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Drips’ Conversational AI Platform Gaining Unprecedented Adoption

A.C. Evans





(512) 643-7477

Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor

CEOCFO Magazine

Published – September 27, 2021

CEOCFO: Mr. Evans, what is the idea behind Drips?

Mr. Evans: The basic idea is that big enterprises need ways to communicate with their audiences on a one-to-one basis at scale. That means we can help companies like Liberty Mutual who have millions and millions of customers, reach out to communicate with their audience at any given time. Before, this was traditionally solved by way of call centers or direct mail or email. The problem these days is that nobody answers phone calls anymore, emails are lost in a sea of other emails, and no one is carefully combing through their direct mail anymore.

We find that customers want to communicate with these brands and with each other, and the primary form of communication these days is two-way asynchronous text messaging, which is what Drips offers. It is a way for businesses to use text messaging to hold conversations that can last weeks with their audiences in an automated fashion.

CEOCFO: Is this available today? What is the state of this type of communication right now?

Mr. Evans: I would say that it is an emerging category, meaning that texting has been around for some time. Many companies use different texting methodologies, but it is generally limited to chatbots. You may have seen these with a dentist or a doctor or a beauty salon that says, “reply C to confirm,” or “reply P for price,” or perhaps you get a text message from your airline that is letting you know the gate has been changed. That is more of an administrative “Push” message. Then you have coupon code delivery like Chipotle, for example, that sends out messages for coupons for guacamole and things like that.

The category that we focus on, what we call “Conversational AI,” is none of those. It is meant to be an emulation of a human conversation with the primary purpose of informing some audience members of an action they need to take. It could be to pay their bill, renew their insurance, enroll in Medicare/Medicaid, or even show up to an appointment. It’s really an emerging category right now because, up until this point, the technology was not available to emulate human two-way conversations. Natural Language Processing (NLP) is not that readily available out there in the market.     

CEOCFO: What went into creating the product and how did you know when it was ready for prime time?

Mr. Evans: I do not know if you ever know when you are ready. I am a Mid-Westerner, so we always kind of boot-strapped our businesses. My co-founders and I started the business as a solution to a problem, and it just iterated many, many, many times. In the beginning, it was just a text-sending platform. We quickly realized that many people were responding to these messages by saying, “I can’t talk now,” or “Try me at 5 p.m.,” or “I am on the road,” or “I am at work, I cannot review that quote.” We said, “How do we deal with that?”

We ended up building a chatroom, essentially — a two-way chatroom that an agent could communicate through. By way of that chatroom, we were able to execute on these long-tailed conversations, and that allowed us to build what has now become our NLP, our Natural Language Processing model. It is almost like a dictionary, or a keyword value pair list if you think about it in simple terms. We have seen all the different ways to say, “I am driving,” including “I am stuck on the highway,” “I am in a traffic jam,” “I am on my way to work,” etc. We know the 12,000 ways to say, “I am driving.” That allows us to persist that conversation to respond automatically. “Sorry we caught you while you were driving. We will try you back in 20 minutes unless you want to try us back later.” Or if they say, “I am in a meeting,” we know that means “I am at work.”

In the beginning, we had to do it all manually — and we probably did this millions and millions of times. Today though, Drips has managed around 600 million conversations, and we can automate even more. We can now enjoy a level of automation that most companies cannot get because they have not had all those conversations. Therefore, the more volume we do, the smarter the system gets; the smarter the system gets, the more volume we can do.      

CEOCFO: What types of companies, what types of industries, are using your services today?

Mr. Evans: That is a great question. It is almost all in what I would call the “Services Industries,” like home services, or home security companies, financial services like credit repair, mortgages, etc., and insurances including carriers and agencies that support them. Healthcare is now becoming very big for us as well, which includes things like patient care coordination, reminding people to pay their bill, reminding them to enroll in Medicare/Medicaid, etc. All of these categories fall under a category that I like to call “Considered Purchases.”

Other SMS companies focus on shopping cart re-engagement, for example. Therefore, if you forget to buy some shoes, they might send you a text message if you opted in for that, with a coupon for the shoes. That is a more direct response, where we are instead communicating with a user, warming them up, answering questions, educating them, bringing them further down the buyer journey (or the consumer journey), or getting them to do things as existing business relationships, like enroll in autopay or download an app if that is what the enterprise wants them to do.

CEOCFO: Would this be for conversations that the company generates, or could a customer or a potential customer start a conversation and be in the same system?

Mr. Evans: Yes, both. We do inbound as well. For example, if you send out a direct mail that says, “Call us at 1-800-555-1212 to refinance your home,” that client could add a “Call us or text us at this number,” and we can handle those inbound text messages.

If an inbound text came in, we would know, based on the number that that person is texting, that they are interested in whatever the offer is associated with that number, and we can hold a conversation right then and there. Therefore, it could be customer acquisition, customer retention, upsell, or administrative. All in all, it is really focused around longtail asynchronous conversations. When people need to shop for the product or are unsure or have got questions, that is where we shine.   

CEOCFO: Are you able to take the ornery customer and respond? Can it be understood if a customer says, “Please do not keep telling me ‘Thank you for that information,’ just answer my question?” Can the system respond? How do you handle the customer that may not be as pleasant as some of the others?

Mr. Evans: We do not have that exact problem because of its medium — SMS versus a call center. I know what you are talking about, though. The more common thing we see is over-politeness, where they are thanking you every time you give a little bit of information. Our system is a little more matter of fact, such as “Hey Lynn, following back up about XYZ, should we try you later on today or next week if you prefer that if you have any questions.” Then if you responded in a way that it was apparent to the system that you were not happy, often we will remove them from the campaign altogether.

