Social media management stalwart Hootsuite has acquired Sparkcentral, a customer engagement platform focusing on messaging apps that offers virtual agents and automated message distribution. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition comes as more companies seek tools that will help them support customers online while also enabling them to work collaboratively with team members based in any number of locations.

Hootsuite was one of the early pioneers in social media marketing and management, enabling businesses to manage multiple accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and more through a single dashboard. Having Sparkcentral under its wing gives Hootsuite a direct artery into a range of messaging apps, including WhatsApp, WeChat, Google Business Messages, Apple Business Chat, Telegram, and SMS.

Sparkcentral, which operates a software-a-service (SaaS) business model, had raised nearly $38 million since it was founded in Belgium in 2011.

Automation

Gartner had predicted that 15% of all customer service interactions would be handled entirely by AI by 2021, up 400% from 2017. It’s all about scalability — freeing human customer service agents from dealing with simple questions so they can manage more complex enquiries.

The most interesting facet of this deal is that Sparkcentral will bring Hootsuite a number of AI and automated tools via its message distribution engine. This engine synchronizes inbound messages with a company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, giving agents a more rounded view of the customer. Sparkcentral also offers virtual agents — or chatbots — that can work alongside human personnel to alleviate their workloads.

Hootsuite has previously offered some automated messaging capabilities via third-party integrations, but that was only for Facebook Messenger. “This acquisition brings essential virtual agent capabilities in-house and provides the integration capabilities to connect to more advanced AI-driven solutions across all social and digital channels,” Hootsuite CTO Ryan Donovan told VentureBeat.

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Hootsuite said this deal will help it “unify social marketing, social listening, and social customer care” under one platform. “The Sparkcentral technology is complementary to Hootsuite,” Donovan said, adding that Sparkcentral will initially operate as an independent company under the Hootsuite brand. “The goal is for Sparkcentral and Hootsuite to build the social media marketing and social customer care digital customer journey platform of the future, beginning later this year.”

A number of big deals and new products in this space have emerged during the pandemic. Cloud-based call center platforms including Aircall and Dialpad raised significant rounds of funding, while Twilio rival MessageBird launched a new AI-powered contact center. And just last month RingCentral, which creates communication and collaboration tools for the enterprise, acquired conversational AI intelligence startup DeepAffects.

That Hootsuite is now bolstering its position in the social customer service space should not come as a major surprise. While Hootsuite already targeted customer service teams, it lacked many of the features and functionality that modern enterprises expect, and the Sparkcentral acquisition will go some way toward filling that gap.

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