Salesforce’s LiveMessage tool for service reps officially launches



Salesforce’s LiveMessage tool is now generally available for service agents to better connect with customers across many messenger-based apps. Originally teased at Dreamforce in October, the product is now live and currently supports conversations through SMS and Facebook Messenger.

What’s more, the enterprise cloud company has included a Service Cloud bot to allow brands to implement simple rules-based work. Over time, LiveMessage will also support third-party bots (“Bring Your Own Bots”) that businesses want to use to enhance the customer experience.

The promise of LiveMessage appears to be rather straightforward: It consolidates all the messages from customers online into a centralized area that service representatives can manage and respond to, streamlining the workflow. “Messaging is the [number one] activity people do on their mobile phones. Eighty billion messages are sent every day, and the number is only growing,” Salesforce explained in a press release. “Consumers want to message with brands the same way they communicate with family and friends, namely because it is fast, personalized, and private.”

LiveMessage is a by-product of the company’s acquisition of HeyWire in September — it was known as LiveText a year ago. Back then, it only facilitated SMS conversations, but now Facebook Messenger has been included, and there are plans to eventually extend to other apps, including Line, WeChat, and more.

HeyWire chief executive Meredith Flynn-Ripley once opined that “we’re in the midst of the largest disruption in the space since the creation of the 1-800 number, as we witness mobile messaging emerge as the new and preferred platform for service and support communication.” This is why Salesforce found the technology so appealing. It already offers its Service Cloud, which empowers call centers to respond to customer inquiries, feedback, and complaints, but when it comes to messaging, the customer relationship management (CRM} platform has been disconnected from this workflow. Now LiveMessage is a solution that aims to bridge that divide.

“What if you could message with companies like your friends?” asked Bobby Amezaga, the senior director of product marketing with Salesforce’s Service Cloud team. He painted a scenario in which people don’t have to interact with brands in a formal manner, such as by picking up a phone, mailing a letter, or sending an email. Instead, as we should we feel comfortable chatting with brands the way we do with friends and family. Salesforce isn’t the only one pushing this idea, as service providers like Facebook and WeChat are thinking along the same lines.

The launch of LiveMessage today fulfills a promise Salesforce made at Dreamforce when it highlighted the product’s potential. The company claimed that its customer companies will have a 360-degree view across any channel. Among the features, is the inclusion of Salesforce Einsten, the artificial intelligence backend that was unveiled in October.

And, as Salesforce is getting into the messenger game, naturally there are questions about bots. The answer is, LiveMessage will be a place for bots to reside. At first, the company is enabling brands to use its Service Cloud bots, designed to provide simple rules-based automation, such as data gathering, queries, and more. “We’re trying to help [our] customers be more effective and deliver a better experience to their customers and be better agents,” explained Amezagag. “If there’s a conversation where agents can be involved, you can create a case and escalate it to [them].”

Powered by Einstein, Salesforce’s LiveMessage may help customer support representatives reduce the time spent addressing standard issues, allowing them to invest in more pressing cases. However, as of right now, the main selling point appears to be that the product will consolidate all the conversations into a single place for agents to access and engage with.

Amezaga also shared that there will be an open API that enables developers to bring their own bots to the product, but it won’t be available until some time in 2017. “If a customer has a third-party bot provider that wants to be a part of LiveMessage, we will enable the customer to work with the API to be a part of the LiveMessage conversation,” he explained.

“LiveMessage is the only solution that delivers out-of-the-box capability for contact centers fully integrated into the desktop and Salesforce CRM,” Flynn-Ripley shared.




Conversica raises $34 million to help sales teams convert leads through bot-powered email conversations



Conversica, a sales platform that taps artificial intelligence (AI) to convert in-bound leads using automated email conversation, has raised $34 million in an “oversubscribed” series B round led by Providence Strategic Growth (PSG), an affiliate of Providence Equity Partners, with participation from Toba Capital, Wellington Financial, and Recruit Strategic Partners, as well as existing investors Kennet Partners and founder Ben Brigham.

Founded out of Foster City, California, in 2007, Conversica targets sales and marketing teams with a virtual sales assistant that automatically contacts, converses with, and qualifies potential customers who have contacted the company with questions. Conversica’s platform can scan the content of in-bound communications such as emails to understand the meaning of what is being asked and engage with the customer back-and-forth.

For companies that receive thousands of emails, automating the process saves a great deal of time and resources. Conversiva says that its system is used by 16,000 sales reps globally in companies that include IBM, CenturyLink, and Fiat Chrysler. The firm also offers industry-specific assistants for the automotive and financial industries, while a “Customer Success Assistant” works with existing customers.

The company had raised around $22 million in equity funding before, and its latest cash injection will be used to expand its sales and marketing and “support ongoing product development,” according to a company statement.

“Over the past six years, the Conversica team has created and evolved a unique and powerful way to solve a ubiquitous business problem — helping sales and marketing organizations better engage, qualify and delight their leads and turn them into paying customers,” said Alex Terry, CEO of Conversica. “We have already seen tremendous growth and success deploying our service into the sales and marketing sector, and are confident our unique AI technology can be deployed across a broad spectrum of customer engagement functions to automate and improve many types of important business conversations.”

Conversica operates at the crossroads between two closely connected emerging trends in 2016: AI and chatbots. With Facebook’s Messenger opening as a platform for third-party customer service functions, the social network recently revealed that it’s now home to 34,000 chatbots, which are being used to help drive subscription sign-ups, small transactions, and customer service.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) insurance firm Lemonade recently launched in the U.S., and the company revealed that its customer service was largely being powered by automated agents within its mobile app — this approach helps companies scale their support operations significantly.

“Applying data science techniques to machine-human interactions is an area where we are seeing incredible growth and innovation,” said Toba Capital and Quest Software founder Vinny Smith, an investor in Conversica’s latest funding round. “We have spent considerable time looking for the right company to invest in. Conversica has a proven track record of success and client satisfaction, but also has a real vision for the broader application of this technology.”
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