Google acquired Onward, a customer service automation startup, for an undisclosed sum. Cofounders Rémi Cossart and Pramod Thammaiah will join Google, along with a few employees. To date, Onward had raised $120,000 in private funding in two rounds.
“We started Onward with the mission of allowing computers to participate in natural, human conversations,” the Onward team wrote in a message posted to the company’s website. “With Google, we’ll be able to expand the reach of the technologies that power Onward. These core technologies are what got us excited in the first place, and we are excited to bring them to Google.”
Onward’s enterprise chatbot platform leveraged natural language processing to extract meaning from customers’ messages. Drawing on signals like location, login status, and historical activity, it could personalize and contextualize its responses to questions. Onward’s visual bot builder, which let clients tailor answers with decision trees, afforded even greater customization. Thanks to integrations with Zendesk, Help Scout, Salesforce, Hubspot, Shopify, Spree, and Solidus, its bots could autonomously track conversations, add leads, and keep tabs on shipments and orders.
Prior to the debut of Onward’s business-focused software-as-a-service (SaaS), it launched Agent Q, a virtual assistant supplied product recommendations on command. Q relied on a combination of human agents and a data-aggregating system that pulled in reviews and prices from across the web — Onward pitched it as a combination of Consumer Reports and Magic.
The acquisition comes just a few months after the unveiling of Google’s Contact Center AI, a machine learning-powered virtual customer representative that interacts with callers over the phone. It fields incoming calls and uses sophisticated natural language processing to suggest solutions to common problems. If the virtual agent can’t solve the caller’s issue, it hands him or her off to a human agent — a feature Google calls “agent assist” — and presents the agent with information relevant to the call at hand.