MarTech Interview with Phil Gray, Chief Innovation Officer at Interactions LLC

Phil Gray, Chief Innovation Officer at Interactions LLC talks about the increasing use and impact of conversational AI in B2B marketing and sales in this chat with MarTech Series:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Phil! Tell us more about yourself and your role at Interactions.

I joined Interactions in its early days in 2009, when AI-powered customer experiences were a novel concept, and  have been lucky enough to take part in the company’s pioneering work leveraging AI to transform business-customer conversations.

Over the years, I’ve worked across a wide variety of departments, from sales and marketing to corporate strategy and development. Now, as Chief Innovation Officer, I collaborate with some of the largest brands in the world, from Citi to MetLife, to deploy our technology across industries and foster more meaningful connections between enterprises and their customers. We’ve come a long way, but we’re just getting started.

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We’d love to hear more about the recent launch of the Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA) for Insurance. How are you seeing conversational AI and virtual assistants redefine the fintech/insurtech landscape today?

With over 15 years of experience developing this technology, we have found that every industry needs to be treated as its own to meet customer expectations. A one-size-fits-all approach just won’t cut it anymore. That’s why, In early August, Interactions launched the IVA for Insurance, a virtual assistant designed to meet the unique needs and nuances of insurance. The IVA for Insurance automates the complex, often-fragmented policy lifecycle, from policy selection to FNOL, and offers omnichannel, self-service options at every step of the process. What’s more, IVA for Insurance meets every customer with an empathetic response, based on millions of transactions in the insurance vertical, to ensure customers are treated in accordance with their emotional state during an often-stressful time. Like other conversational solutions, this new platform engages customers in natural, human-like interactions, while offering them the autonomy, speed and flexibility that traditional customer service models have failed to provide. 

With sensitive information, stressful situations like car accidents, and long wait times all contributing to frustrating customer experiences, industries like insurance and financial services must invest in conversational AI now to stay competitive and retain customers. In fact, 95% of insurers recently surveyed by Deloitte are already or looking to accelerate digital transformation post-pandemic. This will pay off in the long term, as satisfied customers are 80% more likely to renew their policies. 

Why is it more critical today for B2B marketers to optimize the customer experience using conversational AI experiences?

Customer expectations have never been higher. In fact, 59% of customers believe companies need to provide cutting-edge digital experiences to keep their business, and 80% say the experience a company provides is just as important as its products or services. Delivering an efficient, streamlined and easy experience is paramount to business success.

Not to mention, from a business perspective, brands will reap tremendous benefits from automating customer experiences that have traditionally eaten revenue due to long wait times or agents bogged down by non-revenue-generating tasks. In fact, 83% of companies that believe it’s important to make customers happy also experience growing revenue. Customer experiences will only grow in importance—and conversational AI is leading the charge in delivering optimal outcomes.

Can you talk about some of the most innovative chatbots/conversational AI experiences you’ve seen implemented by global brands?

When most people hear “chatbots” and “AI-powered phone systems,” they often think of the frustrating, limited dial menus that have defined the automated customer experience landscape for far too long. However, the best and most impactful experiences I’ve seen across the board are those that enable natural, seamless conversations. There’s no “Press 1 for billing” or “You can say things like…”—just open-ended conversations that allow customers to express themselves as they would with a human, and guide the conversation to quickly and easily achieve their goal. 

Omnichannel capabilities are also key to winning over customer trust and loyalty. Customers today expect flexibility and access to service on their channel of choice. Businesses need to meet them on their preferred channel—whether that’s phone, SMS, social media or others. In short, the most innovative applications are those that create the simplest experiences; solutions that understand whatever a customer says, no matter how or where they express it, and ensure that every conversation reaches a productive resolution.

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For businesses at the early stages of setting up conversational AI systems, what advice would you share with them? 

My top piece of advice for businesses looking to further invest in conversational AI systems is to understand the customer journey—from a person’s first engagement with the brand to continued support post-transaction. The pandemic has only amplified the need for digital engagement through self-service options, and customer preferences have changed in tandem. Businesses need to understand how customers like to communicate and what pain points exist in the process today, and develop a cohesive strategy accordingly with personalization and contextual information woven in throughout. Taking this step will help you deliver on the experiences customers crave today.

I also firmly believe that businesses should spend time understanding their agent’s pain points, so that they can leverage technology to enhance their experiences as well. Agents are often inundated with long queues of upset customers and many customer service technologies only marginally help them out. Implementing technology that satisfies customers and eliminates wait times is a win-win for agents and customers, all while enabling agents to spend more time on revenue-generating tasks and better serve customers.

Some last thoughts and takeaways on the scope of conversational AI in today’s online-first marketplace and what marketers should keep in mind as this impact strengthens?

The pandemic brought the role of conversational AI in business to an inflection point, as consumers changed the way they engage with brands. The crisis exposed shortcomings in customer service as businesses were forced to transition from in-person to virtual, but brands were also given the opportunity to reassess and optimize their infrastructure to better meet customer needs. We’ve entered an era where conversational AI is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather a must, to meet customer expectations and maintain their loyalty in the long run. Businesses must take the leap now, or risk falling behind.

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Interactions LLC drives digital transformation with their Intelligent Virtual Assistants powered by Conversational AI

Phil Gray is the Chief Innovation Officer at Interactions, where he collaborates with enterprises to create and operationalize disruptive technology inventions that transform the customer experience. He has extensive experience with conversational AI and customer experience technologies. Prior to joining Interactions, Phil founded and led Versay, a natural language speech applications company. He also held leadership roles at Nuance and Eloyalty.

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