Welcome to the Creative Virtual blog! Here we cover all of the hot customer experience topics in mobile, social, web, IVR and so much more. We also share company announcements, details about upcoming events and give you a peek into what happens behind the scenes.

Our regular contributors have over 90 years of combined experience specifically with customer engagement, natural language virtual assistants and knowledge management. When you add in the experience of our guest authors and the other Creative Virtual team members who occasionally contribute, there is no better place to get expert insight.

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Building a Cohesive Virtual Agent and Live Chat Solution

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Virtual agents. Live chat. Some of you may remember the days when companies wanting to implement customer support on their website believed they had to make a decision: either a virtual agent or live chat; either automated self-service or human-assisted web chat.

This was the common thinking a decade ago when Creative Virtual integrated their virtual agent deployment for a leading telecommunication’s company in the UK with live chat, creating a seamless handover for users within the same template. Around the same time, an online financial services company in the US collaborated with Creative Virtual to add a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents. Both of these companies were very forward-thinking in their approach to combining these technologies.

Now in 2022, virtual agents and live chat are seen as complementary tools instead of rival solutions. In fact, it’s become best practice to integrate the two in order to improve digital customer support. In the recent webinar ‘Deploy Chatbots to Meet Self-Service Demands’, Gartner analysts talked about the importance of seamlessly escalating customers from virtual agent to live chat agent to create positive, cohesive service experiences.

Instead of a conversation about which of the two technology options to implement, organisations are having discussions about how to incorporate both into their digital customer experience (CX) strategies. Companies that have already done so are seeing a variety of benefits to both their customer and agent experiences, including:

  • Customers are always supported with 24/7 access to self-service even outside of live chat hours or when all live agents are busy.
  • The most common questions are answered by the virtual agent, reducing the overall number of live chat contacts and the need for agents to answer simple, repetitive questions.
  • Virtual agents do the discovery work and pass a complete history of the customer’s conversation to the chat agent, creating a seamless experience for both user and agent.

Adding a virtual agent to an existing live chat deployment

If you already have live chat available to customers and are ready to add a virtual agent, you can jumpstart the project with transcripts from those conversations. By analysing your live chat transcripts, the virtual agent vendor can identify which questions can be answered without human involvement. This analysis can also identify the percentage of live chats that can be deflected with successful automation. It can assist you with identifying key metrics and help build your business case.

Many traditional live chat providers are now offering virtual agents and chatbots as an add-on solution. Unfortunately, often these vendors maintain their focus on driving usage of live agent support. Because of this, the functionality of their virtual agent tools is limited. It’s also not unusual for them to use a pricing structure for self-service that’s similar to their live chat, such as charging by transaction. This makes the virtual agent both poor performing and expensive.

Self-service tools from virtual agent-first vendors deliver better user experiences and more reasonable pricing models. A sophisticated conversational AI platform will support integration with a variety of different live chat providers. This means you can deploy a highly functional virtual agent with seamless handover to your existing live chat solution, providing both successful self-service and easy escalation to human-assisted support.

Adding live chat to an existing virtual agent deployment

If you already have a virtual agent available to customers and want to add handover to live chat, you should start by talking with your virtual agent vendor about your options. Confirm that your existing conversational AI platform supports integration with live chat to handover users within the same template and pass a full conversation history to the live agent. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to find a better virtual agent solution.

Ideally, you’ll already have both a virtual agent platform with flexible integration options and a vendor you trust with expert insights. If they offer their own live chat product, explore that option first. Ask them about their integration experiences with different live chat providers and how their joint solution is better. Ask them for live examples of other similar deployments and for existing client references to get additional insights.

You can use your virtual agent transcripts and metrics to assist with setting up custom rules and triggers for users to be escalated from self-service to live chat. How users have engaged with your virtual agent should inform the set-up of live chat to ensure you are adding it in a way that will deliver the best experience possible for your customers.

Adding both a virtual agent and live chat or changing providers

If you need both virtual agent and live chat technologies, begin your selection process with the virtual agent. Customer engagements will start with your virtual agent, so you want to ensure you are delivering a positive self-service experience even if escalation to a live agent is necessary. A ‘bad’ virtual agent frustrates users and makes the job of your live chat agents even more difficult.

