As Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs cluster around the worldview that artificial intelligence is poised to change how we work, investors are deciding which use cases make the most sense to pump money into right now. One focus has been the relentless communication between companies and customers that takes place at call centers.
Call center tech has spawned dozens if not hundreds of AI startups, many of which have focused on automating services and using robotic voices to point customers somewhere they can spend money. There has been a lot of progress, but not all of those products have delivered. Cresta is more focused on using AI suggestions to help human contact center workers make the most of an individual call or chat session and lean on what's worked well for past interactions that were deemed successful.
"I think that there will always be very basic boring stuff that can be automated like frequently asked questions and 'Oh, what's the status of my order?,' " CEO Zayd Enam says. "But there's always the role of the person that's building the relationship between the company and the customer, and that's a really strategic role for companies in the modern age."
Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun is the startup's board chairman and is listed as a co-founder. Enam met Thrun during his PhD research at Stanford focused on workplace productivity. Cresta is launching from stealth and announcing that they've raised $21 million in funding from investors including Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. The company recently closed a $15 million Series A round.
Cresta wants to use AI to school customer service workers and salespeople on how to close the deal.
There's quite a lot of turnover in contact center jobs and that can leave companies reticent to spend a ton of time investing in each employee's training. Naturally, there are some inherent issues where the workers interacting with an individual customer might not have the experience necessary to suggest a solution that they might if they had more experience. In terms of live feedback, for many, fumbling through paper scripts at their desk can be about as good as it gets. Cresta is hoping that by tapping improvements in natural language processing, their software can help alleviate some stress for contact center workers and help them move conversations in the direction of selling something else for their company.
Cresta is entering a field where there's already quite a bit of interest from established software giants. Salesforce, Google and Twilio all operate AI-driven products for contact centers. Even with substantial competition, Enam believes Cresta's team of 30 can offer its customers a lot more individual attention.
"We're one of the few technical teams where we're just obsessed with the customer, to the point where it's normal for people on our team to fly to the customer and live by a call center in an Airbnb for a week," Enam said. "When Greylock led the Series A, they had heard that and said that's what gave them so much conviction that we were the team to solve the problem."
Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Mark Leslie and Vivi Nevo are also investors in Cresta.