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Using Artificial Intelligence Technology to Find the Right Service Expert For 'expert services' the customer is involved in the delivery and cares about the identity and qualifications of the provider; they look for their specific requirement at a reasonable cost

By Satya Prabhakar

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Vasanth, based in Mumbai, is keen to seek advice from a professional lawyer for a civil matter. The matter relates to a property dispute that he is having with his own family. He requires expert advice on how to handle the matter.

Sushmita, based in Bangalore, is looking to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering or medicine in Germany and is interested in seeking help from an admissions counsellor. She is located in Indira Nagar and is keen to find someone in her neighbourhood to help her.

Aarthi, based in Chennai, is looking for a catering service to help her with the food for an event that she was going to host. The event is a birthday party and she needs the service as soon as possible. She has a preference for vegetarian food and is expecting about 70 people in total to attend. She wants to make sure that the vendor will be able to provide the service in Alwarpet, where she lives.

The Services sector today contributes about 55% of India's GDP and is growing 9-10% per year. Expert Services power an estimated $110B of the services sector of Indian's economy. All "expert' services above share a set of common characteristics that make them very different from on-demand services.

Customized and Complex: Expert services by nature are customized to each customer's specific need. Overseas education counselling needs are different based on the country of education, discipline, course, financial constraints and visa restrictions. Similarly, Service Providers in this domain, unlike cab drivers, specialize in specific combinations of overseas counselling.

High Involvement and High Touch: For "expert services' the customer is involved in the service delivery and cares about the identity and qualifications of the service provider; they look for Service Providers who are qualified, matched to their specific requirement and available to serve at a reasonable cost. Service Providers, on the other hand, take pride in their expertise and aspire to develop a personal reputation through their service delivery; they will not subordinate themselves to a brand and provide service wearing the uniform of the brand.

Medium to High Cost: In most on-demand categories, the service costs a couple of hundred rupees and customers are ready to buy without negotiating. In the case of expert services, the cost tends to be several thousands of rupees to, not infrequently, several lakhs of rupees. For example, when a new home owner is looking for an interior decorator to help with the design and execution of a new 3 BHK residence in the swanky part of the city, one would want someone trustworthy and who has delivered similar projects in the past in the neighbourhood.

Not Urgent and Delivered Over a Period of Time: Most expert services are not required urgently like in the case of restaurant food delivery and the service happens over a longer period in sharp contrast with the nature of on-demand services.

Expert Services are powered largely by individuals and small to medium businesses (SMBs). These Service Providers, across cities and categories, are handicapped by the following factors:

Looking for More Work: Most do not have sufficient number of engagements to occupy themselves and their few employees full-time. In a small fraction of cases, those who have their hands full are eager to grow by expanding

Low Name Awareness or Credibility: Unlike big brands, most SMBs are not well-known with established credibility for customers to choose them without third party endorsement or careful evaluation.

No RoI-Accountable Medium: Most media available to SMBs today – e.g., TV, Radio, Print, Outdoor, etc. -- to promote themselves and grow their business tend to be marketing media, suited for brand-building among all audience. SMBs are primarily interested for channels that will directly help them grow their business, reaching city-category targeted customers.

Not Enough Capital: Most SMBs do not have sufficient capital to invest in growing their business and look for affordable means to cultivate customers.

Service Provider SMBs are looking for affordable, accountable and actionable marketing and sales channels to reach out to a targeted customer base and grow their business. Customers of these services, in turn, look for qualified and verified Service Providers who are matched to their specific needs and eager to serve them. Since customers have varied expert service needs and are always short on time, they look for a platform that helps them reduce the time, cost, risk and hassle in getting their jobs done through the "right' Service Providers. In most cases, customers look to evaluate and compare a small list of verified and matched Service Providers before choosing one to give the job to.

When we look at the requirements of both Customers and Service Providers, they are two sides of the same coin. Given the customized and complex nature of both the service requirements of Customers and the service profile of Service Providers, an enormous chasm exists in each to find the other.

There exists an enormous opportunity in bridging this chasm and helping Customers find the right counterparty Service Providers and vice-versa. There also exists an enormous opportunity in helping Customers with information and tools to help make the right choice (e.g., knowing what is the median price for a specific service) and in helping Service Providers with information and tools to improve their profile, expand their services and in marketing themselves.

Since not every Service Provider can serve every Customer given the customized nature of both the need and the provider, the matchmaking platform must not only be intelligent leveraging technology, it must also adapt continuously logging and analysing data for the "machine learning' and become continuously better.

Cheap smartphones, inexpensive data, ubiquitous digital payments can help such digital platforms usher in an exciting era of frictionless and cost-effective growth for the most powerful engine of India's growth: the Service Sector SMBs. In the process, it wouldn't be surprising for this "four-fecta" for Service Sector SMBs – smartphone, data, payments, matchmaking platforms – to push India's GDP growth past 10%.

Satya Prabhakar

Founder & CEO, Sulekha

Satya Prabhakar is an Indian American entrepreneur, engineer, writer and the Founder & CEO of Sulekha, a digital mobile platform for expert services in India, matching 20+ million consumers with 50,000+ service professionals across 200 categories in about 40 cities. 

Sulekha focuses on expert services clustered around Home, Life and Self and where the user need is customized and involved. Using technology and domain intelligence, the platform seeks to understand the user need in detail and matches it to verified service professionals who are profiled. The service is free to use for end consumers and service professionals pay the platform for performance in the form of verified, matched service requests.


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