Use the advice shared above and in this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for selecting a virtual agent platform. If you have an existing virtual agent, either live or in-progress but never deployed, be sure to ask how a new vendor can reuse it so you don’t lose that investment. If you have live chat or contact centre transcripts, also ask about using an analysis of those to jumpstart a new virtual agent.

Then once you have found the conversational AI platform that best fits your organisation and goals, explore the live chat technologies that integrate well with your virtual agent choice. Use the expertise of the virtual agent vendor to help with your selection. They will know from experience which live chat systems deliver the greatest results for your industry, use case, etc. when integrated with their self-service tools. Test some existing joint deployments and talk to other companies using both technologies about their experiences.

Developments in conversational AI over the past decade have enabled a more seamless integration of automated self-service and human-assisted support. With the right technologies, organisations can take advantage of these advancement to deliver improved end-to-end experiences for both customers and agents. Cohesive, convenient customer service is key to building brand loyalty and reducing customer churn. It can provide real business value today and give you a solid foundation for the future.

Celebrating a Platinum Jubilee and Long-Term Relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

As we celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I couldn’t help but reminisce on meeting the Queen and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace in July 2017. Our company had won The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation, and Peter Behrend, our Chief Technology Officer, and I got to attend the award celebration at the Palace. It was an evening and award I will never forget. It was such a wonderful and proud moment. And being a five-year award, it’s great that it lasted into the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.

Chris Ezekiel & the QueenAs I look back on the last five years, I’m pleased to say that our company has continued to thrive on innovation, with many of the same people on board, together with some new people. A healthy mix of old and new!

Growing a company is a journey full of highs and lows, and that’s certainly been the case over the past five years. Like many companies, navigating through the pandemic has been particularly challenging. When I think about the single thing that has gotten us through the most difficult times, I always come back to the solid, long-term relationships we have built with our customers, partners, and each other.

Steadfastness, consistency and leading by example are all characteristics that are often attributed to our amazing Queen Elizabeth II. During 70 years of reign the Queen has certainly faced some challenging times, and no doubt the long-term global bonds that she has formed have been the foundation of the Queen’s success.

As I travel around the world it’s fantastic to see the warmth and admiration that people have for our Queen. The Queen is the ultimate ambassador for our wonderful nation and the Commonwealth. It’s incredible to think that the Queen has had 14 Prime Ministers during her reign. The Platinum Jubilee gives us all the perfect opportunity to contemplate the achievements of our great nation and the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and feel very proud and patriotic.

Over these past five years the Creative Virtual team has strived to live up to the honour bestowed upon us by our Queen’s Award. This summer, our company will release a significant new version of our software that’s been over two years in the making. The foundations of this innovative release have been forged from our long-term customer and partner relationships. Based on feedback from the early demonstrations of our new release, it’s looking like our team have pulled off a feat that will be the bedrock of our company’s success for many years to come. One could say it’s our Platinum release in a Platinum Jubilee year!

Regardless of whether you are taking part in any Platinum Jubilee celebrations, I encourage you to take some time to think about the long-term relationships that are at the foundation of your success.

I wish Her Majesty The Queen a wonderful Platinum Jubilee year!

Would You Rather Call Customer Support or Clean a Toilet?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

42% of Americans would rather clean a toilet and 46% would rather go to the dentist than call customer support.

These stats, just two of many in the 2022 Achieving Customer Amazement Study, likely have you nodding in agreement thinking about your own painful customer service experiences. Long wait times, disengaged agents, multiple call transfers, repeating yourself over and over – calling customer support has a bad reputation for a reason.

Having to call customer support is perhaps even more frustrating now than 20 or 30 years ago because we know that there are better and easier ways for businesses to provide customer service. Many of us would rather self-serve on the website, send an email, or chat with an agent online for most of our support needs, particularly when we are dealing with large companies. When we do need or prefer to make a phone call to speak with someone, a bad experience is made worse by the knowledge that there are ways to make support calls less painful which many contact centers aren’t utilizing.

Poor customer support experiences create unhappy customers, bad reviews, and lost revenue. Here are a few questions to ask about your customer service to help make it more pleasant than cleaning a toilet:

Do you make it easy for customers to reach your contact center?

Self-service options like chatbots and virtual agents are increasingly preferred by customers, but they can’t – and shouldn’t! – completely replace human contact center agents. Instead, they should be integrated with human-assisted options such as live chat and call-back so users can reach a human when needed without starting a whole separate engagement. When escalating customers from self-service to a live agent, the experience should be as seamless as possible. The agent should have full visibility of the customer’s conversation with the chatbot so they can pick it up right where the self-service experience ended.

