Ryan Johnson, Chief Product Officer at CallRail – Interview Series

Ryan has over 15 years of diverse technology and product development leadership experience from early-stage startups to Fortune 100 organizations. As the Chief Product Officer at CallRail he leverages his passion for developing best in class technology solutions to solve real-world problems. Prior to joining CallRail, he was a key member of the leadership team at Banjo (now MiiM). There he helped grow the product development organization by over 300%, created world class AI/Machine learning technology products, and helped raise a $100 million C Round of VC funding.

CallRail is an AI-powered lead intelligence platform that makes it easy for businesses of all sizes to market with confidence. Serving more than 200,000 companies worldwide, CallRail’s solutions help businesses track and attribute each lead to their marketing journey, capture and manage every call, text, chat, and form, and use insights surfaced by AI to optimize their marketing.

Your early career focused on accounting and finance, how did you initially transition to AI?

While my career started with a focus on accounting and finance, I’ve always had an analytical mindset. While I was studying at Albion College, I just happened to enroll in a computer science class as one of my electives – and the rest is history! This later afforded me the opportunity to get started in the technology industry long before AI was even on the horizon.

As my career continued to progress, I realized two things: I had a deep passion for working with data (more specifically data from a product perspective) and navigating how that data could be transformed into something that was genuinely valuable for customers. There’s no straight path for those looking to get into this emerging space, but these two interests naturally led me toward a career involving AI.

If you would have asked me two decades ago when I first began my career about AI, I would have likely referenced the terminator like everyone else at the time. As technology has evolved though – and especially with the recent advancements – it’s clear that my journey had to start with a strong interest in and foundation of understanding data.

For those looking to pursue a career path in AI, coming from a unique background with original perspectives is ultimately the most important. There are so many unknowns with AI in the future and you can go in so many different directions – how it’s applied, where it’s applied, regulatory, compliance – it’s almost an endless list. Therefore, I think if you can come in with an open mind and a willingness to learn, almost anyone can get into this emerging space regardless of their initial background.

Prior to your current role you lead development of Banjos AI/ML products, what were these products and what were some of your key takeaways from this experience?

At the highest level we were using AI and machine learning to detect events as they happen around the world.  We focused our internal tech on computer vision to detect things in images and video (fires, accidents, logos, objects, etc.) and NLP to determine what people were talking about.  We utilize many data sources such as social media, e911, traffic cameras, etc. to triangulate and validate when an “event” happens.  We utilized this technology to help break news (local and national) before anyone else and to help enterprise corporations protect their employees, assets, and brand.

CallRail uses a technology called Conversation Intelligence that facilitates uncovering insights from conversations, what is this specifically?

Conversation Intelligence® is the ability to automatically aggregate actionable call insights from phone conversations to improve marketing performance. The goal is to enable marketers, agencies, and business owners to make the right business decisions with speed and precision.

  • Lead Conversion: CallRail’s AI mines phone call conversations and provides insights and valuable information that can be used for lead conversion. By identifying the best leads from your top marketing sources, AI allows you to prioritize your efforts and focus on the hottest leads. This ensures that your resources are effectively utilized while simultaneously saving you time. Through CallRail’s Conversation Intelligence®, you can automate workflows for smoother lead follow-up. Finally, the AI-powered insights provide you with rich context for each lead, giving you a deeper understanding of their needs and preferences. Using this, you can develop personalized strategies and customized solutions, maximizing your chances of converting them into satisfied customers.

 

  • Customer experience: Phone call insights provide an opportunity to enhance your customer’s experience. Through the analysis of conversations, AI can provide valuable information to help you comprehensively understand your customers and their journey. This includes capturing details of each interaction, such as the topics discussed, tone of voice, sentiment, and any specific pain points or challenges mentioned. With this full picture of a lead’s journey and interactions, businesses can deliver a more personalized and tailored customer experience. With AI-powered insights, companies can better understand customers’ preferences, needs, and expectations, allowing them to provide relevant suggestions, recommendations, and solutions.

