The dust hasn’t even settled from breaking down the mega-campground known as Dreamforce that we see Salesforce following through on a promise made in those crowded halls of Moscone Center: AI should be simple, trusted and available for all to deploy in meaningful ways. Salesforce has announced its intention to acquire Airkit.ai, a low-code/no-code bot-builder that has been hot in the customer service and contact center space with their easy to deploy and manage AI-powered agents.
Airkit.ai’s claim to fame has largely grown around a belief that AI-empowered bots should do far more than spit back FAQ and simple help responses. Instead Airkit.ai has encouraged users to think beyond answers and into more proactive, rich and resolution-driving engagements. This has found a natural sweet spot in commerce where the outcome of a bot experience is measured in positive (and profitable) experiences as opposed to engagement deflection as the purpose of a self-service motion.
What We Know About The Deal: Not much.
In the press release officially launching the intention news, Salesforce declined to provide any terms or dollar amounts for the deal and noted that it would not be disclosing any further details about the acquisition. What we DO know is that this is not the first time Salesforce has acquired a company from Airkit.ai’s founders, Adam Evans and Stephen Shikian. In 2014, the duo sold their previous company, RelateIQ, to Salesforce for $390 million, making them part of this Salesforce boomerang trend that has seen former employees AND former entrepreneurs make their way back to the fold. For what its worth, Airkit.ai was not an unknown quantity to Salesforce as it was part of the Salesforce Ventures portfolio that, as of late, has been hyper-focused on AI solutions and tools. In fact, Salesforce Ventures was part of Airkit.ai’s initial funding back in 2020. Airkit.ai will become part of Service Cloud and will continue to be led by Evans who was both Airkit.ai and RelateIQ’s Co-Founder and CTO.
Interestingly, both RelateIQ and Airkit.ai represent building block pieces for Salesforce. When it was time to advance their goal of automation, RelateIQ was a great pick up to leverage unstructured data across things like social networks, chats and calendars to automate the sales process. Now, in this "Data + AI Era" for Salesforce, Airkit.ai helps build AI-powered customer service agents that learn from everything including business policies to customer data from transactions or previous engagements.
The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of Salesforce’s fiscal year 2024.
What This Means for Salesforce: Bots everywhere!
In the early days of Salesforce’s Einstein strategy, bots played a central, if not exclusive role with the introduction of multi-channel and multilingual “Einstein bots” that could automate common tasks and answer common questions. But in this new world of AI and data-enriched, contextual and personalized engagement as the table steaks of a profitable customer experience, these simple answer-focused, deflection-as-outcome bots wouldn’t necessarily be the best of breed. In fact, according to Airkit.ai, leading edge experience driven brands need to “ditch” these bots that center around “deflection and containment KPIs” in favor of intelligent experiences that embrace “resolution as the ultimate mark of success.”
With Data Cloud in place and the addition of the Einstein Platform and Einstein Studio on top of the Salesforce Platform, the company is now ready to supercharge their customer’s capacity to not just deliver results through AI-powered bots, but have the actual data and AI infrastructure in place to ensure that sales and service teams can safely, quickly and easily deploy digital cross-channel assistants. This is as much of a play for Salesforce’s Service Cloud as it is for the growing portfolio of smart features in Commerce Cloud as AirKit.ai offers proactive service and commerce engagements that keep customers happy and coming back for more.
The Bottom Line: A Nice Little Pickup That Could Deliver Big Applications
This pickup makes good on the promise that deploying AI tools and experiences shouldn’t require a costly cadre of data scientists and prompt engineers to get an engagement up and rolling. While Airkit.ai will find its initial home under the Service Cloud banner, it is unlikely that the functionality of Airkit.ai’s easy to configure and deploy bots will stay exclusively in those cloud walls. Expect to see both functional use cases ready for deployment right out of the gate as this acquisition closes with bots and engagements tailored for service, sales and marketing. But I’m also excited to see how David Schmaier and team weave in that strong history of industry-centered expertise and products to extend the Airkit.ai use case far beyond a familiar customer service or contact center storylines as Salesforce dives into industry-specific bots that are proactive and cotextual to a cusotmer or employee's journey.