Ultimate.ai, a manufacturer of virtual customer service agents, has closed a $ 20 million Series A financing round led by Omers Ventures, with the participation of Felicis Ventures and existing investors HV Capital and Maki.vc M + .
The European startup's flagship for the data-gathering bot builder platform is that it can automate up to 80% of customer support interactions.
The focus, as is the case with all of these customer talk AI plays, frees (human) support staff from dealing with boring, repetitive things – so that they can apply their (less restricted) skills to more complex, advisory or emotionally demanding customer inquiries.
The last time we talked to the Helsinki and Berlin-based startup about a $ 1.3 million startup round in 2018, it described itself as "language-independent" conversational AI – after facing the tough (linguistic) challenge of Finnish – this gave him a competitive advantage over customers in non-English speaking markets. (Though it concerns English too.)
Two years later, the startup's marketing focus is wider. Today the company talks about its customer service automation platform as an “AI-first” tool with no code. This is intended to enable B2C users to get the most out of AI by helping them design virtual agents that can meaningfully handle complex customer interactions.
ultimate.ai Holding you in hand through the process of building a super-savvy customer service robot is the playing field.
Co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen claims it has always been "no code and intuitive" – although there is now a handy reference label to align what it does with a broader B2B trend. ("No code" or "low code" refers to a digital tool building movement that aims to expand access to powerful technologies like AI without the user needing deep technical knowledge to make them meaningful to be able to use.)
“Everything we create is designed to help users create the best virtual agents. The entire user journey – discovery, design, expansion – is all ultimate, ”Kainulainen told ..
“Over the past two years we have focused on building a very comprehensive platform for customer service automation that goes beyond simple chat FAQ answers and enables brands to design complex, personalized workflows across all digital support channels can be provided.
"We believe customer service automation will be a category of its own in the future, so we are working hard to define what it means today."
As an example, Kainulainen points to one-click integration with every major CRM (including Salesforce and Zendesk). This allows customers to quickly import existing customer support logs so that Ultimate.ai's platform can analyze the data to create a useful bot.
“Immediately, you'll see a breakdown of your most common customer service incidents and the impact automation can have on your business,” he continues. The platform displays templates and “best practices” that the customer can use to design their automation workflows. tailored to your cases and your industry ”.
Once a virtual agent is live, users can A / B test the platform to review and optimize performance – and again, the promise continues to be upheld. Kainulainen says it "proactively suggests new cases and data to improve your virtual agent performance".
“We're very strong in large customer care organizations looking for a holistic, advanced automation platform that non-technical users can manage and implement,” he says.
“The overall picture is that each of our competitors sees the opportunity closer than ultimate. Ai: Our best competitors either focus solely on chatbots or are otherwise limited to their parent company's ecosystem. Our vision has always been the big picture: Automation is becoming one of the most important means of delivering customer service. "
Multilingual smarts remain an asset as Ultimate.ai's virtual agents can currently handle interactions in over 20 languages.
"Our market – the customer service automation market – has many players," continues Kainulainen, examining names like Ada Support and Einstein Bots (Salesforce's own solution) as major competitors.
“This is because it is new and until recently the solutions were so early that there were virtually no barriers to entry. But the market has changed a lot in the last four years. There are currently only a handful of players in the world worthy of attention and we are one of them. "
Founded in 2016, the startup hits the nail on the head for a growing number of customers – almost 100 have signed up for its platform at the time, including Deezer, Telia, Footasylum and Finnair. According to Kainulainen, it works best for "B2C brands with large (and often repetitive) customer service volumes."
“This is where automation can have a huge impact from day one and really get people to work in a more creative and challenging way. We have a broad customer base of nearly 100 great brands … and are particularly well represented in industries like retail / e-commerce, telecommunications and travel, ”he adds.
The company saw a big spurt this year as businesses of all types were forced to turn their attention to online customer interactions as the coronavirus pandemic became a driver for digital activity.
Customer loyalty has also become a priority for many companies as highly contagious virus and health protection measures to reduce the spread plunged markets into recession – which Kainulainen describes as another growth driver.
Overall, the ARR has tripled in the past 12 months (although it was the same growth story last year). Also, the number of employees has tripled to deal with the COVID-19 effect.
Ultimate.ai is now preparing for new growth and expects important developments in the next year.
"COVID-19 has triggered … one of the most accelerated phases of change in the customer service industry," predicts Kainulainen that 2021 will bring "immense innovations" into space – and that "booming" automation technologies will take center stage. .
Of course, it's a convenient representation for a chatbot manufacturer in customer service.
However, COVID-19 is clearly accelerating the digital transformation of consumer-centric businesses – a movement that, logically, is driving the demand for smarter tools for online customer support. Those who are able to harness new impetus to automate customer service by offering an accessible, scalable and effective product (as it ultimately claims) are in the middle of a pandemic.
“We believe that the best product will win this market,” adds Kainulainen. “We have a big vision for what we ultimately want. The time to market for our technology accelerated massively in 2020, reaching what could probably have taken five in one year. We will benefit from this by building more and faster. "
Series A funding will be in sales and marketing, with a planned market push in North America and the desire to go deeper across Europe and invest in further product development.
And while – clearly – not every potential B2C customer will be able to "automate" 80% of their customer support pings, Kainulainen argues that ultimative.ai companies with more "advisory" customer support needs still have one can offer convincing sales pitch Automation will only play a far less important role.
“There is often a strong correlation between advising a customer service organization and the training and experience of their team. In other words, it is often the case that companies with low automation potential need only 10% automation to get a huge ROI, ”he suggests.
“For example, one of our customers is a large national pharmacy group in which customer service agents are qualified pharmacists who offer prescription medical advice. The goal here is not to achieve a very high rate of automation, but to automate basic, repetitive processes in order to free pharmacists for more demanding tasks where their skills are better used.
"For this customer, in addition to automating simple inquiries (which alone offer tremendous value), our real-time response recommendations help pharmacists to respond faster and easier."
The managing partner of Omers Ventures, Jambu Palaniappan, commented on the Serie A in a statement and described the growth of the start-up as "really spectacular". He praised his “world-class team” and its founders “with a strong vision and unmatched knowledge of AI”. .
"There are numerous chatbot companies out there, but Ultimate.ai is something much bigger as it is at its core an automation company with great potential," he added. "We look forward to working with Sarah, Reetu, Jaakko and Markus as they expand internationally and further develop their extensive product capabilities."
“The customer service industry is in an automation revolution. In Ultimate.ai we saw a vision brave enough to lead the way, ”added Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, in another supportive statement. "We believe Ultimate.ai will do the same for customer service as category leaders defined marketing and sales automation."
Jambu Palaniappan, managing partner at Omers Ventures, will join the Ultimate.ai board of directors. Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, will join the former Airbnb head for business Mark McCabe and the former global EVP sales of the payment giant Adyen, Thijn Lamers, as an investor.