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Cognigy secures funding to grow its contact center automation business

Philipp Heltewig, who was previously CIO of marketing company Sitecore before it was acquired by private equity group EQT in 2016, teamed up with Sascha Poggemann and Benjamin Mayr to found customer service automation startup Cognigy eight years ago. Heltewig says they did so because they believed both consumers and executives were confused about the capabilities of artificial intelligence and, especially, about its limitations.

“Big tech companies have ‘mis-set’ expectations for AI,” Heltewig told TechCrunch. “In 2015, IBM claimed its Watson platform could do everything. In 2024, it’s ‘Copilot can do everything.’ That’s not true.”

With Cognigy, Heltewig, Poggemann, and Mayr are trying to deliver on a more modest promise: to help create AI that can handle the highly repetitive, rote processes that center workers face every day.

The adoption of AI in contact centers is not a new trend. One survey showed that more than half of businesses have already invested in AI capabilities to support their customer service operations. According to market research firm Markets and Markets, revenue in the call center AI market alone will climb from $1.6 billion in 2022 to $4.1 billion by the end of 2027.

In addition to the big tech companies, a number of startups offer AI products to automate basic call center tasks: Parloa, which focuses on text-to-speech applications; Kore.ai, which develops enterprise-focused conversational AI applications; Lang, whose technology automatically tags and categorizes customer conversations; and PolyAI and Retell AI, which are building autonomous phone agents.

So what’s unique about Cognigy? For one, the platform can be deployed on-premises or in a private or public cloud like AWS. And it’s scalable; Cognigy-managed AI agents can handle up to tens of thousands of customer conversations simultaneously.

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Image Source: Cognition

“Cognigy provides a platform for building, operating, and analyzing AI agents to improve the customer experience in contact centers,” said Heltewig. “In addition to serving end customers, the same AI agents can switch roles and act as agent ‘co-pilots’, providing contextual assistance to human agents and automating routine tasks such as call closing.”

Cognigy sells three core products: (1) a self-service Q&A chatbot that leverages an organization’s knowledge base to answer customer inquiries, (2) a toolset for building chatbot experiences, and (3) an AI-enabled agent dashboard that provides agents with potentially useful information during interactions with customers.

Cognigy trains its own generative AI models to power various aspects of its platform, but it also integrates third-party models, such as OpenAI’s recently launched GPT-4o, Anthropic’s Claude 3, Google’s Gemini, and Aleph Alpha’s Luminous.

The vendor-agnostic, bring-your-own-model approach is likely one reason why Cognigy has seen such strong growth in recent years.

Currently, the company has about 175 customers deploying Cognigy contact center solutions for 1,000 different brands, including Toyota and Bosch. Just this week, Cognigy completed a sizable Series C round led by French private equity group Eurazeo. Eurazeo, along with Insight Partners, DTCP, and DN Capital, invested $100 million in Cognigy, bringing Cognigy’s total funding to $175 million.

Cognigy has 175 employees in Düsseldorf and San Francisco, which Heltewig expects to grow to 250 by the end of the year, and the company plans to invest the new capital in geographic expansion and product development in the United States.

“Our goal is to create more sophisticated customer service solutions and accelerate return on investment with AI-first technologies,” Heltewig said.

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