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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Introducing the Conversational AI Industry’s Smartest Solution Yet: The Neutrino Release of V-Person™

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today I’m proud to be sharing Creative Virtual’s introduction of the Neutrino release of V-Person™, our innovative virtual agent and chatbot technology. This release delivers the perfect combination of conversational AI, orchestration tools and industry expertise to enable organisations to create customer and employee conversations. It brings together humans and artificial intelligence (AI) with powerful integration options and easy-to-manage workflows for the industry’s smartest solution yet.

When I first founded Creative Virtual in late 2003, chatbot and virtual agent technology was still very new in the customer service space. The solutions we were building were very basic and lacked the power of AI and machine comprehension that we have today. It’s been exciting to lead a company that’s instrumental in advancing the technology and its applications for customer and employee engagement.

As the virtual agent and live chat market continues to evolve, one constant for us at Creative Virtual is our tradition of innovation. However, we don’t focus on innovation simply for the sake of being able to say we have something shiny and new. We innovate around the real needs of organisations and their customer and employee experience goals. Our Neutrino release of V-Person is a great example of this commitment.

Several years ago, there was a sudden burst of interest in chatbots and virtual agents along with ways AI could be used for customer support. This has led to a chatbot, virtual agent and live chat market saturated with inexperienced vendors and ineffective technologies that are leaving companies and their customers frustrated. Some organisations are learning the hard way that not all chatbot and virtual agent solutions are created equal.

v-person neutrino releaseNeutrino addresses and removes the frustrations caused by those poor performing vendors and technologies by combining:

  • V-Person – Our conversational virtual agent and chatbot technology brings together humans and AI for personalised, smart self-help.
  • V-Portal™ – Our powerful orchestration platform is the most functional virtual agent, chatbot and live chat management platform in the market today.
  • Consultation & guidance – Our experienced global team delivers localised support, international insights and best practice expertise.

Having the information your customers and employees need means little if they aren’t able to access it quickly and efficiently to find answers to questions and troubleshoot problems. With Neutrino, you can leverage your company’s existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

We can also use your live chat and contact centre transcripts, search inputs and existing chatbot projects to jumpstart your solution. By combining your data with our Transcript Analysis Tool and sector-specific intent libraries, the Creative Virtual team can:

  • Identify what can be automated to help build your business case
  • Build and deploy your system quickly and easily
  • Train your virtual agent for continued improvement

This means you can deploy conversational self-service quickly and easily, creating conversations with customers and employees across touchpoints in a seamless, personalised way and at large scale. Providing quality support on digital channels has never been more important than it is right now as we all adjust to fewer in-person interactions and a larger remote workforce.

The reason our Neutrino release is the industry’s smartest solution yet really comes down to the experience and expertise of the global Creative Virtual team. Everything, from the updating of our company roadmap to the development of new features and functionality to the implementation and optimisation of end user solutions, hinges on our team’s deep understanding of the technology and extensive experience in the industry. There is no substitute for that expertise when it comes to delivering industry-leading products and successful solutions.

Check out the Get to know the Neutrino release of V-Person page to learn more, download the release overview, read what some of our current customers and partners say about working with us, and request your own live demo.

Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Regardless of what you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. How to select and deploy the right technology to do that for your organisation was the focus of the webinar I recently presented with Engage Customer.

In the webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, I talked about some key questions to keep in mind when adding one of these solutions to your customer experience (CX) strategy. You want to ask: How can I ensure my chatbot or virtual agent is:

  • Providing accurate and personalised information?
  • Creating a positive and seamless experience?
  • Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in a reliable way?
  • Able to grow and expand with my digital strategy?

Deploying a solution that enables you to integrate with other systems and knowledge repositories is crucial to success. You want a solution that is backed by an orchestration platform that allows you to bring together all of the content sources and manage the natural language processing (NLP), intents and machine learning to keep the conversations flowing in a seamless, personalised way across customer touchpoints. You also want to be learning all the time from these conversations in such a way that the human content owner works alongside the machine learning component to provide the best possible customer experience.

