Artificial intelligence has completely changed how businesses communicate with customers. Not long ago, the only way to have a personalized interaction with a business was to pick up the phone or visit the company’s location.
Today, customers can get answers to specific questions without ever talking to a human being. AI-powered chatbots or virtual agents handle entire interactions on channels like text, Facebook Messenger, and Apple Business Chat. They lighten the load on service, sales, and marketing teams while still providing that personal touch.
Virtual agents have been on the rise for several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked their use dramatically. In April 2020, the number of chatbot-facilitated conversations increased by 426% as companies used this technology to triage floods of incoming customer calls.
In the process, many new businesses realized something that the industry has known for a long time: Virtual agents and conversational AI have the potential to transform sales.
What Is Conversational AI?
Conversational AI is a technology stack that generates personalized, natural conversations through machine learning. These technologies “teach” an automated system to respond intelligently and thoughtfully, based on the consumer’s response.
Key technology components in conversational AI include:
- Natural language processing: The parsing of human language in its natural sentence structure, rather than through keyword triggers
- Machine learning: The process by which a machine “learns” how to respond to users by analyzing human-to-human conversation
- Intent recognition: The ability of a conversational AI bot to understand what the user means, even when the phrasing isn’t in its background verbatim
- Contextual awareness: The capacity to follow a conversation and recall information when necessary, as in human-to-human conversations
- Fulfillment: The ability to source the most relevant and helpful answer to a consumer’s inquiry
When these and other related components work together, a conversational AI system can sustain a meaningful interaction between a person and an organization.
- Receive user input, either by voice or text.
- Decipher the user’s meaning through speech recognition and natural language understanding technologies.
- Generate a response using natural language generation.
In this cyclical process, the machine constantly processes user signals to refine its responses. The more it learns, the more natural and satisfying its conversations are for the person on the other end.
How Conversational AI Helps Brands Scale Conversations
In a traditional brick-and-mortar store, a customer can walk up to a sales rep and ask a product question, get a recommendation, or find out whether the store stocks a particular item. These kinds of conversations let brands build meaningful relationships with their customers.
Before AI, staffing levels significantly limited the scalability of these interactions. Now, thanks to advances in conversational AI, businesses can have almost unlimited one-on-one conversations.
Each customer can engage with an AI virtual agent or chatbot and have a back-and-forth conversation targeted to their interests. The interaction is meaningful, timely, and unique to the customer, and all without the need for additional staffing.
Increased Self-Service Quality
AI-powered virtual agents are extremely convenient. They’re easy to embed into a brand or retailer’s mobile app, website, or social media page.
The more broadly a business can integrate AI chatbot technology, the more it can provide the omnichannel experiences that today’s customers and leads demand. Buyers can engage using their preferred method and complete their desired interaction, whether that’s getting an answer to a question or completing a transaction.
Every 21st-century business wants to deliver the right gesture to the right person at the perfect time. Automation technologies like segmentation and retargeting have allowed businesses to reach more people than ever, but conversational AI takes this capability to the next level.
By embedding virtual agents at all consumer touch points, businesses can deliver personalized offers, recommendations, and services where customers want them most.
Conversational AI targets the full spectrum of human conversation — it speaks, listens, and responds. The listening and response elements are most important for issue resolution, no matter when it occurs in the sales cycle.
Most importantly, it allows consumers to feel heard whenever and wherever an issue arises. The immediate response makes the process infinitely more satisfying than completing a support ticket.
Conversational AI can also gauge the sentiment of a conversation. This gives the company an important baseline from which to take the next step.
Increased Staff Capacity
Conversational AI can adeptly handle many twists and turns of conversation, but it can’t do everything yet. Well-designed AI programs can identify those moments and use them to pass the customer or lead to a team member.
But here’s the beauty of the process: The conversational AI solution has already picked up and resolved multiple simpler inquiries, which otherwise would fall onto a staff member’s plate.
