Facebook buys Israeli startup to give better bot service to digital wallet users

News of Servicefriend acquisition first reported by TheMarker financial website; social media giant confirms, saying it acquires ‘smaller tech companies from time to time’

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

In this March 29, 2018, file photo, Facebook's logo appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
In this March 29, 2018, file photo, Facebook's logo appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Social media giant Facebook has acquired Israeli startup Servicefriend for an undisclosed amount of money, TheMarker financial paper reported Sunday, citing one of the investors in the company.

The startup, founded in 2015 by Shahar Ben Ami and Ido Arad, builds bots that chat and interact with clients via messaging or text apps, using artificial intelligence. The hybrid technology developed by the firm enables humans to step in and take over when the bots don’t know how to handle a situation, and clients never find out if the messages were generated completely, partly or not at all by humans. The result is a “natural and conversational experience.” the startup’s website says.

In some cases, the startup says, the bots outperform human agents in terms of customer satisfaction by over 20 percent.

Facebook has confirmed the acquisition, saying in a text message: “We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans.”

CEO and co-founder of Servicefriend, Shahar Ben Ami (YouTube screenshot)

Ben Ami, the CEO and co-founder of the firm, has updated his LinkedIn page to say he is a product manager at the Calibra unit of Facebook as of September 2019. The other founder Arad,  as well as David Saidon, the startup’s VP R&D, have also updated their LinkedIn pages with similar information.

Calibra, Facebook’s research team in Tel Aviv, has been working on the social media giant’s new digital wallet, which is being launched as part of the firm’s Libra initiative, a new global currency based on blockchain technology.

The Tel Aviv team is building systems that keep track of and prevent any suspicious activity or any attempts to manipulate users’ accounts. In addition, the local team is in charge of building the tools that Facebook’s customer care team will use to provide assistance customers when there are issues, and this is probably where the Servicefriend technology fits in.

The startup has previously collaborated with Facebook, building “hybrid” bots for the social media giant’s Messenger service, so companies can provide better service to customers who use Messenger. In 2017, Facebook said that a telecom customer using a hybrid bot for Messenger from Servicefriend provided a 22% higher customer satisfaction rate. In that same year, Gartner called Servicefriend a market leader in the virtual customer assistant space.

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