Also, don’t make it difficult for customers to find your contact details. Companies that hide their support phone number and email address aren’t keeping customers from contacting them with issues. They are just making customers who are already annoyed about needing to contact the support team more frustrated. They have started the support experience negatively and made the job of their contact center agents even more difficult.

Do you intelligently route customers to the right agent?

Customers reaching out to your customer support channels want the ability to reach the right person to solve their issue. They don’t want to repeat their problem to multiple agents or waste more time on hold as they are transferred from department to department. Having agents specialized in specific areas is a great way to improve customer service, but only when customers are being connected with the right expert from the start.

Forward-thinking companies are using conversational AI to intelligently route customers to the right agent the first time. This technology can be used with IVR (interactive voice response) solutions for customers calling the contact center. It can also be used when handing users over from an automated chatbot to a live chat agent or call-back option. This improves the experience for both customers and agents, as well as helping to reduce the time it takes customers to have their issue resolved.

Do you provide agents with the best training and tools?

Customers want your contact center agents to be both knowledgeable about your products and services and able to convey that information in a kind and helpful way. That only happens when you provide your agents with the proper training and contact center tools. These two elements go hand-in-hand as the agent tools you have in place greatly impacts agent training.

Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions improve agent performance, reduce training time, and cut average call handling times (AHT) by enabling quicker resolutions. A virtual agent designed specifically to support the agents in your contact center gives all staff members easy access to the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience. Agents can quickly find step-by-step guidance for even the most complicated procedures, processes, and applications. When agents have instant, reliable access to all the information they need in one place, they can focus on creating positive, efficient, and empathetic engagements with your customers.

Would customers rather clean a toilet or go to the dentist than call your customer support?

If the answer to this question is yes, then it’s time to make some changes to your customer support strategy. Start with simple changes, like making sure contact information for your support channels is easy to find. If you aren’t already leveraging conversational AI for self-service and in your contact center, now is the perfect time to explore those options. Recent developments in this technology make it a great choice for improving some of the most common customer frustration points.

Want to learn more? The whitepaper by Insurance Thought Leadership, The Virtual Insurance Agent, provides insights on improving customer experience with conversational AI that are applicable for all industries. Also check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for tips from industry experts on how to implement and maintain successful solutions.

Gen Z and your Customer Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When it comes to your customer service strategy, does age matter? Do you make decisions about how and where you deliver support based on the generations of your target customers? Are you planning for the expectations of younger customers as they gain more buying power over the next few years?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are doing your company and your customer base a huge disservice. You are opening the door to your competitors and welcoming them in to steal your customers away. You are missing out on a prime opportunity to put your customer service efforts on the path to future success.

Customer service and CX expert, Shep Hyken recently published his 2022 ACA Study: Achieving Customer Amazementdownload a full copy of the report here – which explores the state of customer service and customer experience. For the study, a 26-question survey was completed by consumers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 65. The report breaks down generational responses into the following groups: Gen Z (ages 18-25); Millennials (ages 26-44); Gen X (ages 45-56); Boomers (ages 57-65).

One important question asked in the survey focused on the future of customer service. Participants were asked: Which of the following customer service experiences do you expect to be essential to you in the near future, 3-5 years?

2022 ACA Study

The report called out these two important stats:

  • In the next three to five years, non-human customer service will be more essential.
  • In the next three to five years, older generations expect 24/7 availability, online chat, human interactions only, and never being put on hold or transferred more than younger generations. Younger generations expect mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options more than older generations.

The finding that non-human customer service is becoming more important doesn’t come as a surprise. This has been a growing trend, especially over the past decade, as access to and the use of more technology has increased across age groups. Digital literacy has also improved greatly in the past few years, partly due to necessity as public health concerns have reduced in-person activities during the pandemic.

This is important for organizations to remember as they develop and tweak their customer support strategies for the next few years. Human interactions are still essential to a positive experience, of course. However, it will become increasingly essential for the human parts of your customer service to be linked with the non-human pieces in a way that creates consistency across your business.

More significant for the future of your customer support strategy is the second key stat highlighted in this part of the survey. If your company has customers across older and younger generations, then your strategy for the near future must take into account the preferences of both groups. However, the expectations of Gen Z and Millennials are where your focus should be as you plan for the long-term.

