Digerati50: The small AI company with a lofty vision

  • Artificial Intelligence to help call centers manage thousands of calls, emails
  • Powered by internally developed Emotion AI that reads human feelings & intent

Jeffrey Tan and a team a software engineers started to build an Emotion AI suite in 2016 and in 2019 he was told by a Gartner analyst that Superceed was the only company, at that point, working on the full suite of Emotion AI.

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article is an expanded version of the print edition and has some updates.

Jeffrey C.P. Tan, founder and CEO of Superceed recalls the day when a national bank approached them with a problem. The customer support department was overwhelmed, having to field tens of thousands of phone calls, and thousands of emails.

"Can your technology help us?" they asked. There was no hesitation to answer, “Yes”. In a single day, the team put Superceed’s technologies to work, handling calls and emails with the help of Emotion AI and Marketing AI.

If you ask Jeffrey to explain this, he will use phrases like “omnichannel”, “Emotion AI”, and “emotional journey”. But in simpler terms, what Superceed’s solutions can do is to monitor online messages, and tell you what the sender is feeling.

In the case of the bank, Jeffrey’s technology went to work, listening to phone calls, reading emails and flagging the ones where it thought the customer was angry. Safe to say, the bank was stunned that this technology exists. But then, Superceed is a company full of surprises.

 

A small AI company with a grand vision

Kuala-Lumpur born and bred, Jeffrey parlayed his degree in Mathematics into a startup specialising in a system to bring together multiple messaging tools into a single place. “I decided to start Superceed to extend our works in unified communications into the enterprise space,” he explains. His solution at the time combined calls, emails, live chat, mobile messaging and social media.

Customers from early days came from telcos and services industries. But Jeffrey was unsatisfied with just giving people a way to communicate. He wanted people to also understand.

“We saw there were a lot of interaction data (between companies and customers),” he recalls. “Yet none of the customer experience centers was able to use this to understand what the customer was feeling.”

Jeffrey felt there had to be a way to track the emotional journey of customers, to create a ‘wow’ experience for the customer.

 

A machine to read your feelings

"I think probably back in 2015 or 2016 we started to build Emotion AI," he says, referring to technology that can recognise or detect human emotion. Research into the technology (sometimes called Affective Computing) has been on-going since the 1990s, but it has really taken off in the last few years as Artificial Intelligence has come into the mainstream.

It may sound like speculative fiction, but Jeffrey and his team of two dozen software engineers and analysts have managed to make it work. “The biggest win we’ve had so far was an overseas telco,” he shares. “We were able to implement our end-to-end solutions to exemplify the power of omnichannel and power of AI in augmenting human work.”

In 2019, revenue exceeded US$2.9 million (RM12 million), and while you might have expected the Covid-19 pandemic to have a negative impact, Superceed is in fact on track to make US$3.9 million (RM16 million) in 2020.

[Update on 4th April 2021: Jeffrey tells DNA Superceed exceeded RM20 million revenue for 2020.]

[RM1 = US$0.241]

“Covid-19 helped us to focus on (the) booming industries during the pandemic,” explains Jeffrey, adding that they also repositioned some offerings to create a set of remote working solution called ‘Homework’.

 

“We want to help democratise the technology”

Nevertheless, Jeffrey is not content to sit on his laurels. Apart from inferring emotional context by reading messages and listening to speech, the team has been doing a considerable amount of R&D. They now have chatbots that can converse in multiple languages, and even understand what “Okay, lah” means. They are even looking at ways to detect if people are telling the truth by observing micro expressions ( facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second).

Nevertheless, Jeffrey is cognisant of the fact that he is ambitious in his scope of research. “A Gartner analyst told me in 2019 that we were the only company in the world that cuts across all of the Emotion AI technology,” he shares. Putting this into context, most companies either focus in the medium they are analysing, or in the type of messaging. Superceed tries to look across the board.

While the company could potentially file for 12 patents, Jeffrey is also hoping that their solutions will be accessible by everybody. "We want to help democratize the technology." To achieve this, they will adopt a cloud-based strategy, packaging it as a Software-as-a-Service starting from RM30 per month.

[Update: The SaaS offering launched last year. Jeffrey has also filed for some patents.]
Whatever the future brings, you don’t need a machine to tell you that Jeffrey is looking forward to it.


Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.

 

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