It’s pretty much impossible to get away from all of the buzzwords that have glommed onto the marketing end of artificial intelligence. One of our favorites is ambient intelligence. The concept is pretty straightforward: Drawing on the nearly infinite data streams that flow from both the internet and a sensor-rich environment, AI will come to understand and respond to our every wish and desire. In effect, computers will constantly be running in the background of our lives. Depending on your philosophical bent, that’s either utopia or dystopia. It’s certainly coming to the business world. We recently wrote about a couple of equally buzzy terms – revenue intelligence and hyperautomation – that together add up to our next topic under the digitization of everything: AI assistants.
What are AI Assistants?
AI assistant is another one of those slippery terms. Sometimes referred to as virtual assistants, AI assistants can be medical chatbots that diagnose health conditions or real-time tools to help call center agents be more effectively annoying. Much of this kind of technology relies on a form of AI called natural language processing (NLP). We’ve talked before about how NLP enables computers to both understand what we’re saying (natural language understanding) and respond accordingly (natural language generation). Of course, it’s all quite rudimentary at this point, with most AI assistants being quite limited conversationalists. Try carrying on a conversation with Siri for more than 15 seconds and you’ll see what we mean.
AI Assistants and CRM
We’ve written quite a bit about companies automating customer relationship management (CRM) systems. CRM is a catch-all term for how companies manage customer interactions and data, from customer service to sales. AI can help customize a business’ CRM platform, such as generating sales leads or improving customer experience, based on various data points. There’s often an analytics element, so that the AI assistant can provide insights and recommendations. In our very first article on AI and CRM, one of the companies we profiled was Conversica, which originally developed an AI sales assistant for automating email communication with customers. Now the company has raised more than $100 million and has expanded its offerings with its Intelligent Automation Platform.
Automation is Trending
Founded in 2007, Conversica is a Silicon Valley startup that has raised $107 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Last month, the company picked up $20 million in a Series D, boasting in a press release about its latest fundraising effort that it has achieved profitability and that its year-over-year growth hit 40% (a number that’s absolutely useless without a baseline). Conversica also claimed that its platform has seen a 20% bump during the pandemic, as more companies embrace digitization. Achieving profitability is an impressive accomplishment for any young startup, but it’s impossible to judge just how impressed we should be by an AI email assistant. So let’s take a closer look at the tech itself.
AI Assistants for Customer Communication
The company’s Intelligent Automation Platform is “a powerful combination of Conversational AI, Deep Learning, Decision and Policy management including action-taking process automation.” In other words, there are a bunch of algorithms and other software that power its intelligent virtual assistants. Here’s a visual on what that means for those of you with graduate degrees in machine learning:
How an AI assistant gets it done. Credit: Conversica
The rest of us may be satisfied to learn that Conversica says its platform is 98% accurate in both “properly interpreting a user’s intent and correctly taking the corresponding next-best-action.” The idea, of course, is that your customers could believe that they’re exchanging messages on either email or text with a real human. It could look something like this:
OK, Bill, let’s keep it professional. Credit: Conversica
Conversica has expanded from its original generic sales AI assistant to other sectors including higher education, automotive sales, automotive services, and customer success. Earlier this year, it added a fundraising AI assistant that can nag potential donors as well as any human. Included in its superpowers are the ability to:
- Reach out to prospective donors who have signaled interest or members of the community who have not donated.
- Drive retention and repeat giving.
- Determine interest for increased giving and communicating options for ongoing and major giving plans.
- Proactively reaching out to previous donors.
- Provide metrics on donor follow-up and response rates to be sure every donor is receiving personal attention.
Conversica also announced its plans to open up its platform for partners and application developers to customize their virtual assistant conversations. The company is expanding its offerings to include website chat, social messaging, and voice thanks to the new funds. They’re also offering their services in the world’s second most spoken language, Spanish. In January 2018, Conversica acquired Intelligens.ai, a provider of conversational AI for sales and marketing focused on the Latin American market.
Customers and a Case Study
Conversica claims it has “unlocked” more than $20 billion in value for its 1500-plus customers across industries such as academia, banking, and healthcare. Its AI assistants have conversed with more than 100 million people, which must offer a treasure trove of data to feed its machine-learning algorithms. Its clients include names like Epson and CenturyLink (the latter being somewhat infamous for its customer service, so we’re not surprised to learn an AI assistant can offer superior engagement).
In a case study for its client DocStar, which offers a cloud-based tool that allows business users to manage all of their content securely, Conversica says that the AI sales assistant was responsible for 10% of the business pipeline. In about 18 months, “Emily Davis” helped drive 74 opportunities that resulted in $1 million in sales. She also worked a bit faster than your average salesperson, reading and writing emails that would take a human more than 40 years to do. So, yes, the solution is scalable and appears to be selling like hotcakes.
A lot of Conversica’s recent marketing has hammered on the advantages of digitization in a socially distanced world, and it’s hard to argue with more than $100 million in funding for what amounts to be a sophisticated, hyperautomated messaging system. It’s really about saving time, isn’t it? The big sell in our opinion is the ability to integrate a tool into your existing CRM system like Salesforce that could do a year’s worth of work within a few weeks. Do you realize how much more content Nanalyze could produce if we didn’t have to respond to every public relations hack who wanted us to work for free? That’s priceless.
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