Younger generations selecting mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options as essential over the next three to five years reflects a crucial change in customer preferences. The evolution of preferences towards mobile and digital-first has been happening for years, particularly as smartphones have become a key part of everyday life. These preferences aren’t a passing fad. They indicate the expectations that will be placed on your customer service tools and engagements as younger generations of customers gain more buying power.

The survey also delved into current self-service usage, finding 71% of respondents use self-service tools. When asked more specifically ‘When you have a problem or issue with a company or brand, which solution do you prefer to help solve your problem?’, 49% of Gen Z participants and 41% of Millennials said they would use a digital self-service option rather than make a call to talk to a live customer service agent. These percentages were significantly higher than Gen X and Boomers, further reflecting the generational shift towards self-service.

Now is the time for every company to examine how self-service currently fits into their customer support strategy and what steps are needed to plan for self-service success in the future. Keep in mind that younger generations don’t just want self-service options, but rather are coming to expect intuitive self-service. More advanced technologies like conversational AI deliver the capabilities you need to create those self-service experiences.

Investments in these types of solutions can sound risky, but the real risk is in not making changes to your customer service approach now. The survey results shared in this report reinforce the need to take actions that not only create positive experiences now but lay the groundwork for successfully meeting the expectations of Gen Z in the future.

Download The 2022 ACA Study from Shep Hyken’s website for more insights on customer preferences and habits.

Also check out the three steps in Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to be a Risky Investment for tips to help get you started on creating proven, reliable, and intuitive self-service tools.

Integrate Your Way to a Better Self-Service Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

If you give visitors to your website the option to self-serve with a chatbot or virtual agent, kudos to you for recognising the importance of easily accessible digital support! Both current and potential customers appreciate being able to engage with automated self-service anytime, anywhere. However, what they don’t appreciate is thinking they are going to have an easy self-serve experience only to discover your chatbot is ill-equipped to handle anything beyond a simple question and answer pair.

I’ve been in the chatbot and virtual agent field for over 13 years and have the privilege of working with many colleagues who have over two decades of experience with the technology. Back in the early days, all chatbots were very simple question and answer tools. Rachel Freeman, Operations Director at Creative Virtual, has talked about starting in the industry in 2000 “when the focus was marketing and the novelty of the service was almost as important as the aim to increase ‘website stickiness’.” Major advancements in the technology have propelled the capabilities of today’s chatbots far ahead of those early deployments.

Unfortunately, there are still many chatbot platforms on the market that operate as simple question and answer tools with very limited conversational capabilities and integration options.  While there are specific use cases for these types of bots, quality customer self-service is no longer one of them. You will never be able to deliver the experience customers are looking for if you don’t have a tool built with an advanced conversational AI technology and the ability to be integrated with other systems.

Why is the ability to integrate your chatbot or virtual agent with other backend systems so important? Without those integrations, you are unable to deliver personalised responses for authenticated users. You can’t seamlessly escalate users from the virtual agent to a live chat agent. You don’t even have the option to deliver updates in real-time from external information feeds. All these pieces of functionality are now part of users’ expectations when they engage with your chatbot.

Given those expectations, what sort of systems should you consider integrating with your conversational AI tool? The integrations you select will depend on your self-service use cases and customer needs. Think about integrating with live chat, CRMs, voice technologies, knowledge management platforms, digital payment systems, community forums, ticketing systems, user survey tools, and contact centre platforms. Your goal should be to implement integrations that enable both you and your users to fully take advantage of the benefits of today’s conversational AI capabilities.

The big question then is: how should you go about upgrading your simple Q&A bot to an effective and integrated conversational AI tool? An obvious first step is to determine if your current chatbot platform supports the integrations you want. If not, find a more advanced platform that will allow you to create those connections. Jumpstart your upgraded tool by repurposing what you already have with your current project.

Once you have a chatbot management platform that gives you the integration and customisation options you need, don’t feel pressured to do everything at once. Take a staged approach, starting with the integrations that will have the biggest impact on improving your self-service experience. Then gradually add additional functionality to create a tool that is built for your specific needs and goals. Don’t forget to periodically review your conversational AI plan and make adjustments as your business and customer needs evolve.