I am a great believer that the best way to really understand the technology and why these questions are so important is to see the technology in action. During the webinar I shared a series of live demonstrations of solutions currently deployed for companies in the telecommunications, financial services and travel sectors. I selected these examples because they showcase how the technology is being used across a variety of customer touchpoints and with various integrations to deliver customised, seamless experiences.

To help companies get started with selecting a new chatbot or virtual agent – or finding a solution to replace a poor performing tool – I ended my presentation with four important tips:

  1. Work with an experienced vendor
  2. Select a reliable technology
  3. Look for flexible integration options
  4. Evaluate the orchestration platform

I went into detail on each of these tips and shared some specific questions to ask during the evaluation process to ensure you are deploying a technology that will work for your specific goals and use cases. It’s important to consider how the solution not only fits with your immediate plans but how it will evolve and grow with your company and strategy.

My thanks to Steve, Katie, Dominic and the entire team at Engage Customer for hosting this webinar! You can watch the webinar recording on-demand to see the demos and find out more about my tips and best practices for deploying AI chabots and virtual agents.

If you want to learn more about Creative Virtual’s experience and technology or are interested in arranging an individual workshop, contact us here. The Creative Virtual team is ready to help you get started on your successful virtual agent strategy.

Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

On the wall of my parents’ kitchen hangs my mother’s beloved rotary phone, referred to by the family as simply The Rotary. Fans of Stranger Things will have watched Joyce receiving her first contact with Will from the Upside Down on a near replica of The Rotary – right down to the amazing mustard yellow colour – that was hanging on her wall, too.

The Rotary, now only functioning to answer incoming calls to the landline, is an oddity in today’s world of smartphones. For the grandkids it’s one of those weird things you only see at your grandparents’ house because they’re old. For my siblings and me, it’s the source of a long-running family joke and a little bit of nostalgia.

The trends and preferences in our personal communications and the technology we use to stay connected have changed drastically over the lifetime of The Rotary. The same is true for how companies engage with and support us as customers. Newer channels, such as messaging apps, have entered the mix and preferences are shifting more and more towards digital self-service as a first choice. Yet even with these changes, customers still sometimes want or need to reach out to a human agent in the contact centre.

In the 2020 edition of The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel surveyed business leaders about their current and planned customer service offerings and investments. One survey question focused on the role they saw artificial intelligence (AI) playing in their contact centre. Among respondents from the UK, 94% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would be used to support human agents. There was an agreement that this helps to speed up responses and provide customers with higher quality resolutions.

No one taking part in the UK survey viewed AI as unimportant to their contact centre, and only 24% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would replace human agents. Respondents from large contact centres with 200+ seats were more likely to think that agents would be replaced by AI than those from small or medium-sized contact centres.

AI in the contact centre

Survey respondents from the US also viewed AI as having the role of supporting agents, with 83% agreeing or strongly agreeing. However, they were more likely to believe that AI will replace human agents with 59% agreeing with that survey option. Interestingly, the US survey also had 12% of respondents thinking AI is unimportant to their contact centre.

AI in the contact center

There’s been a lot of hype around AI taking over jobs and making humans obsolete in certain roles and industries. While there’s been impressive advancements in the use of AI within the customer service space over the past several years, it’s certainly not at a point where it can completely replace all of your human agents. The fact that a majority of survey respondents in both the UK and US felt that AI will be used to support agents is right on the money. The combination of humans and AI makes for an improved customer support experience.

One way in which companies can support their live agents is with AI-enhanced virtual agents and chatbots. Back in 2015, Motability Operations won a Customer Contact Innovation Award for their contact centre virtual agent, Ask Mo, and gave a presentation on their winning case study. While the presentation is a bit old now (although not nearly as old as The Rotary!), it provides some great insights into why Ask Mo – which is still used in their contact centre today – has been so successful. It provides real evidence to back up the survey’s findings that using AI to support agents provides customers with higher quality resolutions and a better experience.

