EdgeTier says customer care is ripe for digital disruption

Dublin start-up EdgeTier is on a mission to transform and disrupt customer care using a combination of artificial intgelligence, machine learning and human power.

Founded in 2015 by Bart Lehane, Ciaran Tobin and Shane Lynn, EdgeTier recently raised €1.5m in a funding round led by Episode 1, ACT Venture Capital and Enterprise Ireland.

The Dublin start-up delivers high-quality analytics products and services to clients in the areas of customer service, customer simulation, and analytics services. The company also recently won Enterprise Ireland’s Digital Disruptor award.

“Keeping a human in the loop is still the best way to maintain a high quality-of-service”

“EdgeTier builds products to make customer contact centres more intelligent, more efficient, and more effective,” explained CEO Shane Lynn. “EdgeTier uses artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to enable contact centres to provide higher-quality customer experience at incredible levels of efficiency.”

Globally, the customer service industry is a $350bn industry. Close to home, the Contact Centre Management Association (CCMA) estimates that 60,000 people work in contact centres here in Ireland and the sector employs 1.3mpeople in the UK.

“Customer experience is becoming ever more of a differentiator between competing brands and, even with its already massive footprint, the industry is projected to grow more than 10pc annually in the coming years,” explained Lynn.

“At EdgeTier, we feel that the proliferation of intelligent systems in customer service centres is inevitable. In ten years, operating a service centre without AI to help will be like flying a plane without autopilot, or running an accountancy firm without Excel. Our products are poised to take advantage of these seismic shifts in the industry.”

Disruption at its core

EdgeTier’s core product is a layer of intelligence that sits in the customer contact centre, understanding what is happening, and helping both agents and administrators to make the right decisions. 

For customer service agents, the EdgeTier system works by reading inbound customer queries, understanding them, and then guiding agents through the response process. All contextual information is automatically retrieved for agents, and individualised best-practice responses are proposed for the agent to review and edit. Through this process, training times are reduced, the quality of service is improved, and the agent will progress through more queries in their work time.

For contact center administrators, EdgeTier consistently tracks the contact center performance, helping with query prioritisation, tracking queues and wait times, and alerting administrators as operations deviate from optimum performance. At its core, customer service is a data-driven business, and EdgeTier puts the right data for decisions in administrators hands.

“At EdgeTier, we have seen from our corporate clients that the queries that customer service agents are dealing with are often quite complex. As such, we don’t advocate for complete automation of customer responses apart from the simplest interactions. AI is great, but it’s still not reliable for 100pc automation in many situations. Keeping a human in the loop is still the best way to maintain a high quality-of-service.”

Building a foundation in AI

Three men standing in front of graffiti wall.

EdgeTier founders Ciarán Tobin, Bart Lehane and Shane Lynn.

There are three founders to EdgeTier: Shane Lynn, Bart Lehane, and Ciarán Tobin. Shane and Bart both hold PhD degrees in engineering research and all of the founders have a background in machine learning and software engineering.

“When we initially started a company together, we were attracted to the excitement of developing truly innovative solutions that could impact many people. In our work with clients,” said Lynn.

“We saw first-hand the inefficiencies in customer care and knew that AI and automation would revolutionise the industry; we could really see a vast industry ripe for disruption, where application of intelligent software can have a beneficial impact with global reach.”

A smart network of seasoned founders

Lynn and his colleagues have found the start-up ecosystem in Ireland to be extremely helpful when starting out.

“Our experiences have been spread between general community assistance and networking, input from experienced founders, as well as more formal government-sponsored programs.

“In Dublin, the startup community is small, and experienced successful founders were approachable, helpful, and great for advice when we were starting our journey. There’s a great range of events, meetups, and groups that entrepreneurs can turn to for networking opportunities and well as for advice.

“EdgeTier has also received monetary and mentorship  assistance from Enterprise Ireland in various programs since our founding in 2016, initially with the New Frontiers startup program, the competitive start funding, and more recently in 2019, Enterprise Ireland were participants in our seed funding round as part of their High Potential Start Up (HPSU) program. We were also lucky to raise some funding from local venture capital firm ACT VC, who’ve been a great partner over the past year.”

“With our funding last year, led by UK Investors Episode1, we’ve built an incredible team who are passionate about the development and delivery of advanced technology, and we’re doubling down on our product and sales methodologies.

“We’re focused on expanding our product capabilities, and bringing that product to an ever-expanding list of clients, with a view to raising Series A funding to accelerate growth in 2021.”

Prioritise to avoid pitfalls

Lynn said that the biggest lesson so far is prioritisation. “The two things that come to mind here are ‘know when to stop’ and ‘know when to go for it’. As a founder, the time you have to spend on individual clients, projects, and developments is really limited; there’s just so much competing for your attention.

“Some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made over the last number of years have been spending too long on things that ultimately haven’t been working; and the opposite, enthusiastically breaking out the code for developments before the ideas were fully validated on the market or with real customers.

“I’m not sure there is an answer to solving these problems, but our approach to avoiding these pitfalls is, as much as possible, to keep open dialog with current, past, and prospective customers. With your ear open to their problems, priorities, and use of your products, you can try to evaluate the best next steps at each point in your development.”

His advice to fellow founders or people mulling whether to become entrepreneurs is to just go for it.

“There’s potentially only a few points in your life where the opportunity to leap will come along, and it’s a reversible decision. With that in mind however, de-risk as much as possible – validate your idea and product with customers if you can before going full time.

“Before our notice letters were written, the founding team of EdgeTier had been developing initial versions of our first system for over a year as weekend and evening hobby work.

“Once you’ve started, invest in your network. Ireland is a small and welcoming place; the connections you will make will pay you back in spades. Some of the best lessons we’ve received have come from peer-learning with founders that are a few months ahead of us in terms of their business development.”

Living and working in the cloud

Lynn said that as a young technology company, EdgeTier embraces tools that enable it to move quickly in both product development and team growth.

“Before the impact of Covid-19, we had adopted a range of remote-first workplace practices since we have some developers not working in Ireland. As a result, the transition to a fully remote team in March didn’t come as too much of a shock to the system.

“To ensure that our pace of development hasn’t slowed, we are daily users of tools such as Slack, Google Meet, and Zoom to ensure open lines of communication between team members. Covid has definitely been challenging, but daily catch ups, regular 1-1s, and team huddles are scheduled to make sure everyone is on the same page, and we catch any potential issues before they escalate.

“From a software development perspective, we have a fully automated continuous integration and testing flow to move code from idea to deployment as smoothly and reliably as possible. As a business, we work extremely closely with our customers, and as such we keep our feedback loop from customer-feedback to live product as short as possible,” said Lynn.

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 22 July, 2020