Keeping business hours up to date across Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other discovery platforms is tough enough, but what about phone numbers, addresses, and other critical bits of information? It’s a problem of scale, and one management firm Yext claims to have solved with tech that propagates up-to-date data to hundreds of services simultaneously.
When it comes to chatbots and voice assistants, though, things get slightly more complicated. As it turns out, most conversational AI needs to have data and data relationships explicitly labeled and exposed to it — conventional spreadsheets won’t do, That’s why Yext took the wraps off of a brand-new solution in next Yext Brain, a cloud software solution that reorganizes facts, figures, and other business information into an easily parsable format, at its Onward conference in New York City.
“The secret is that the web has not changed since 1995,” Yext CEO Howard Lerman told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “It’s a document that contains standard parts — text, maybe a calendar, and some tables of data. The problem is that it’s not a very smart document — it can’t answer a question. Even if you know it contains the answer you need, you still have to read the document until you find the answer.”
The way he explained it, Yext Brain is like a customizable entity graph that’s designed to be queried by AI-powered platforms, apps, and services. A company could record their Q2 revenue in a cell, for instance, and direct Brain to call up the relevant total whenever a chatbot searches for the terms “revenue,” “earnings,” or “second quarter.”
Brain ships with predefined entities like Events, Locations, Professionals, Products, and Limited Time Offers, but customers can also create their own. And it works with third-party smart speakers and bots, including Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Facebook Messenger.
Predictably, it also plays nicely with Yext’s new first-party offering — Yext Think — which taps Brain to answer questions posed via web store locators, restaurant menu search engines, and other tools.
Yext Brain’s launch comes at a time when voice assistant usage is on the rise. Statista estimates that in 2017 more than 710 million people actively used assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and the Google Assistant, and it forecasts that the number will rise to 1.8 billion by 2021. In fact, according to Gartner, a whopping 30 percent of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020.
“Brain … lets a company store any kind of information they want and structure it with relationships,” Lerman said. “It’s primarily designed to replace a website … We [designed] it to sit at the intersection of a CMS and a database.”
Today, Yext also announced new features heading to Yext Pages, its online discoverability product. In the coming weeks, customers will be able to create “AI-ready” pages on their websites and for any entity stored in Yext Brain or tap a library of transactional modules to create “smart” Brain-powered landing pages for use cases like appointment booking and ticketing.
Yext Brain builds on Yext’s extensive work in entity relationships and data management.
Earlier this year, it partnered with Amazon to supply hours, addresses, and other business info to Alexa-powered devices and Echo speakers. (Yext claims it’s the largest source of first-party business data on the Alexa platform.) And Yext’s Knowledge Network — a massive business listings database — recently gained support for ATMs, drop boxes, charging stations, and retail kiosks, allowing banks and other businesses to add location information about spots to withdraw cash or juice up a phone.
One way Yext clients manage their listings is through Yext’s Knowledge Assistant, an SMS and Facebook Messenger chatbot. They can message things like “Update my hours” to revise info on the go, or check a current listing with a command like “Show me my phone number” or “Show me my reviews.” Additionally, the Knowledge Assistant aggregates user reviews across platforms, automatically identifies top competitors, and supports bulk updates and uploads.
Yext, which was founded in 2006, raised $117 million from Sutter Hill Ventures, Institutional Venture Partners, WGI Investments, and others prior to its initial public offering. Taco Bell, Arby’s, Marriott, and Rite Aid are among its clients, and its market capitalization is said to be more than $1.1 billion.
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