When sales assistants at Conversica reach out to dealerships to follow up on a lead, they have a higher rate of engagement and success than the actual sales reps do on their own. And the assistants are 100 percent AI.
Score one for the Bots.
And for Conversica. The fast-growing international company, based in Silicon Valley and Kansas City, is responsible for designing some of the smartest AI in the market today. But they’re not just creators of the software; they’re also users. Or as Vice President of Sales Micah Burgess puts it: “We drink our own champagne.”
“Closing a deal with a new dealership, it’s great to get to say, ‘Oh, by the way, you were just experiencing our AI at work,’” Burgess says, in reference to talking to dealers who have conversed with the company’s own assistant, Rachel. “They’re usually totally surprised, which is great for demonstrating how human the conversation can be.”
Dealerships aren’t the only ones seeing the value of Conversica’s appointment-setting software and jumping on the bandwagon. Other clients include companies in the tech sector, the health care industry, education, the travel industry – even a couple of NBA franchises.
One of the things that gets Burgess pumped about the way the company is branching out into different verticals is that, much like artificial intelligence in general, these different companies’ and industries’ experiences feed into each other so that Conversica can keep growing its product and improving its capabilities.
“We get to see the tools and inner workings of Fortune 500 companies,” he says. “Then we take what we learn and apply it to automotive, which is where we got our start.”
Automotive and AI
Many dealerships are still weighing the benefits of investing in AI technology. Burgess says that this is due in part to the fact that the majority of dealers – maybe the top 100 or so aside – operate as a small business.
“We’ll hear dealers say that AI is way over their head – or that they’re ‘just a little dealership,’ and will they benefit from it?” he says.
But today, automation already rules. AI has hit the point where it not only simplifies business as a cost-effective solution, but creates opportunities that would otherwise be missed.
Take your BDC, for example. The average dealership receives somewhere around 300 to 400 leads per month, according to Burgess, which require a small team to handle. What Conversica wants to know is, is this effective? Are you getting the most out of those leads?
In many cases – and not just in automotive, but in any business – staff will pre-judge leads, focusing mostly or even solely on the higher ROI ones and investing more time with them, Burgess says. Which means they’re likely missing out on some hidden gems.
“Dealers use their AI assistants to touch every single lead,” he says. “Nobody slips through the cracks. And every opportunity is looked at equally, as nothing more than an opportunity to do business.”
That equal treatment is a huge benefit of Conversica’s AI assistants, which don’t pre-judge leads and don’t cherry pick only the best ones with which to engage. Once the lead has engaged, the AI determines exactly how to shape the conversation so that a demo, a phone call, or an in-person appointment can be set up with a sales associate. And with an engagement rate of 35 percent, it’s proven to work. The assistant even handles all of the follow-up, completely automatically.
“What we’re seeing is that customers feel more comfortable with this nonaggressive, casual approach and are more inclined to respond,” Burgess says.
Conversica also prides itself on taking what a dealership already has and improving upon it: same budget, same lead flow, but with better management and results. Plus, little management of the actual software is required, and it starts working the day it’s implemented.
That is what Burgess doesn’t want to see dealerships miss out on – a simple solution that works for all sizes of businesses.
With AI, Experience Rules
Artificial intelligence is popping up in every corner of our world today, but it’s been a long time coming. Humans have been gathering data online and creating programs that “teach” computers how to analyze information for decades. And it’s here, in the roots of AI, that Conversica finds itself at an advantage over its competition.
“The more AI learns, the smarter it gets,” says Burgess. “We’ve been doing this for over 10 years, which is about as long as AI has been around as an option. That gives us a big advantage over the competition, because many of those guys are just getting started.”
Conversica prides itself on its large, varied team of data scientists who study the data and how it feeds the company’s algorithms, and perfect the functioning of the software. Dr. Sid Reddy, Conversica’s Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President, who also sits on the faculty at UC Berkeley and Northwestern, is recognized internationally as an expert in Computational Linguistics and Natural Language Processing – the fuel behind Conversica’s AI. Reddy has created dozens of NLP systems for healthcare, business, life sciences, e-commerce, etc. His LinkedIn page best sums up his work: “His research ranges from using functional theories of grammar for association extraction and question-answering to acquiring lexical resources through distributed word vector representations learned from big data and applying them to improve the state of the art in sequential labeling tasks.”
Basically, he helps Conversica’s conversational AI get smarter. No easy task. Another leader on the Conversica team is Werner Koepf, Senior Vice President of Engineering. His strong leadership skills – and doctorate in Theoretical Nuclear Physics – ensure that all the engineering, data sciences and operations work is delivering one thing: a conversational AI solution that works, works easily and delivers real value for dealers.
Just one of the team’s big successes was recognizing the importance of software integration. For dealerships, this means seamless and deep CRM and DMS integration. The better the integration, the better the AI will work, and the easier for dealerships to succeed with it.
It’s that dedication to providing a superior product from day one that has made Conversica a leader in the field and taken the company so far, and it’s what will take it even farther.
The Road Ahead
A question Burgess gets a lot these days is why he thinks Conversica is growing so fast. His answer? “We were in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on new AI capabilities and apply them to solve an age-old problem of poor lead follow-up.”
He’s not the only one who thinks so. The company has raised over $50 million in funding, has been recognized with numerous awards and is frequently noted as one of the top AI companies.
Other exciting news is the partnership this July with AutoAlert, which has begun incorporating Conversica technology into its software.
Conversica continues to invest heavily in product development, adding new capabilities such as SMS texting, multiple languages, and improved reporting and ROI analysis. The company also provides an AI Assistant tuned just for automotive service conversations, which AutoAlert will feature, helping the Fixed Ops side of the business engage and retain more customers.
“Conversational AI assistants are helping more dealerships close new customers and retain them through their lifetimes,” said Burgess. “We see a bright future ahead for AI working hand-in-hand with humans to dramatically boost the customer experience in the automotive industry. The sky is the limit!”