Be sure to download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights into the ways organisations are using AI as part of their self-service and contact centre strategies. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies and methods to help them support those channels, as well as newer ones, in a better and more cost-effective way.

Satisfy Your Curiosity About Deploying AI Virtual Agents and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Do you have a chatbot or virtual agent on your roadmap? Do you need to upgrade a poor performing self-service tool? Are you curious about successful use cases for AI-enhanced virtual agents?

If so, you’ll want to reserve your spot now to join Creative Virtual and Engage Customer for their upcoming webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents.

On Thursday, 4 June 2020 Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media, for this live webcast. Through a series of live demonstrations, they’ll explore:

  • Best practices for deploying and optimising conversational self-service
  • Questions to ask when selecting a chatbot or virtual agent solution
  • Tips for using AI and machine learning to improve performance
  • Guidelines for implementing seamless handover to live chat
  • Current live use cases and results from organisations around the world

Advancements in chatbot, virtual agent and conversational AI technologies have made them a go-to solution for providing easy-to-use and cost-effective customer support on digital channels. Customers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service options and appreciate being able to get help instantly at any time of the day or night. Companies benefit from reducing demand on contact centre agents and improving their customer experience.

The realities of the ongoing global pandemic have placed an increased pressure on organisations’ digital channels, including their existing virtual agent solutions. For many companies, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how they maintain and build customer loyalty during this time and in the future. Offering reliable self-service is an important piece of that strategy.

Register now for the webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents to learn more. Can’t attend the live event? Don’t worry, a recording will be sent to all registrants after the webinar.

You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent self-service and improve customer loyalty.

An Employee Self-Service Strategy for Evolving Workforce Realities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Raise your hand if you are working from home for the first time in your current role.

I’m guessing a lot of hands are up, and along with those raised hands have come lots of fresh challenges for companies struggling to support the new reality of a remote workforce. Digital strategies are evolving as organisations address the immediate needs of their employees and also look to the possibility of a more permanent switch to remote work. Twitter was in the news this week when they notified employees that they could continue working from home even when offices begin re-opening. It’s likely that other companies will offer employees similar options to continue to work from home on a full or part-time basis long after stay-at-home orders are lifted.

Whether your workforce is home-based, office-based or a combination of the two, having the right digital tools in place allows you to not only provide essential support for employees but also improve productivity and efficiency. Just as customers are increasingly adopting self-service channels, employees are also increasingly open to using self-help options. In particular, AI-enhanced virtual agents and chatbots empower employees to self-serve when and where they need help, reducing support costs while at the same time improving the employee experience.

The flexibility of this conversational AI technology lends itself to a wide range of successful employee support use cases across areas such as IT Service Management (ITSM), human resources (HR) and staff training. Depending on the size of your workforce and nature of your business, it’s likely that your company could benefit from implementing self-service options in multiple areas.

When it comes to creating a successful employee self-service strategy, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The brand new guide Creating a 20/20 Vision for Your Employee Self-Service Strategy will help you get started on your unique strategy with:

  • Three steps for creating and implementing a customised digital self-service strategy
  • Successful use cases for employee-facing virtual agents and chatbots
  • Questions to ask when selecting self-service technologies
  • Advantages to starting with a proof of concept (POC)

There are lots of benefits to improving your employee experience, from increased staff retention to the knock-on effect on your customer experience. Whether your workforce ends up adopting a permanent work-from-home option or everyone returns to your office or place of business, having the right digital tools in place to support them is a necessity. Download this employee self-service guide for insights on how to make your vision a reality.

Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.

The Impact of Customer Experience Developments on the Future of Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There is always an element of uncertainty we must take into account when planning for the future. This has perhaps never been truer on a global scale than right now as we face the unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be the right time to book your next beach getaway or send out invitations for your extended family reunion, smart companies should be looking towards the future impacts of customer experience (CX) developments and consumer expectations.

