Zendesk just hired three former Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe execs

Today, Zendesk announced it has hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product. The company emphasized that the hirings were about […]

Today, Zendesk announced it has hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product.

The company emphasized that the hirings were about expanding the executive suite and bringing in top people to help the company grow and move into larger enterprise organizations.

From left to right: Shawna Wolverton, Colleen Berube and Elizabeth Zornes

Zornes comes to Zendesk with 20 years of experience at Microsoft working in a variety of roles around Microsoft Office. She says that what attracted her to Zendesk was its focus on the customer.

“When I look at businesses today, no matter what size, what type or what geography, they can agree on one thing: customer experience is the rocket fuel to drive success. Zendesk has positioned itself as a technology company that empowers companies of all kinds to drive a new level of success by focusing on their customer experience, and helping them to be at the forefront of that was a very intriguing opportunity for me,” Zornes told TechCrunch.

New CIO Berube, who comes with two decades of experience, also sees her new job as a chance to have an impact on customer experience and help companies that are trying to transform into digital organizations. “Customer experience is the linchpin for all organizations to succeed in the digital age. My background is broad, having shepherded many different types of companies through digital transformations, and developing and running modern IT organizations,” she said.

Her boss, CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane, sees someone who can help continue to grow the company and develop the product. “We looked specifically for a CIO with a modern mindset who understands the challenges of large organizations trying to keep up with customer expectations today,” Svane told TechCrunch.

As for senior VP of product Wolverton, she comes with 15 years of experience, including a stint as head of product at Salesforce. She said that coming to Zendesk was about having an impact on a modern SaaS product. “The opportunity to build a modern, public, cloud-native CRM platform with Sunshine was a large part of my decision to join,” she said.

The three leaders have already joined the organization — Wolverton and Berube joined last month and Zornes started just this week.

Salesforce wants to deliver more automated field service using IoT data

Salesforce has been talking about the Internet of Things for some time as a way to empower field service workers. Today, the company announced Field Service Lightning, a new component designed to deliver automated IoT data to service technicians in the field on their mobile devices. Once you connect sensors in the field to Service […]

Salesforce has been talking about the Internet of Things for some time as a way to empower field service workers. Today, the company announced Field Service Lightning, a new component designed to deliver automated IoT data to service technicians in the field on their mobile devices.

Once you connect sensors in the field to Service Cloud, you can make this information available in an automated fashion to human customer service agents and pull in other data about the customer from Salesforce’s CRM system to give the CSR a more complete picture of the customer.

“Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set,” Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo wrote in a blog post introducing the new feature.

The field service industry has been talking for years about using IoT data from the field to deliver more proactive service and automate the customer service and repair process. That’s precisely what this new feature is designed to do. Let’s say you have a “smart home” with a heating and cooling system that can transmit data to the company that installed your equipment. With a system like this in place, the sensors could tell your HVAC dealer that a part is ready to break down and automatically start a repair process (that would presumably include calling the customer to tell them about it). When a CSR determines a repair visit is required, the repair technician would receive all the details on their smart phone.

Customer Service Console view. Gif: Salesforce

It also could provide a smoother experience because the repair technician can prepare before he or she leaves for the visit with the right equipment and parts for the job and a better understanding of what needs to be done before arriving at the customer location. This should theoretically lead to more efficient service calls.

All of this is in line with a vision the field service industry has been talking about for some time that you could sell a subscription to a device like an air conditioning system instead of the device itself. This would mean that the dealer would be responsible for keeping it up and running and having access to data like this could help that vision to become closer to reality.

In reality, most companies are probably not ready to implement a system like this and most equipment in the field has not been fitted with sensors to deliver this information to the Service Cloud. Still, companies like Salesforce, ServiceNow and ServiceMax (owned by GE) want to release products like this for early adopters and to have something in place as more companies look to put smarter systems in place in the field.

