A Look Back: 2014 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It seems like only yesterday that we were sharing our first blog posts of the year talking about trends for 2014 and announcing our 10th Anniversary celebrations. Looking back, it certainly has been a busy and exciting year both for Creative Virtual as a company and for the customer experience industry.

We kicked off the year with a 10th Anniversary celebration complete with cake, our #CV10Years blog series and lots of photos of Creative Virtual team members wearing our fleeces around the world. While we were celebrating, we were also hard at work and welcomed three new virtual assistants to our V-Person™ family in January. Before the month was out, we received word that Creative Virtual had been named as a finalist for two Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service as well. At the awards ceremony in Las Vegas, we were awarded Silver Stevie Awards in the categories of New IVR or Web Service Solution and Sales or Customer Service Solutions Technology Partner of the Year. We definitely started the year off right!

2014 saw the official launch of Creative Virtual in Australia at a very successful event in Sydney. We also participated in a variety of other events around the world, including Call Center World 2014 in Berlin, the FStech Omnichannel Banking Conference 2014 in London, Forrester’s 2014 Forum for Customer Experience Professionals East in New York City and the Middle East Banking Innovation Summit 2014 in Dubai. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, led a session on mobile and social customer engagement as part of London Technology Week at Internet World 2014 as well as presenting during the FStech conference, and Richard Simons, CEO of Creative Virtual USA, gave a presentation at NetFinance 2014 in Miami.

Throughout the year we took part in a number of webinars featuring industry analysts, customer experience experts and current Creative Virtual customers. These are great resources for anyone wanting to learn more about recent developments, trends and technologies in the customer experience space, and can still be viewed on-demand. We also released an assortment of other educational resources and new Customer Success Stories.

Industry analysts were taking note of our innovative technologies and solutions as well during 2014. Mitch Kramer, Senior Consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group, praised our knowledge management and personalised answer capabilities as part of his detailed report titled Creative Virtual V-Person: Delivering Personalized Answers to Customers’ Questions. Creative Virtual was also named as a key vendor in TechNavio’s Global Intelligent Virtual Assistant Market 2014-2018 report, with our V-Person technology receiving top marks in the head-to-head product comparison. And V-Portal™, our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform, earned us recognition as a finalist for the 2014 KM Promise Award.

Another momentous event of 2014 occurred in August when we officially revealed our brand new website featuring our new logo and colour scheme! The new website and branding are helping us more accurately represent Creative Virtual’s solutions, experience and expertise to the world.

Even though we were busy this year launching new Smart Help tools, releasing new features for existing solutions and constantly working on additional, innovative functionality, the team still found time for a little fun. As part of our 10th Anniversary celebration, a 12-member team—Chris, Rachel, Lucy, Leah, Tracey, Jeff, David, Bj?rn, Maria, Sam, Chloe and Julie—completed the British 10k London Run in July and, with the help of many others at Creative Virtual, raised over £1700 for the RSPCA! Our teams in India and the USA took a little break for group picnics, and there were team dinners in London and Bristol for some of the UK-based people as well. During his trip to India, Founder & CEO Chris had the pleasure of taking part in the Diwali celebrations in the Mumbai office. We’ll be finishing out the year with our annual Christmas and Holiday parties.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so instead of making you read any more about our fabulous 2014, I invite you to take a look at our 2014 in Review photo album. Enjoy!

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our 10k for the RSPCA: The Aftermath

By Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations

First, the important bits: we are all in one piece, we ALL did it and we surpassed our fundraising goal of £1,500 to almost £1,700 for the RSPCA! We thank all of our colleagues, friends and family for both financial and emotional support in preparing for this race!

I cannot believe that I am now writing the “yay we did it and aren’t we awesome and Thank You” blog when it feels like only a few weeks ago that I was writing the first blog announcing Creative Virtual’s 10th Anniversary plan of a 10k for the RSPCA. I actually wrote the first draft on April 15th – 3 months ago….!

In that space of time, we’ve posted photos of us in our racing gear, animal onesies and fleeces and taking part in various fundraising activities including the cocktail gala and animal selfies. We’ve also shared updates on our training exploits as part of our ‘Featured Runners of the Day’ posts and kept an internal team Skype thread.

The training paid off for all of us – we all crossed the finish line on Sunday and we all enjoyed the day – which started out overcast and slightly drizzly and cleared up a bit (with a muggy atmosphere) and then poured temporarily on a few of us at the end. Running on Westminster Bridge was a crisis point for me in terms of feeling tired, but it was such a beautiful sight to behold Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament whilst moving – I guess it inspired many of us.

10k medalOur timings ranged from 50 minutes (speedy Maria Ward Gonzalez!) through to 1:42 and happy. We were a team to be reckoned with based on our enthusiasm and determination, and I think it may be safe to say that we’d all be up for doing this again next year.

Matt from the RSPCA met most of us at Doggetts pub on the South Bank for celebratory drinks, food and some photos of us in our RSPCA shirts with our shiny (and rather large and impressive!) medals.

