Freshworks announced last Thursday it acquired Joe Hukum, a company that helps businesses build chatbots, for an undisclosed sum. The purchase marks Freshworks’ eighth in two years — its second since it raised $55 million of Series F funding last November — and indicates Freshworks’ ambitions lie far beyond its original core product of customer support.

Freshworks, which rebranded from Freshdesk just last month, has multiple products under its umbrella. In addition to Freshdesk, Freshworks offers solutions for inside sales, IT support, and call centers. As Gartner predicts chatbots will become increasingly useful in B2C and B2B operations, the Joe Hukum acquisition is a step towards Freshworks’ ambition as a multi-purpose, multi-product vendor spanning operational roles.

What Does the Acquisition Signify?

The technology underlying Joe Hukum’s specialty stems from growth in A.I. capability and extends towards automation for marketing, sales, and support. Digital assistants are already among the common ways companies use A.I. to enhance operations — customer support chatbots deliver consistent customer satisfaction at far lower cost than human support agents.

Building and maintaining the neural networks that underlie a chatbot’s capability to manage customer interactions and steer them toward solutions require dedicated, highly-skilled workers. Boutique vendors are already offering chatbots specialized to niche markets and select industries. Freshworks’ Joe Hukum acquisition grants them the in-house talent and experience to potentially offer custom chatbots to their Freshdesk customers.

The potential for in-house chatbot development extends to Freshworks’ other products, notably Freshsales. Chatbots deployed on a brand’s messaging platform can engage prospects until they’re qualified for sales contact — in essence, automating engagement for top-of-the-funnel leads.

Is Freshworks Pulling Ahead or Playing Catch-Up?

In the short term, the chief beneficiary of Freshworks’ Joe Hukum acquisition is its product Freshdesk. Freshdesk is a highly capable customer support solution with well-known enterprise clients — including Cisco, Honda and SolarCity — but it still inevitably draws comparison to Zendesk, with whom it once had a war of words.

So does Zendesk offer a chatbot, or at least, assisted messenger-based customer service?

As far as the latter, the answer is yes. Last year, Zendesk announced Zendesk Message, which integrates with social media messaging apps. Though availability is still limited to its early access program, it offers company-to-consumer messaging at scale with the ability to blend bots and human agents. Which bots?

It’s not clear if native chatbots exist for Zendesk Message, but Zendesk’s live chat solution, Zendesk Chat, can be extended with third-party bots using its web SDK or Marketplace apps (one of which is known as AgentBot).

Does that put Zendesk ahead of Freshdesk? As far as social media messenger integration goes, yes. As for the chatbots, not quite: Freshdesk’s Marketplace also offers a chatbot, this one called AmplifyReach. And both vendors offer intelligent virtual assistants that help customers navigate a knowledge base for self-service articles, but those are technically distinct from chatbots.

So, in some respects, Freshworks is playing catch up. They don’t have an in-house product like Zendesk Message that integrates with commercial messenger apps. The purchase of Joe Hukum is unlikely to change that.

On the other hand, rather than relying on third-parties to integrate with third-party messenger apps or build chatbots for them, Freshworks will have the in-house capability to build chatbots for their customers directly — cutting out the middleman and tailoring the product to a use case already well-known.

In this case, Freshworks has the potential to distinguish itself on a one-to-one level with a service that Zendesk currently doesn’t offer. In other words, the Joe Hukum acquisition could give Freshworks a very interesting hand.

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