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After years of hype around the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), the augmented workforce is finally a reality for many businesses. But while much of the attention so far has focused on relatively simplistic chatbots helping field basic customer enquiries, the real benefit of AI lies in helping organizations drive revenue by attracting and retaining customers at scale through human-like personalized interactions, believes Jim Kaskade, CEO of Conversica, a leading AI technology firm based in California.
One area is in helping organizations follow up with potential leads in a natural two-way dialogue to drive towards a meeting or the next best action. Sales teams, for example, are often inundated by incoming leads generated through online marketing campaigns, business events, or a customer’s CRM or marketing automation system. Here, intelligent virtual assistants: AI-powered, SaaS-based software applications that serves as virtual team members can be adopted in customer-facing teams like sales, marketing and customer success, to help organizations drive top-line growth.
Intelligent virtual assistants get in touch with people by email or mobile SMS to encourage them to request a call or make an appointment to speak to someone in person, before handing over hot leads to a human sales adviser. The same concept can be applied to encouraging customers to renew contracts, book service appointments or take out additional products or services, with intelligent virtual assistants able to initiate outgoing discussions as well as follow up on incoming enquiries.
“Every part of the revenue lifecycle journey has a lot of inefficiencies,” says Kaskade. “We see contact from leads at around 30 percent, sales conversions at 10 percent and expansions against existing customer bases are relatively flat because businesses just do not have the time to engage. Using intelligent virtual assistants, organisations can have essentially a helper for the workforce that allows them to turn 30 percent lead coverage into 100 percent.” Customer retention is particularly important for organisations, he adds, due to the high costs of new customer acquisition, but churn rates are often as high as 30 percent. “Conversica has proven that it can significantly improve retention and expansion rates.”
Already, around 1,500 organisations are taking advantage of Conversica’s technology, with more than 100 million customer contacts approached, 650 million interactions that led to more than $20 billion in additional revenue secured. One example is US telecommunications company CenturyLink, which has seen a twentyfold return on investment by following up telemarketing leads using an intelligent virtual assistant, receiving between 30 and 100 hot leads a month.
Printer business Epson America has also used its assistant, Rachel, to follow up the 40,000 to 60,000 leads it receives each year. “Before Conversica, if we gave 100 leads to the reps, we might get a couple of responses,” says Chris Nickel, senior marketing manager. “Now, if we give 100 leads to Rachel, we get 50 responses back.”
Dedicated products also exist for specific industries, including higher education and automotive, with businesses such as Allen Samuels Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership using intelligent virtual assistants to help manage ongoing customer relationships and encourage people to book vehicle services.
The technology itself draws on 10 years’ experience from data and insight into customer conversations, to a point where customers are unaware they are talking to an intelligent virtual assistant rather than a human being. The assistant interprets the intent of any response, gathers new or updated information such as phone numbers or out-of-office notifications, updates the systems and replies accordingly. It is capable of speaking multiple languages including English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French and Japanese, including any industry-specific jargon.
In the near future, Kaskade believes the real potential of AI will be in assisting humans rather than replacing jobs. “We look at it as having hired an assistant for your existing staff and making them more productive,” he says. “Driving productivity into every level of workforce in the pyramid will continue to be our mantra for the next several years. We want to build the largest augmented workforce in the world, to help organisations attract, acquire and grow customers at scale.”
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