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“Afiniti, the €1.3 billion algorithm company that makes a call-center more humane” – Il Sole 24 Ore

BY RICCARDO BARLAAM 

Dated: 25th February 2018 (Translated from the Original Language)

“Hello, good morning. I would like to cancel my contract with you.”

By using artificial intelligence and big data, an algorithm can now predict the real-time behavior of a person calling the call-center of a company. The system searches through a wide database to match the most suitable agents with an incoming phone call. Thanks to this algorithm developed by Afiniti, you can now connect with the most “suitable” agent from the pool, the one closest to the expectations of a caller awaiting the answers, not just the first agent that is free or available.

Zia Chishti, 46, an American entrepreneur of Pakistani origin could be a perfect living example of the “dreamers”. The dreamers, the genius brains that make America great. The ones, who in present time, Donald Trump would like to send home. Steve Jobs was also a “dreamer”. He was an American citizen, but an adopted son of Syrian immigrants. These are the creative energies that have helped launch the tech companies. Start-ups born in garages that are today listed companies with billions in capitalization.

“I was born in the United States, in Maine, to an American father of German origin and a Pakistani mother. They met during their PhD at Cornell University. My mother studied education and my father was into philosophy,” says Chishti. His father died when he was only two years old and his mother decided to return to Pakistan. “Here I grew up to 15 years of age”, says Zia. In 1988, he returned to the United States to attend college. “Then I went to college, to Columbia, where I graduated in Computer Sciences and got an MBA from Stanford, before joining the business world.” At the age of 26, he founded his first company with his two peers: Align Technology, the creator of the first medical devices for transparent teeth. After three years, the company was listed on Wall Street, at a $1 billion IPO. Today Align has a market value that exceeds $20 billion.

After the success of that first business venture, the former startup owner, who has now landed in the good books of American investors, created his private equity fund: TRG, which now manages assets worth more than a billion dollars. “I have been an active part of it for about 15 years, from 2002 to today. Until the idea of

the new company, Afiniti, which is very interesting because it uses artificial intelligence, one of the hottest emerging sectors in the world of technology,” says Chishti. He wrote the draft of this new company on his laptop 11 years ago, when he bought a call center from the equity. “There was not much margin in that market and we looked at every aspect of the business, every link in the chain, to try and understand where to improve. The computer systems used were from the late seventies. We measured the performance of customer relations and came to the conclusion that with automation this activity could be changed for the better”.

When a customer calls a call center, he typically does so for three reasons: asking for information, buying something, or interrupting the relationship with the company. “We optimize all three activities, but in particular the second and third: buy something or to re-engage ones that want to discontinue the service,” explains Chishti. The algorithm uses AI and big data in real-time that combines all the information about the user. Things like how long have you been a customer, if you pay on time, if you use all the minutes available from your contract in a telephone company, how old are you, all of this in full compliance with personal data privacy laws. In a few seconds, Afiniti identifies the customer who is on the other side of the phone, and allows to understand why he’s been calling and what he probably expects from the service. From the available pool of agents, the algorithm always assigns a person that is most suitable to interact with the caller. The efficiency of the system is measurable. “Typically, we don’t charge customers on the costs of hardware and software, advice or professional fees, but we are only paid on the actual turnover, on the success of the system”, says Zia. The company stands at a valuation of $1.6 billion (€1.3 billion) after the last round of funding of $80 million. The global company has 18 offices worldwide. “Most of the telco companies, banks, insurance companies, media companies and utilities in the North America are our customers. T-Mobile, for example, has increased revenues by $80 million, optimizing 50 million calls per year with our system”.

Afiniti opened a branch in Italy, a few months ago, led by Cecilia Braggiotti. However, in the global advisory board, three Italians sit: Federico Ghizzoni, the former CEO of UniCredit; Fabio Corsico, the manager of the Caltagirone group and adviser to several companies; Stefano Marsaglia, the Executive Chairman and Co-head of Mediobanca’s CIB. Afiniti already has Tim as a customer in Italy and the company aims to onboard another four to five customers among large companies over the next 18 months. Afiniti anticipates to be listed on the Wall Street by 2018.

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