Programmed For Service

Programmed For Service

Ari Sonesh came up with the idea for his 3-year-old company in the mid-1980s while he was overseeing the computer support system at Comverse Technologies in Woodbury.

"I saw the potential to improve customer support services," he explained. "So I put things together and came up with an idea. I discussed it with Steve [Kowarsky at Comverse] and others, and decided it was an idea I had to commit myself to. So I left Comverse."

Sonesh’s idea: Allow customers to speak directly with representatives of a company through its web site.

CosmoCall, the first product of CosmoCom in Hauppauge, "lets those whose web site you have logged onto see what you are doing [on your screen]," said Sonesh. "You may be looking at a garment you are planning to buy, or a particular travel package, and the representative can point out other products you may also want to consider."

With the computer program, he said, company representatives can communicate with customers by using a microphone (even a videocamera) or simply by typing responses. Users with microphones connected to their systems also have the options of responding verbally or through the keyboard.

Either way, said Kowarsky, who quit Comverse in September to join Sonesh, assistance is more readily available to the customer.

This would be particularly useful for those with computer problems. Not only would a technician be able to see what was on his customer’s computer, he could change the settings and fix the problem in a fraction of the time it would take for the customer to run through the diagnostic steps, noted Kowarsky.

Sonesh, 46, an Israel native, came to the United States in 1985 to work for an Israeli startup firm with U.S. headquarters in Florida.

"The company did development in Israel, production in Japan and Taiwan, and marketing in the United States," he said. "Through the contacts I made at Comverse, Steve hired me in the spring of 1987 when the company I worked for went bankrupt."

Trained as an engineer at the Technion in Haifa, Sonesh was put in charge of Comverse’s computer support system.

Before joining Sonesh, Kowarsky, 52, a Harvard graduate, had worked for 12 years as vice president of business development for Comverse. Comverse was founded in 1984 by Israelis who two years earlier had started Efrat Future Technology in Tel Aviv. It was begun in the United States as a wholly owned subsidiary of Efrat.

Sonesh and Kowarsky, who both live in Dix Hills, say they are considering expanding their operation to Israel. CosmoCom now has 16 employees. "Working for an American company, we know the benefits and shortcomings [of Israel]," Sonesh said. "The advantage is that you have very skilled manpower in Israel."

Kowarsky adds: "And they get more done with less. They focus on being resourceful and coming up with ingenious solutions that make the best use of available resources. American engineers tend to be more spoiled."

Sonesh said he found also that Israelis "are more likely to take shortcuts and risks. That can be good or bad, but they are more likely to get their goods to the market earlier. In America, there is more paperwork and more careful checking, which is good, too. … The approaches are very different." They said their future plans call for them to develop and market their products in Israel, which is also a gateway to the markets in Europe. In addition, Israel offers tax advantages to companies that build plants and generate jobs in certain parts of the country if the products are produced largely for export.

"Over 20 percent of the new technology being developed today comes out of Israel," said Sonesh.

He noted that Computer Associates, the multibillion-dollar computer giant based on Long Island, now includes CosmoCall as one of about 30 software products in Jasmine, a job-oriented database that allows users to work with text, audio and video.

"There is a clear movement in the world towards live communication via computers," said Kowarsky. "The telephone is a totally separate world from computers. Until now, if you wanted to talk with someone [while on line], you had to go to the phone: there was no integration. What we are saying is that you can build the communication process into the computer, which will give greater efficiency to the caller and the callee."

Sonesh pointed out that when a user types responses to some basic questions at a web site, the call can be sent to the proper person at the firm.

"The call can be routed to a person who speaks Spanish or to an expert in one of the company’s products," he said. "The program can also be set up to route calls by priority, giving priority to good customers or to those who have already selected a lot of merchandise" to buy.

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