Bonobo AI raises $4.5M seed round to help companies turn interactions with customers into valuable data

Bonobo AI, an AI-based platform that helps companies get insights from customer support calls, texts, and other interactions, announced today that it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by G20 Ventures and Capri Ventures. Founded in 2016 and led by co-founder and CEO Efrat Rapoport, the Tel Aviv-based startup claims that its technology […]

Bonobo AI, an AI-based platform that helps companies get insights from customer support calls, texts, and other interactions, announced today that it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by G20 Ventures and Capri Ventures. Founded in 2016 and led by co-founder and CEO Efrat Rapoport, the Tel Aviv-based startup claims that its technology has been used to analyze more than a billion interactions so far and that it has signed up a “few dozen” clients including DreamCloud and Honeybook.

The idea behind Bonobo is that even though customer service texts and voice calls can provide companies with a trove of valuable information, these data points are difficult to aggregate and analyze at scale. Bonobo’s technology integrates into the platforms that its clients use to communicate with customers, like Gmail, Zendesk, or Twilio) and CRM platforms like Salesforce or Hubspot. Then it analyzes interactions for “events of interest in calls,” Rapoport told TechCrunch, like “when customers ask for a discount, complain, ask for a missing feature, become dissatisfied, etc.”

There are two main types of issues that Bonobo helps its clients with. One is opportunity detection, or identifying things that can either help the closing of a sale, like features that have proven popular among past buyers, or hinder it, such as customer questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered. By doing so, Bonobo is also able to help clients create very targeted marketing campaigns. For example, instead of sending marketing material all customers who need to renew their subscriptions, Rapoport says Bonobo’s clients can create campaigns to help retain customers who need to renew their subscriptions but have complained about the price being too high or missing a feature.

Another example of how Bonobo can increase conversion rates is predicting customer cancellations and other potentially costly issues. For example, one vehicle repair company was losing millions of dollars due to cancelled jobs. Bonobo helped it identify factors associated with a higher likelihood of cancellations during customer interactions with the company’s representatives, which helped it retain thousands of customers.

The second is risk detection. For example, Bonobo detects if a customer starts mentioning a competitor, threatens to post their complaint on social media, or brings up problems that are a legal or compliance risk. Rapoport says that Bonobo’s technology can identify specific segments in conversations, so companies can review it directly from Bonobo’s dashboard without having to perform a time-consuming search.

Rapoport says that she and her co-founders (CTO Idan Tsitiat, COO Barak Goldstein, and VP of research and development Ohad Hen) began working on Bonobo after they realized that while there are many tools from companies like Tableau, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and Salesforce for gathering insights from structured data (like customer behavior on websites), very few exist for analyzing unstructured data, including conversational data, at scale. “It’s easy to measure how many people go to their cart but then change their mind and exit, but how do you do the same on thousands of customers calls? How do you know what’s the reason customers change their minds?” says Rapoport. “That’s the gap we are filling.”

Salesforce wants to end customer service frustration with Customer 360

How many times have you called into a company, answered a bunch of preliminary questions about the purpose of your call, then found that those answers didn’t make their way to the CSR who ultimately took your call. This usually is because System A can’t talk to System B and it’s frustrating for the caller, […]

How many times have you called into a company, answered a bunch of preliminary questions about the purpose of your call, then found that those answers didn’t make their way to the CSR who ultimately took your call.

This usually is because System A can’t talk to System B and it’s frustrating for the caller, who is already angry about having to repeat the same information again. Salesforce wants to help bring an end to that problem with their new Customer 360 product announced today at Dreamforce, the company’s customer conference taking place this week in San Francisco.

What’s interesting about Customer 360 from a product development perspective is that Salesforce took the technology from the $6.5 billion Mulesoft acquisition, and didn’t just turn that into a product, it also used the same technology internally to pull the various pieces together into a more unified view of the Salesforce product family. This should in theory allow the customer service representative talking to you on the phone to get the total picture of your interactions with the company, thereby reducing that need to repeat yourself because the information wasn’t passed on.

Screenshot: Salesforce

The idea here is to bring all of the different products — sales, service, community, commerce and marketing — into a single unified view of the customer. And they allow you to do this with actually writing any code, according to the company.

