With the rise and rise of messaging (I have at least six messaging apps on my phone and counting), tech companies are piling into the space. Many are trying to shoe-horn ‘chat bots’ into behaving like they are capable of customer service. Facebook Messenger, Kik, Twitter, Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp have all announced such services.
But as others have pointed out, we are nowhere near that happening in any kind of scalable way, and although with the rise of AI it is bound to happen some day, for now dealing with real human beings is best left to other human beings. That means companies continue to be serviced by a number of startups that have “live” customer service platforms.
One of the hottest startups in this space right now is LiveNinja, and today they announce a new $2 million round of financing from Scout Ventures, Anzu Partners, Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, Citi Ventures, Accelerated Growth Partners and SeedInvest. Prior to this it had raised $1.5M from New York-based Scout.
The startup will now will use the funding to build out new functionalities within its LiveNinja Messenger and expand their sales team. Right now it’s offered free for a limited time and will evolve into a “pay as you grow” model where brands will pay on a per-customer engagement basis. In the coming months, LiveNinja will be releasing support for certain messaging apps with available APIs (they are starting with Facebook Messenger and Twitter integration).
LiveNinja has been best known for a chat and video interface it sells into brands that want to interact with customers via the web. Their next move will address the need for a dedicated messaging app which ties into a brand’s CRM system. Competitors include LivePerson, Intercom, Zendesk, and oLark.
The problem they are going after is obvious. Messaging apps are closed environments, meaning they can’t be embedded on a website. And businesses will eventually want to be on multiple messaging apps at once in order to serve more customers. That means businesses will face greater fragmentation and more issues around how to manage conversations across multiple channels.
In addition, brands get a LOT of organic traffic to their site and they don’t want to take people off the site where those customers are engaged at that moment. So you need to be able to quickly respond, there and then. Indeed, in a recent report, over 65% of customers said they’d like the ability to conveniently message a business.
Here are a few key features for LiveNinja’s new product:
• An embeddable widget that combines live chat with messaging
• A dedicated short-link (ln.co/brand-name) that businesses can share with customers to start conversations from any channel. For example, here is LiveNinja’s own official brand page. Live chat is susceptible to spam for retailers, so there is a very simple customer verification process to deal with that.
• An iOS application that allows businesses to maintain customer conversations and that is tied into CRM
The idea is to brands centralize customer communications into one place.
Will Weinraub, CEO and Co-founder of LiveNinja says: “Most messaging apps are walled-gardens that operate in a separate environment. We built LiveNinja to be used either as a standalone messaging application, or embeddable within an existing website, with direct links into the apps shareable across social media.”
Weinraub says bots will not be the whole answer: “As things currently stand, bots are falling short of expectations. Currently, many of these bots are just the text based equivalent of the automated prompts we are already frustrated with when calling 1-800 numbers. If that’s the case, than we need to ask: are bots really evolving customer service for the better, or are they just exacerbating some of the same issues we’ve been dealing with for years?”
He has a point. It is going to take Bots a while to catch up. Meanwhile, there are real people out there who need help from other real people.