In the recently published report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel takes a deep dive into the current status of CX self-service technologies, use cases and customer preferences. Each version of the report breaks down the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers in that country on their expectations of a good customer experience. The report then compares those responses with survey responses from organisations on their current and planned self-service offerings and investments.

The last section of the report analyses responses from business leaders on the future of CX, self-service and the contact centre. This includes a question on how important various CX developments will be on their organisation in the next two years. The two graphs below summarise their responses – the first is responses from the UK, the second from the US:

ContactBabel Self-Service GuideContactBabel Self-Service Guide

In the US survey, 61% of respondents identified AI/self-service as being very important, up from just 51% in 2018. The UK survey found a similar noteworthy increase in responses from the 2018 survey for AI/self-service. This reflects the significant developments made in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer service space over the past several years. The hype around AI-powered self-service tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, has evolved into a more practical and realistic view giving organisations more confidence to pursue the technology.

It also reflects the increased adoption of digital self-service by customers over the same period. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service chatbots and virtual agents. They appreciate being able to get help and support instantaneously at any time of day or night. In both the UK and US customer surveys cited in the ContactBabel reports, respondents identified website self-service/mobile app as their preferred method to contact a company for a high urgency interaction. Nearly half of all respondents selected self-service over other options such as phoning the call centre or sending an email.

Self-Service Guide

Self-Service Guide

It will be interesting to see how these trends change over the next 12 months as companies rise to the challenges of supporting customers during and after coronavirus-related shutdowns and social distancing measures. There has already been a significant uptick in the use of self-service tools like virtual agents as contact centres struggle to respond to the sudden surge of incoming calls, chats and emails. Will this result in a more permanent increase in customers turning to self-service as their first point of contact for support issues? And will the more intense focus on digital strategies within organisations, currently driven by necessity, continue as they see the benefits of the changes they are making?

Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of the coming year, organisations must take action now to assess their customers’ needs and expectations in order to prioritise CX developments. Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights and self-service use cases.

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 2

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As described in my previous post, financial organisations find themselves under immense pressure due to the unfolding coronavirus crisis; they have to respond quickly to rapid changes. Delivering excellent customer service is more important than ever, as it can be a real ‘make it or break it’ experience for customers looking for quick answers in these uncertain times. I’m going to describe a retail bank’s response to this demand.

In this project, we have built a successful collaboration with the product owners: the client is involved in the content curation process, adding new and amending existing questions and answers, while Creative Virtual deals with the AI related and more complicated tasks, such as NLP (natural language processing), semantics and approvals. However, this workflow can be easily altered at any time, and we can step in to manage and take care of the content completely if this is required.

The product owner of the virtual agent also works closely with their live chat department, enabling the bank to fully optimise their virtual agent content based on their live chat agents’ feedback. This is an extremely beneficial symbiosis – by this continuous cooperation, the virtual agent takes the pressure off the live chat centre and the live chat agents can improve the performance of the chatbot. In early March, after having sent the initial quick review of coronavirus user inputs, there was a very speedy and effective response from the bank. Based on the analysis provided by Creative Virtual, plus their call centre and live chat feedback, they were able to identify the most frequent (and pressing) queries and produce new FAQs for the virtual agent to cover these. This content was placed under a dedicated new FAQ category and also displayed as start content, to make it fully visible and accessible for users.

In this way, the retail bank was really successful in promoting their active ownership of the situation at an early stage. These times can be a dividing line for the marketplace, as reactivity and speed of solution delivery can really win customers’ trust; and a vague general information or a Contact us page won’t help, as each user is looking for a precise answer matching their individual needs. In these unprecedented times, I have found myself reaching out for specific information, often at odd times of the day, and even well-established companies are failing to fulfil the demand to provide effective customer self-service tools. With everything being up in the air, customers are simply not in a mindset to browse through the Help pages, which seem like a maze when searching for that tiny bit of crucial information they need.

