Hey Jude, a South African AI-based innovation by techpreneur, Marcus Smith, is winning by doing things differently.
While AI technology has typically meant taking humans out of the ‘customer service’ equation, for example chatbots, Hey Jude’s subscription-based personal assistance app, combines the best of both – they use AI technology to help agents.
“We have good integrations of AI to help service requests efficiently, but the human element to the service is imperative,” says Smith.
Users are able to, through the app, request bookings, deliveries and quotes from any number of service providers using text or voice messages. The interface then links them to one of their trained operators/agents, known as ‘Judes’.
Agents at their 700 seat call centre process requests, assist with research, negotiate prices and facilitate payments.
Smith says the platform came from his growing frustration with the limited responses that AI apps like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa provide.
“Hey Jude [is] a play on Siri, but with much more capability than Siri. Let’s be honest, Siri and other AI assistants are very underwhelming,” says Smith.
“The thing that sets this app apart is that the Judes are real people – not machines – that use the power of technology, their own local knowledge, and a bit of flare to get your tasks done – it’s the perfect mash up of emotional aptitude and artificial intelligence,” Smith said in an interview with Disrupt Africa.
Users are also not limited to service providers with online ordering systems, like Siri and Alexa, says Smith.
“If you needed either of the other two to order flowers you would need to have every flower supplier integrated and hope that they had an online ordering system. If they don’t then you are out of luck, but with Hey Jude we don’t have those types of issues.”
Smith previously worked as a director of New Zealand-based IT Services company CodeBlue and cloud-based performance improvement software, AskYourTeam.
“The rise of AI is inevitable, but to be honest there is lack of clarity over how and why and when”
Today Hey Jude has more than 3500 users. They have also expanded their market. They now have a presence in the UK, UAE, New Zealand and Australia.
Recently they were also recognised as the best South African app at the 2017 MTN Business App of the Year Awards.
We spoke to Smith about why a combination of people and tech works best, and why he believes Siri and Alexa are overrated.
Q: Because Hey Jude is a world-first, were there any concerns with bringing something completely new to the market?
Of course I had concerns, but I truly believe(d) in the product we were developing as consumers nowadays are time poor, and struggle to get their to-do list done, therefore in need of all the assistance they can get, my biggest concern was the scaling of the product and the team.
Q: Did this present any challenges with raising capital?
We have been lucky in having the backing of the Private Label Promotions (PLP) Group to fund our startup and with that has come assistance with getting the product to market in not only the B2C, but B2B space. Working with a company that has as many years of lifestyle management experience as they do, has given us great insights into what we offer and how [we offer it].
Q: As mentioned, you have expanded your offering to include businesses – can you share a bit about that?
We have introduced a new product called Hey Jude Pro which serves the SME market where the team will do research, create databases, do social media posts etc. at a well-priced package rate.
Q: How did your previous experience help with founding Hey Jude?
It was useful to get insights into digital platforms and cloud-based services, but any experience work-wise is imperative when starting out, not only in the app space, but in general.
Q: How are the ‘Judes’ selected?
Our Judes are selected based on criteria such as local knowledge, specialist abilities i.e. travel, building, motor, as well as having good life skills. We recruit and train online. Our Judes are continually up-skilled using the same method.
Q: Where do you see AI technology heading in the next 5 years?
The rise of AI is inevitable, but to be honest there is lack of clarity over how and why and when. Everyone has a differing opinion, but what we do know is that it is changing the way in which we as humans work and interface with technology.