Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The New Year is here, and with it the much anticipated 2016 predictions, outlooks and trends for just about every industry and field, including customer service. With customer service a key part of the overall customer experience, every organisation should be keeping an eye on developments in the space and evaluating which can help improve support for their existing and potential customers.

Analyst Kate Leggett shared five of her top trends to watch this year in her blog post Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016. Trend number one should come as no surprise: Companies will make self-service easier. Kate reports that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when customers were unable to successfully self-serve, rather than as the initial channel of contact. In 2016, organisations will strive to make self-service easier for customers by looking at their knowledge management strategies and exploring virtual agent solutions.

The themes of self-service and human assistance – and the combination of those channels – also featured prominently when Call Centre Helper turned to their readers and contact centre experts with the question: What Will Happen to the Contact Centre in 2016 and Beyond? One contributor predicted that artificial intelligence will ‘take care of everything’ with only complaints being escalated to a human agent. Another reader looked to self-care options to handle transactional queries but not be able to replace the desire of customers to speak with a human. A third reader declared that as soon as virtual agents pass the Turing Test, ‘it will be Artificial Intelligence all the way!’

While it’s not likely that contact centres will turn to artificial intelligence ‘all the way’ in 2016, it’s important to recognise the impact that advances in natural language virtual agents are having in the customer service space today. Once stand-alone tools only able to answer basic questions, they are now sophisticated Smart Help solutions proven to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing support costs for organisations. Virtual agents are great at handling transactional queries, including personalised, account-specific questions and tasks, thanks to advanced integration options. When backed by the right knowledge management platform, virtual agents can easily be deployed across customer channels, including web, mobile and social, to make consistent, accurate self-service easier for both companies and their customers.

The virtual agents of 2016 are also designed to be complementary to live chat and other human-assisted support channels, with seamless escalation from self-service to a human agent. They are being successfully deployed within contact centres to support live agents and assure consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels. Through real-time and Voice of the Customer reporting, virtual agents are also giving organisations incredible insight into customer questions and behaviours that help improve their customer service strategies.

With customer preferences shifting towards easy self-service, there’s no better time than 2016 for organisations to explore the combination of virtual and human agents to create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.

Reduce to the Max: Creating our new AppFoundry listing

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

Creative Virtual recently signed a partnership with Genesys to become a Core Integration Partner. This is exciting and a big recognition of our work in itself, but this was also the first step in becoming part of Genesys’ brand new AppFoundry marketplace. The Genesys AppFoundry is an online marketplace of hand selected tools and solutions from the Genesys Partner Ecosystem which was officially launched during G-Force 2015 at the end of October. Among the selected solutions is Creative Virtual’s V-Person™, our conversational platform designed to support customer service agents and deliver personalised self-service experiences for customers.

The use of Smart Help and natural language tools to support agents – not just to drive customer self-service solutions – is seeing growing demand from organisations. With flexible integration, personalisation and seamless handover between channels all being important parts of our implementations, V-Person technology fits this demand quite well.

So here we were, our marketing manager and myself, facing the task to push all we have to say about Creative Virtual’s customer experience and customer service solutions into a Genesys AppFoundry listing. Keeping with the nice brisk look and feel of the template felt like being asked to slim down our website by the factor 10!

However, it was a great exercise to review and sharpen our message again. V-Person is incredibly flexible and versatile, it is so tempting to just list out every single benefit and feature in great detail. But if you can’t see the wood for the trees any more – a field that’s called “5 word description” is your friend. I think we did ok, now I ask you to check it out here and tell us what you think!

[Part 3] How Top Banks Leverage IVAs to Enable Self-Service: The Integration of IVAs in Non-Traditional Channels

By Richard Simons, CEO of Creative Virtual USA

This is the third post in our seven-part blog series – How Top Banks Leverage Intelligent Virtual Assistants to Enable Self-Service.

THE INTEGRATION OF INTELLIGENT VIRTUAL AGENTS IN NON-TRADITIONAL CHANNELS

We’re increasingly seeing smart machines like our intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) being integrated into various systems to help people self-serve and create a more efficient use of human resources. Typically, IVAs have been used online and with live chat, but some of our clients are being creative with their deployments, even creating a customer engagement hub that reduces customer effort and helps them find information faster. Here are four non-traditional ways our clients are deploying IVAs in non-traditional channels.

