can on a string

Why Salesforce Ventures Is Investing in This MIT Startup

4 minute read
Erika Morphy avatar
Salesforce wants to incorporate Cogito's voice analytics into its Service cloud one day, according to Cogito VP Steve Kraus.

Boston-based Cogito Corp. — a software company that claims it "empowers phone professionals to deliver a more engaging and caring customer experience" — has raised $5.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Romulus Capital, with participation from Salesforce Ventures.

Romulus Capital is a Cambridge, Mass.-based early company investor whose founders have roots at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
(MIT) — as does Cogito. Romulus' participation in the funding round is understandable, especially given the tech Cogito is bringing to market.

San Francisco-based Salesforce Ventures is also active in early-stage investing, so its participation is just as understandable. But there is an extra incentive for Salesforce Ventures. 

It expects that at some point Salesforce will partner with Cogito and incorporate Cogito's real time behavioral analytics for customer engagement platforms into the Salesforce Service cloud, Steve Kraus, Cogito's vice president of marketing, told CMSWire.

US Government Testing, Use

To be clear, a partnership with Salesforce is not in the immediate future, Kraus said. 

Cogito's first order of business is to expand its user base, which is how it plans to use it $5.5 million funding haul. What Cogito doesn't need to do is further develop its technology — the platform has spent 15 years in tests and then use by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US National Institutes of Health.

DARPA used the platform to determine whether returning US veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were secretly depressed, based on their voice patterns.

Yes, Cogito has figured out a way to do that.

Cogito went commercial about a year ago, entering the customer service space with a focus on health care organizations and insurance companies' contact centers. In this environment, it applies its behavioral analytics and models to customers and agents to see if the latter is forging a connection with the former based on the voice patterns and inflections of the conversation.

One can see why Salesforce sees the potential of applying Cogito as a complementary feature in its Service offerings. Marrying Salesforce's data-driven approach to service with Cogito's focus on empathy and connection would make a formidable offering. 

Cognito empowers phone professionals to deliver a more engaging and caring customer experience

Honest Signals

Cogito's platform is based on the work of MIT Scientist Alex Pentland, who ultimately wrote about his research in the book Honest Signals

Pentland's premise was that people reveal their true intentions or thoughts about an issue through their voice — the pitch, the tone, the texture of someone's speech, whether that person’s pattern is to interrupt or respond in a monotone ... these are the honest signals humans emit.

Learning Opportunities

"The voice is the most complex and telling signal compared to any other indicator such as hand or eye movements," Kraus said.

Pentland converted this theory into technology that can analyze and process a conversation between two people — a counselor and a returning vet, or a customer service agent and a customer, in real time and in scale.

It built models to run on that platform that can predict whether someone will take a certain action, such as buying a product or canceling a service, based on his or her voice.

Then, through the MIT Media Lab, Cogito launched into the world.

Aimed at the Agent

Cognito dialog

Cogito is delivered via the cloud and can be integrated into most customer service IT backbones. During the call the system can signal to the agent that, for example, she may be talking too fast or that she doesn’t sound sincere or engaged with the customer's problems.

After the call the conversation can be analyzed for performance issues and discussed with the agent.

Agents are receptive to the feedback, or presumably most of the agents are, because the feedback is based on objective metrics. Rating a call center agent's performance is very much a subjective exercise and if the agent disagrees with an assessment it is easy for him to brush it off, Kraus said.

Title image by Ryan McGuire