Improving CX with Conversational AI, with Bob Summers, Goodcall

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The following was transcribed from a recent interview on The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast. 

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Today we’re going to talk about improving the customer experience with conversational AI. To help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Bob Summers, CEO of Goodcall.

Your company is described as helping businesses grow with accessible AI. I thought that was an interesting description. Can you describe what is your definition of accessible AI, and why is this so important?

There are a couple of components here. But when we talk about accessibility in this regard, it’s that the product is easy to use. So there’s, say, kind of, a wave of technologies now like this “no code” element. Maybe some of your listeners have heard of “no code,” which allows anybody, you know, a salesperson, a marketer, someone who doesn’t have any technical skills, or low technical skills, to be able to build something of value. And so we talk about accessibility, we’re thinking about how can an average person with general tech capability create a conversational AI that can work for them? 

So that’s the first component, which is to make it really easy to use. Take the power of something, so conversational AI, in terms of its deployments, have been in two markets, consumer, as I mentioned, like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, and enterprises, like really big enterprises like Apple – like if you’ve ever had an issue with your Apple phone and you called Apple, you’re going to talk to a conversational AI first. If you’ve talked to Verizon, or like big telecom, or even airlines, your first round is through some kind of conversational AI. But what’s missing, in terms of solutions, is that other market, which is the SMB market. So we want to enable that group to be able to technically implement the product at low cost. And so there’s the second dimension, is that – so first is ease of use, and second is it’s cost-effective. So big enterprises can spend millions and millions of dollars annually to build their conversational AIs. This is obviously way beyond what an SMB can spend. And so we’ve made our product affordable in the sense that you can start using it at no cost per month, and then our premium tier is only $49 per month, per location. So it’s a huge difference in price.

What motivates you about approaching the SMB market? What’s the opportunity and what’s your motivation for seeing that through?

First of all I’ve witnessed firsthand, not only as a consumer, like a caller of these local businesses, but I have many friends that run these businesses, hair salon, barbers, contractors, lawn-mowing. These are people that I know that struggle just to manage opportunity. And so what I mean by that is that the phone channel is the primary channel for this particular group of customers. So if you’re a business that’s getting more calls than you can manage, what happens? The experience is terrible. You’re going to get just a ringing phone line, voicemail, or maybe you’re put on hold for a long time. And that customer experience is just bad for the customer; it’s bad for the business. And if you’re a platform like Google or Yelp that, maybe, made that introduction, it’s bad for them, too.

Our team wakes up every day eager to essentially add value to every single call that comes into a business because, when they don’t answer the call, it’s a lost opportunity to gain a customer or a lost opportunity to retain an existing one. So this is what we’re just really passionate about, and we see that there’s a massive gap in terms of solutions in the marketplace. There’s either consumer or there’s stuff at the enterprise. 

There’s another piece of this, too, which the audience might appreciate, which is that you might be a larger-size enterprise. This caught me by surprise. I was talking to a customer earlier this week, and they said that they were evaluating standing up a contact center. So this is a business with a couple hundred stores, and they were evaluating what it would cost, because, so a couple of things are going on. There’s a labor shortage, so they’re struggling to answer calls. And this is really impacting their business in terms of revenue. And so this enterprise, “OK, what would it cost for us to stand up our own contact center or call center?” And the early costs, it was at least a million a year, to stand up something with decent quality. And so that’s one solution he’s looking at. The next one is, and they’d already tried this, was spending a few thousand dollars per month on an answering service. And the quality was just terrible, right? So these answering services, they’re form-filling, their people don’t really know the business. 

So the area that we’re at is there’s something in the middle, which is essentially an AI, which you can train, and it learns with every call. And that’s what Goodcall is all about; it’s learning about your business and, when calls come in, it can route these calls to self-help online websites that you may have built for appointments or pricing. Any kinds of investments you’ve made digitally, Goodcall is very good at moving people in that direction.

You mentioned this definitely can have an impact on the customer experience because you’re able to get exactly what you need and consistent delivery of information. It sounds like it’s a benefit for the owner. You know, one other potential benefit here I can think of would be, what about the other employees of an organization? They’re picking up the phone, answering what are your hours, and they’re trying to do their day job or whatever it is, restocking shelves, or whatever the rest of their day job may be. Can you talk about that component?

There’s this really interesting tension that occurs in many of these smaller stores, where you have people that are doing a balancing act between what they’re doing in person and also serving someone on the phone. And a product like Goodcall does something really fantastic, which is it triages inbound calls, meaning there can be spam or scam calls that come in; it virtually eliminates those, because you have to be able to talk to the machine in a way that it understands to get through. And, I mean, you can ask the machine, “Hey, I need to talk to somebody,” and it will route that call, but these spam robots can’t do that.

So what this means is, when the phone does ring, because we’re not trying to eliminate calls into the business, definitely not. But there are so many repetitive calls that a machine can do that the solution is really there augmenting that staff that’s on the ground so they can focus on the thing that they’re good at, right? 

So I think, as we’ve seen wages go up in this country, owners and even the individuals want to do things that matter, right? And answering the phone and telling someone they’re open or closed tomorrow, or they need to wear a mask, or some of these other things, like, “Hey, you can order our product from our website,” or “Here’s our pricing schedule,” these are things that are better done with machines. And this is where we think part of the future of work is automation of these mundane tasks. And conversational AI, I can report, is doing quite well at moving these types of tasks and automating them so the people in the store can do their job.

