Salesforce.com Inc. has joined the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Cogito Corp.’s exclusive list of backers through a newly announced financing round that saw its prolific private equity arm combine forces with Romulus Capital to buy a $5.5 million equity stake. The funds from the investment will enable the startup to ramp up marketing for its namesake platform, which helps organizations interact with their customers more effectively using a patented sentiment analysis engine.
The technology is the fruit of more than 10 years of research at the MIT Media Lab spearheaded by co-founder and chief scientist Alex Pentland, who teamed up with Joshua Feast, an alumnus of the university’s Sloan School of Management, to establish Cogito in 2007. The company has since grown to over 30 employees on the back of several major deals with big-name institutions in the public sector, a roster DARPA joined in 2012 with the announcement of plans to make startup’s technology the basis of a new psychological assessment service for veterans.
The early mobile implementation that the agency is currently testing in the Boston area no doubt comes up often when Cogito pitches its own commercial versions to the everyday enterprises that the new funding from Salesforce Ventures and Romulus is meant to help target. After all, if DARPA trusts the technology to make clinical diagnoses, why shouldn’t a traditional customer call center take advantage of its capabilities to handle ordinary support requests. The startup’s software analyzes the tone of a caller and provides the representative on the end of the line with guidance about how to react.
The algorithms under the hood keep checking for changes in the mood of the conversation after the initial assessment has been made to ensure that support requests are optimally seen through to completion. If, for instance, an agent starts losing their focus during a long call, Cogito will remind them to exude more attentiveness to the customer. The startup says that its software can thus improve user experience and cut problem resolution times with the same stroke, benefits that call center managers can quantify using a built-in scoring system that doubles to highlight underperforming agents in need of additional training.