We all know from our own personal experiences as customers how influential the support engagements we have with a company can be in our purchasing decisions. Take a few minutes to test your organisation’s digital self-service from that perspective. Are you delivering a seamless and personalised experience with your chatbot or virtual agent? If not, then it’s time to revisit your conversational AI strategy and identify what integrations could improve your self-service.

Gone are the days of siloed, disconnected customer service chatbots. To deliver the conversational AI engagement customers want, expect, and appreciate, you must integrate your way to a better self-service experience.

Solving Common Conversational AI Project Issues

This post was originally published on AI Time Journal.

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Back in 2019, I wrote an article on reasons why chatbot projects were failing or being abandoned before they even reached the testing stage. At the time, the conversational AI industry had been saturated with both false promises about the capabilities of the technology and a plethora of new start-ups with misleading claims about having AI-powered customer service bots. That left the chatbot and virtual agent landscape littered with poor-performing and failed projects along with negative press about the technology.

Fast forward to 2022, and much has changed in the world of conversational AI. One important change is the widespread acceptance that pure AI is not the right answer for automated customer service and employee support. Industry experts, analysts, and vendors (including those that previously claimed otherwise) now agree that a combination of humans and AI is the best approach to these chatbot and virtual agent solutions. This is coupled with important advancements in conversational AI technology that allow for the right balance of human and machine to create positive support experiences.

Conversational AI is now widely recognised as an important technology in digital customer experience and employee support strategies. During the pandemic, chatbots and virtual agents were a crucial tool for some organisations to meet the challenges of serving customers quickly and efficiently during a time when contact centres were overwhelmed and information was changing rapidly. These success stories demonstrate just how essential conversational AI technology is for successful digital strategies.

Yet despite all those success stories, some organisations are still struggling with a chatbot that’s not performing as expected, can’t be scaled as their business grows, or doesn’t properly reflect their brand. Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard a variety of reasons from business leaders on why their company is unhappy with their conversational AI tools. Here are the six most common issues they cite:

  • I can’t expand my solution to support my growing business and customer base.
  • I have limited integration options to create a seamless and personalised experience.
  • I started my project with an inexperienced start-up that isn’t able to provide the technology updates and support I need from my vendor.
  • I am struggling to manage multiple chatbots across different business divisions or departments.
  • I am unable to staff my chatbot project with internal resources with the necessary knowledge and experience.
  • I don’t own the user interface or training data with my current chatbot provider.

In those situations, it can be easy to mistakenly dismiss the technology as ineffective. Don’t fall into that trap! Instead of abandoning your investment and writing conversational AI off as a poor fit for your strategy, you need to engage with a vendor that has the tools and experience to get your project back on track.

My first recommendation for transforming a tool with any of these issues is to find a vendor that can leverage what you already have from your existing project or projects. You want to rescue your investment, not start over from scratch. If a vendor doesn’t have technology sophisticated enough to do this, then most likely their solution isn’t going to work for you in the long run anyway.

My second recommendation is to be very clear – both internally and with the vendor – about both your short-term and long-term goals for your chatbot. This is what is going to drive your conversational AI strategy and technology requirements. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your chatbot, then you can’t properly identify the functionality, integrations, reporting, etc. you need from a vendor.

And my third recommendation is to ensure you’re selecting a vendor with the right experience and expertise. You want to collaborate with a provider that has solved your issue before, understands the specific needs of your industry and/or use case, and has the references to back them up. Ask to talk to their current clients so you can hear first-hand from them what it’s like to work with the vendor.

If you’re interested in learning more, Creative Virtual has put together an eBook – Conversational AI Issues & Solutions – that talks about each of the common issues I listed above in more detail.

My overarching advice is: Don’t let any of these issues signal the end of your conversational AI project. Leverage what you already have to transform that project into the successful and valuable digital support solution your organisation needs.

How to Make Your Chatbot More Conversational

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When customers use your chatbot to self-serve, what kind of experience do you deliver? Does your chatbot need questions asked a particular way to return the correct response? Do your customers have to guess the correct keywords to enter or know specific terminology to locate the right information? Are users repeatedly told by your chatbot to try rephrasing an input that doesn’t have a direct match in the system?

All of these scenarios provide a frustrating, negative self-service experience. They often lead to an escalation to a live chat session or a call to the contact centre for resolution, meaning your support agents are left to deal with the immediate impacts of that poor experience. With digital self-service such an important piece of customer support, a chatbot with these limited capabilities is detrimental to the success of your customer experience (CX) strategy.

