Virtual Agent Developer Inference Solutions Acquired by Digital Contact Center Platform Five9
Virtual agent developer Inference Solutions has announced that it will be acquired by cloud contact center Five9. The purchase amount was not officially disclosed, but No Jitter reported a $172 million price tag to incorporate Inference’s platform and more than 550 clients onto Five9’s system, including some that both companies counted as customers.
Inference provides its virtual agents for a variety of tasks on behalf of its clients. The AI can answer questions, make appointments, and complete payments depending on their programming. The AI can understand different languages, parsing what people are saying to understand what they actually mean, and responding with human-like tones. The virtual agents are supposed to be relatively easy to design regardless of technical training, with a drag-and-drop menu to streamline the process. Inference often provides the virtual agents indirectly, providing them to a major corporation at a profit, while the major firm, such as AT&T or a bank, then sells the devices to their own clients. On Five9’s platform, Inference would be a self-service choice in the contact center.
“We believe adding Inference to the Five9 portfolio accelerates our leadership position in AI while also providing customers with a market leading IVA at a time when customers need efficient real-time assistance,” Five9 CEO Rowan Trollope said in a statement. “Customer engagement is now more paramount than ever. Inference is a proven leader with a best in class IVA solution. We are excited to build upon our successful partnership with this acquisition.
Inference saw significant growth last year, updating to support for Google’s Contact Center AI integrating into WhatsApp and adding an automated call-steering application for Pizza Hut Australia, among other upgrades. That expanded geography will give Five9 a footprint in Australia and deeper connections around the globe. The deal is expected to officially close in early January, but Five9 likely has plenty of cash available. The company’s revenue reached a record high of $112.1 million in the third-quarter, rising by a little of a third from last year. It’s also the 19th quarter in a row with a positive cash flow of $22.8 million, $5.1 million increase from the same period last year.
The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has played a part in speeding up the already growing interest in Inference’s technology. Dialing through a menu or trying to be understood by a poorly designed voice AI has become extra urgent this year. When the pandemic and lockdowns began, many customers reached out to ask Inference for help. Inference augmented its platform with a new application that allowed business owners to tell customers on their status using the virtual agents and update them as needed. The startup offered the new feature as a free temporary addition to the standard virtual agents.
Five9’s decision to buy Inference puts it in a good position to compete with some of the other enterprise voice and text AI firms raising lots of money or selling to bigger companies. Dialpad, whose AI communications portfolio includes contact centers as well as phone conference lines, just raised $100 million last month. And that’s only the latest startup to see investment in some form. People comfortable with speaking conversationally with a voice assistant are turning to them to get pandemic-specific answers and they’ll likely do the same for businesses they interact with. That gives an edge to startups like Inferencem or Replicant, which raised $27 million in September for its own angle on the technology, or Satisfi Labs, who launched their own pandemic-focused virtual agents. The end of the health crisis won’t lead to their disappearance either, the technology will proabably only spread for the same reasons Five9 bought Inference.
“Intelligent Virtual Agents enable a quicker, more efficient, self-service experience,” Inference Solution CEO Callan Schebella said in a statement. “To meet today’s heightened customer expectations, we need to continue to innovate with disruptive technology. Our team at Inference is proud to join Five9, a recognized industry leader, and we look forward to shaping the future of customer service.”