Summary:

Customer service is becoming more painful for consumers who have more devices and a DIY ethos. StepOne offers software that can pick up context clues to figure out who’s calling and what she is calling about.

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photo: StepOne

StepOne is trying to help old-line businesses use the basics of digital self-help to keep a new generation of consumers happy and has raised $4 million to do so. The Austin, Texas, startup raised the Series A funding from LiveOak Venture Partners, with participation from Silverton Partners. The company’s first customers are Australian telco Telstra and a “Tier 1 U.S. cable company.”

For Telstra, StepOne’s software basically does two key things: it pushes consumers to an app on their device that can determine who they are and what device is causing problems; and second, its algorithms on the back end can offer up the most relevant help content associated with that device. So if a user falls into a set demographic based on their billing or customer-help profile, and they are in front of a set top box that’s known to interact badly with certain other Telstra gear the customer has, the software can pull up content on mitigating that interaction.

This is exactly the sort of example that people use when they get excited about the possibilities of big data and artificial intelligence: Using context based on the customer’s device, their history with the company and maybe even other data to determine what they need at that moment. Given how many things we’re adding to our lives and how painful customer help can be, this is a potentially big opportunity. Alex Mitchell, CEO and co-founder of StepOne (pictured above) explains that the company is targeting its software at the service provider market first because it’s a market he’s familiar with as a former executive at Motive.

Motive let customers set up their own broadband gear on behalf of ISPs and was bought by Alcatel-Lucent. There’s a lot of potential to take this outside of the ISP world however. And even outside of customer help. One of the big issues with many companies selling hubs or connected devices is that once people try one device, they often want to add others. But because of the mix of standards out there, it can be hard to figure out which ones will work together.

A company like Revolv or Staples could use StepOne to help provide recommendations based on the devices someone has and what other people have purchased. Or going beyond that, it could link people to educational materials about how to do more with the devices already installed. The internet of things is so daunting in part because once you add connectivity to something it opens up a world of possibilities for each device, but no one person could possibly come up with them all. Showing them, could help boost satisfaction and help drive additional purchases.

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