Cogito Raises $20M to Expand Call Center Emotional Intelligence

Cogito CEO Joshua Feast isn’t convinced that artificial intelligence will topple the staffing model for call centers. Customer service is not destined—at least anytime soon, he believes—to be handed off completely to voice assistant chatbots that can handle all the problems and frustrations a customer can send through a phone line.

“I believe humans will always want to talk to humans because only humans understand us,” says Feast, when asked whether he sees a future where traditional customer service call centers are no more, or perhaps housed in a cloud server instead of vast office parks.

“Cogito is fundamentally interested in how we can augment human emotional intelligence as a broad concept in the workplace,” he adds. Even if his customers are paring back on call center services, “we are still betting that they will have humans working there.”

And investors are betting more on Cogito. The company announced today it raised $20 million, mostly from earlier investors, including Salesforce Ventures and Goldman Sachs Growth Equity. The round also includes money from new backer New York Life Ventures. Cogito has raised nearly $100 million in venture funding to date, the company says. Its headcount was about 110 in mid-2018, and now sits at more than 150, Feast says, with an expectation to be over 200 employees “in a couple of quarters.”

Other companies are also seeking to wring emotion analytics from customers and product users, be it via voice intonation or online interactions. They include Boston-based Affectiva, Tel Aviv-based Beyond Verbal, and San Francisco-based Mixpanel.

Cogito’s technology spun out of the MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Lab under renowned data scientist Alex “Sandy” Pentland. It listens to phone calls and takes in data on pace of speech, tone, and other variables to develop an emotional read of the speaker. It then suggests how call center workers might manage the call to keep customers happy.

Feast says he believes the AI-powered emotional intelligence assistant will become widespread—not just in call centers.

“All professionals will have AI coaches in some way or another,” Feast argues.

Cogito’s technology has applications in healthcare as well. In December, the company spun out its mental health product into a new company called CompanionMX that uses the same voice inputs to track behavioral trends. CompanionMX also launched research projects looking at applications for suicide prevention and pharmaceutical development.

The move was meant to enable Cogito to focus on its enterprise software while freeing the CompanionMX team to work on the mental health opportunity.

“It would have been smothered” had CompanionMX stayed under the Cogito umbrella, Feast adds.

Feast says the impetus for the new fundraising came from earlier investors eager to see the company grow. The new investment will go toward adding more people to Cogito’s sales and engineering benches. The sales additions are to help it burrow into call centers for new verticals such as banking, telecommunications, retail, and technology, Feast says. Engineering staff will help develop “deeper insights and richer guidance” for Cogito customers, he adds.

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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