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Josh Ziegler: A Curious Entrepreneur Defining the Boundaries of Innovation

Josh is the founder and CEO of Zumata, a leading-edge technology firm that embraces and deploys cutting-edge technology.  An avid tinkerer, he seeks out new challenges and opportunities with a keen eye to ‘making things better’ whether that’s making a tastier pizza or solving complex business problems. Originally from the USA, he has called Asia home for the last 15 years.

  • First of all, what is your definition of AI?

I am reminded of a favourite line from George Costanza on the TV show Seinfeld.  In one episode, George suggested the name ‘Soda’ to an expecting mother who was having a tough time choosing a name, and then congratulated himself by saying, “I solve problems. That’s just what I do.”
To me, this sums things up nicely.  AI is a set of tools to solve problems.

  • Ok, I know you’re using AI for complicated problems around enormous data sets, hotel pricing, image recognition, etc. in order to improve operational efficiencies in hotel distribution. However, what are some consumer facing problems you’re solving that impact our readers’ daily lives?

Some of our solutions solve behind-the-scenes types of issues, while others address everyday problems.
In term of our daily lives, we’re automating conversations to give customers better, faster, and more relevant information to their queries. We focus our efforts on problems in a few key areas – advisory and sales as well as customer support.
Let’s take an example. Assume Sally wants a new credit card. Her first stop is her bank’s website. Her problem is that the bank has 20 different cards, and each one sounds fantastic.  Which one is best for her? Does she really want to read all the fine print? Nope, she just wants a card that meets her needs, gives her certain perks, and allows her to get back to her day.
With the help of a chatbot, she can directly ask for what she needs, “I want a card that gives me cash back on things I buy every day and has no annual fee.” The bot can immediately answer, “The Regular Joe Card gives you 2% cash back on groceries, 1.5% back on restaurants, and 1% back on gas.  The first year annual fee is waived. Would you like to apply?”
In this scenario, Sally gets precisely what she wants and the bank closes a ‘sale’. This scenario can play out equally well for travel, insurance, shoes, or toothpaste…the product line doesn’t matter.
Every business has customers needing information and advice on which products fit their needs.  The problem is how to best distribute information and advice at a cost that allows profitability.  AI makes it possible to deliver targeted advice and sales at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.   It’s a win for the customer and a win for the business providing the product or service.
Of course, customers also have post-sales servicing requirements. Customer service reps take a beating, as the current approach to service is painful for both the business and the customer.  Customers wait on hold, wait for days for email replies, or deal with overworked agents tending to many simultaneous conversations on live chat. Do you cringe at the thought of getting in touch with customer service?  I know I do!
From the other side, if businesses wish to improve service quality, previously the only choice was to bear significant costs of increased manpower. Customer service is typically viewed as a cost-center, and as such the dynamics are setup for a miserable customer experience.
AI is changing this, and Zumata is allowing customers to get instant responses to their questions absent human involvement. Do you recall what it was like to call your stock broker for a quote?  What a hassle! The web made it easy to get some information effortlessly, and now AI is filling in the rest of the gaps.
Combining the ability of automation to answer customer service queries while advising on new and highly targeted products can transition customer service from cost-center to revenue driver. Better still, AI agents work 24/7, don’t take breaks, speak many languages, are always friendly, can be easily trained, and cost a fraction of traditional customer service operations.  These significant business advantages materializes in vastly improved response times, better accuracy, and significantly less annoyance for the customer.
Bottom line, we’re using AI to solve problems faced by both businesses and the customers they serve.

  • So, you’re saying is, “AI is a problem solver. That’s just what it does”.  What role do you see AI playing in the future?

AI is talked about extensively, and everyone has an opinion. What I can say for certain is that if a company is not embracing the technology, it will fall behind. As a consumer, if you’re not choosing brands, products, or services that are supported by advanced technology, you’re probably making your life harder and less enjoyable than it could be. AI is making our lives better by removing obstacles, personalizing content, and allowing us to be more productive.
As for the future, AI is increasingly everywhere, and I don’t think we can predict the true ramifications of its use or the eventual outcomes of its application. Progress is unstoppable, and the pace of change is ever accelerating. It’s a race, and I’d definitely prefer to be at the front of the pack.