The increasing popularity of e-commerce and cloud services has negated the need for face-to-face communication between buyers and sellers. Network communications is now the key channel for customer enquiries, interactions and order placement. As such, businesses are making use of artificial intelligence to push customer service towards automation, higher efficiency and higher quality. Fano Labs, an incubatee of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, is zeroing in on this market with enormous potential, and is focusing its R&D on language processing technology to produce corresponding solutions. It has won the support of well-known investors with its works.
Breaking into different markets
Fano Labs was jointly founded in 2015 by CEO Dr Miles Wen and his university mentor Professor Victor O.K. Li. The company took its name from Robert Fano, an AI pioneer and engineer. It has broken into real estate, energy and telecommunications and has ventured outside of Hong Kong to other markets in mainland China and Asia. Its chatbot offers customer enquiries support to clients to elevate service experience. In November 2017, the company announced it became the first Hong Kong start-up to have won investment from Li Ka Shing’s privately-owned investment outfit, Horizons Ventures.
Carving its niche in three areas
Dr Wen said that the company is technology-based and its team is formed of world-class technological research talent. Fano Labs is focusing on language processing, in particular dialects, as it knows the market well and is confident of the potential presented by this specific niche. The company has three main lines of business:
- Chatbot: Providing basic tools to help companies in different industries and regions train a bot to get acquainted with the different ways customers ask questions. The goal is to have the chatbots converse with customers autonomously in natural language.
- Quality Assurance: Businesses can use Fano Labs’s basic solutions to identify areas for improvement in customer service interactions. The information can then be used to train customer service staff for improving customer service to a desired standard.
- Technology Output: Supply Fano Labs’s patented language processing engine to businesses and organisations as research tools for developing specific products.
Processing the overlooked service areas of dialects
Fano Labs’s capabilities stand out in the expansive mainland China. Dr Wen estimates that the local call centre market is worth US$1 billion, and it is not easy to meet the needs of local businesses. Chatbots as virtual customer service staff have to converse fluently with millions of customers, and it has to understand Putonghua as well as a multitude of dialects the likes of Cantonese and Sichuanese. Existing Putonghua-based language processing technology falls short in this respect. As well, while corporate call centres will keep recordings of the conversations with customers, only a fraction of such recordings will be reviewed manually, indicating the resources are not used effectively to improve customer service.
Fano Labs offers solutions capable of processing Cantonese and Sichuanese to enable corporate chatbots to communicate with customers in these two dialects. The company has also introduced “AI Customer Recording Quality Monitoring System” to meet corporate needs for using recordings to improve customer service. The system is able to significantly enhance the review rate of recordings while saving a massive amount of quality control time. It can also collect relevant information for big data analyses and management, which also contributes to enhancing service quality.
Expanding into Smart City market
Dr Wen is confident of the future of AI. Fano Labs will continue to dig deeper into the fields of real estate, energy and telecommunications while expanding into smart-city-related areas, such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things, to strengthen the communication between humans and machines. In terms of technology, the company’s researchers will continue to improve AI algorithms to help machines get the meaning of human speech quicker and more accurately, and then come up with appropriate responses.
Dr Wen anticipates Fano Labs’s staff size will increase from just over a dozen to more than 20 within 2018. They see themselves at the starting point of a brilliant future.