One data point we have is a large customer with hundreds of stores in the home services market, and we’re converting almost 30 percent of their inbound calls to online transactions. And these were missed calls, calls they couldn’t answer at the store, that the machine picked up and converted to paid. And that’s just a dramatic change. And we see that universally, like callers might not be aware, “Oh, there’s an online option,” or, “You know what, I thought I needed to talk to somebody, but I don’t want to wait anymore. Let me just go ahead and use that website and get this thing done.”

What are some of the other measurable KPIs that businesses should consider when adopting a tool like this?

Yeah, so the number one is revenue, right? So if the business has invested in online infrastructure, it’s a digital infrastructure to take orders or whatever the transaction of that business is, the machine is really good at moving them via links to those resources. And those could be tracked, right? So we could actually attribute directly, the machine is generating this much revenue. Fantastic, right? Reduction in spam calls, meaning, so that when the phone does ring, is it valuable to me? The next one would be, is there more traffic to the online systems? And am I seeing efficiency in my staff, like doing things in the store or addressing other tasks? So if they’re measuring efficiency in some manner, they should see an increase there.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and just talk a little more broadly about conversational AI and how it affects customer experience in the enterprise. You have a lot of experience in conversational AI, and not even just at Goodcall, as you’ve worked in this space in a few different ways. Where do you see it going in the near future, in terms of transforming CX for maybe some larger brands?

There’s a lot of interesting activities going on out there. There’s a group of companies. The enterprise call center is not our sweet spot, but I’m very close with many people that are. There’s a lot of augmented capability out there that’s helping humans. There’s a company called Cresta that is helping call center agents with their scripts, like understanding, “Oh, the customer is upset; you should be more empathetic,” or “Make sure you have a strong closing.” Here the agent is kind of helping or coaching the human while it’s going on. So there’s another dimension of when conversational AI is not just this talking thing, but it’s listening and coaching actively.

And that’s really cool because it’s helping those people be more effective in a way that they could not be before. And then, beyond that, the other dimension, more on the side of where Goodcall is, note that our market segment is not call centers; our market segment is fully digital but assisting the SMB market, is that, if I could wave a magic wand, Goodcall knows everything it can about your business and can answer on behalf of you when you are not available. And it’s fully plugged into all of your digital systems. So it’s your voice assistant. It is your business assistant that’s interfacing with your customers every single day, no matter what mode they come to you, whether that be voice, chat, VR in the metaverse. Whatever it is, your business has this voice that understands your business and all of its digital hooks. 

So that’s where I think, if you look in the future, in five years or so, you might not even have a phone number to call. You would just tap the button for your agent, the agent of this business, and transact with it in an efficient way. Because it’s fully scalable, like, it’s never busy. It never forgets. It certainly doesn’t walk out the door the next day and take all its knowledge with it, right? So it’s quite compelling, the advantage of digital. And then there’s also the analytics side, which, because, when I talk with these SMBs, many of them don’t know how many calls they got yesterday.

They’re not measuring these KPIs. So how can they make it better? How can they drive marketing? I mean, the story of Goodcall started with driving phone calls to small businesses and people not answering the phone, I mean, like, this is really frustrating, like I’m driving dozens of calls to small businesses – and when I say me, like Google driving dozens of calls to a small business, and they can’t answer the phone to grow because they don’t have the capacity to answer the phone. So, fundamentally, your hands are tied, if you don’t have a scaled capacity in this channel.

I like that concept of augmentation, and I think that’s maybe even less scary to some that are less familiar with the concept than replacement. You know, that coaching thing is very cool. I’ve got to check that out. But even what you’re talking about with Goodcall and the SMBs is, it is augmenting someone who just simply cannot, for whatever reason, pick up the phone at the moment. And, you know, at the scale and the volume of leads and opportunities at a small or medium business, they can’t afford to miss those. So that’s really interesting.

Yeah, next time you’re sitting in the chair at a barbershop or you’re getting your nails done or you’re at the host stand at a restaurant, open your ears and see how many times you can hear the phone ring, or someone’s going to stop serving you and go answer the phone. And it’s actually bad for everybody. And so we need to help, and machines can help and augment so that those people can do what they’re best at.

About the Guest

Bob Summers is the CEO and Co-Founder of Goodcall, a conversational AI platform. Creative, collaborative and entrepreneurial product leader driven by customer delight and team development. His approach to enhancing our world is building practical applications with cutting edge technologies: making complex tech accessible to everyone. The result is a career of engineering, product and business leadership for consumer and smb applications of computer vision, machine learning, broadband, conversational AI and Internet touching tens of millions of users globally.

Beyond his passion for Internet products, he plays an active role in the entrepreneurial community founding both 460 Angels (now Virginia Tech Investor Network) and TechPad (acquired), a co-working space for software companies which helped 60+ startup companies . Through a crowdfunding campaign, university, government and business collaboration, he improved broadband access in a rural college town (Virginia Tech) by deploying a gigabit fiber network and the world’s first free open access gigabit wifi network: now GoGig Internet.

About the Host, Greg Kihlström

Greg Kihlstrom is a best selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur and host of The Agile Brand podcast. He has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations on customer experience, employee experience, and digital transformation initiatives, both before and after selling his award-winning digital experience agency, Carousel30, in 2017.  Currently, he is Principal and Chief Strategist at GK5A. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He currently serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board, was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee, and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board.  Greg is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified, and holds a certification in Business Agility from ICP-BAF. 


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