 

  • Agent performance: By reviewing conversation content, CallRail’s Conversation Intelligence® offers useful coaching tips on call handling, giving your agents the guidance necessary to provide better customer service. The AI also aggregates insights across multiple calls or by individual agents, allowing you to gain a comprehensive understanding of your team’s performance. With this technology, you can uncover positive or negative patterns or trends in sentiments expressed during the calls. This means you can identify common issues or recurring problems that may be affecting customer satisfaction. By addressing these areas of improvement, you can enhance the overall quality of your customer interactions.

 

  • Marketing optimization: One of the major advantages of AI-powered call insights is the ease of integrating it with different systems, including CRM platforms like HubSpot and various marketing automation tools. Using AI-powered insights, businesses arm themselves with a complete picture of the lead journey, from initial contact to final outcomes, across both digital and offline channels. These insights also enable marketers to measure the effectiveness of their marketing strategies in terms of return on investment (ROI). By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) such as lead conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, and revenue generated, businesses can optimize their marketing efforts to achieve higher ROI. Moreover, in addition to integrating the tech stack, marketing is optimized in Conversation Intelligence because it gives businesses the ability to identify keywords and automate keyword bidding strategies based on insights from the call, providing valuable input for SEO, and marketing messages. For instance, if leads consistently ask about services not offered, businesses can adjust their website messaging to ensure calls are better aligned or consider adapting their offerings to meet lead demand.

CallRail’s Conversation Intelligence® is purpose-built to understand and analyze human speech. That means it can extract each valuable little nugget of information from phone calls while saving agents and managers over 94% of their time. The information from phone calls is first-hand knowledge directly from your customer’s mouth. The result is priceless data from a tried-and-tested marketing tool with a 21st-century twist.

What are the different types of AI & machine learning that are used in this technology?

We have a wonderful AI partnership with AssemblyAI, a company that utilizes a variety of our AI powered features. Without getting into the deep details we use:

  • ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) – Powered by Conformer-2 the largest commercially available ASR model trained on over 1.1M hours of english audio data
  • LeMUR – LLM utilized to analyze spoken data. Is the foundation of summaries, agent coaching, auto qualification, to name a few.  CallRail fine tunes in a variety of ways on top of the models to get the most value to our customer.

In July 2023, CallRail Labs was unveiled as the first of its kind in the call analytics space. One of its core features is the introduction of “action plans.” Could you share some insights into what this is?

That’s right! When we introduced CallRail Labs, we also released action plans to support agents with AI-generated recommendations for next steps after a call. This feature removes the guesswork from following up with potential customers by summarizing key takeaways, consolidating them into a shareable format to email or text to frontline teams, and documenting follow-ups within CallRail’s Premium Conversation Intelligence™ dashboard.

However, since we unveiled CallRail Labs in July, six new capabilities have also be introduced:

  • AI-powered call coaching identifies where agents performed well, where they could improve, and, most importantly, delivers specific actionable recommendations to do better. This lifts the training burden off of business owners and ensures unbiased, timely feedback is given to agents to improve performance.
  • AI identification of successful appointments scheduled empowers business owners to instantly pinpoint the calls that are most likely to generate revenue and understand what activities attract the best leads.
  • AI identification of new or existing customers which allows businesses to understand which marketing campaigns are generating truly new business and which drive repeat business, without the need to listen to the call or read a transcript. Knowing which campaigns are driving new customers to your business versus which are growing loyalty and revenue from existing customers allows businesses to improve audience segmentation and, ultimately, campaign performance.
  • Automatically identify questions frequently asked on calls to identify commonly asked customer questions, offering valuable insights into customer needs, while also aiding SEO optimization and keyword strategy refinement.
  • Capture personal details and preferences of callers automatically, which can be used to support future relationship building and form deeper connections between brands and customers. Small details such as remembering a customer’s birthday or an upcoming life event can build unwavering trust and brand loyalty.
  • Leverage AI to generate thoughtful, concise text and email messages after a call has ended to affirm customer concerns have been heard, strengthening relationships and saving agents countless hours of work.

Read more about these new capabilities here and here. While we’re excited by this initial traction – we’re just scratching the surface!

Can you also describe how CallRail Labs enables customers to influence the company’s use of voice AI?

