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Cos reach out in local lingo

  • Many biz have tapped startups to try and cater to the needs of the new online users

The pandemic-driven shift online has caused an unprecedented wave of new users coming from smaller cities and towns, spinning off an ancillary demand for startups working on local language solutions to the communication needs of enterprises.

From banks to government agencies, many organizations have tapped such startups in recent months to try and cater to the needs of the new online users in languages other than English.

“India has multiple languages, and we didn’t act upon it on the Internet. That realization has happened during the pandemic," said Arvind Pani, chief executive and co-founder of Reverie Language Technologies, a Bengaluru-based language tech startup.

“Lots of businesses and government agencies are now looking to use digital channels to engage with citizens, and there is no way these entities can just focus on English."

Reverie has launched a voice solution for banks in 11 Indian languages. Another of their products, Anuvadak, which speeds up the process of creating, launching and optimizing a website in multiple languages, was used by the Union government in August to translate and publish the MyGov Covid website in 10 local languages.

Moreover, the customer shift to online services is no longer limited to text-based input, and companies have found that many of the new Internet users are more comfortable with voice than text. This has prompted organizations to turn to voice-based solutions for non-English-speaking customers.

Axis Bank, for instance, has deployed a multilingual voice bot, AXAA, which can handle large volumes of customer queries and requests and can be enhanced to support over 10 Indian languages in more than 160 dialects.

AXAA, developed by Vernacular.ai of Bengaluru, is built on top of a proprietary AI-based multilingual voice automation platform and has been deployed at Axis Bank’s contact centres. The bot has helped customers address queries in the local language.

“Covid has accelerated the shift from touch to talk. The tremendous adoption we saw in the past months are for those industries that have a significant volume of customers in tier-II and III cities, towns and villages," said Sourabh Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Vernacular.ai.

According to Gupta, his firm has doubled revenue since the pandemic and witnessed numerous enterprise customers moving to AI-powered call centre solutions.

Meanwhile, in addition to catering directly to enterprise clients, Reverie offers cloud-based translation management platform, Prabandhak, which uses machine translation. It also has a marketplace where businesses can connect to freelance translators. Launched three months ago, Prabandhak already has 35 language service providers and over 1,000 freelance translators on board.

Though startups like Reverie and Vernacular.ai cater largely to enterprises and government bodies, several consumer-centric startups offering services in local languages have also seen strong traction.

Indus App Bazaar, an indigenous app store, crossed the 100 million user milestone in September. The number of apps installed from the store has increased 3.5 times since January while the usage of apps in local languages increased 2.2 times during the pandemic.

Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, and Bengali were the most popular among the 12 languages available on the Indus App Bazaar and accounted for most new app downloads.

Homegrown online gaming platform WinZO, which is available in 10 languages, also saw a 3X rise in new users coming from Hindi-speaking states. On the back of this growing penetration, WinZO recently received series B funding worth $18 million from Singapore-based Makers Fund and US-based Courtside Ventures.

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