As events unfolded, our product owner at this bank was extremely strained due to the high number of customer queries coming through their call centre and live chat departments, thus asked us to take over. This is one of the benefits of our orchestration platform and AI solutions – our clients can look after their own virtual agent, but it doesn’t have to be forgotten and left alone if they suddenly need to put their internal focus elsewhere. The Creative Virtual team can always step in and provide full-service support in these situations to keep the virtual agent regularly updated at especially critical times.

One of the other benefits of our flexible workflows, strong collaborations and close relations with our clients is that we can reduce our turn-around times significantly. As Knowledgebase Engineers work on different projects, we can bring over discoveries to other projects and work on targeted content updates very effectively. I love looking after several projects, as I always get fresh ideas and it’s never a dull day. During this pandemic period, we have created special coronavirus related knowledge packs which are quite easy to implement in multiple projects, so our completion time of required updates became very low. By being involved in and managing these different datasets, we see a more holistic view of user behaviour patterns and can suggest ways to improve customer experience accordingly.

This is a fast-paced period – as things develop, more and more content needs to be amended so the virtual agent is being optimised continuously. However, this client uses a smart approach to deal with rapid changes to sustain the high level of quality answers. In cases when certain FAQs might need to be updated weekly (or even daily), there has been a switch to use reassuring and supportive language, describing the nature of uncertainty of the topic and inserting a link to the appropriate websites (both bank and government sides), where customers can keep an eye on regular updates. Our stats show a high customer satisfaction on these virtual agent answers. Being able to understand the question and deliver an appropriate link to the right section of the website is already enough to give users peace of mind.

Based on this observation, another way this retail bank is maximising their virtual agent has been using it to promote other self-service options on their website to customers. Whenever they have options such as online application platforms, downloadable dispute and refund forms and so forth, the virtual agent will deliver an answer that proactively guides customers to these sections. By updating and adding FAQs to handle these queries too, they have been able to take more pressure off their overly busy contact centres.

With these steps and high level of responsiveness, this retail bank continues to provide immediate support to their customers through their Creative Virtual powered chatbot. Available 24/7 and able to handle thousands of real time user queries simultaneously, the AI-enhanced tool is giving some comfort and peace of mind to customers in these uncertain times.

If your organisation could benefit from offering your own virtual agent, check out this Best Practices Whitepaper from destinationCRM on selecting a virtual agent for your self-service project. You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s solutions can fit with your internal workflows to improve the self-service you offer.

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

We are experiencing unprecedented times and the world is rapidly transforming with loads of uncertainty arising day by day. Our normal routine has changed, and we need to get used to dealing with coronavirus related situations and disruptions. Naturally, we are all seeking reassurance, guidance, help and support.

At Creative Virtual, we monitor our deployments continuously, and our tools are very sensitive to quick changes. We can always clearly see social patterns and trends being reflected in the usage of our virtual agents. During crisis times, no matter how big or small, the usage stats always jump up and the vast majority of the increase can often be attributed to those recent events or announcements.

In the last 4 weeks, on average, the traffic of our banking virtual agents has doubled. We could see a huge increase in usage during other crisis periods in the last 6 months (such as the Thomas Cook bankruptcy in September and Brexit related queries). However, this huge spike is unrivalled. As we kept a close eye on incoming stats, I sent a quick review to my clients of user inputs mentioning coronavirus and synonyms at a very early stage.

As the situation developed, organisations had to react quickly to changes and provide instant support and help to their customers. A quick and initial solution was to add a general FAQ for coronavirus, with high priority, meaning that single keyword would pick up any virtual agent inputs containing the word ‘coronavirus’ (even if the question contained other recognisable words, such as ‘loans’). In these times, a proactive approach by financial organisations can really make a difference to customers, as everyone wants to feel reassured instantly and see how their bank copes with the crisis. With this quick coronavirus keyword solution, customers who reached out to their bank through Creative Virtual powered chatbots, could see the responsiveness of their bank and could be guided to the general ‘Coronavirus Hub’ FAQs.

