CenturyLink is now applying artificial intelligence to automate the work of qualifying sales leads in an effort to make its human sales force more effective.
Working with a company called Conversica Inc. and its AI agent named Angie, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) can much more quickly work through the thousands of sales leads generated each month through a variety of sources to focus on the ones that can most quickly and effectively become sales and generate revenue. Conversica's software-as-a-service AI offering has been so successful that for every $1 CenturyLink spends on the service, it generates $20 in revenue, according to a video you can watch here.
This kind of sales automation is particularly effective in helping CenturyLink cost-effectively reach smaller businesses, where the revenue volumes can't justify using a lot of human capital, notes Gary Gerber, senior director at Conversica.
"CenturyLink gets about 90,000 leads a quarter and there is no way they can engage every one of those people in a conversation, so they cherry-pick -- they have humans get in touch with the best prospects and have the conversations," Gerber says in an interview. "But you know there are hundreds of sales leads that go untapped."
These are leads that come in from various promotions, via the Web, telemarketing referral programs and more. What Conversica does through its AI agents is enable texts and email responses to those leads that feel just like human conversation. The automated piece of this is that every lead gets a response tailored to that specific customer. Angie is able to read responses and continue the conversation right up to the point where it's time to hand that individual off to a human salesperson -- and Angie will even make the appointment.
The Conversica system is tied into CenturyLink's instance of Marketo -- an automated marketing system -- and as leads come in, Angie can go to work, sending those initial emails or texts that engage with the sales lead.
Angie is better than humans at doing this for a couple of reasons, according to Gerber. First, there are no high-pressure sales tactics; Angie is conversational and engaging with the potential customer around the latter's needs, and that results in a higher response rate to Angie's communications than to typical sales pitches.
Secondly, Angie is persistent. While humans following up on sales leads will typically give up if there is no response after a couple of tries, Angie keeps at it and has a better record of getting those leads into the sales funnel, Gerber says.
"She'll try as many times as it takes," he says. Eventually, the individual either says "no" -- which Angie understands -- or the AI agent succeeds in gathering customer information such as name and phone number, and even in setting up appointments.
Angie also gets smarter, Gerber says "What we call AI is actually a bunch of AIs and some real intelligence too," he comments. "There is an AI that can interpret what is the best message to send, another focused on how to generate the best response, an AI that actually reads it [and interprets it], another AI that measures intent, and another that says what is the right way to respond."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading