Ada makes artificial intelligence accessible to non-technical customer service teams
I've often said there are two things about adulthood that nobody ever warned me about. First, how much of my life would be spend giving my money to other people, and second, how much would be spent on the phone, waiting to talk to customer service.
It's actually worse than I thought: the average person spends 43 days of their life waiting on hold for customer service, which costs businesses more than $400 billion annually, Mike Murchison, CEO and co-founder of Ada, a provider of AI and chatbot capabilities, told me. Customers, however, are looking for something better.
"Moving into 2019, businesses are continuing to shift from an ‘agent-first’ to an ‘automation-first’ customer service strategy in response to consumers’ evolving expectations for self-service support," he said.
That's why he built Ada, which makes AI accessible to non-technical customer service teams so that they can build customer service experiences that save customers time and businesses’ money.
On Tuesday, the Toronto-based company announced that it has raised C$19 million in Series A funding. The round was led by FirstMark Capital with participation from Leaders Fund and Burst Capital, as well as returning investors Bessemer, Version One, and computer scientist Barney Pell. This follows a $2.5 million seed funding round that it raised last year, led by Bessemer Venture Partners.
"While many enterprises are choosing to invest in AI, the problem we’ve identified is that highly technical implementation considerations and the high cost of customization and maintenance is diminishing the ROI. Furthermore, the people best suited to meet customers needs and expectations are not the technical resources, but rather those who interact with them daily and understand their point of view," said Murchison.
"That’s why we have built Ada’s AI-powered platform to make automation accessible to all technical-skill levels. Our easy-to-use solution puts the benefits of AI into the hands of non-technical customer support teams, allowing them to build, manage and track ROI-driving automated customer experiences."
Companies that use Ada include enterprise organizations with thousands of customer service employees, as well as mid-market organizations that handle at least 10,000 customer service inquiries per month. Ada helps them reduce phone calls and live chat sessions by automating up to 70 percent of customer conversations. The platform can help customers do everything from reset their password to purchase a new plan.
Ada is able to free up customer service representatives from having to answer mundane questions, and instead allows them to answer the more complicated, relationship-oriented, conversations with the highest value clients.
"The financial results realized by leveraging our automation, is having transformational impact on our clients, resulting in many of them creating standalone departments, called Automated Customer Experience departments, dedicated to applying AI to the customer service experience and improving its results over time," said Murchison.
Ada has enabled more than 30 million customer interactions over the last two years. It's currently used by more than 100 businesses around the world, including TELUS, Coinbase and UpWork.
While chatbots have been de rigueur for the tech industry, with companies both large and small getting in on the space, there are a few ways that Ada separates itself from the pack, Murchison told me.
"Ada is disrupting the market in many exciting ways, but the greatest differentiated value is being realized from Ada’s accessibility and ease of use for non-technical teams, as well as its deep level of personalization and customization. Ada is not an FAQ chatbot. In fact, we are seeing more and more organizations fail with home-grown chatbots or purchased tools with limited FAQ-related capabilities. By contrast, Ada is a scalable, customizable automation platform that provides meaningful interaction and personalization to drive engagement across the customer journey," he said.
"Unlike our competitors, Ada has been purpose built for customer support teams to leverage in order to humanize customer interactions, to ensure they are relatable and meaningful, ownership of the platform should reside in CX. As well, by seamlessly integrating with an organization’s backend and private APIs, customer support teams can personalize the customer experience with automated responses tailored to a customer’s account history, interests and intent."
Deploying the new funding
The company has big plans for its new funding, and will use it, in part, to expand to new global markets. It will also go toward expansion into new verticals, including travel and financial services.
"We see opportunity to introduce our AI-powered automation to all customer-centric industries who place importance on personalized engagement and meaningful support. In particular, we see transformational opportunity for our platform within the verticals of travel and financial services," Murchison explained.
With travel, for example, consumers are now planning, booking and tracking their trips on their own, which reduces the opportunity for brands to create meaningful interactions that can lead to higher loyalty and sales.
"Our automation opens the door for businesses within this space to prioritize the personalized travel experience by providing 24/7 support across the customer journey. Our platform allows international businesses to remove the barriers in geography, language and time by providing on-demand support tailored to a customer’s history, interests and travel plans," he said.
"The financial industry is also undergoing massive transformation with a new generation of digital natives requiring institutions to match their expectations for digital-first, always-on support. To remain competitive, banks must adopt automation tools that enable them to deliver the same personalized service that customers receive in-store."
Ada will also use the funding for to enhance its features with a focus in the coming year of being more user-friendly and approachable.
"We’re focused on expanding our automation across the entire customer journey which requires new functionality that makes the customer’s experience more personalized, intuitive and proactive. This means growing our ecosystem to integrate further with our clients’ existing APIs to address their broader business needs," said Murchison.
More personalization will also mean higher measures to maintain security to both the company's clients and their customers, including new ways of authenticating users and escalating levels of security.
"We’re also identifying new ways that enable our clients to easily track and analyze the success of their automated experience through real-time customer data. Our platform’s ease of use allows our clients to iterate their content using analytics to make measurable improvements to their customers’ experience every day."
The funding will go toward providing clients with education and guidance to build, train, and manage Automated Customer Service (ACX) departments.
"To support our clients as they establish their own ACX departments, we’re focused on providing hands-on training combined with ongoing consultation that allows them to build, define and work together as a critical driver of growth, with Ada at their core. As part of joining Ada, clients also tap into world’s first ACX community, where organizations are sharing best-practices with each other around how to effectively operationalize AI inside their respective companies," Murchison explained.
Finally, the company also plans to use the funding to double the size of its 70 person team in 2019.
"We’ve focused on building our team with a group of diverse investors that bring local, national and global expertise, support and perspective to Ada. It was important for us to represent our Canadian-based roots while benefiting from the expertise and guidance of internationally renown capital firms."
The evolution of chatbots
Chatbots are becoming, or, more accurately, have become ubiquitous in the tech industry. But there's still a long way to go before they have been perfected.
"As companies are starting to realize the negative impacts of failed chatbot 'experiments', they are keen to make investments in more sophisticated platforms that offer personalization and customization. Bad customer/chatbot interactions can be catastrophic and will ultimately cannibalize automation gains. There is exciting opportunity for our platform that is bringing a more reliable and scalable solution to market that empowers customer service teams to drive personalized engagement in meaningful ways and rapidly improve upon it without the need for engineering resources," said Murchison.
"We’re building a generational business that is making AI and its benefits accessible to all skill sets and backgrounds. As we move into the future, our focus on inclusive technology will allow us to continue leading the development of ‘automated customer experience’ departments dedicated to automating time, effort and cost-saving support."