This new innovation program – as you mentioned, a first of its kind in the call analytics space – was designed to help foster continued AI innovation in partnership with SMBs by inviting our customers to influence how we’re using voice AI through early access to new product capabilities.

The goal is to provide direct feedback to product and engineering leads while, at the same time, allowing us to move purposefully to solve real business challenges amid the market explosion of AI-driven capabilities. We’re fortunate to have a large, willing set of customers to test the practical application of these new AI-enabled products and provide invaluable feedback.

The significance of this project lies in the fact that it simplifies complex tasks and consistently delivers data-driven strategies, enhancing overall efficiency. It demonstrates the power of AI and how it can drive meaningful innovation in the realm of Conversation Intelligence®.

What are some of the more popular use cases of this software?

We’re lucky to have a broad range of examples that illustrate how our customers are using AI to turn their calls into a competitive advantage. A few of our favorite examples across industries include:

Home Service: Adria Marble & Granite is a family-owned stone fabricator that installs kitchen and bathroom countertops, fireplaces, and more. When the business first started, advertising was done via the yellow pages, faxes, and word of mouth. In an industry where it’s common for contractors to drop the ball with follow-up to prospective customers, having CallRail has also helped Adria Marble stand out by ensuring all calls are followed on, and no leads are lost.

As a result, the company has been able to lower the overall cost per lead and do a better job of accurately targeting the right leads that will drive a higher dollar amount from the deals they close. CallRail has saved Adria Marble 10-20 hours a week by automating the lead and call tracking Irfan would otherwise have to do manually, either via a spreadsheet or sometimes just shouting around the office to ensure customers get a callback. With only three people handling all the sales and administrative office duties, getting these hours back for other tasks is impactful.

Legal: Competition between digital marketing agencies is fierce – especially in the legal space, where clients are typically more loyal and profitable than those in other industries. That’s why Above the Bar Marketing turned to CallRail to help prove which ads, campaigns, and keywords make their clients’ phones ring. The result: call tracking has helped at least 75% of their clients reallocate money in the right way – eliminating $1,000 each month in wasted ad spend.

Healthcare: Cornerstone Foot Care’s digital marketing operations were lacking adequate tracking of inbound leads and incoming phone calls. The practice turned to CallRail for visibility into which keywords and campaigns calls were coming from, as well as the quality of every call. With the addition of Google Ads and CallRail tracking, Cornerstone has grown its revenue by 40% through increased call quality, increased number of calls from inbound leads, and a decreased number of missed calls.

You’re also known for your comparisons between AI and your car racing. What are some of the commonalities between the two?

AI and auto racing (especially Formula 1) have had a close relationship for many years now. Racing teams have the ability to put their cars through simulations that AI can interpret and help the team with performance.  AI could detect changes that need to be made to an engine to increase performance or improve reliability, to changes in the aerodynamics to help with downforce.  It’s no wonder modern Formula 1 cars look like spaceships as AI is helping to literally design the aero.

Personally, I think AI works best with a human feedback element which is no different in racing. For example, even if an AI model predicts the best set up for lets say rainy or hot conditions, the driver still has to give feedback to the team.  AI can’t predict everything about the drivers performance and preferences, so you need human interaction for feedback.  I actually heard a team principal talk about this when I was doing a pit tour at Petit LeMans in October.  He said “AI is truly amazing and has given us big gains, but it still hasn’t replaced driver feedback and a team that understands the nuances of the driver.”

Could you share your vision for the future of voice AI and call analytics?

It’s easy to feel like the world of marketing moves faster than the speed of light today. There’s always a new term to learn, strategy to enact, or best practice to deploy. We often forget that some of the best tried-and-true marketing strategies are in this constant change and novelty. One of these neglected strategies is, undoubtedly, phone calls.

Phone calls remain the best tool for marketers to use, providing a wealth of information about what your customers want and need. However, a significant portion of this potential remains untapped across a broad range of industries. While we’re certainly on a mission to continue accelerating the advancement of voice AI and call analytics to help customers achieve higher ROI, I’m just as equally excited about small businesses fully realizing how impactful AI can be for turning calls into insights that they can act on.

Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit CallRail.

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