Adding a data source to Customer 360 Gif: Salesforce

This allows anyone who interacts with the customer to see the whole picture, a process that has eluded many companies and upset many customers. The customer record in Salesforce CRM is only part of the story, as is the marketing pitches and the ecommerce records. It all comes together to tell a story about that customer, but if the data is often trapped in silos, nobody can see that. That’s what Customer 360 is supposed to solve.

While Bret Taylor, Salesforce’s president and chief product officer says there were ways to make this happen before in Salesforce, they have never offered a product that does so in such a direct way. He says that the big brands like Apple, Amazon and Google have changed expectations in terms of how we presume to be treated when we connect with a brand. Customer 360 is focused on helping companies achieve that expectation level.

“Now, when people don’t get that experience, where the company that you’re interacting with doesn’t know who you are, it’s gone from a pleasant experience to an expectation, and that’s what we hear time and time again from our customers. And that’s why we’re so focused on integration, that single view of the customer is the ultimate value proposition of these experiences,” Taylor explained.

This product is aimed at the Salesforce admins who have been responsible in the past for configuring and customizing Salesforce products for the unique needs of each department or overall organization. They can configure the Customer 360 to pull data from Salesforce and other products too.

Customer 360 is being piloted in North America right now and should GA some time next year.

Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer […]

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues.

AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause.

Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a cluster of Eastern and Northern Eurasian languages that are plenty removed from English in sound and grammatical character.

“[We] started with one of the toughest languages in the world,” he tells TechCrunch. “With no available NLP [natural language processing] able to tackle Finnish, we had to build everything in house. To solve the problem, we leveraged state-of-the-art deep neural network technologies.

“Today, our proprietary deep learning algorithms enable us to learn the structure of any language by training on our clients’ customer service data. Core within this is our use of transfer learning, which we use to transfer knowledge between languages and customers, to provide a high-accuracy NLU engine. We grow more accurate the more clients we have and the more agents use our platform.”

Ultimate.ai was founded in November 2016 and launched its first product in summer 2017. It now has more than 25 enterprise clients, including the likes of Zalando, Telia and Finnair. It also touts partnerships with tech giants including SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce and Genesys — integrating with their Contact Center solutions.

“We partner with these players both technically (on client deployments) and commercially (via co-selling). We also list our solution on their Marketplaces,” he notes.

Up to taking in its first seed round now it had raised an angel round of €230k in March 2017, as well as relying on revenue generated by the product as soon as it launched.

The $1.3M seed round is co-led by Holtzbrinck Ventures and Maki.vc.

Kainulainen says one of the “key strengths” of Ultimate.ai’s approach to AI for text-based customer service touch-points is rapid set-up when it comes to ingesting a client’s historical customer logs to train the suggestion system.

“Our proprietary clustering algorithms automatically cluster our customer’s historical data (chat, email, knowledge base) to train our neural network. We can go from millions of lines of unstructured data into a trained deep neural network within a day,” he says.

“Alongside this, our state-of-the-art transfer learning algorithms can seed the AI with very limited data — we have deployed Contact Center automation for enterprise clients with as little as 500 lines of historical conversation.”

Ultimate.ai’s proprietary NLP achieves “state-of-the-art accuracy at 98.6%”, he claims.

It can also make use of what he dubs “semi-supervised learning” to further boost accuracy over time as agents use the tool.

“Finally, we leverage transfer learning to apply a single algorithmic model across all clients, scaling our learnings from client-to-client and constantly improving our solution,” he adds.

On the competitive front, it’s going up against the likes of IBM’s Watson AI. However Kainulainen argues that IBM’s manual tools — which he argues “require large onboarding projects and are limited in languages with no self-learning capabilities” — make that sort of manual approach to chatbot building “unsustainable in the long-term”.

He also contends that many rivals are saddled with “lengthy set-up and heavy maintenance requirements” which makes them “extortionately expensive”.

