A funny thing happened on the way to the smartphone. People stopped answering calls.
It’s true. Millennials aside, most of us can remember a time when we would trip over siblings to be the first person to a ringing landline. Today, however, with our untethered cellphones almost constantly within reach, we often don’t pick up.
Aaron Christopher “A.C.” Evans has a theory on why. In the contemporary on-demand economy, he said people have more choices than ever when it comes to how we work, play and connect with others, and we are accustomed to calling the shots. When someone fills out a form on a website, emails a colleague or posts a tweet, it’s done on their time. In this environment, an incoming call has evolved from a thrilling opportunity to break the boredom to an unwelcomed intrusion of your time.
And that perception is a mounting roadblock for service businesses that rely on call centers to interact with their customer base.
“Call centers have been doing the same thing since the ’70s. They just call and call and call you over and over again, and that is becoming less and less and less effective,” Evans said.
Evans’ Akron startup, Drips, provides what he calls a “conversational text messaging” platform to help build a new bridge to customers.
“If I called my mom right now, she probably would not pick up, but she probably would text me back and say, ‘What’s up?’ ” Evans said.
People like texting because unlike calls that demand immediate attention and action, a text conversation can be passive.
“It allows us both to respect each other’s time,” Evans said.
Drips’ homegrown technology fuses artificial intelligence and machine learning into an automated text response system. Rather than dialing a customer 12 times, the call center would place just one call. When it goes unanswered, a Drips-powered text message would be sent to the customer notifying him or her who was calling and why. And, more importantly, it gives the customer the power to determine when an actual phone conversation will happen, Evans said.
He gives this example: “We can text you and say, ‘Hey Bill, it’s ADT. We are trying to reach you. Is there a better time to talk?’ and Bill might say, ‘Yeah, sorry. I am at work or I’m busy now,’ and we say, ‘No problem. We are open until 9. Can we try you at 6:30?’ An hour or two hours later, Bill replies, ‘How about 6:45?’ We say, ‘OK. Great. Talk to you then.’
“It’s all automated, but very humanlike. You would never know you were talking to a computer,” Evans said.
When 6:35 rolls around, a reminder text would be sent to alert the customer that the company would be calling.
“Then we make the call and transfer it into the client’s call center,” he said. “We essentially will turn an outbound call center into an inbound call center.”
Drips is holding 300,000 to 400,000 new conversations a day, according to Evans, and recently surpassed the 120 million conversation mark.
Evans and co-founder Anthony Greco launched Drips in January 2016, and the startup has doubled its employee base year-over-year for each of the past two years while tripling its revenue. It currently employs 29 and brought in about $10 million in 2017.
The client base includes “50-some verticals,” Evans said, including financial interests like debt.com, home services companies such as 3 Day Blinds and security firms like ADT and LifeShield.
“We are currently onboarding one of the top four largest cellular carriers in the country and one of the top four insurance companies right now as well,” Evans said. “We’ve been kind of moving upstream to bigger and bigger companies as we establish ourselves more and more.”
No stranger to entrepreneurism, Evans founded Certified Nerds, a computer repair business he later sold, and started a handful of other one-man ventures. He is the first to admit Drips is new territory given size of “the staffing and footprint.”
As the fledgling firm began to hit its stride in late 2016, Evans connected with Blake Squires, a partner at Hatch LLC and a serial entrepreneur who has since helped mentor and guide the Drips’ founders. Squires said aside from Evans’ personal energy and passion, the booming business’ biggest edge is its AI integration and the “impressive” scalability of the technology.
“It really wraps some interesting technology and applies that in a lead-based market, which is always struggling for new technologies, new ways of doing things,” he said. “They have really been able to build something of value to serve that market.”
Next steps for the company include building out a marketing and sales team. Evans said that up until now, in-bound business has come on the “backs of a few tradeshows.”
“We are already industry leaders in what we do, but not a lot of companies even know that we exist yet,” he said.
And a venture capital round is on the horizon as well. While the founders have bootstrapped Drips since its founding, taking it to the next level will require “a pretty significant, let’s calls it a Series A venture round,” Squires said.
“They are building a product that is 100% technology, and when you are doing that, you are always sprinting to stay out in front and it takes a lot of investment,” Squires said. “It’s the whole ‘invest to grow’ equation. With the right technology and the right amount of capital, I don’t think it will take long to get back to the space that they like to operate in, which is profitability.”
Via: Crain’s Cleveland