As automation becomes the best way to handle a growing business without the accompanying growth in customer service costs, increasingly more enterprise software vendors are entering this space. This diverse array of providers, from start-ups to large enterprises, can be categorized based on these 8 main offering types:
1. Contact Center Software
Providers in this category represent the major players in the space of AI-powered customer care. They provide either standalone virtual agents or virtual assistants designed to be paired with a human agent in a call center context. Such offerings allow for the personalization of customer interactions by addressing channels, customer routing, resource matching, and data captures in real-time to offer the best feedback.
Standouts in this space include LivePerson, 7, Nuance, IPSoft, NextIT, 8×8 Inc., Interactive Intelligence, and Avaya. Another is SignPost, which offers an SMB platform and an AI assistant known as Mia. Other companies with a more traditional customer service platforms are LiveAgent, Zendesk, Freshdesk and LiveChat.
2. Platform Infrastructure Providers
This space is occupied by large companies offering a platform that can be adopted by customer care departments. Perhaps the most obvious player in this space is Facebook Messenger, which many companies use as a platform for chatbots. Google too has announced a customer service platform. In its current iteration, Google’s is only a transcription service, but expansion seems likely. IBM’s Watson has also entered this space with the introduction of a set of APIs, but they do not yet offer an easy to implement solution for non-technical teams or a self serve model. Microsoft also offers several APIs in the areas of natural language processing and bot platforms targeted to developers. Twitter recently entered the game with the launch of bots and automated direct message responses. Amazon entered the market in March of 2017 with the launch of Amazon Connect, a self-service, cloud-based contact center service.
3. Agent Autocomplete Provider
Agent autocomplete AIs offer suggestions to human agents when resolving a ticket. They provide automated, intelligent responses to the most commonly faced queries. Unlike a simple rule-based chatbot, AI agent assistants draw on past conversations to understand the language of the customer and generate a suitable response. To operate effectively, these programs require a relatively large volume of past support conversations. Companies in this space include DigitalGenius, Inbenta, eContext, True AI, Augment AI and Excel AI.
4. Bot Focused Startup Providers
Startups are entering this space providing bot-centric conversational AI solutions to customer care problems. These companies provide chatbots that employ real-time machine learning to interact with customers on a messaging platform and escalate to a human agent when needed. The market for conversational AI is large and many startups have entered this area promising similar solutions. Examples include msg.ai, Conversable, Chyme, Converse, Agent.ai, Hellovera, Pypestream, Kasisto, Nanorep, Rulai, and Eloquent Labs.
5. Automated Responses
This classification includes companies that are seeking to offer solutions in which a machine handles a large portion of requests with minimal human intervention. With improvements in software and AI programming, this field is expected to grow as it represents an ultimate end-point to the introduction of automation in customer service. 7 is one company hoping to deliver solutions in this area. They offer an artificial intelligence platform that “transforms data into decisions to create intent-driven experiences that are highly personalized—across channels, journeys, and devices.” Many companies play in this space with differing levels of technical sophistication, including Inbenta, Nuance (Nina), NextIT, and IPSoft (Amelia).
6. Ticket Routing Optimizers
Ticket routing optimizers are AI programs that offer intelligent routing solutions to maximize business efficiency. These AIs do not interact with customers themselves, but direct customers’ inquiries to the correct party as quickly as possible. They essentially offer a triage service for customer service tickets leading to higher customer satisfaction scores, reduced case volume, and efficient multi-channel service. Companies in this space include Avaya, Genesys, Cisco and Solvvy.
7. Social Marketing And Care Solutions
Companies in this space offer social media management (SMM) to brands looking to integrate marketing, advertising, care, sales, research, and commerce on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels. This type of provider is very current, with the rise of social networks in the past decade necessitating development in this area. At the forefront are Sprinklr, Conversocial, Spredfast, and Percolate.
8. ‘Shallow’ Legacy Customer Service Providers
The early 21st century saw the rise of the online help desk. This service, considered largely outdated now, is essentially a chat process that acts as a search directory through frequently asked questions. Early players in this field were Zendesk (also acquired Zopim), Freshdesk, Zoho, and Desk.com (acquired by Salesforce). While these companies still exist, they have evolved their offerings considerably to stay current.