Mobile

More customers want access to customer support from their mobile devices, and our apps are being configured to ensure the optimum experience for customers. For example, some virtual agents are built as standalone app and some mobile apps contain a link to a intelligent virtual agent that is integrated into their regionalization. When people ask questions, the virtual agent knows where they are and can provide specific information based on their geography.

For example, when a customer asks, “Where’s my nearest store?,” the typical result would be to deliver a webpage that asks the user to provide more information such as zip code. With an IVA, when a user asks the same question, the IVA immediately provides the retail locations nearest to them. This makes it effortless for the user and deflects calls from the call center. Using V-Person™ technology, clients are receiving contact deflection rates of up to 80%.

Social Media

  • Twitter: Clients can use their IVA on Twitter. Rather than having the user type a question into Twitter of 140 characters of less, they can just click the link to the IVA and type their specific question. Since the IVA can be linked to their personal account, they can get a personalized answer directly on Twitter without leaving the site.
  • Facebook: Our clients are using IVAs on Facebook. Customers can ask questions in the Facebook environment, and receive answers without leaving Facebook. They can also be linked to the appropriate page on the brand’s website, or escalated to live chat, IVR or a live agent.
  • Forums: Our technology is being used by another client within Lithium forums. Users post questions which gets parsed using our smart V-Person™ technology. If we have an answer it will be automatically posted to the forum. Our surveys show that 40% of questions posted in a forum can be answered by an IVA.

CRM Systems

  • Process Integration: Clients are linking their IVAs with CRM software like Salesforce and Siebel to help customers activate their software. When a customers gets an error code during activation, the IVA pops up and takes them through a process. We’ve seen an 80% reduction in human intervention in this process of validating their software licenses.
  • Support Ticketing: Clients have also integrated their IVAs with the Salesforce ticketing system. IVAs look at the tickets, and automatically offer a solution or answer to the inquiry. The ticket will remain in the Salesforce queue until the customer says, “Yes, you’ve answered my question.”

Call Centers & IVR Systems

  • Call Center: Clients are deploying IVAs within their call centers to increase agent productivity and increase overall customer satisfaction. Using our knowledge management system, V-Portal™, they are leveraging their ability to reuse all of the natural language and understanding of common customer questions to provide different answers to the call center where appropriate.
  • IVR: One of the big concepts that we’ve helped our customers with is that customers 1) don’t want to repeat themselves and 2) want first interaction resolution. It’s easy to do this in live chat because you can just pass the conversation through to the live agent, but you can also pass conversations through to the IVR. If the customer asks a question that needs to be escalated to the IVR channel, they are given a smart route through the IVR without having to go through the traditional channels. This proves to be faster for the user, and a more effective use of the IVR.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Stay tuned for the fourth part of this blog series – Using an Intelligent Virtual Agent to Increase Sales. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a post.

Did you miss the previous posts? Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Human Touch or Human Error: Supporting Live Agents with the Right Tools

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Critics of intelligent virtual agent, also known as Virtual Customer Assistant (VCA), technology often emphasise the fact that these solutions eliminate the human touch, and without that human interaction organisations are missing out on a key opportunity to build relationships and loyalty with customers. However, they often fail to recognise the role VCAs can play in supporting human interactions. When the ‘human touch’ isn’t properly supported, the organisation leaves the door open for human error that can have a negative effect on customer relationships.

During the time I was stuck at home with my broken foot propped up on a pillow, I did a fair bit of online shopping for gifts (five birthdays and an anniversary in the span of a month!). One order I placed with a major retailer included a roll of wrapping paper. Much to my disappointment and disgust, it was sent to me in a plastic shipping bag with no padding or protection and arrived completely smashed at one end and folded in half. I logged in to my online account and emailed them with an explanation of the situation. The next day I received a reply apologising for the poor choice of packaging for the shipment and offering to send me a replacement at no extra cost and without the need for me to return the damaged roll of wrapping paper – a nice response and a reasonable resolution to my complaint.

When I didn’t receive notification of shipment as promised within a week, I emailed to query the situation and was told the item was backordered. I then asked why it wasn’t showing as backordered on the website and received a reply that there was an issue with the website. With the tentative shipping date over a month away, I asked if it would be possible to cancel the replacement and issue me a refund for the item instead. A customer service agent replied to that email saying he was unable to cancel and refund a replacement item, but as a thank you for my patience would be sending me an e-gift card to use towards my next online purchase. About a week later I noticed a refund from the retailer on my credit card and, upon logging into my account on their website, discovered that the order for the replacement roll of wrapping paper had been cancelled and a refund for the amount issued to my card.

