Oto raises $5.3 million for tone-recognizing AI

Oto uses AI to recognize tones of voice.

Customer service employees, especially those that work over the phone, know how difficult it can be to recognize the tone of a customer. Sometimes a manager can be there to help, but that isn’t always the case. Now, a startup called Oto is hoping to use the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret the tones of customers.

Oto just secured $5.3 million in seed round funding from firms like Firstminute Capital, Fusion Fund, Interlace Ventures, and SRI International. Interestingly, the latter is responsible for the initial development of Apple’s Siri technology. Oto is a spin-off company from SRI International that is now looking to spread its wings in the field of AI.

Tone Check

Once Apple acquired SRI International, a group of behavioral scientists and AI experts branched off to continue pursuing their passions. In time, that venture became Oto. The startup takes its name from the prefix of the same spelling that means “related to the ears.”

Of course, Oto’s technology doesn’t actually use human ears to detect tones. Instead, it has developed an AI algorithm trained with intonation data that helps customer service representatives better understand the emotions of callers. It hopes to implement this technology in call centers to provide real-time assistance to operators.

Oto started developing its system by compiling 100,000 phrases from 3,000 different speakers. These sound bites came from two million various sales calls. Using the data gathered from the snippets, Oto has created several tools that are able to autonomously understand tones of speech.

AI Mood Ring

The startup’s offerings include a live coaching tool as well as a quality measuring tool which are both designed to enhance the customer’s experience.

Of the two, the coaching tool seems to have the most potential for widespread use. It monitors a customer service representative’s tone of speech as they talk to a customer and provides real-time feedback. Oto CEO Teo Borschberg says, “In real time, we’re able to guide the agents on how they sound, how energetic they are, and we can nudge and push them to be more energetic.”

This feature not only helps guide a representative through a call but also helps eliminate escalations from a frustrated customer. Borschberg also claims that the software, by way of a more positive customer experience and highly engaged operators, helps boost sales conversion rates.

Meanwhile, Oto also offers a quality measuring tool that helps customer service representatives understand if their call delivered a positive experience or not. Based on intonation alone, Oto’s software is able to assign a score to each call. Borschberg says, “We’re building a universal understanding of satisfaction from intonation, where we can learn acoustic signatures that are positive, neutral, and negative.”

As of now, the startup is working with seven business clients. However, it is still very early in the growth process. Thanks to the new funding round, Oto will be able to expand its offerings and reach more customers. The company believes that the market for AI-based tone recognition within the customer service industry is untapped.

That belief seems to be well placed. After all, what company doesn’t want to increase the satisfaction of its customers? For Oto, new funding and a wide-open market means a world of possibilities.



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