Each AI-processed call gives the team member more time to handle increasingly complex requests as they arise. This extra time is immensely valuable to any buyer-facing team, including those in sales.
Conversational AI and Sales Automation
Conversational AI is an asset to any sales team, whether B2B or B2C. Consumer-facing businesses have begun using conversational AI to reduce abandonment, deliver targeted recommendations, and more.
The success rates are impressive. According to Chatbots Magazine, stores that use conversational commerce tools like AI have seen revenue increases of up to 25%.
Meanwhile, B2B companies have begun to use sales automation as a key part of the lead nurturing process. By taking over early-stage lead conversations, AI sales solutions filter out uninterested leads and deliver pre-nurtured prospects to representatives’ inboxes.
The omnichannel nature of conversational AI makes it an ideal tool for collecting leads across platforms. For example:
- A potential buyer finds a company’s website through organic search and starts a conversation with, “What brought you to our site?”
- An AI virtual agent welcomes a registrant to a webinar and asks if they’d like to join the email list.
- A visitor to a blog clicks on the chat window to request a copy of an e-book, and the virtual agent is able to collect their contact information as well as several pain points.
Unlike a static web form or service page, a conversational AI solution can find the customer’s needs and set the sales team up for success.
Early Lead Nurturing
Top-of-funnel relationship building is one of the most time-consuming processes in sales. Today’s conversational AI can take over that process for a sales team, reaching out to contact and nurture leads organically.
- Reach out to leads and gauge interest level
- Send relevant follow-up messages
- Answer initial questions
- Identify developing interest
- Recognize when a lead is ready for a sales call
By the time a lead reaches the representative, they’ve already had positive experiences with the business. They’ve confirmed their interest in the business and can start the conversation with a sales representative from a warmer place.
Digital Assistant Support
In B2B and B2C, conversational AI enhances the sales process by focusing on personalized service. An AI virtual agent can process and respond organically to a lead’s questions and comments, letting the lead’s interest drive where the conversation goes next.
Conversational AI solutions can use responsive sales scripts, similar to the kind that a sales manager might create for their team. The virtual agent uses that script as a baseline and selects from pre-programmed responses based on the customer’s comments.
With this technology, companies of all sizes and types can reap the benefits of having a personal sales representative assigned to every single lead, no matter where they are in the sales funnel.
In-Chat Sales and Upgrades
Some companies have already taken conversational AI sales to the next level, allowing customers to purchase from the chat window. This strategy is most popular with businesses that sell lower-risk, lower-ticket items, but there is potential for automation in higher-value sales as well.
Conversational AI can transact upgrades and even make proactive cross-sells and upsells. And because the virtual agent can be present across touch points, it can make these recommendations and follow through at the most relevant moments.
The Future of Conversational AI
Consumers’ willingness to use chatbots and virtual agents has risen dramatically in recent years. From 2019 to 2020, the share of people willing to use a virtual agent to make a purchase increased from 17.1% to 41.3%. Juniper Research predicts virtual agents will facilitate $142 billion in retail spending by 2024, up from $2.8 billion in 2019.
As technology develops, the applications and capabilities of conversational AI will increase alongside its use. That means:
- Increasingly frictionless experiences, so users can go further toward resolution with the virtual agent
- Stronger conversational analytics for even better consumer behavior predictions
- Higher-level security practices to reinforce consumer trust
- Integration of other advanced technologies like geolocation and image capture
- The widespread adoption of low-code and no-code platforms, so user companies can apply conversational AI across more platforms
Get Ahead of the Game With Aktify
The sooner companies adopt conversational AI technologies to communicate with leads and customers, the more they’ll be able to stay at the cutting edge and exceed expectations.
At Aktify, we’re committed to doing just that. Aktify’s conversational AI is friendly, responsive, and effective at qualifying leads. It nearly doubles conversion rates for our clients, but most importantly, it helps those clients to develop meaningful relationships with their customers.
Ready to see firsthand how Aktify uses conversational AI to qualify leads and drive more sales? Schedule a demo today.