There are a few places in my customer experience where I encountered human error. Obviously the first was the ridiculous choice of packaging to ship a roll of wrapping paper. That aside, the interaction that was most damaging to my relationship with this retailer was the customer service agent telling me my order could not be cancelled, only to later discover that it could be cancelled – and was. It made me wonder about this breakdown in the experience. Did the agent not have access to the information he needed to accurately provide support for this simple request? Would I have received correct information if a different agent had responded to my email instead?

VCAs, while traditionally thought of as online self-service tools, are actually great solutions to use within contact centres as well. They give live agents an easy way to access information in natural language in order to better support customers via channels like email, live chat and phone. Human error is reduced because all agents are able to quickly find the most accurate, up-to-date information to answer customer queries.

A great example of an organisation improving human interactions by using virtual agent technology is Motability Operations. All advisors in their contact centre have access to ‘Ask Mo’, their VCA, in order to quickly and easily find the information needed to provide callers with correct information. Introduced to new advisors as part of their initial training, this solution also includes an option for users to flag incorrect, out-of-date or incomplete content so the information is kept as accurate as possible. It has helped Motability Operations achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores in their contact centre and also earned them a Customer Contact Innovation Award. Customers calling their contact centre have confidence that, regardless of what advisor takes their call, they will receive an accurate and effective solution to their query.

My wrapping paper experience has damaged my opinion of a retailer that previously could count me as a very loyal customer. My trust in their online customer service has taken a hit, and I’ll be very hesitant to place an online order with them again. Moral of the story: Regardless of whether you engage customers through a self-service option or human interaction, you must ensure that you are providing them with accurate, consistent information in order to create a positive experience and build loyalty.

To learn more about how VCAs can be used to support contact centre agents, request a live demo of Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ Contact Centre solutions.

 

Image courtesy of basketman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Motability Operations’ Approach to Knowledge Management Recognized with Innovation Award

By Liam Ryan, Head of Sales

Last week I had the honour of joining the team from Motability Operations at the 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Awards gala dinner presented by The Forum. Their entry had earned them a finalist spot for this prestigious awards programme which recognises outstanding initiatives that are making customer operations great places to work and transforming the experience of customers. After presenting their case study titled Ask Mo: how knowledge gives confidence with customers to a panel of judges, Motability Operations took home the Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture!

The judges selected Motability Operations for the Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture 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 full case study can be found on the Innovation Awards website and is well worth a read, particularly for those involved in the contact centre industry. Motability Operations shares how they use a blended approach of a virtual assistant (‘Ask Mo’) and interactive process maps to meet their key initiatives and achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores.

It was exciting for me to see the Motability Operations team accept their award since Creative Virtual has partnered with them since 2007 to deploy their ‘Ask Mo’ virtual assistant. Powered by our natural language V-Person™ technology and backed by our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence report platform V-Portal™, ‘Ask Mo’ is an amazing success story for using this technology in the contact centre. By enabling the advisors to provide real-time feedback on missing or incorrect content, the solution gives them confidence that the information is current and accurate and, in turn, allows them to focus on engaging with the customers. That results in happy employees, happy customers and a great support experience.

Many congratulations to the Motability Operations team on their well-deserved win! In addition to their case study, you can also watch a recording of our Smart Help Solutions in Action webinar which featured a presentation from Alison Chapman, Communications and Development Manager at Motability Operations, to learn more about their ‘Ask Mo’ solution.