This is why using a high-quality conversational AI technology to build your chatbot is so important. You want your chatbot to engage with users conversationally. That isn’t possible with basic bot platforms which act more like simple FAQ tools or don’t give you options for backend integrations.

Engaging ‘conversationally’ doesn’t mean that a goal of your chatbot should be to make users think they are chatting with a real person. It’s always best to be clear that it is an automated self-service tool. Customers appreciate transparency about whether they are using a human-assisted or automated digital support option. The last thing you want to do is make them feel tricked!

Here are a few ways to create the right conversational engagement through your chatbot:

  • Create a conversational tone – Just because you aren’t trying to make users think they are talking to a real person doesn’t mean that you must make your chatbot’s responses sound stiff and bland. Craft your responses using a conversational tone that reflects your brand and has the same type of language you use on your website and in customer communications.
  • Understand free text inputs – There is more than one way to ask the same question, and in a conversation both participants understand this. Ensure your chatbot is trained to respond to the various ways users can word an input rather than requiring a specific keyword or phrase. This includes taking into account both common synonyms for your language and region as well as those for your particular industry, products, and services. And on occasions when a user’s input can’t be confidently matched to a response and the chatbot asks for the question to be rephrased, also offer some clickable suggestions or possible related FAQs to improve the experience.
  • Craft conversation flows – Adding customised conversation flows enables your chatbot to guide users through a process step-by-step in a very natural, conversational way. These flows are perfect for troubleshooting account or device issues, completing a form with the chatbot, or pinpointing a very specific piece of information to assist the customer.
  • Deliver personalised support – Integrate your chatbot with backend systems so it can provide customised responses based on that customer’s current account, subscriptions, orders, etc. Using sophisticated slot-filling functionality also enables users to authenticate within the chatbot at any time to create a seamless and more personal conversation.

The best conversational AI technology for customer support chatbots uses a blend of machine learning and natural language rules. This lets you take advantage of recent innovations in machine learning so your chatbot is constantly improving based on your users’ activities. At the same time, it gives you control over the AI so you can ensure your chatbot is using those learnings to continue providing accurate, reliable responses in a conversational way.

If you currently have a chatbot that’s failing the conversational test, check out this eBook on Conversational AI Issues & Solutions for ways to improve your solution.

If you don’t have a customer service chatbot yet and are concerned about choosing the right conversational AI technology, check out this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for some insider expert tips.

A chatbot can be a valuable self-service option for your customers, but it must be backed by a high-quality conversational AI technology – with an emphasis on conversational.

Better Digital Support with the Virtual Insurance Agent

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Insurance companies have always had the challenge of delivering personalized support for their customers. From selecting coverage and understanding benefits to confirming payments and filing claims, both policyholders and agents need information that is customized to them. As the expectation for companies across all industries to offer digital, 24/7 support and self-service has grown, delivering a positive experience has become more challenging than ever for the insurance sector.

Fortunately, advances in conversational AI technology are helping insurance companies escape from the dangers of frustrating, disjointed experiences by creating the seamless digital support options policyholders and agents need. According to industry experts at Insurance Thought Leadership (ITL), “The sky is the limit for conversational AI.”

In their whitepaper The Virtual Insurance Agent, ITL takes a detailed look at how conversational AI is allowing insurance companies to greatly improve their customer experiences while also reducing costs. With the right integrations, conversational AI tools – like virtual agents and chatbots – can reach across silos and into back-end systems to pull together all the relevant information and customer data to deliver the right responses in a consistent tone. The technology has the capability to both provide the best self-service options to customers and improve insurers’ interactions with agents.

ITL identifies six common use cases for conversational AI in the insurance industry, explaining the benefits and limitations of each example.  All of these – selecting coverage, filing a claim, understanding benefits, updating policies, educating insurance agents, and supporting the contact center – represent perfect opportunities for successfully automating top service queries through personalized, integrated conversation flows.

Being able to respond to such a high percentage of contacts from customers and agents with conversational AI delivers valuable benefits for insurance brands. They can:

  • Create better customer experiences and meet expectations for digital support
  • Improve agent experience and boost productivity
  • Reduce contact center traffic and alleviate pressure on busy live agents
  • Increase revenue by reducing customer churn and making the buying process easier
  • Lower support costs and improve efficiency by simplifying complex processes

According to ITL, “Conversational AI is one of those rare beasts in business: It delivers demonstrably better service to customers while cutting companies’ costs.” Isn’t that every insurance company’s dream?

