#9 - Enterprise Conversation Intelligence

On the growing list of companies analysing our phone calls

One of the most fascinating spaces in enterprise software right now, in my view, is what some are calling Conversation Intelligence, but one could just as easily name it “Call Analytics”.

There are multiple companies working in this space, but the three most well known are VoiceOps, Gong.io and Chorus.ai.

In simple terms, these products offer one core feature: they analyse phone calls and try to help customers understand how they could be better.

These products integrate into CRM systems and existing phone dialers, and record every phone call that a sales or customer service rep makes. The calls are then transcribed, indexed and run through some sort of algorithm which attempts to categorise each segment of the phone call.

The system should identify when a sales rep is discussing price, a competitor, asking questions, “pushing the ball forward” or just listening.

Screenshot from the Gong.io website below.

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The “killer feature” of these systems seems to be that you can then identify how the top performing staff talk i.e. how much time they spend on various topics, how much they listen vs talk or whether they proactively try to move things forward. By doing so you could theoretically create a “phone-call playbook”, a blueprint of sorts for how best to act on the phone.

This insight could then be used within the system for coaching other reps to adopt this “call style”.

Now, these startups have been getting lots of attention. So much so that Microsoft have just announced that Conversation Intelligence is now available as part of the Dynamics365 CRM system.

Screenshot from the Microsoft Dynamics365 website below.

What characterizes Top sellers

Needless to say, this is all very promising. Anyone who has worked in a high-volume call environment knows that “listening-in”, i.e. a coach sitting on a reps calls is part of pretty much all training and onboarding programs. Of course, an issue with this standard practice is that the listening-in sessions generally occur during the first days of a reps employment, and then never happen again.

This means good habits are not reinforced over time, and coaching is not delivered in real-time, i.e. during an actual phone call.

These products can help solve a very real problem, so what’s the problem?

Regulation & Risks

Of course, there are warranted privacy concerns. Businesses in many countries are by law required to inform customers when their calls are being recorded and whilst this is commonplace in larger support organisations, I don’t think enterprise sales reps are dropping the “for training purposes” spiel during the opening seconds of their cold calls. For one, it would start off the call on a totally bizarre note and I’m sure it would add awkwardness. In addition, this spiel would have to be actually said at the beginning of each phone call, whereas larger support organisations automate this message before you are connected to the support agent.

So, these companies are most likely operating in some sort of currently unregulated grey area. This surely poses a risk for them. Enterprise customers are less likely than consumers to kick up a fuss, yes, but the risk exists.

In addition, much of the competitive advantage for these companies is accumulating a large data-set over time. The algorithms will improve with every new phone call, adding new data points and new opportunities to learn. However, new regulation like GDPR will make it more difficult for companies to store theses call recordings, even the authorised ones, for years and years on end. This poses another existential risk to these companies who will have to deliver just as good intelligence, with potentially less data over time.

Summary

Despite the risks, I don’t see these companies going anywhere. The value proposition makes a lot of sense and should truly help large sales and support teams scale their training and coaching efforts. Giants like Microsoft getting into the game is big validation, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see others (read: Salesforce) getting involved too.

Until next week,

James.