Change Predicted for the Contact Centre Industry in 2015

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

This week Call Centre Helper shared some reader predictions about the future of the contact centre industry. The list of about 35 predictions gives great insight into the changing contact centre landscape from those involved in the industry. As I read through the list, three main themes caught my attention:

  1. Preferred support channels – The reign of voice as the most preferred support channel looks to be coming to an end. Whether viewed as a shift rooted in generational differences or powered by the growing availability and adoption of mobile devices, the rise in customers opting for channels such as mobile and social is very evident in these predictions. Call Centre Helper reader Marie foresees a decrease in calls and an increase in email, live chat and social media interactions. 2015 will also see a rise in the number of customers wanting to self-serve online. Organisations will not only need to have contact centres equipped to deal with customers reaching out to live agents through more channels, but also design their customer experience strategy to provide user-friendly self-service options that supply accurate information consistent with other contact channels.
  2. The role of voice calls – As customers increasingly turn to support channels other than phone, the role of voice in the customer journey will change. Customers will be picking up the telephone as a last resort or when their issue is too complex for them to self-serve on other channels. This means a couple of things for contact centres. First, voice agents will need to be highly-skilled experts capable of dealing with these complicated issues. Second, voice agents will need to have full visibility and understanding of the information callers will have likely already accessed via other channels, such as the website. Call Centre Helper reader Philip predicts that contact centres will start using virtual assistants. Natural language virtual assistants, also referred to as virtual agents or Smart Help solutions, address both of these points. They are already being successfully used in contact centres as training tools and easy-to-use solutions for live agents to instantly access information to assist callers. When backed by a flexible knowledge management platform, live agents can continuously improve the virtual assistant’s content with options to immediately flag and provide feedback on missing, incomplete or inaccurate information, which in turn improves the knowledge available to the entire contact centre team.
  3. Customer expectations – When it comes to customer service and support, customers expect nothing less than the best. As Call Centre Helper reader Nik points out, customers are better informed and more likely to switch to a competitor in the wake of a poor service experience than ever before. They expect accurate, consistent and personalised service across contact channels. Nik also predicts that Customer Effort will become the best measure of customer sentiment and loyalty. Having a frictionless, low-effort support journey is just as important to customers as having their issue resolved. By integrating engagement channels (for example, seamless escalation from virtual agent to live chat agent) organisations can avoid problem areas, such as forcing customers to repeatedly explain their issue, which add to customer effort and frustration. Addressing customer expectations for 24/7 access to support will be another important piece to the evolution of a successful contact centre.

While each contact centre will face its own unique set of challenges in 2015, changes in customer expectations and preferences will most certainly be powerful influencers for the industry. Call Centre Helper reader Simon sums this up well with his prediction:

“I also think that the organisation’s ability to deliver, manage and react to change will become paramount, especially as traditional change teams will not have the skills to deploy new channel capabilities.”

To learn more about how Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ solutions can help you meet changing customer demands, check out our suite of Smart Help tools and watch our webinar on-demand.

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Improve Customer Experience with Smart Help Solutions

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Smart Help is all about providing consistent and accurate information to your customers regardless of what channel they use to contact you, and natural language virtual agents are a great way to reach that goal. Recently I had the pleasure of being joined by Kathryn Daniels from National Rail Enquiries, Alison Chapman from Motability Operations, and Maria Ward from our partner company The Virtual Zone for a live webinar showcasing real Smart Help solutions. Both NRE and Motability Operations have been using our technology since 2007 as part of their overall customer support strategies with great success. During this webinar they highlighted very different ways in which conversational Smart Help solutions can be used for customer service.

Webinar speakers

‘Smart Help Solutions in Action’ Speakers

Kathryn shared some background on NRE’s Ask Lisa and discussed the benefits of deploying a natural language virtual assistant over the traditional FAQ system they initially sought to implement. Maria followed with a live demonstration of Ask Lisa on the NRE website, including the new integration with train company information. She explained how the Facebook version of Ask Lisa not only provides 24/7 support but also allows users to like, share, and comment on the information Lisa provides.

During the second half of the webinar, Alison switched the focus to using this same technology internally for knowledge management and support of advisors within the contact centre. She gave insight into how implementing Ask Mo has allowed Motability to abolish an IVR and specialised teams and instead have a flexible customer contact centre who can now deal with over 90% of queries at first contact.

The event ended with a Q&A session during which we answered attendee questions covering topics including the time involved in keeping a virtual assistant knowledgebase up-to-date, ways to promote the use of a virtual agent in the contact centre, and the technology’s capabilities for supporting multiple languages.

My thanks to Kathryn, Alison and Maria for sharing their expertise and demonstrating the power of public facing and internal Smart Help solutions. If you missed the live event, the recording is available to view on-demand.

