Sara Martinez may very well be the employee of the year for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. She generated a 300 percent increase in sales opportunities and added millions of dollars to the franchise’s sales pipeline. But she won’t receive a commission or even take home a commemorative plaque to celebrate her achievement. Sara Martinez is not a human.
Sacramento’s sales all-star is an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant from Conversica. The savvy Silicon Valley technology company is the leading provider of digital team members that harness the power of Conversational AI to help companies acquire customers and grow their businesses. AI assistants engage potential customers in humanlike two-way interactions and process more than one billion interactions for some of the world’s most well-known companies and organizations.
For the Kings, Sara Martinez leverages the powerful AI platform developed to engage with single-game ticket purchasers, season ticket holders, and other contacts. She has a conversation with each lead to determine the specific best next step for that exact person before routing them to the appropriate human colleague.
Rafael Zamora helps lead those humans. As Conversica’s chief people officer, he’s leveraging twenty years of experience launching and transforming small start-ups into successful IPO brands to build the teams that build the AI. “What we do to build AI assistants takes imagination and innovation,” he says. “We need the right culture to attract the right people to make us as creative as we can be.”
The value of diversity and a love for people are central to Zamora, the youngest of six boys in a traditional Mexican American family. His parents immigrated from Michoacán to pursue the American dream and taught everyone in their busy home the importance of trust, transparency, hard work, honesty, and accountability. In fact, Zamora was a campus minister before studying psychology and organizational development.
“I have a passion for people and human behavior that I combined with what I learned in my family,” he explains. “Culture is king, and people are the superpower of every company I’ve been a part of.”
After helping take four start-ups public, Zamora came to Conversica in 2018 to build its HR function. The move also gave him the opportunity to be a key part of the company’s executive team. In that role, he helps drive conversations about culture, strategic planning, and long-term development.
Zamora expects big things from the rapidly growing company, and he’s doing all he can to build a strong foundation for everything that lies ahead. He’s established an in-house staffing function, changed onboarding practices, and made other key improvements.
But overall, Zamora is focused on just one thing—building the right culture. When he arrived, the company had five locations and a fragmented identity. He surveyed his colleagues, implemented assessment tools, reorganized teams, prioritized job satisfaction, and made other important changes. Now, Conversica operates as one team with a single identity. That team includes 200 humans and 3,700 digital employees.
Those digital employees are more than typical chatbots. They are intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). Chatbots operate through just one channel. IVAs can email, text, or chat. Chatbots are triggered by actions and answer simple questions. IVAs reach out to clients and interpret dialogue to create engaging interactions. While chatbots are limited to how they are programmed, IVAs use machine learning to change and adapt.
Although intelligent virtual assistants are critical to Conversica’s success, Zamora and other leaders like CEO Jim Kaskade know that the company is powered by real people. “We value everyone here, and we prioritize creating a fun, inclusive, safe, and diverse environment where people want to work,” he says.
Zamora is the first Mexican American on Conversica’s leadership team. After the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing social unrest in the US, the company elevated its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Its Latino workforce has increased from 2 to 18 percent, and Zamora is working to increase opportunities for people of color and his colleagues from other underrepresented groups.
In April of 2022, Conversica announced the completion of $25 million in financing that it will use to scale the business. It comes at just the right time. COVID-19, staffing shortages, and other factors are making customer service and employee safety more prominent than ever before. The world is getting more digital, automation is key, and demand for AI is about to explode. Zamora and other leaders have their teams ready to capitalize on the opportunity, and before long, he expects to be back on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange ringing the bell to celebrate another IPO.