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Andrei Papancea, NLX: “many businesses are working harder, not smarter to resolve their customer needs”

According to our guest today, companies should pay more attention to the issues that their customers are facing and provide them with direct solutions, rather than just advertise all the features of their latest product.

While the pandemic forced businesses to rush to set up websites and implement VPNs on their employee devices, many are still hesitant to adopt cutting-edge solutions to automate some of the company processes, despite the technology available today.

To discuss how natural language processing technology can not only take some of the work off the sales team's shoulders but also enhance customer experience, we caught up with Andrei Papancea, the CEO, CPO, and Co-founder of NLX – a company revolutionizing the customer interactions with the power of conversational AI.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of NLX. Can you tell us more about your journey?

I co-founded NLX with my brother Vlad, and our friend Peter in 2018 with the ambition of helping brands transform customer interactions into personalized, automated self-service experiences.

Our company was forged in the cauldron of friendship and family, and inspired by my experience at American Express and as a consultant. I noticed a few trends during my time in those roles which gave me the resolve to start my own company:

  • None of the vendors I evaluated at Amex seemed to have a solution that would “wow” us, and moreover, several of them said they had never seen what I was building before.
  • Differences in Natural Language Processing (NLP) – whether accuracy was 80% or 99% - didn’t matter if the full workflow wasn’t there to contain the conversation.
  • During my time as a consultant, I was re-implementing the same tech over and over again, and the options available still weren’t fully solving the problem.

I knew there was a better way to create and manage automated conversations, and that’s what we, the co-founders, set out to do. Vlad, Peter, and I began building the platform and engine under the hood of all Conversations by NLX. We didn’t limit ourselves by working within the constraints of the AI and technology that was available then, but focused on the ideal end-user experience, and built from there.

Today, we’re a successful growing company with clients in a variety of industries and an amazing platform. If you’re eager to take a test drive of our tech, you can check out what our end-user experience looks like for yourself here.

Can you introduce us to what you do? How is AI incorporated into your solution?

At NLX, we help businesses transform customer inquiries into delightful, personalized automated self-service experiences. We work with brands to help automate their customer conversations so that the end-users can efficiently and effectively resolve their inquiries. We offer a platform and engine that allows brands to create and manage chat, voice, and multimodal conversations in one universal low-code environment.

Our business model stands out from most other Conversational AI companies with lock-in contracts and tiered expensive conversation pricing. At NLX, conversations are affordable (cents on the dollar) and scale as your business needs to scale, making it an attractive cost-effective solution.

The AI technique used in conversational AI is NLP. NLP is the link between human languages and computer languages. It interprets what an end-user is requesting to determine meaning, sentiment, and importance so that something can be done with the request. Our products help businesses use NLP to create and manage conversations.

As I mentioned above, it doesn’t matter if your NLP is 80% or 99% accurate. In order for it to be effective, organizations need to have an effective conversation flow to solve the issue a customer is experiencing. NLX marries the two by making it easy to build and manage conversation flows that beautifully utilize NLP for the best all-around solution.

In your opinion, what are the most challenging issues affecting online business owners nowadays?

I think there is a range of challenging situations impacting online business owners nowadays, and it depends on the industry you’re in and the circumstances you’re facing. But what I can tell you about is the challenges I’m seeing specifically in the conversational AI industry, and for NLX.

Now, whether it’s a challenge or an opportunity is still up for debate, but… there are so many companies that haven’t embraced conversational AI technology. With staffing shortages abound and higher expectations from customers, many businesses are working harder, not smarter, to resolve their customer needs. Often we see organizations focus on deflecting customer inquiries or putting customers on hold for hours because of overwhelmed call centers, when oftentimes the customer inquiry is simple, like resetting a password.

Using Conversational AI technology can help end-users quickly resolve inquiries on their own, taking the volume away from call centers so that agents can focus on the more complicated requests.

Beyond that, companies need to be able to transcend channels because customers interact with brands in many different ways. There are smartwatches, mobile apps, social media, websites, phone calls, and so much more. Offering your customers the opportunity to inquire via their preferred method, up-levels the experience.

Finally, I think another big challenge that impacts any growing organization is scaling company culture. We’ve grown from 4 to 10, to a team of 25 very quickly throughout a little more than a year. As CEO, I've maintained a strict focus on our culture because I believe that when people like their job, they have interesting work, they feel respected, and they’re compensated fairly, they put their best work forward.

Besides conversational AI solutions, what other technologies do you think can significantly enhance business operations?

There are many out there, but I’ll be brief and focus on just one… The general use of cloud technologies, such as AWS (especially serverless services), provides a lot of agility with increased security and scalability that would otherwise be challenging with on-prem or unmanaged services.

How do you think did the recent global events affect your field of work?

I recently wrote about this topic in one of my blogs, and I think it’s incredibly important to talk about.

Part of being a people-first CEO means recognizing your employees as full humans, with rich lives outside of work. Consequential breaking news can impact their life – their friends, family, thoughts, feelings, actions, and more. Discussing the news acknowledges your employees as a whole people with lives inside and outside of work.

I’m not afraid to share my thoughts and let my team know exactly where I stand on consequential news. I know that not everyone might agree with me, even as a small startup, but I’m not going to stop standing up for what I think is right just to save face. Bravery and Transparency are two of our cultural values for a reason.

What tips would you give to brands looking to strengthen their relationships with their customers?

Be honest and focus on the solution your technology provides, rather than just the technology itself. I expanded on these two points in a recent speech at Project Voice 2022, but this means really listening to the customer’s problem, being creative in imagining the best possible solution, and working backward to make it feasible.

However, the switch from technology-bias to solutions-focused businesses requires a certain honesty. Your client might have some good ideas, but not all of them are practical. Being candid with your customer about when something is a no is risky, but critical to delivering the best solution.

What other company processes do you hope to see automated in the next few years?

The most interesting part about Conversational AI is that it can be used in so many different ways! One of our customers, Copa Airlines, is using our technology for both internal and external irregular operations. In our case studies, you can see how Copa Airlines chose to inform employees and customers about changes to their flights. The experience is fast and easy, and it handles a variety of different languages depending on what the end-user speaks.

In the next few years, I’d like to see companies thinking creatively about how they can dazzle their customers – internally or externally – with automation. The technology to automate is low-code and easy-to-use, cost-effective, and it will build brand loyalty and trust because the end-user had a positive experience where their inquiry was efficiently and effectively resolved.

Would you like to share what’s next for NLX?

First of all, I love where we’re at with NLX right now – I’ve never taken a company this far, and seeing our growing team excel in their roles – from closing 2-4 deals per week for the sales team to our engineers continuing to enhance our amazing product – it's exhilarating.

That said, the next steps for NLX are to maintain all the positive things we’ve built, and continue to scale up. My goal is to grow NLX as big as possible… to become a billion-dollar company one day. Financial success in conjunction with maintaining customer focus and the healthy culture we’ve created is our continuous target.

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