A closer competitor (in terms of approach) which he namechecks is TC Disrupt battlefield alum Digital Genius. But again they’ve got English language origins — so he flags that as a differentiating factor vs the proprietary NLP at the core of Ultimate.ai’s product (which he claims can handle any language).

“It is very difficult to scale out of English to other languages,” he argues. “It also uneconomical to rebuild your architecture to serve multi-language scenarios. Out of necessity, we have been language-agnostic since day one.”

“Our technology and team is tailored to the customer service problem; generic conversational AI tools cannot compete,” he adds. “Within this, we are a full package for enterprises. We provide a complete AI platform, from automation to augmentation, as well as omnichannel capabilities across Chat, Email and Social. Languages are also a key technical strength, enabling our clients to serve their customers wherever they may be.”

The multi-language architecture is not the only claimed differentiator, either.

Kainulainen points to the team’s mission as another key factor on that front, saying: “We want to transform how people work in customer service. It’s not about building a simple FAQ bot, it’s about deeply understanding how the division and the people work and building tools to empower them. For us, it’s not Superagent vs. Botman, it’s Superagent + Botman.”

So it’s not trying to suggest that AI should replace your entire customers service team but rather enhance your in house humans.

Asked what the AI can’t do well, he says this boils down to interactions that are transactional vs relational — with the former category meshing well with automation, but the latter (aka interactions that require emotional engagement and/or complex thought) definitely not something to attempt to automate away.

“Transactional cases are mechanical and AI is good at mechanical. The customer knows what they want (a specific query or action) and so can frame their request clearly. It’s a simple, in-and-out case. Full automation can be powerful here,” he says. “Relational cases are more frequent, more human and more complex. They can require empathy, persuasion and complex thought. Sometimes a customer doesn’t know what the problem is — “it’s just not working”.

“Other times are sales opportunities, which businesses definitely don’t want to automate away (AI isn’t great at persuasion). And some specific industries, e.g. emergency services, see the human response as so vital that they refuse automation entirely. In all of these situations, AI which augments people, rather than replaces, is most effective.

“We see work in customer service being transformed over the next decade. As automation of simple requests becomes the status-quo, businesses will increasingly differentiate through the quality of their human-touch. Customer service will become less labour intensive, higher skilled work. We try and imagine what tools will power this workforce of tomorrow and build them, today.”

On the ethics front, he says customers are always told when they are transferred to a human agent — though that agent will still be receiving AI support (i.e. in the form of suggested replies to help “bolster their speed and quality”) behind the scenes.

Ultimate.ai’s customers define cases they’d prefer an agent to handle — for instance where there may be a sales opportunity.

“In these cases, the AI may gather some pre-qualifying customer information to speed up the agent handle time. Human agents are also brought in for complex cases where the AI has had difficulty understanding the customer query, based on a set confidence threshold,” he adds.

Kainulainen says the seed funding will be used to enhance the scalability of the product, with investments going into its AI clustering system.

The team will also be targeting underserved language markets to chase scale — “focusing heavily on the Nordics and DACH [Germany, Austria, Switzerland]”.

“We are building out our teams across Berlin and Helsinki. We will be working closely with our partners – SAP, Microsoft, Salesforce and Genesys — to further this vision,” he adds. 

Commenting on the funding in a statement, Jasper Masemann, investment manager at Holtzbrinck Ventures, added: “The customer service industry is a huge market and one of the world’s largest employers. Ultimate.ai addresses the main industry challenges of inefficiency, quality control and high people turnover with latest advancements in deep learning and human machine hybrid models. The results and customer feedback are the best I have seen, which makes me very confident the team can become a forerunner in this space.”

Twilio’s contact center products just got more analytical with Ytica acquisition

Twilio, a company best known for supplying a communications APIs for developers has a product called Twilio Flex for building sophisticated customer service applications on top of Twilio’s APIs. Today, it announced it was acquiring Ytica (pronounced Why-tica) to provide an operational and analytical layer on top of the customer service solution. The companies would […]

Twilio, a company best known for supplying a communications APIs for developers has a product called Twilio Flex for building sophisticated customer service applications on top of Twilio’s APIs. Today, it announced it was acquiring Ytica (pronounced Why-tica) to provide an operational and analytical layer on top of the customer service solution.