Read more on these insights from ITL by downloading the full ‘The Virtual Insurance Agent’ whitepaper.

Also check out the short video below for a closer look at how Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ for Insurance brings together chatbot, virtual agent, and live chat technologies with extensive industry experience to create reliable digital support that is personalized, convenient, and efficient.

 

Set your Chatbot up for Success with the Right Budget

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

I think it’s safe to say that we all love to get a good deal – or at least feel like we are! – and save a little money whenever we can. I think we can also all agree that are certain times when going with the cheapest option or skimping on a line in the budget doesn’t pay off in the end. You get what you pay for, right?

A conversational AI solution is one of those projects that your organisation should be careful not to underfund. Without the proper level of financial support and ongoing funding, you will never achieve success with a conversational AI project. A chatbot or virtual agent that is treated like an unimportant side project not worthy of dedicated resources will perform like one. It will provide a poor experience and drive users away.

If you want to have a conversational AI tool that increases customer satisfaction, contributes to cost savings, generates new revenue, and improves efficiency and productivity, then your company needs to make a commitment to invest in those goals. That commitment starts with properly budgeting for the cost of the technology, the cost of developing and implementing your customised solution, and the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Budget for the technology

Earmarking a portion of your budget for the technology itself should be a no-brainer. Without a working conversational AI technology, you have no working chatbot! However, the amount you allocate for this really depends on how and where you plan to deploy your solution.

You should take into consideration your initial project plan as well as how you may want to expand and scale it in the future. Identify your integration points, calculate how many concurrent users you anticipate, estimate how large of a knowledgebase your content will require, and select the deployment channels that best serve your users. All these elements will impact which technology is a best fit for you and how much you will need to budget for that technology. An experienced conversational AI vendor or consultant will be able to provide guidance to help you scope out your technology requirements.

Budget for the development and implementation

While there are conversational AI solutions on the market that can be deployed straight out of the box with very little configuration, they will provide a very generic, basic engagement. To really create a positive experience and be successful, a chatbot needs to be customised for your organisation, use cases, users, and goals. This customisation should include integrations with other systems (such as your CRM platform, ticketing systems, or live chat) and conversational flows tailored for your users. You also want to ensure that the chatbot can respond to questions about your products, services, and procedures with specifics unique to your business.

Unless your organisation has a team with experience creating successful chatbots with the technology you select for your identified use cases and/or channels, attempting the building and implementation of your tool internally will be a mistake. Working with an expert vendor is more cost-efficient because they already know what they are doing so you aren’t paying them to figure it out. This also means you cut down on the development time and get better, quicker results.

Budget for ongoing maintenance

If a conversational AI provider tells you that you can configure and deploy a chatbot with their platform and then leave it alone to do its thing, cross them off your list immediately! Companies that invest in those solutions quickly learn that they have wasted money on empty promises. The truth is that the ongoing maintenance of conversational AI tools is what enables long-term success.

Newly implemented chatbots need more attention than well-established ones, so that needs to be reflected in your budget. During that initial period, engaging the expert vendor’s team is recommended for the same reasons you should work with them during the building and implementation step. However, after that you should have options for moving all or some of your chatbot maintenance in-house. If you choose to do that, factor into your budget costs for those internal staff members and any related trainings or licenses.

 

If the price tag of a quality conversational AI solution creates some hesitation within your organisation, consider the cost of deploying a chatbot that delivers a negative, frustrating experience for users. Putting time and money into a tool that your customers or employees won’t want to use – even if it is just the bare minimum investment – is a misuse of resources. Not only are you wasting your budget, but you are harming your digital experience and eroding confidence in your business.

Check out the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing for more insights on budgeting as well as typical pricing models, average costs, and calculating your return on investment.

Can Conversational AI Make Your CX More Human and Empathetic?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

For years automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents have been criticised as being a cold and impersonal way of supporting customers. Opponents of these conversational AI solutions claim they remove the human touch from the customer experience and keep companies from being able to build real relationships with their customers.

