SightCall: Visual Assistance Powered by AR and AI
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Good ideas aren’t enough. That’s why any entrepreneur who asks a venture capitalist to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is thrown into the amateur hour bucket. It’s why countless people have businesses that consist of a name, a logo, a website, and a domain name they keep renewing to assure themselves their side hustle will eventually come to life. One technology that’s long on ideas and short on execution is the whole augmented/virtual/extended reality lot.
The promise of augmented reality (AR) is tantalizing. Imagine a set of glasses that overlays directions from Google Maps onto your field of vision, or provides running commentary on things you’re looking at. Can’t identify that mushroom in your backyard? Strange looking fish at the fishmonger? Some AR application ought to be able to identify and provide information on anything you’re looking at. The reality is, we haven’t gotten there yet.
Investors have a similar taste in their mouths about the promise of augmented reality for enterprises which has largely been a solution looking for a problem. When Ubimax was acquired by TeamViewer, we had high hopes that the latter would “significantly expand its AR and Internet of Things (IoT) offering with industry-specific solutions for enterprise customers.” Fast forward 16 months and TeamViewer’s management is lamenting how traction from their acquisitions is taking longer than anticipated. Why can’t they be more like SightCall?
Founded in 2008, San Francisco’s own SightCall has raised just over $54 million in disclosed funding to develop a platform with a singular mission – to help customers solve problems remotely with visual assistance. While your instinct may be to start thinking of hardware, don’t. More than 6 billion people are currently carrying a hardware device that’s millions of times more powerful than the Apollo 11 guidance computers, and it’s always by their sides. Software is eating the world, and it’s what SightCall’s platform is all about. Their value proposition is very easy to understand – from the name of the company “sight call,” to the value proposition that they call “visual assistance.” It’s what it says on the tin.
Visual Assistance for Enterprises
Forget about artificial intelligence, augmented reality, or any other buzzwords that attach themselves to leading-edge solutions. Instead, think about how valuable it might be for a customer support agent to see what the customer sees. Let’s say you’re Weber, a company that sells grills which require a Mensa membership and fluency in ancient Greek symbolism to assemble without going postal. Weber, like most companies, probably uses some sort of customer support platform – Salesforce, Zendesk, or ServiceNow, among others. If you’re going to build a remote visual assistance platform, it better integrate with popular customer support platforms, and SightCall does.
When a Weber customer runs into a brick wall during step one of assembling their shiny new stainless-steel grill, they can use their smartphone to scan a QR code which puts them in touch with a Weber customer support agent. Then, the customer support agent can send an SMS or email to the customer containing a link to start a video session. The customer clicks on the link and starts the video on their smartphone, allowing the agent to see what the customer sees. Now, both the customer support agent and the customer can suffer through the misery of assembling a Weber grill together.
The ability for a customer support agent to see what a customer sees on demand is the core value proposition on offer from SightCall. It’s “share your screen” functionality for the real world, and plenty of companies are finding value in the offering which can even be embedded in chatbots so that customers can be instantly connected to a live agent who sees what they see.
Some Success Stories
In perusing the various success stories and use cases on the SightCall website, it’s clear that the solution sells itself by creating a better customer experience while saving companies time and money. Here are three examples.
Having the biggest airline manufacturer in the world let you list them as a reference customer is a big deal. When Airbus sought to improve time to resolution on their final production line, they hired Accenture. Historically, when a production issue was detected, email, photos, and other forms of media would be used to communicate issues between onsite technicians and remote experts. So, Accenture did what MBAs do best. They leveraged someone else’s hard work and billed the client $600 an hour for the privilege. With SightCall deployed, over 95% of Airbus employees confirmed that the remote-support offering enabled them to solve an issue more quickly, and the average time to resolve issues was reduced by 60 minutes.
Having the world’s largest insurance company as a reference customer is a vote of confidence that says a lot. Allianz deployed SightCall to allow adjusters to perform live video assessments of claims damage from remote locations. During a SightCall session, the agent is able to see what the customer sees by handling the claim directly through the customer’s mobile device. The tool even allows collaboration so that the craftsman doing the bodywork can hop on the call and provide an estimate based on what everyone is seeing. All the while, valuable data is being captured such as geolocation and HD imagery which can help fight fraud.
GE Healthcare’s goal was to shorten the length of time on-site and improve first-time fix rates, reducing the need for multiple trips. In their search for a visual assistance solution, one priority stood out: the highest possible call quality. SightCall fit the bill, and user profiles were set up in multiple regions in a matter of days. Both field technicians and remote experts praised the ease of use and accessible interface SightCall offered with video support even made possible in 3G environments. Site data, like product serial numbers, could be fed back to the work order through the OCR tool, with the smartphone camera simply held in front of the desired data to read it.
Maintenance turnaround times were shortened to averages of six to eight hours, versus three days prior to the implementation of SightCall. With the average call taking only 40 minutes, the company estimates it has saved hundreds of thousands in travel costs, not to mention the increase in machine uptime.
Add Technology as Needed
We haven’t even talked about augmented reality yet and it’s clear to see the value proposition on offer from SightCall. Both founders came to the table with significant telecom experience which is why they had the foresight to build a global real-time video infrastructure platform from the ground up. With a mature offering that’s being actively used by a broad customer base, they can now start to add bells and whistles such as AI or AR. For example, SightCall leverages computer vision to provide live recommendations based on images extracted during visual support sessions. If you’re always supporting the same product, you’re probably seeing lots of the same pictures. If AI can identify what’s happening in security videos, it can probably start to troubleshoot other sorts of problems.
Another slick feature offered by SightCall visual assistance is WebRTC which lets a customer support agent provide inputs on imagery the client sees, similar to pointing at things in person.
The only client-side software needed is a web browser. It’s a great example of how such a solution can only work if it’s extremely easy-to-use and reliable, features that are only ensured if you provide a full-stack platform that’s hardware agnostic, multi-channel, and doesn’t rely on other vendors.
An Attractive SaaS Business
SightCall is the sort of platform we had hoped TeamViewer was developing. They refer to a software-as-a–service (SaaS) business model that we can only assume is generating meaningful annual recurring revenues (ARR). A May 2021 article by TechCrunch talks about “100% year-over-year growth in annual recurring revenue” (useless without a starting point) and SightCall having “a goal of $100 million in annual recurring revenue” (don’t we all). We can probably safely assume that SightCall is past the meaningful revenue mark, and they’re a moderately mature SaaS business with an industry agnostic solution that saves companies money while alleviating labor shortages. AR or not, this is a business we’d like to see more of.
A real-time video support platform that’s reliably accessible from anywhere across the globe is the prerequisite to successfully offering any fancy functionality on top of that. The same holds true for hardware. Start with the world’s 6 billion smartphones, then offer support for whichever augmented reality hardware providers manage to go mainstream without going bankrupt first. The SightCall value proposition goes beyond using the tech terms du jour and promises to transform how consumers and enterprises receive support.