The companies would not discuss the purchase price, but Twilio indicated it does not expect the acquisition to have a material impact on its “results, operations or financial condition.” In other words, it probably didn’t cost much.

Ytica, which is based in Prague, has actually been a partner with Twilio for some time, so coming together in this fashion really made a lot of sense, especially as Twilio has been developing Flex.

Twilio Flex is an app platform for contact centers, which offers a full stack of applications and allows users to deliver customer support over multiple channels, Al Cook, general manager of Twilio Flex explained. “Flex deploys like SaaS, but because it’s built on top of APIs, you can reach in and change how Flex works,” he said. That is very appealing, especially for larger operations looking for a flexible, cloud-based solution without the baggage of on-prem legacy products.

What the product was lacking, however, was a native way to manage customer service representatives from within the application, and understand through analytics and dashboards, how well or poorly the team was doing. Having that ability to measure the effectiveness of the team becomes even more critical the larger the group becomes, and Cook indicated some Flex users are managing enormous groups with 10,000-20,000 employees.

Ytica provides a way to measure the performance of customer service staff, allowing management to monitor and intervene and coach when necessary. “It made so much sense to join together as one team. They have huge experience in the contact center, and a similar philosophy to build something customizable and programmable in the cloud,” Cook said.

While Ytica works with other vendors beyond Twilio, CEO Simon Vostrý says that they will continue to support those customers, even as they join the Twilio family. “We can run Flex and can continue to run this separately. We have customers running on other SaaS platforms, and we will continue to support them,” he said.

The company will remain in Prague and become a Twilio satellite office. All 14 employees are expected to join the Twilio team and Cook says plans are already in the works to expand the Prague team.

Zendesk expands into CRM with Base acquisition

Zendesk has mostly confined itself to customer service scenarios, but it seems that’s not enough anymore. If you want to truly know the customer behind the interaction, you need a customer system of record to go with the customer service component. To fill that need, Zendesk announced it was acquiring Base, a startup that has […]

Zendesk has mostly confined itself to customer service scenarios, but it seems that’s not enough anymore. If you want to truly know the customer behind the interaction, you need a customer system of record to go with the customer service component. To fill that need, Zendesk announced it was acquiring Base, a startup that has raised over $50 million.

The companies did not share the purchase price, but Zendesk did report that the acquisition should not have a significant impact on revenue.

While Base might not be as well known as Salesforce, Microsoft or Oracle in the CRM game, it has created a sophisticated salesforce automation platform complete with its own artificial intelligence underpinnings. CEO Uzi Shmilovici claimed his company’s AI could compete with its more well heeled competitors when it was released in 2016 to provide salespeople with meaningful prescriptive advice on how to be more successful.

Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane certainly sees the value of adding a company like Base to his platform. “We want to do for sales what Zendesk has already done for customer service: give salespeople tools built around them and the customers they serve,” he said in a statement.

If the core of customer data includes customer service, CRM and marketing, Base gives Zendesk one more of those missing components, says Brent Leary, owner at CRM Essentials, a firm that keeps close watch on this market.

“Zendesk has a great position in customer service, but now to strengthen their position with midmarket/enterprise customers looking for integrated platforms, Base adds a strong mobile salesforce automation piece to their puzzle,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As he points out we have seen Hubspot make a similar move with Hubspot Apps, while SugarCRM, which was recently sold to Accel-KKR, could be shopping too, with its new owner’s deeper pockets. “This is almost like a CRM enterprise software Hunger Games going on,” he joked. But he indicates that we should be expecting more consolidation here as these companies try to acquire missing pieces of their platforms to offer more complete solutions.

Matt Price, who previously had the title of senior vice president for product portfolio at Zendesk will lead the Base team moving forward.