Depending on how bad it is, for example, if it says, “Leave me alone today, call me tomorrow,” there is no problem; we will schedule that. However, if someone said, “This is annoying, I do not even want insurance anymore,” our system would automatically detect that and remove them from the campaign. The response is binary — it’s either a negative, meaning that we need to remove the person from the campaign, or it’s positive affirmation where we will look to schedule the call, answer the question, or whatever else it may be. However, you have to remember that these conversations are over texting, and they last days or weeks, it is not necessarily the same as a live body.     

CEOCFO: How do you reach out? To whom would you reach out in a company? When you are talking to the right person at a prospective new company, do they understand quickly? What do you say?  What do you need to show them, so they recognize the value?

Mr. Evans: It depends on the industry. We will do much of the work for you depending on your business’ particular vertical, social proof, authority, case study, or testimonials in that vertical. It is much easier in many of the verticals that we operate in because companies know of us. For example, we are known as the leaders in this space in the insurance industry, so any insurance company looking for a solution will understand exactly who we are and what we do — because they have seen their competitors doing it.

With something like healthcare, which we are a little newer in, we have to go in and do the selling and do the analytics and get the case study and testimonials. The right person to talk to is generally someone that already works in consumer experience management. That could be the call center, CRM, sales, renewals, or administrative billing, but it is all about finding the correct use case that aligns with the stakeholders with whom we are communicating. For example, if it is one person’s job to get more appointments for 3-Day Blinds, we need to focus on appointments, not customer satisfaction surveys. I think it depends on the vertical and how much experience we have in that said vertical.  

CEOCFO: Why was this the time to engage healthcare?

Mr. Evans: It is the next obvious evolution for us. I think that verticals, when it comes to technology adoption, generally move at their specific speeds, and the bigger the vertical and the older the vertical or industry, generally the more risk-averse and slow they are. The bigger the company, the slower they can move. It was just a natural progression. As we went into healthcare a year ago, our experience in insurance, which again is a highly regulated, highly risk-averse category, helped us in healthcare. That social proof, that authority, those key case studies that we had with some of the biggest insurance carriers in the world really helped us a lot when we started talking with some of these big healthcare companies.

CEOCFO: What comes after health? Is it too early to decide?

Mr. Evans: We are looking hard at global, meaning if we are doing it in America, there is no reason that we can’t do it in other countries. We are also looking hard at doing more with all of the verticals that we are already in. That means that if we are only doing acquisition, why not do retention? If we are doing retention, why not do administrative? If we are doing administrative, why not do resells?

CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach over time? What have you learned as more people and more industries are embracing Drips?

Mr. Evans: I have learned that subject matter expertise is key with these bigger verticals. Social proof is essential with these bigger verticals, so much of it is understanding the lingo — understanding what matters to the business, solving bigger problems versus just trying to tell people what Drips does in a way that makes sense to the enterprise. Instead of saying “clients,” maybe we say “members.” Or instead of “policy,” perhaps we say “term,” etc.

There are very different vocabularies that all these industries use. If you can have real subject matter expertise and speak their language and understand their problems, you have a much better chance of winning those businesses. However, if you go in and try to pitch, “We do conversational texting,” they are just going to say, “What does that even mean? What does that mean for me?” It has been a good learning experience talking about why it matters to the client, not why it matters to Drips.  

CEOCFO: What is involved in an implementation?

Mr. Evans: Implementations are pretty straightforward for us. That is probably one of our biggest key differentiators versus some of these bigger omnichannel companies. We sit between the CRM and the call center, so all a client has to do is send us a person’s first name and zip code so we can target the correct time zone. That way, we’re not texting people at 6:00 a.m., for example.

As long as we know who that person is, what they want, and what the enterprise needs them to do, we can do everything we need to do. We can get going in a matter of weeks, whereas many of these types of AI chatbot systems often take large builds to get implemented.  

CEOCFO: You talked about going global. What are some of the challenges in learning the language, not just only of the industry, but the idioms in a particular country or a particular section of the country that you might be entering?

Mr. Evans: As you said, it is the idioms, the regional dialect, and things like that. There are some general big swaths that we would tackle first, such as countries like the UK or Canada, but when you start getting into Latin America and others, there are many different regional dialects and linguistic nuances that will present a challenge.

The good news is that we have seen all the different ways, again, to say, “I am at the office,” including, “I am with my boss,” and “I am stuck in a meeting,” so much of it would be a manual transcription effort, where we would work with native speakers in different countries. We would work through our NLP model and automate most of it, but then the human piece would be a back check to ensure that the nuances are captured.    

CEOCFO: When you are introducing Drips to a new client, do they understand the ROI? How do you project ROI for a system like this?

Mr. Evans: Our account executives look at the use cases. There are three categories: performance increase (how many more people will renew, buy, enroll, etc. due to our added benefit), cost savings (op-ex reductions), and consumer experience (happy people who have a higher propensity to buy, more engaged buyers, and more educated buyers).

The case studies are driven with a cost-benefit analysis for each of the different value propositions. Therefore, one value prop could be covering nights and weekends instead of having everyone at the call center do that. One value prop could be retention or even higher renewals rates. We essentially just put together a cost-benefit analysis that says, “We think this is a 10-million-dollar problem annually for insert-company-here. And for that, we are willing to do it for X.” Usually, that number is so significant that it is worth the shot. We do not work on small problems or work on SMBs. We are focused on the biggest companies in the world.

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“We find that customers want to communicate with these brands and with each other, and the primary form of communication these days is two-way asynchronous text messaging, which is what Drips offers.”
A.C. Evans