OpenAI board chairman launches AI agent startup to elevate customer experiences – VentureBeat

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Bret Taylor, the former co-CEO of Salesforce and the current chairman of OpenAI’s board, just made his play in the rapidly growing conversational AI space with the launch of Sierra, an AI agent startup for businesses. 


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Founded with Google’s former head of VR Clay Bavor, Sierra aims to empower enterprises with their own AI agents. This will enable them to take their digital operations to a whole new level. The company has already raised $110 million in initial funding from multiple investors, including Benchmark and Sequoia.

More importantly, the company appears to have roped in some notable players as early customers, including Weight Watchers, SiriusXM, Sonos and OluKai. These companies are using Sierra’s technology to handle hundreds of thousands of customer conversations every month, saving customer experience teams time and effort.

“We could not be more excited to release the Sierra platform widely and enable every company in the world to elevate their customer experience with this remarkable new technology,” Taylor and Bavor noted in a joint blog post announcing the launch of the company.

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The platform to build always-ready AI agents

Human agents have been the key to customer success for enterprises. However, every company can’t maintain large teams of representatives that can address customer needs across languages at a moment’s notice, every hour, every day of the year.

To fix this gap, conversational AI chatbots have come on the scene, but early versions of those assistants were not as good as humans. They could only handle basic queries, like providing order updates, and not deliver personalized responses with empathy or take actions on behalf of the customer. Sierra is moving to change that.

The company’s conversational AI platform taps the power of large language models to enable enterprises to build always-available AI agents for their respective businesses. These agents understand jargon, typos and context in conversations and reply in the users’ language of choice with consideration and empathy, adapting to their specific needs and emotions. 

Imagine asking to cancel a gym subscription due to an injury and the AI agent suggesting a temporary pause option while also saying that it was sorry to hear about the incident.

However, what makes Sierra’s offering even more interesting is its ability to integrate with enterprise systems to access records and take actions when allowed. This can give an AI agent the ability to perform a lot of tasks, right from upgrading a subscription for a customer to managing the complexities of a delayed delivery in the order management system. 

“Agents can reason, problem solve, and make decisions. With Sierra, you set goals to guide your agent toward the right solutions and guardrails to ensure your agent stays on point and aligned with your policies. No workflow or process is too complex,” they noted in the blog.

Significant early traction

While Sierra has not disclosed a lot about its tech stack, including the models in use, the company has confirmed that the platform is being used by multiple known enterprises.

OluKai’s AI agent was able to handle more than half of all customer cases during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday surge. The one built by Weight Watchers is handling almost 70% of customer sessions – with a 4.6/5 customer satisfaction score.

Now, with the product officially out of stealth, the company is moving to expand this customer base, enabling more companies to strengthen their customer service operations with conversational AI.

It notes that while the AI agents created by the Sierra platform are guided by businesses’ knowledge base, policies and brand guidelines, it does not use the data for training purposes. The platform also comes with auditing and quality assurance tools to ensure that customer experience teams can understand the reasoning behind every interaction — and jump in wherever needed.

“When your agent can’t solve your customer’s problem, it collects critical information and delivers a detailed summary to your customer service teams, preparing them to effectively manage escalations,” the company notes on its website. Teams also get a full-fledged view of interactions in real time and can take up the flagged cases from there.

While Sierra claims AI agents represent a powerful new category of software and there are no existing players in this market, it is important to note that there are chatbot companies tapping LLMs to supercharge internal and external enterprise interactions. This includes some well-funded players such as Yellow AI, Aisera, Cognigy and Kore AI

According to Markets and Markets, the conversational AI market was valued at $10.7 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow with a CAGR of over 22% to nearly $30 billion by 2028.

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