Proving chatbots are alive and well, Quiq raises $25 million – TechCrunch
Chatbots are alive and well. That’s the message from Quiq, an AI-powered conversational platform, which today revealed it has closed a $25 million Series C funding round led by Baird Capital. CEO Mike Myer said the funding, which Venrock, Foundry Group and Next Frontier Capital participated in, will go toward growing the Bozeman, Montana-based platform Quiq to help brands engage with customers through text robots.
“Quiq was founded in 2015 to solve the huge divide between how consumers were forced to communicate with their favorite brands and how they preferred to communicate with family and friends,” Myer told TechCrunch via email. mail. “Phone calls are disruptive and time-consuming, emails are slow and impersonal. Texting is the way people do things with family and friends. Quiq was [launched] also to facilitate communication with companies.
Much has been written about the demise of chatbots, which rose to prominence just under a decade ago but have fallen into obscurity as their adoption wanes. A 2019 study by Juniper Research predicted that retail sales resulting from chatbot-based interactions would reach $112 billion by 2023, while Gartner predicted that 15% of all customer service interactions worldwide would be fully AI-driven, including chatbots, by 2021.
In fact, it’s estimated that only 4% of companies deployed chatbots in 2017. But thanks to a proliferation of developer tools from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others, as well as improved support for chatbots on platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, chatbots have seen a resurgence in recent years. The pandemic has also played a role, with staff shortages — and pressure to cut costs — forcing companies to rely increasingly on customer service automation.
Quiq says revenue has doubled over the past year, with the company’s customer base growing to more than 200 brands, including Overstock, Spirit Airlines and Brinks Home Security.
“Since the pandemic, overall conversation volume on the Quiq platform has increased 6x and conversations per customer have increased 300%. As to why, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to go online and accelerated digital transformation for countless others,” Myer said. “The changes of the past two years – along with consumer expectations that shopping online should have the same standards of customer service as shopping in a store – have … upended what happens in the world of consumer service. Companies that never thought of themselves as global companies can now compete in foreign markets, and big brands need to provide the same level of personalized care as smaller merchants.
Quiq’s platform is not strictly chatbot driven. Rather, it’s designed to allow customer service agents to work with first-party and third-party chatbots to respond to inquiries on popular messaging channels, including Apple Messages for Business. (Apple Messages for Business, launched in 2018 as Business Chat, allows customers to communicate directly with businesses through iMessage.) Quiq allows conversations, synchronous or asynchronous, to be escalated to agents if an issue cannot be solved with automation.
Myer says chatbot-augmented messaging offers a number of advantages over conventional manual-only (i.e., human-only) setups. They allow agents to serve multiple customers at the same time, increasing productivity. But perhaps more importantly, they minimize the need to set aside time to make a phone call. According to a survey, what respondents value most about chatbots is that they respond quickly to questions and can help outside of a company’s business hours.
“Cultivating existing customers is much easier than finding new ones. A key component of customer satisfaction is the level of friction a customer experiences when dealing with a company,” Myer added. “Businesses today are waking up to the shift in how customers want to talk to them, embracing text as well as omnichannel mobile messaging. Ask yourself if you should contact a business, which would make you more likely to want to do Business Again: Set aside time in your busy day to call the business, including allocating extra time to ensure there is enough time to resolve the issue Resolved in the face of unknown wait times or texting with an agent in a few minutes of free time during your day?”
Chatbots cannot sort out all types of issues that arise in customer service, far from it. To take one example, an IBM-powered chatbot deployed two years ago by GM Financial, the financial services arm of General Motors, can only resolve about 60% of customer inquiries. (It initially solved less than 10%.) Studies have also found that customers don’t like discussing important issues with a chatbot, such as postponing upcoming medical treatment or discussing financial difficulties.
Indeed, most people have a complicated relationship with chatbots, as illustrated by a January Verint survey of 1,000 consumers. Nearly a third said they “rarely” or “never” felt understood by a chatbot while more than 30% said they “always” or “often” give up on their efforts to solve a problem when they were interacting with a chatbot.
“Chatbots must move beyond micro-smarts to become intelligent systems that provide advanced understanding, assistance, and intelligence. Conversational AI systems ‘beyond the bot’ can conduct true contextual conversation, with clarifications or further choice by users,” Verint’s Jen Snell said in a statement accompanying the report. “These supercharged chatbots are backed by deep domain expertise, so their understanding of user intent goes well beyond generic natural language processing. They are also highly integrated with many recording systems. to ensure effective problem solving and provision of the right information.
But some within the industry remain optimistic about chatbots – or, more specifically, their potential. According to a 2019 survey by Forrester, 89% of customer service decision makers believe chatbots and virtual agents are useful technologies for personalizing customer interactions. Juniper, for its part, estimates operational cost savings from using chatbots in banking alone at $7.3 billion globally by 2023, up from $209 million in 2019.
Investors seem convinced. Yellow.ai, a startup developing an AI-powered chatbot platform, raised $78 million in a funding round last August. Chatbot development platform Gupshup – which today announced it has acquired Active.AI, a conversational AI startup focused on financial services – raised $100 million in April 2021 at a valuation of 1.4 billion dollars.
“Business leaders are trying to figure out how to handle the massive increase in online inquiries from shoppers trying to find the right product or customers needing help with something already purchased. Even if a business increases its budget , in today’s tight job market, it’s impossible to find people to do all the work,” Myer said. “Our buyers are looking for ways to optimize their interactions with customers so they can meet growing demand without sacrificing customer experience.”
After recently acquiring e-commerce chatbot endor Snaps and rolling out automatic language translation for agents, Quiq plans to grow its workforce from 66 employees to 100 by 2023, focusing on marketing and sales. The total capital raised by Quiq is $47.5 million.