Customer service is one of the most important relationships between a business and its customer, and that was made even more clear during the global pandemic.
Though Thankful AI CEO Ted Mico and his co-founder Evan Tann didn’t start out with experience from the business side, they started the Venice, California-based company in 2018 out of frustration as customers.
“Companies will offer you a chat box, but no value along with it and a method that consumes vast amounts of time, and we thought we could change that,” Mico told TechCrunch. “There were statistics that I read in media articles that customer service was a $350 billion business, a large total addressable market, but it is a mess. We also read that we spend something like 43 days of our lives dealing with customer services. Well, Thankful is here to give you three weeks of your life back.”
Traditionally, customer service is thought of as “the caboose” of a business, but Thankful believes it should be the driver. As a result, companies spend large amounts of money in marketing to get a customer’s attention, but when there is a problem or a customer has questions, it is a customer service team that comes in with little to no knowledge of any existing relationship, Mico added.
That’s the paradigm that Thankful wants to shift. After being founded, the company spent more than two years building out its artificial intelligence customer service software. Mico called it “the application layer on top of the help desk,” to handle large volumes of customer queries across any written channel that a customer wants to use, like email, social, in-app, chat or text. The platform has processed and learned from over 30 million customer service tickets so far.
It has three products: the first is an agent assist that helps a human agent resolve problems by intelligently routing and suggesting replies, enabling the agent to be up to 40% more efficient. The second is an AI agent that manages the entire process, not only cutting the time to first response, but also resolving up to 50% of queries. The third is Thankful’s analytics, which is just getting started, to provide data on what customers are saying about their journey.
Over the past four years, Mico said the company has quietly curated a customer list that includes over 50 brands, including UntuckIt, FabFitFun and MeUndies. It is also partnering on the help desk side with companies like Zendesk, Kustomer and Gladly.
Also during that time period, the company experienced 400% year over year growth. To continue to meet that demand, Thankful closed a new $12 million round of Series A funding. Joining Alpha Edison is Bonfire, Ten-One-Ten, Greycroft, Omega and Miramar. That, along with an unannounced $3 million, gives the company a total of $15 million in funding.
The company is the latest to go after customer service, an area that is also attracting venture capital and M&A. For example, in the past few months, companies like Sanas, Zendesk, Level AI and Goodcall have made news.
Robey Miller, partner at Alpha Edison, said Thankful was an attractive investment because of the company’s focus on the post-purchase environment. Much of the data in this area is unstructured, so it is hard for brands to track it in a structured way.
“Thankful provides a tool set instrumental in customer service in a way that has never been available in the past,” he added. “Traditionally, this area was measured by rudimentary metrics, and we think Thankful’s technology makes sense of the data exhaust to allow you to understand how customer service drives or changes outcomes.”
Miller believes that Thankful is well positioned to be at the forefront of experimenting and pushing the envelope with customer service as brands seek out tools that are insightful, actionable and something that they can trust.
Meanwhile, Mico intends to use the new funding to add more engineering talent as it expands its product line. The company is also planning to go into other verticals like finance, insurance and healthcare in coming years.
Thankful charges customers based on volume of tickets and which product they are using. However, the company doesn’t just sell the software, but enables customers to see it working before buying it. Thankful agents listen in on a potential customer’s help desk for a couple of weeks to determine the brand’s state of customer service and what could be learned with the data.
“The next step for us is getting the data to the point of showing how your customer service operates — how to recognize patterns and help the brand improve,” Mico said. “This is valuable information that is typically lost. Without the data, your business becomes an opinion-based business. We are trying to shine a light on that data.”