The landscape of AI powered customer service in China


Lemall, the online store powered by LeTV, one of the China’s largest online video companies, is said already using AI chatbot to serve its massive numbers of users. In the past, its service division was facing two big challenges: the constant need of hiring more people and the inconsistency of staff experience to guarantee the best service for each individual customer. But now the results are simply astonishing. The headcount of its customer service has been reduced to half and the related annual cost has been decreased by 63%.

LineKong is an interactive entertainment company specialized in online gaming. They say these gamers never sleep, which requires 24 hours customer service from LineKong. Again AI came to rescue. It is said LineKong’s AI chatbot can handle 86% of its end-users’ inquiries with no human intervention at all.

So the landscape of AI chatbot, or in a more general term, AI-powered customer service, has been moving very fast in China. The instant benefit is replacing human customer service as much as possible to gather information, understand exactly what happens and what the consumer wants, empowered to solve basic issues or answer repetitive questions, automatically and efficiently. In China, we have identified four categories of players entering into this space.

I category: Robot company

Companies like Turing Robot and Xiaoi Robot started out by offering AI robot operating system or intelligent robot technology. Now it is quite easy for them to expand their business products to AI customer service solution.

II category: Enterprise software company

Many enterprise service/software companies are pivoting their business model to AI customer services.

For instance, traditional customer service solution companies realized the urgency of transformation, that is by adding the layer of AI technology on top of their existing offer. Udesk was established in 2013, specialized in call-center and enterprise support, but now it also launched AI bot to support customer service. The company has raised RMB100 million in series B so far.

Hcicloud was set up in 2000 and initially worked in the field of Chinese speech synthesis, handwriting recognition in speech interaction and pattern recognition technology.  Currently, it claimed its AI customer service has targeted clients in the financial industry and already used by many domestic banks and insurance companies.

Easemob was founded in 2013 to provide cloud base enterprise communication tool, but now its mobile based AI customer support has been catering to hundreds of clients across diverse industries. The company received funding from Sequoia and lately raised RMB103 million in series C from MatrixPartner.

III category: pure vertical startup

The most leading startup in this pure vertical should be Sobot in terms of the funding amount it received from investor IDG in Series A. The minimum cost of Sobot service is about RMB10,000 per bot per year at this stage, which they say their pricing has a competitive advantage over other players. 

IV category: giant company

China internet giants are losing no time in developing their own in-house AI customer service technology.

Tencent cloud has made profound progress in AI customer service and it already applied to the technology to its WeBank financial services.

Alibaba’s AI R&D debut its AI customer services AliXiaomi in March last year. Though many perceive it mainly serves its own ecosystem of customers and merchants, vertical startups are already whispering that Alibaba has the intention of selling the technology to other corporations and will be very likely a formidable rival in the near future.

The race of AI customer service is on and will be an intense game in China.


Author: Cecilia Wu