The next question organisations had to figure out was what customers were really asking for, in regard to the pandemic, to be able to provide self-service options (both through their virtual agent and other website updates). Within a few days, one of the banking virtual agents I look after had more than 3,000 recorded user queries around the crisis. All of these user queries were recognised by our high prioritised keyword and allowed me to start our analysis and content tuning. In these times, when call centres and live chat agents are under immense pressure, having thousands of customer questions being handled by an automated 24/7 service is invaluable.

I find it fascinating to work on these queries and look for patterns. After cleaning the data and removing very general inputs about ‘Coronavirus’, we could identify 9 main topics users are after. Some of these topics were expected, such as credit card and mortgage payment holidays. However, we also identified topics which we initially haven’t thought about, such as travel, holiday and flight cancellations and premium club cinema ticket expiry dates. This analysis and suggested list of FAQs/topics were sent to the client. This insight was extremely helpful and enabled them to act quickly, reaching out to all internal departments of the company in order to update both website and virtual agent content accordingly. Within 48 hours, the company’s virtual agents (deployed across multiple branded websites) were able to provide instant and appropriate guidance and support to all these coronavirus related questions and hopefully give a bit of comfort to users who are looking for answers to their questions in these uncertain times.

The increases in virtual agent traffic our customers are seeing isn’t only coming from coronavirus questions, though. Due to lockdowns, stay-at-home measurements and customer care centres’ increased waiting times, people are more likely to reach out to virtual agents generally – and here comes a personal story!

As I was chatting with my brother last weekend, he was complaining that he couldn’t get to speak with a live chat agent either on the banking app nor the website, and he needed his IBAN urgently (I would say, typical user behaviour – an IBAN is badly needed, 9pm on Saturday!). He happens to be a customer of the very same financial organisation this blog post is about, so this is an insight into a real-life customer. I explained to him, with great care, that live chat agents are very likely to be not working at this time of day, and then I proudly guided him to the virtual agent I’ve been working on for years now. After asking ‘What’s my IBAN’, he was overly impressed as he managed to find it immediately. I have encouraged him to use the virtual agent frequently, without sparing good feedback. Also, this was the first time I could demonstrate my actual work as a Knowledgebase Engineer to my brother!

The recently added Coronavirus FAQs are triggered thousands of times weekly (sometimes daily), but there is also a general trend of people increasingly interacting with our virtual agents for help with a variety of topics, which continues to prove their value. We keep monitoring performance to discover more and more topics, so we are able to better help people as we are all in this together.

For some more information about the benefits of using virtual agents to support customers during this uncertain time, check out Part 1 of this blog series on self-service. You can also request a personalised demo to see first-hand how this technology, and Knowledgebase Engineers like myself, can help your organisation improve your self-service.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 3: Supporting Employees

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

So far in this series we have discussed using chatbots, virtual agents and conversational AI to offer easy-to-use customer self-service (Part 1) and as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents (Part 2). In this third and final instalment, let’s explore how this technology can be used to deliver a positive employee support experience.

Organisations of all sizes and across all industries are being faced with difficult decisions as they work to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting employees has become more important than ever before and, at the same time, more challenging than ever before. With new regulations and policies around social distancing and quarantines, companies are suddenly faced with entire workforces working from home, reductions to just essential employees and the temporary suspension of in-person interactions.

Luckily there are digital tools organisations can put in place that will help employees navigate this ‘new normal’ and improve productivity and efficiency. AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents empower employees to self-serve when and where they need support. This both improves the experience for employees and reduces the pressure of staffing human-assisted channels, such as internal support desks and helplines, to deal with increased demand.

