When you call the cable company to troubleshoot an issue, you’re often walked through steps that are easy to misunderstand, leaving you and the technician on the phone frustrated. Part of that may be the method of delivery, as studies in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior show that adding gestures and non-verbal cues substantially improves speed of understanding.
That’s where Help Lightning, a mixed reality mobile platform, can help. The technology allows for two real-time views from two separate devices to merge into one live stream, so the expert can use their hands or a pointer to show specific instructions on the screen as the other party shows them a view of the issue.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Bart Guthrie, of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, originally developed the technology to provide surgical assists from a thousand miles away. For example, if someone was in an accident in a rural area and a local surgeon needed assistance with a life-saving procedure they’re not familiar with, the surgeon could call the university hospital, get an expert on the video view to guide them through the procedure, and save the patient’s life.
While the Birmingham-based startup initially targeted this medical use case, they quickly expanded to technical field operators and customer service representatives.
“What we found is that it’s an incredibly broadly-applicable idea,” says CEO Gary York. “How many times have you been in situations where you had a problem with a piece of equipment and there’s an expert that could help you solve the issue, but they are not there with you?”
“Help Lightning allows for remote expertise, in this case the expert can be standing right next to you, helping you solve your problem. ‘Show me’ beats ‘tells me’ every time.”
York joined Help Lightning in 2016 to help commercialize the technology and launch the product. His experience in the technology industry with four successful startups helped him see the potential for the mixed reality technology.
The mobile app is available on iOS and Android. “[As the customer,] I’ll point my phone at the problem domain, then be able to use the phone camera to put my hands in my field of view and now the expert can see his/her hands and the customer’s hands and equipment in the same view,” says York.
The platform can help train technicians remotely, quickly solve customer problems without multiple on-site visits, increase customer satisfaction over wait times, reduce travel costs and more. The tool also allows the expert to draw directly on the screen and freeze the frame to offer further explanation to the customer.
“We found that there was a compelling need around customer service, primarily around improving the quality of the customer experience. If you’re an equipment manufacturer and you sell the equipment all over the world, if you can’t solve a customer’s issue over the phone, you schedule a dispatch,” says York.
“They come a few days later and they may not have the right part and sometimes it takes a second trip before they resolve the issue. With our platform, the expert can see what you see and guide you through their hands, tools and gestures through the process. For many customers, a large percentage of their problems don’t require a part to resolve.”
As the mixed reality industry is predicted to reach more than $200 billion in 2022, York shares that Help Lightning can be a gateway product for those wanting to experiment.
“We believe that we can be an on-ramp to augmented reality for companies that want to experiment since we have a proven ROI for our customers,” says York. “We have tremendous advantages in the augmented reality technology over what I call the digital AR solutions that are out there. You can roll out Help Lighting with your existing processes without developing any digital content.”
“Our customers can earn those benefits within the first quarter and more than pay for the system within the first year.” Businesses are charged an annual recurring revenue fee based on expected usage.
Help Lightning has over 15,000 users in 50 countries, including several Fortune 100 companies, and the team is expanding into more applications in the consumer space from design to manufacturing, says York. For example, imagine yourself after a trip to Home Depot with an assembly-required product that you’re not sure how to install.
The startup is also looking to close an early growth round. York shares that the funds will be used to grow their marketing and sales teams and fuel customer acquisition.
“We joke that Help Lightning is like teleportation, except without the risk of being dematerialized,” says York.