See Smart Help Solutions in Action

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On Wednesday, 26th March Creative Virtual will be hosting a complimentary, live webinar on smart help solutions featuring two of our customers: National Rail Enquiries and Motability Operations. The speaking panel will include Kathryn Daniels, Information Development Manager at NRE, Alison Chapman, Communication and Development Manager at Motability Operations, and Maria Ward, Head of Web Services at The Virtual Zone, our partner company.

Smart Help Solutions in ActionBoth NRE and Motability Operations have been using Creative Virtual’s technology since 2007, and their well-established natural language smart help solutions continue to play important roles in their overall customer experience strategies. Kathryn, Alison and Maria have graciously agreed to join us for this 60 minute event to let you hear straight from the horses’ mouths (so to speak!) the success their organisations are achieving with conversational smart help solutions.

This webinar will feature live examples, demonstrations and real results achieved by NRE and Motability Operations. Kathryn and Maria will show how NRE’s Ask Lisa is providing 24/7 self-service across their website and Facebook page. Alison will focus her presentation on how Motability Operations uses the technology internally for knowledge management and support of their advisors within the contact centre. They will be joined at the end of the event by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel for a live Q&A session.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to hear real reviews from two of our real customers! Register now and mark your calendars for 26th March.

Virtual Assistants and Call Killing

By Erik Braun, Director, Creative Virtual Netherlands

Recently, we shared the customer story of our first Dutch Virtual Assistant with you, readers of the Creative Virtual blog. As you have read, this Virtual Assistant is called Sabine. Sabine ‘works’ for NIBC Direct, a Dutch online bank. Sabine was introduced on 17 December of 2012 and went live on the newly launched NIBC Direct website.

NIBC's Sabine

Recently, NIBC Direct shared statistics with us on the effects of ‘Sabine’ on call and email volume. In short:

  • The number of emails in 2013 dropped by 49% (compared to 2012)
  • The number of calls dropped by nearly 40% in the same period
  • In the first weeks of 2014, this trend continues: NIBC Direct still sees a further reduction by 60% (compared to same period in 2013)

In these calculations, I would love to relate all savings to the Virtual Assistant, but that would not be entirely correct of course. The ongoing optimization of the website has a big impact also. However, these numbers are impressive – as anyone would agree! – and show how Virtual Assistant technology can be a powerful part of a customer experience strategy.

Of course, our projects result in much more than call or email savings, the most important being insight into customer behavior through our unique reporting features. Also, our solutions can be (and are being) used on other channels, so can also help in cost savings in the call center (on average our implementations lead to a reduction in average call handling times of up to 20%), answering questions on social media, and assisting clients in being able to help themselves after hours. These results cannot always be easily put into a € or $ saving, but are important as well.

When you want to learn more about our products, services or projects, please fill out this form or contact us direct. We would, of course, be very glad to give you a demo.

Virtual Agents Make the List as a Contact Centre Trend to Watch in 2014

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

ID-100215681With the start of a new year comes a variety of lists sharing top industry predictions, trends and forecasts for the upcoming year. One of these comes from Frost and Sullivan’s Juan Manuel González. His The Eight Most Influential Contact Center Trends for 2014 looks at the eight tech trends call centres should evaluate to raise their game this year. Of particular interest is the second item on his list: Virtual Agents.

In a previous post I discussed the advantages of implementing a virtual agent within the contact centre as an ideal tool for live support agents to better assist customers and themselves. However, in his list Juan focuses on the benefits to contact centres of using virtual agents as an online self-service option for customers.

They allow a customer to cut to the chase and ask a question, have a dialog and go through transactions, or be routed quickly to the right spot rather than go through tedious menu prompts. Depending upon the degree of sophistication, these agents can offload a tremendous amount of calls from a contact center, and help complete transactions on the web. But they can also reinforce a company’s brand image because the personas can be designed to closely represent the type of agent and way a company wants their agents to interact with customers. Virtual agents can be smart, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and consistently on-message with respect to brand values, which it is hard to get live agents to consistently do.

This assessment of virtual agents is spot-on. The power and flexibility of the technology gives organisations the opportunity to customise their virtual agent in a seemingly endless number of ways. This includes sharing videos with users (such as a demonstration of how to troubleshoot an issue), being deployed on mobile devices (using apps, HTML5 or SMS) to provide mobile customer care, and integrating with social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and community forums)—all of these technologies also making Juan’s list as trends to watch.

Sound too good to be true? Request a demo to see how a virtual agent can help you raise your contact centre’s game in 2014.