Philipp Heltewig, who was CIO at marketing firm Sitecore before it was sold to private equity group EQT in 2016, joined forces with Sascha Poggemann and Benjamin Mayr eight years ago to found Cognigy, a customer service automation startup. The impetus was what they perceived as confusion about AI’s capabilities among both consumers and C-suite execs alike, Heltewig says — particularly confusion about AI’s limitations.

“Big tech companies have ‘mis-set’ expectations when it comes to AI,” Heltewig told TechCrunch. “In 2015, IBM was claiming that its Watson platform could do everything. In 2024, that’s coming back as ‘Copilot can do everything.’ Neither is true.”

With Cognigy, Heltewig, Poggemann and Mayr sought to deliver on a more humble promise: helping create AI that can handle the highly repetitive, rote processes center workers face daily.

AI for contact centers isn’t a new trend. According to one survey, over half of businesses have already invested in AI capabilities to support their customer service operations. Per market research firm Markets and Markets, revenue in the market for call center AI alone is set to climb from $1.6 billion in 2022 to $4.1 billion by year-end 2027.

Aside from big tech incumbents, many, many startups offer AI-powered products to automate basic call center tasks. There’s Parloa, which focuses on text-to-speech applications;, which is developing enterprise-focused conversational AI apps; Lang, whose tech automatically tags and categorizes customer conversations; and PolyAI and Retell AI, both of which are building autonomous phone agents.

So what sets Cognigy apart? For one, the platform can be deployed either locally or in a private or public cloud (e.g. AWS). And it’s scalable; Cognigy manages AI agents that can handle up to tens of thousands of customer conversations at once.

Image Credits: Cognigy

“Cognigy provides a platform to build, operate and analyze AI agents for customer experiences in the contact center,” Heltewig said. “As well as serving end customers, the same AI agents switch roles to act as agent ‘copilots,’ providing contextual assistance to human agents and automating routine tasks such as call wrap-up.”

Cognigy sells three core products: (1) A self-service Q&A chatbot that draws on an organization’s knowledge base to answer customer inquiries, (2) a toolset to build chatbot experiences, and (3) an AI-powered support agent dashboard to serve potentially useful information to agents during customer interactions.

Cognigy trains its own generative AI models to power aspects of its platform. But it also integrates models from third parties, 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 might be one of the reasons Cognigy grew so robustly in recent years.

The company has around 175 customers today deploying Cognigy contact center solutions across 1,000 different brands including Toyota and Bosch, and, just this week, Cognigy closed a sizeable Series C tranche led by French private equity group Eurazeo. Along with Insight Partners, DTCP and DN Capital, Eurazeo invested $100 million in Cognigy, bringing Cognigy’s total raised to $175 million.

With a workforce of 175 based in Düsseldorf and San Francisco, which Heltewig expects will grow to 250 by the end of the year, Cognigy plans to invest the new capital in geographic expansion across the U.S. and product R&D.

“We’re aiming to enable the creation of more sophisticated customer service solutions and the acceleration of AI-first technologies that deliver return on investment,” Heltewig said.

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