
What are your goals and targets further afield?
Torras: We are now working hard to make our system understand new languages, specifically Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. These are the new languages set to launch this first quarter. In the long run, we want Inbenta to be the best and most accurate online customer solution in the market, by means of improving our artificial intelligence-enhanced, natural language processor.
How do these near- and longer-term goals address what’s happening in the marketplace?
Torras: There is a renewed interest in artificial intelligence. A few years ago, back when we started, AI was a forgotten term that nobody wanted to use. Now Apple (News - Alert) and IBM have brought credibility to the technology with SIRI and Watson. The difference is that many of these solutions focus on the consumer and essentially ignore the enterprise. And although our technology is an enterprise solution, it has a huge impact on the customer experience. As customers, many of us are aware of the painful reality of online support and call centers.
According to Forrester (News - Alert) Research, almost 70 percent of customers prefer a self-service channel for support. The businesses that are aware of this are looking for a cost-effective and scalable solution. The majority of our clients experience at least a 90 percent self-service rate, some are even as high as 99 percent – meaning that at least 90 percent of the searches conducted on our clients’ websites are answered without ever sending an email or making a phone call. We enable our clients to offer a superior self-service environment that is helping them save money and creating a lot of happy customers. The more languages we incorporate into our technology, the more customers we will be able to personally impact.
What excites you most about your job?
Torras: As a founder and CEO, growing a company from a boot-strapped startup to a funded corporation has been a long journey with plenty of obstacles. But what I will remember the most, years from now, is the daily excitement of being part of a project that holds new challenges and adventures. I love that even though I may not personally see it, I know that our services are helping thousands of people to easily find answers to their online questions. That's pretty amazing.
What do you find most interesting about what’s going on in the space in which Inbenta is a player?
Torras: It is really exciting to see artificial intelligence and natural language processing gaining momentum and creating such a buzz these days. Companies like Google, Apple, IBM, and Nuance (News - Alert) are all addressing this space – each one with totally different approaches and different solutions. In the last 5 years this field has seen more progress than in the previous 15.
The best thing about being a player in this industry is also seeing how we affect the space. We learn from our clients, and they stay loyal to us year after year. We certainly see a need for this technology in the market and our rapidly growing account roster is a testament to this need.
How would you describe your management style?
Torras: I believe everyone wants to succeed at their job. Everyone wants to use their creativity, intelligence, and skills to work in a team environment that thrives as challenges arise and grows with new opportunities. I try to have Inbenta benefit from individuals’ strengths instead of trying to put people in predetermined roles to perform specific tasks.
When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
Torras: In a family with three kids like mine, there is no such a thing as boredom. So I spend as much quality time with my family as possible. However, my passion is music. I am a bass guitarist in a cover band, and I love to play live, classic rock and roll, and blues.
How do your personal interests reflect your management style and who you are?
Torras: A company is like a band. Everyone is playing a different instrument that requires different skills. Yet the band is playing only one song at a time. The only way a band will sound great, is when every member really enjoys playing in it.
If there’s just one thing you want people to know about your company, what is that one thing?
Torras: Inbenta with its AI-enhanced natural language processing offers the best-in-class search platform for businesses seeking superior self-service solutions and an optimized internal website search for all purposes.
Edited by Maurice Nagle