From the point of view of a consumer, customer service sometimes feels like a monolith, but behind the scenes it can be a very fragmented business, with dozens of companies providing various different tools to help agents do their jobs.
Today, a startup founded by three Stripe alums that has set out to build a platform that helps organizations manage that spaghetti of customer service IT, and use it more efficiently, is announcing a round of funding to continue growing its business.
Assembled, which has built a platform that it describes as the “operating system” for support teams, has raised $16.6 million, a Series A that it plans to use to continue expanding its team and platform, and to bring on more customers.
The round is being led by Emergence Capital, the VC that specializes in enterprise startups, backing other communications-centric companies in its time like Salesforce, Zoom, Yammer, ServiceMax, SalesLoft and Lithium. Stripe, Basis Set Ventures and Felicis Ventures also participated. Stripe has a strong connection to Assembled. It is a customer. It led Assembled’s $3.1 million seed round a year ago.
And, it was the company where the three co-founders met and built the earliest version of the product it offers today. CEO Brian Sze was one of the first employees, overseeing business operations, where he built the customer support platform that inspired him to eventually leave to found Assembled. His two co-founders, brothers Ryan and John Wang, were engineers at the payments and financial services behemoth.
Assembled’s current platform is priced in tiers starting at $15 per agent per month. Integrating with Salesforce, Zendesk, Intercom, Kustomer, Gladly and other services by way of API integrations, it provides not just a way to manage and view customer support data from different sources in one place, but alongside that it provides tools focused on the support teams themselves. This includes tools to manage and roster teams, analyze team performance, and forecast demand depending on different factors in order to be better prepared.
As with all other aspects of how organizations work, customer service and people management are being digitally transformed. Typically, Sze said that many companies still use spreadsheets to manage and plan customer support rosters. That is now gradually shifting into what he describes as “support ops” where a strategic person is tasked not just with handling what is happening with incoming customer support right now, but also needs to figure out what will happen in the next year, and the tools that might help cope with that. “That is our emergent buyer,” Sze said.
“The sheer number of channels being supported is much bigger, when you consider email, messaging, phone lines, social media and more,” said Sze, adding that the pandemic had a particularly strong effect on Assembled’s business. It saw a big bump in especially in Q3 of last year, when its customer base doubled. “I think it came down to support being one of the most critical teams at the organization.”
Assembled today has a number of tech companies, and tech-first consumer companies as customers, including Stripe, GoFundMe, challenger bank Monzo, Google-owned Looker, D2C clothing brand Everlane and Harrys. It has grown customers five-fold in the last year, said Sze, while revenues have grown 300% (absolute numbers for both were not disclosed).
The concept of an “operating system” for customer support makes a lot of sense when you think about how the role has evolved over the years.
In the decades before the internet and digital interactions became the norm, support either focused on in-person visits, or phone-based interactions where you might find yourself calling toll-free numbers, sitting on hold for a long time, maybe being shuffled from one person to another depending on the nature of your issue.
Over time, those systems picked up some automated responses and companies started getting better systems in place to triage those calls. Then, as marketing became “marketing tech” and sales took on a software life of its own, those customer support people started to pick up more responsibilities, not just listening to customers but turning around and offering to sell them things, too, or take stock of customer satisfaction and overall sentiment. Then more channels for connecting came with the internet. Then came more efficient tools, cloud-based services, mobile services, and more to handle all of the above, and so on.
All of these iterations often came with different pieces of software, and while some companies have set out to build one-stop shops to take everything on, Assembled takes a Slack-like approach, making it easy to bring in data and manage different tools from one place, providing a place to bring them all together to help them work more harmoniously. At the same time, it provides a way to manage the teams of people who are there to work with those pieces of software. This is because, when it comes to customer support, it’s always as much about the teams running it as it is the software they are using (hence: “assmebled”).
The company’s approach has been especially relevant in the last year. Not only have teams — including customer service teams — been forced to work remotely, but they have generally seen a surge of traffic from customers who are going online for all of their services, and using digital tools when they need to get in touch with organizations. Still, the opportunity for Assembled is that by and large, there are still a large proportion of businesses that are still playing catch up here.
“Today’s customer support teams operate in a dynamic, increasingly remote environment vastly different from that of a decade ago,” said Jake Saper, Emergence General Partner, in a statement. “But it’s shocking to learn how many support teams are still operating out of spreadsheets. At Emergence, we believe that Support Ops will become a critical complement to support teams, much like DevOps has become for developers. Having initially built their product to manage Stripe’s support function, we believe the Assembled team is the world’s best to build the core operating platform for Support Ops.”
Valuation is not being disclosed.