Base was founded in 2009 and boasts over 5000 customers. It’s worth pointing out that Base was already available for sale in the company app marketplace, so there was some overlap here, but the company intends to try to move existing customers to Base, of course.

Zendesk has indicated that it will continue to support all Base customers. In addition, Base’s 125 employees have been invited to join Zendesk, so there will be no blood letting here.

Zendesk introduces support bot for Discord gaming community

The Discord gaming community boasts 150 million members and 46 million active monthly users, who spend their days chatting about games, finding people to play with and looking for advice on how to resolve issues. Up until now, game publishers have had to monitor public discussions looking for people who need help or relied on […]

The Discord gaming community boasts 150 million members and 46 million active monthly users, who spend their days chatting about games, finding people to play with and looking for advice on how to resolve issues. Up until now, game publishers have had to monitor public discussions looking for people who need help or relied on expert users to assist them, but that’s about to change with Zendesk’s new Discord support bot.

Zendesk VP of product and platform, Luke Behnke, says they count a fair number of gaming companies as customers, and they have been looking for a way to have more direct communication with Discord users right where they play. With the Zendesk-Discord integration, users can request help by typing /support, and then the nature of the problem. This activates the Zendesk bot and triggers the creation of a help ticket, paving the way for a customer service rep to work directly with a person having an issue.

Calling the Zendesk bot in Discord. Screenshot: Zendesk

Prior to this, the only way that the game publishers could use Zendesk to generate help tickets was through the traditional sources like email, texts or phone calls, which required their users to leave the flow of the game. This integration allows the publishers to let the customers come to them for help without leaving the community.

Behnke says his company has been talking to Discord, whose members generate more than 530 million messages a day, about creating an integration that would work for their users. “We worked with Discord on this and they have been testing it internally and giving us feedback,” he said.

Conversation with game publisher CSR using Zendesk-Discord bot. Screenshot: Zendesk

Of course, it requires people know that you type /support to activate it, but Behnke believes that if the integration works well, word will get around that this is a useful way to get support directly from the publisher without leaving Discord. He says his company sees this as a unique approach to customer service, one that the gaming publishers, who tend to be innovative, are particularly open to.

Future updates could include the ability to push messages to the community such as information on an outage, or for the bot to answer common questions without accessing a human CSR. For now, this integration is in early release. The company is still working out the kinks with publishers, but they hope to get it into full production by the end of the year.

Apple’s Business Chat signs up five more brands, more tech platforms

Apple Business Chat, Apple’s new platform for allowing companies and brands to communicate with customers over iMessage, is expanding. In addition to Dish becoming the first TV provider to support Business Chat, Apple says it has also added four other brands, Aramak, Four Seasons, Harry & David, and American Express, in addition to five new […]

Apple Business Chat, Apple’s new platform for allowing companies and brands to communicate with customers over iMessage, is expanding. In addition to Dish becoming the first TV provider to support Business Chat, Apple says it has also added four other brands, Aramak, Four Seasons, Harry & David, and American Express, in addition to five new technology platforms businesses can integrate with.

The platforms that now support Apple Business Chat include Cisco, eGain, Kipsu, Lithium and Quiq. They allow the brands to develop their Business Chat systems with a variety of features, integrate them with their own apps and services, track activity through reporting, and more.

The new brand partners represent a variety of use cases for Business Chat, from real-time ordering to shopping to general customer service.

As noted last week, Dish will now allows its pay TV customers to reach a live agent with their questions over iMessage, make account changes, schedule an appointment, and even order pay-per-view.

DISH on Apple Business Chat (PRNewsfoto/DISH Network Corporation)

Meanwhile, the Four Seasons will allow guests to search for any Four Season property and engage with “Four Seasons Chat,” a multi-lingual service that will connect guests with the hotel’s team for any need.

Harry & David will help customers shop over Business Chat, by allowing them to ask questions about products and services and get help from a gift concierge. When customers are ready to buy, they can check out with Apple Pay – as they can with 1-800-Flowers, an existing Business Chat partner.

