ECONOMY

Uniphore Raises $140 Million to Expand AI to Video-Call Analysis

Uniphore Software Systems Pvt, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and improve customer support provided over the phone, raised $140 million to expand its services to areas such as video calls.

The Series D round was led by Sorenson Capital Partners, with new investors including Cisco Investments and earlier backers such as March Capital Partners and Chiratae Ventures participating, the startup said in a statement. Uniphore, with its main offices in Chennai, India, and Palo Alto, California, has now raised a total $210 million.

The company is targeting a niche in a cloud-based enterprise software industry led by Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp. The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for video and voice calls, and Uniphore’s software helps companies improve their service by, for example, detecting and predicting customers’ intent.

“Because of the pandemic, people can’t get to their bank, shopping mall or doctor so customers reaching out online or via call centers quadrupled,” said Umesh Sachdev, co-founder and chief executive officer. “Labor-intensive contact centers couldn’t handle the deluge so AI and automation products like ours stepped in to fill the gap.”

Sales tripled in the fiscal year ending March 2021 and the company is set to reach $100 million in annual subscription revenue, Sachdev said, speaking via video conference from Silicon Valley. The startup plans to double its headcount to about 600 in the fiscal year ending March 2022.

Uniphore’s software listens in to customer-support conversations, helps detect what the caller wants and provides coaching to agents. Its applications help as many as 75,000 customer-service agents to handle about 160 million engagements every month. Customers such as NTT Data Corp. and WNS Holdings Ltd. typically pay an annual fee for its software.

The company is conducting trials for AI technology that analyzes real-time video interactions. On a Zoom or WebEx video call with potential customers, a salesperson can use the software to detect which participant is disinterested or distracted. A human-resources executive can use the technology to analyze a candidate’s facial expressions during a job interview — a controversial area that has faced criticism for potential flaws or bias.

By 2023, 75% of companies providing customer-support outsourcing will adopt AI and analytics because such technologies reduce costs and provide competitive advantage, Tervinderjit Singh, an analyst at Gartner in Auckland, said in a January report.

Sachdev, 35, founded Uniphore in 2008 with his engineering classmate Ravi Saraogi. Its existing backers include former Cisco CEO John Chambers, Analog Devices Inc. founder Ray Stata and Kris Gopalakrishnan, the billionaire co-founder of Infosys Ltd.

Uniphore is in early conversations about going public either via a direct listing or special purpose acquisition company. “Going public is a natural outcome and we are starting to look at doing it in the next couple of years,” Sachdev said.

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