New AI tool looks to tackle communication skills gap

Digitalisation of human interaction sees new AI-powered tool create to help people improve their verbal and non-verbal communications

Lengthy lockdowns have left many of us feeling our social communication skills may have atrophied. But social communication has always been a difficult task for some, especially those coming from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Now one entrepreneur has found a way to use the digitalisation of human interaction to create an AI-powered tool that’s helping people improve their verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Entrepreneur and technologist, Balendran (Bala) Thavarajah, came up with the idea for GetMee when he found himself with extra time on his hands during the 2020 lockdown. It led him to consider his own personal history of fleeing civil war and emigrating to Australia.

“I couldn’t speak English at all, because I couldn’t go to school because of civil war,” Thavarajah tells CMO. “I ended up in Sydney without any language or any skills to offer, but because of sheer willpower and determination I learned the language and to communicate a little bit. I then did a computer science degree through a pathway program at Western Sydney University.”

Thavarajah began to consider how he might use his technical skills to help people in similar situations who wanted to improve how they expressed themselves

“I decided to train some machine learning models to understand patterns, including things like word choices and energy and sentiment in my daily conversations,” he explains. “The AI can listen to a phone call, tell me how I am performing as a communicator and give me objective feedback.”

GetMee is an AI-based communication skills training application backed by human coaches that can help people understand the strengths and weaknesses in their communication and provide tips on how they might improve. The application is built around 16 different sets of rules relating to communication concepts such as emotion, sentiment, word and sentence structure, energy, positivity and negativity.

“We then have 20 human coaches who are experts in their field teaching our customers the concepts,” Thavarajah says. “AI can’t teach what empathy is, for example, so the coaches will come on to the dashboard and teach people through bit-sized videos.”

Thavarajah says the use of AI has proven essential both in training the system to understand patterns of communication and for adapting to the individual needs of the trainee.

“As you use the tool, the AI understands where you need help, then it customises the program,” Thavarajah says. “So if you for example are a low energy communicator and you need to work on maintaining your energy through a conversation, the AI would point you to a particular video from a coach who specialises in energy.”

One key training area is encouraging positivity. The app will listen for the use of negative words in speech.

Thavarajah says the key market for GetMee has been language schools and organisations that help people find work. But over time, he sees potential for a much broader application in any area of human communication, including customer-facing environments such as contact centres.

“We are wanting to make it available to anyone wanting to improve their communication skills,” Thavarajah says. “Because everyone needs help. At the moment we all think we can communicate brilliantly, but until you sit down with the coach and get that objective feedback you really don’t know what you need to work on.”

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