Aramak is piloting a 10-game “Brew2You” program at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans will be able to scan a QR code on their seat back in three sections to order beer or water over iMessage, and have it delivered right to their seat.

And American Express is piloting a program for card members to allow them to get their account information, including their balance, payment due dates, and points balance over Business Chat. They’ll also be able to ask for a card replacement, dispute a charge, or get information about card benefit.

In addition to the five new brand partners, Business Chat also powered the official concierge service for the Cannes Lions festival in June, with LivePerson, notes Apple.

Launched into beta in March with the release of iOS 11.3, Business Chat offers companies an alternative to using social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to reach their customers.

It arrives at a time when messaging is becoming an important means of addressing the needs of consumers, including the millennial audience, analysts claim.

According to Gartner, support requests over consumer messaging apps will exceed those coming in from social media by 2019. And Nielsen says that 56% of consumers prefer messaging to calling, with 67% expecting to message more over the next two years.

Research from Sapio says that 63% of consumers cite satisfaction when reaching out to brands via messaging to resolve their issues. And digital natives (aka millennials) turn to direct messaging to first reach out to brands 40% of the time.

To some extent, businesses may prefer Apple’s Business Chat system, as it allows them to get closer to their customers – their chats live right in the same Messages app, alongside conversations the customer has with friends and family. Plus, they can brand their service as they like – like as Four Seasons is doing, for example – and keep their customers’ data in-house, instead of making it available to a third-party like Facebook.

Plus, Business Chat can benefit from integrations with other macOS and iOS apps and features, including Spotlight Search, Siri, Apple Maps, and Safari, and can be added to brands’ websites and apps.

However, it’s not likely that businesses will drop social media-based customer service and support for Business Chat, so it becomes another platform for them to manage and support.

 

Cogito scores $37M as AI-driven sentiment analysis biz grows

Cogito announced a $37 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity. Previous investors Salesforce Ventures and OpenView also chipped in. Mark Midle of Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division, has joined Cogito’s Board of Directors The company has raised over $64 million since it emerged from the MIT Human Dynamics Lab back in […]

Cogito announced a $37 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity. Previous investors Salesforce Ventures and OpenView also chipped in. Mark Midle of Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division, has joined Cogito’s Board of Directors

The company has raised over $64 million since it emerged from the MIT Human Dynamics Lab back in 2007 trying to use the artificial intelligence technology available at the time to understand sentiment and apply it in a business context.

While it took some time for the technology to catch up with the vision, and find the right use case, company CEO and founder Joshua Feast says today they are helping customer service representatives understand the sentiment and emotional context of the person on the line and give them behavioral cues on how to proceed.

“We sell software to very large software, premium brands with many thousands of people in contact centers. The purpose of our solution is to help provide a really wonderful service experience in moments of truth,” he explained. Anyone who deals with a large company’s customer service has likely felt there is sometimes a disconnect between the person on the phone and their ability to understand your predicament and solve your problem.

Cogito in action giving customer service reps real-time feedback.

He says using his company’s solution, which analyzes the contents of the call in real time, and provides relevant feedback, the goal is to not just complete the service call, but to leave the customer feeling good about the brand and the experience. Certainly a bad experience can have the opposite effect.

He wants to use technology to make the experience a more human interaction and he recognizes that as an organization grows, layers of business process make it harder for the customer service representative to convey that humanity. Feast believes that technology has helped create this problem and it can help solve it too.

While the company is not talking about valuation or specific revenue at this point, Feast reports that revenue has grown 3X over the last year. Among their customers are Humana and Metlife, two large insurance companies, each with thousands of customer service agents.

Cogito is based in downtown Boston with 117 employees at last count, and of course they hope to use the money to add on to that number and help scale this vision further.

“This is about scaling our organization to meet client’s needs. It’s also about deepening what we do. In a lot of ways, we are only scratching the surface [of the underlying technology] in terms of how we can use AI to support emotional connections and help organizations be more human,” Feast said.