The flexibility of conversational virtual agent technology lends itself to a wide range of successful employee support use cases. Here are a few that are especially relevant to support employees in the current uncertain situation:

  • IT supporthelp desk requests, system access and password resets, application support – Employees transitioning to working from home will inevitably have questions, especially if they are using technologies with which they are unfamiliar. There are lots of entertaining stories about technical fails circling the internet, like this story of a boss accidently changing herself into a potato during a videoconference. Finding the humour in these very relatable situations brings us together and is important during such a stressful time. What is not funny for employees is when they can’t get the technical support they need to do their jobs. A chatbot or virtual agent gives them 24/7 access to self-service so regardless of when they run into problems, they can find information and step-by-step troubleshooting guides to help resolve their issues.
  • HR support company policies/procedures support, time-off requests, payroll questions, expense report assistance – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have put new policies and procedures in place for employees or made updates to existing ones. With so much new information – combined with new working and family routines – employees can benefit from a way to easily get their questions answered. Virtual agents remove the need for employees to search through an entire policy document for a specific piece of information by instantly pulling out the relevant content for them. The technology can also be set up with a handhold feature to guide employees through the completion of forms and HR-related requests.
  • Staff support documentation support, staff training, product guides, device/machine support – This third category covers a wide range of specialised use cases. Organisations are being faced with the challenge of supporting employees digitally – in some cases for the first time ever – and should explore how an internal-facing virtual agent may be able to help them do that. Everything from training programmes to product guides to documentation assistance lend themselves well to intelligent automated support. With options to integrate with Single Sign-On (SSO), employee profiles, knowledge management platforms and other backend systems, these tools can provide an extremely personalised experience for employees.

Take a look at this Customer Success Story from a large government department that has been reducing their internal service desks costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent for several years.

I mentioned in Part 1 that chatbots and virtual agents are not only cost-effective tools for providing digital self-service, but that they can also be deployed quickly with a high-level of performance. That quick timeline is hugely important for organisations now as they rise to the challenge of delivering quality service and support. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Do your homework – It’s natural during stressful, uncertain times to act on feelings of panic. Unfortunately, that can lead to decisions that aren’t thought out and ultimately compound the problem. Even if you are moving forward with a virtual agent project quickly, still take the time to do your homework. Make sure the solution you are selecting will work for your organisation’s goals and internal structure. A basic or off-the-shelf chatbot may sound good because it’s super fast to deploy, but will it be able to accurately and consistently answer the questions your customers, agents and/or employees are going to ask? A DIY solution may have an attractive price tag, but do you have the internal expertise and time to build a tool that will provide a positive experience for users?
  • Look at the bigger picture – Even if you’re starting with a small, very specific chatbot deployment you still need to consider how it fits into your larger digital strategy. Select a solution that you will be able to expand and can be integrated with other channels and systems (such as live chat, voice technology, personalised account information, ticketing systems, etc.). Even if you aren’t looking to create a scalable and robust tool right now, you want to have the ability to easily do that down the road. Failure to identify the role of a virtual agent in the overall customer or employee experience often leads to organisations wasting time and money on a project that they end up replacing. If you have an existing tool that isn’t performing well in the current situation or doesn’t fit with the new digital reality of your company, now is the time to upgrade it. The good news is, you won’t have to start a new project from scratch. And that brings me to my third tip. . .
  • Use what you already have – The best way to jumpstart the development of a new chatbot or virtual agent is to use data that you already have as initial training data. This may be live chat transcripts, call centre transcripts or existing chatbot projects. When you are selecting a vendor to work with on your project, make sure to ask if and how they can leverage your existing data to fast-track the development process and give the virtual agent a high level of accuracy from day 1.

If you are looking for industry research to help you with your business case or strategy, be sure to download the recently released ContactBabel report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service. It is a long report but provides valuable insights from consumers on their preferences and usage of self-service channels as well as use cases and results from organisations currently offering self-service options.

When you’re ready to get started on your own chatbot or virtual agent project, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.