AI Comes Alive at Leadscon NYC

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Customer Experience
Conference Captures the Latest in Tech

AI and chatbots are driving forces in how businesses understand and assist their customers. These powerful and insightful tools are being applied in unique ways to meet needs throughout the customer lifecycle. And the recent Leadscon 2017 “Connect to Convert” conference in New York bustled with innovative ideas about how to use AI and bots in B2C and B2B marketing.

Finding the right AI for the job

Design that Speaks! Chief Marketing Coach Arvell Craig discussed AI chatbots as a rising commodity in marketing that has yet to be fully utilized. His work focuses on running B2B campaigns with the help of chatbots to find the right leads with the right audience. Chat works best when it’s available around the clock, and chatbots can help fill that gap, he said. But it’s important to know where to best use your chatbots.

Not surprisingly, Facebook Messenger is a leading channel. The messaging app has seen a staggering rise in popularity, from 200 million users in 2014 to 1.2 billion in 2017, according to TechCrunch.

Craig explained that to be successful with a chatbot application, consider Messenger ahead of a proprietary app. He urged the audience to take out their Messenger apps and explore companies using it. Facebook Messenger’s discover tab showed diverse bots from the Subway Order Bot to MeditateBot, which organizes meditation practices (Craig’s favorite). The goal of bots, Craig said, is to solve problems while keeping the interaction casual and (nearly) human.

“We love texting,” added Murray Newlands, CEO and founder of ChattyPeople.com in his LeadsCon presentation. “Everyone is texting more, and everyone wants to text even more [than they are now].” He said that as long as customers feel in control, they are okay with chatbots. “Consumers are happy with bots, if they know they can also easily be connected to a real person if they need to.” 

Chatting around in finance, cars and marketing

At the show, plenty of firms banked on their own AI and chatbot technology and apps, incorporating them into other devices and platforms in several ways. A popular LeadsCon session pitted five start-ups in a “Shark tank” type competition to win $25,000 put up by LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda. He led a panel of VC and tech experts who judged the contestants.

The winner, Starbutter AI, uses chatbots to help young adults choose the right financial products, such as credit cards and mortgages. Co-Founder and Head of Product Samaneh Pourjalai took special aim at Millennials who are facing complicated financial decisions for the first time. She said she considers intelligent chatbots to have potential to serve as “a savvy tech friend.” Its chatbot technology operates through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Facebook Messenger when the someone asks credit card, mortgages, or banking questions. It leads users through a series of questions to determine individual preferences, then recommends products and services tailored to each individual, she explained. The decision to enter the voice recognition platform with AI is a new frontier. According to RBC Capital Markets there may be around 128 million Alexa devices in use by 2020.

While Pourjalai’s business focused on a younger market, Mark Hodes, the founder and CEO of ForeverCar said he leverages chatbots to battle a more traditional issue in the auto repair industry. Chat is the company’s preferred method to engage prospective customers interested in purchasing a vehicle warranty on its website, app, or embedded on partner insurance sites.  

On the B2B side, LeadCrunch is an AI-driven content marketing platform that finds lookalike B2B sales leads based on existing top clients. The AI does the heavy lifting of outreaching to leads, mining through data, and tailoring lists based on previous performance stats from a company’s best customers, according to COO Sanjit Singh.

Don’t forget the humanity

But for all the talk about AI at the show, some speakers reminded attendees that regardless of technological advances, there is a need for human connection.

If you’ve ever seen Spike Jonze’s romantic sci-fi film “Her,” you’ll remember Joaquin Phoenix writing romantic handwritten notes via voice command. Presenter Gordon Brott of OnDeck mentioned that there’s a company, Brand, which makes the concept real. Users type a letter on the website, and a robotic arm physically writes it with a pen on quality paper and mails it directly to the recipient. In a business environment where the strong emotional response of receiving a meaningful letter is often lost, this company leverages technology to create something remarkably human, efficiently and at scale, he said.

Mechanical innovations mean nothing if a company doesn’t have a soul. Naomi Barbeau, executive vice president of call center operations at Digital Media Solutions, focused her session on igniting a positive culture in the contact center. “We need to create the kind of job that agents don’t want to lose,” Barbeau said. She talked about how she creates an environment that holds agents accountable for the company they represent. She shares bi-weekly “report cards” on productivity and compliance, taking no slack from even the best associates. She also extended training from two days to two weeks to find and develop the best employees. Who fit the company’s standards and culture.

While certain parts of Barbeau’s curriculum seemed strict, she said she wants to bring life to call centers. Joking that she hurt her wrist from so many high fives, she said she incorporates board games and lively group chats to create an in-office community. To show culture’s impact, she explained that some of her employees took a $1 per hour pay cut to move with her to a new company because they valued the culture they worked in.

She did promote using technology to its fullest capabilities, but emphasized that it’s the best people who are most as essential to success. That sentiment was echoed by a marketing executive, as well.

“If you’re a marketing leader, you should be hugging your talent,” said Jon Russo, CMO of the agency B2B Fusion. “There’s a war on talent right now.”

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