As conversational AI technologies have improved and customer preferences have shifted more towards self-service options, some of these critiques have become less relevant. Certainly, over the past two years with the pandemic making in-person interactions less possible or desirable, there has been a significant uptick in the acceptance and expectation of digital support. Many companies have found their virtual agent solutions to be a lifesaver for both their customers and their business over that time.

Yet, it’s also clear that technology can’t fully replace the need for real human interactions. No matter how advanced and integrated your conversational AI tool may be, some support issues are best handled by a contact centre agent. And some consumers will always prefer to talk to a human even when self-service options are available. Any conversational AI vendor worth their salt will never advocate for their technology to completely remove the human from the experience for these reasons.

In addition to the push to digital, the pandemic has also brought a crushing load of personal and professional stresses for your customers – financial concerns, deaths of loved ones, long-term health issues – added on top of their usual day-to-day stresses. This has made the human interactions they have with your company even more significant and potentially challenging for your employees and agents.

Gartner has predicted that by 2026, 75% of customers who call customer service and support will do so because of loneliness, and not because they have an actual service issue. That alone will have a massive impact on your contact centre. It further highlights the fact that you need to equip your agents and employees with the right tools and training to properly support vulnerable customers.

Unfortunately, for some businesses all this compounds an already existing struggle to properly assist vulnerable customers. Recently someone I know tragically lost everything in a house fire – thankfully she, her dogs, and her neighbours are all fine! Most of her interactions with her utility companies were fast, smooth, and empathetic. However, the call she had with one provider was horrible and made an experience that was already traumatic even worse. After a 45-minute wait to connect to an agent, she was pressured to pause her service (at a monthly cost) even after being clear she wanted to cancel, told she had to go into the house to recover their equipment (or be charged for it) despite her saying everything in the house was a total loss, and pushed for a new address for them to send her final bill even though her account had been on autopay for 10 years.

It was very clear that this agent did not have the proper training or tools to deal with a customer needing assistance after a catastrophic loss. This company missed the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with a long-standing customer through a supportive, empathetic human interaction. Instead, they have both lost a previously loyal customer and delivered an experience so bad that she’s shared it with her family, friends, and followers on social media.

One of the CX trends Gartner has identified for executive leaders in 2022 is increasing the capability for customer empathy at all levels of the organisation. For some companies, a focus on trust and empathy is long overdue. For others, this is already a priority and part of the internal culture.

In fact, some forward-thinking companies are using conversational AI to make their customer interactions more human and empathetic.

Conversational AI solutions designed specifically for the contact centre have been creating better experiences and improving agent performance for years. A perfect example of this is Motability Operations, an organisation in the UK that provides cars, wheelchairs, and scooters to more than 630,000 customers with severe disabilities. They have used a virtual agent tool in their contact centre since 2007 to support their advisors taking incoming calls. They have won numerous awards and recognitions over the years for their tool, including a 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Award.

The judges selected Motability Operations because their “approach to knowledge management builds trust and supports effective conversations, getting it ‘right first time’, optimising call length and – above all – helping advisors give customer confidence.” The conversational AI tool gives every agent in the contact centre access to all the information at their fingertips, so they don’t need to worry about how they are going to find the right answer. Instead, their focus can be on listening to the caller and engaging with them in a human and empathic way.

Virtual agent solutions are also helping other company employees outside of the contact centre improve their human interactions with customers. Some organisations have deployed internal conversational AI tools to give employees easy access to information on products, services, and processes. With the right integrations, these tools can even allow employees to submit forms, check on account information, and update orders all in one place.

One major financial services group, after seeing the benefits of using internal virtual agents for years, deployed a new conversational AI solution designed to help employees provide specialist support for potentially vulnerable customers. Employees can use search terms such as ‘job loss’, ‘autism’, and ‘anxiety’ to access tips on how to support the customer’s needs sensitively and effectively. The tool also includes a glossary and links to practical and helpful resources.

Think about how much better my friend’s interaction would have been after the traumatic loss of her home if the agent she spoke with had access to that kind of conversational AI tool. A quick search for ‘house fire’ could have provided him with the proper questions to ask and special accommodations that could be made for a customer in that situation to create a supportive, empathic experience at such a vulnerable time.

As your organisation works to increase customer empathy this year and provide better support for vulnerable customers, consider how conversational AI technology can help you do that. Instead of removing the human touch from your CX, conversational AI can make your engagements with customers more human and empathic.