7. PolyAI

Redefining what’s possible with voice assistants, thanks to a conversational AI that responds, rather than predicts.

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Founders: Nikola Mrkšić, Tsung-Hsien Wen, Pei-Hao Su
Founded: 2017
Websitepoly.ai

No one loves waiting in a phone queue to get through to customer services. But, with rising call centre costs and the push to divert calls to online chat and knowledge bases, it can be even more frustrating if a customer finds they can’t make a phone call at all.

PolyAI aims to change all of this, thanks to its innately capable artificial intelligence voice assistants. The technology has been designed to work so smoothly, that you shouldn’t realise you’re dealing with an AI at all.

It may all sound a bit sci-fi, but PolyAI’s business aim is also quite grounded – the company wants to make its AI voice assistant systems accessible and affordable for enterprise customer services to use.

While other voice assistants fall into the trap of trying to predict conversations, PolyAI's own tool uses sophisticated machine learning so that it can be more genuinely reactive

AI may not feel quite such a new concept anymore, and digital voice assistants are available in everything from TVs to cars. So, what is PolyAI doing that’s so innovative?

One of the core differences in PolyAI’s approach is that while other voice assistants fall into the trap of trying to predict conversations (typically using a limited set of possible responses), its own tool uses sophisticated machine learning so that it can be more genuinely reactive within a conversation.

The basic model for PolyAI’s platform has been trained on over a billion real voice conversations.

Major UK brands including Metro Bank, Greene King, Whitbread and Starling Bank are already entrusting customer support calls to PolyAI’s technology.

The PolyAI founders met at the University of Cambridge’s Dialogue Systems group – the world’s pre-eminent research lab focused on spoken dialogue systems. During their time at Cambridge, the founders identified that voice assistant technology simply wasn’t good enough to understand what people were saying in the real world, especially over noisy phone lines. They founded PolyAI to develop voice assistants that would understand every caller equally well, and actually be enjoyable to use.

“Previous generations of voice assistants created a lot of frustration,” says PolyAI co-founder Nikola Mrkšić. “Customers don’t look forward to automated experiences over the phone, which means that deployed solutions have to go the extra mile to create goodwill with consumers.”

Of course, the question all of this raises is what does it mean for workforces in call centres? Does PolyAI spell an end to their job security?

In fact, Mrkšić argues that PolyAI reduces the day-to-day essential calls for human workers, and gives them time back for the more in-depth conversations that truly need the personal touch. “Our technology allows customers to access the immediate support they need without waiting. This frees up contact centre agents to focus on building customer relationships.”

The result has been the call centres using PolyAI’s voice assistants have been able to automate between 50-90% of all phone calls. The even better news is that customers haven’t been deterred by the change – clients have increased customer satisfaction scores by as much as 40% along the way.

Major UK brands including Metro Bank, Greene King, Whitbread and Starling Bank are already entrusting customer support calls to PolyAI’s technology. Following a recent $40m series B funding round, PolyAI is poised to increase its global expansion. Its own team comes from 35 different countries, and speaks nearly as many languages. The PolyAI tech itself, meanwhile, is able to rapidly learn new languages, while maintaining its core logic, and keeping up an appropriate tone of voice for whichever brand has elected to use its platform.

We’re confident that with its truly innovative tech and experienced team of founders, we’ll be hearing a lot more from PolyAI.

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