Thanks again to you all for the support in exceeding our fundraising goal for the RSPCA and for cheering us on in spirit – maybe we’ll be back with more exploits in 2015 and if anyone else wants to join us, let us know! Congratulations to the whole 10k team—Chris, Lucy, Leah, Tracey, Jeff, David, Bj?rn, Maria, Sam, Chloe and Julie—and thanks for joining me!

If you haven’t yet sponsored our team, donations for the RSPCA are still being accepted through our JustGiving page.

Our 10k for the RSPCA: The Final Push

By Lucy Hamilton, Junior Administrative Assistant

With the British 10k London Run around the corner on 13th July, the focus for our 12 member team is set on training and a final fundraising push. Since starting our fundraising efforts back in April, we’ve raised a staggering £1465 with the help of colleagues, friends and family – 97% towards our £1500 goal for the RSPCA.

Training has been ramped up week by week with everyone improving on their personal bests, despite several of the team recovering from running injuries. The latest achievements include a 7k run by Rachel and Tracey racking up 8k geocaching with friends. David and Björn frequently train on weekdays and are very encouraging to us all.

We’ve recently received our 10k race packs and the RSPCA have sent us t-shirts – we’re spoilt for choice for what to wear on race day. In my haste to distribute the shirts, I handed David and Jeff ladies’ ones – good thing they were eager to see what they looked like on otherwise they’d be sporting (as Jeff aptly put it) a new “streamlined look”.

Check out our JustGiving page where you’ll be able to put names to faces with our gallery of 10k runners and make a donation to the RSPCA. If you’d like to follow our team’s progress, look out for our ‘Featured Runners of the Day’ on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. And if you’ll be in London on Sunday the 13th, make sure you come cheer us on along the iconic race route through the heart of the city.

Our 10k for the RSPCA: An Update

By Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations

The countdown to race day has started! As I’m writing, we have raised 42% of our overall fundraising goal of £1500 with exactly £630. It’s a great start since we are running in 6 weeks, but we still have a way to go to our first milestone of £1000 which we hope to reach by 1st June.

Since first announcing our endeavours to raise funds for the RSPCA, we’ve raced virtual chickens, donned animal onesies and most recently gotten funky with makeup to create amazing animal selfie shots – kudos to Tracey, Leah and Lucy on that.

Baking has been done, and a themed cocktail party is planned for Sunday, 1st June in Bristol. Entry is just £5 and all door proceeds go to the RSPCA. Read more about the event here and join us for a fun evening if you’re in the area!

Our training is also in full swing. I’ve still not run 10k yet, but will attempt to make it to 7k without stopping this Sunday. I have enlisted a friend to assess my lack of technique to see if there is hope. Others are running after work and on weekends, and one team member’s training will be temporarily disjointed for a bit while he helps care for his newborn son. We all have our issues to deal with, but the one thing we are all in synch with is the determination to enjoy ourselves on the 13th July and raise as much awareness and cash as we can for the RSPCA. We’ve seen how they work behind the scenes, and I know that the money raised will be put to good use.

6 weeks and counting–time to look for the ace bandage and the bottle of soothing bath salts. Please be generous, tell your friends about our run and be prepared to read about the aftermath in July! You can donate quickly and securely through our JustGiving page. Thanks for your support!

On your marks….

#CV10Years – The Faces Behind the Magic, Part 2

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

As 2014 continues, so does our celebration of Creative Virtual’s 10th Anniversary. We recently announced our participation in the British 10k London Run in aid of RSPCA (check out our JustGiving page for details) and will be carrying on with our fundraising efforts in the lead up to the event in July. Watch for a training and fundraising update from the team soon.

We’ve also been adding to our #CV10Years – The Team & Our Fleeces photo albums on Facebook and Google+ as we continue taking our fleeces with us on our adventures. Now that the last remaining fleece deliveries are complete, we’ll have even more photos to share—including another collection of smiling team members from across the globe.

And so, without further ado, it is my pleasure to present the faces of even more of the people who have contributed to and continue to play a part in the success of Creative Virtual!

CV Fleeces 2 Blog

#CV10Years – Our 10k for the RSPCA

By Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations

As Creative Virtual celebrates 10 years of being in business, the incentive to recognise it with fun and innovative markers is great. Our global Marketing Manager put us through our paces reminding us (or our pets) to wear our 10th anniversary fleeces in weird and wonderful places and, as we are only in April, the year is still young and there are many places to go.

Rachel Central Park

Rachel takes a break from her 10k training in Central Park on a recent trip to NYC

As a keen but fledgling “runner” I thought that suggesting a 10k run for 10 years would be a challenge – if not for anybody else then certainly for me as I’ve only ever run a maximum of 6k and I needed an excuse for a new goal.

I canvassed some of my colleagues who I knew ran and then searched the web for a local-to-London 10k run. I found the British 10k London Run being held on July 13th and it appealed due to the route which passes iconic London landmarks. Perfect for celebrating 10 years of a company that started in the heart of the East End of London (Isle of Dogs)!

The RSPCA is not only one of our customers, but also a very worthy cause close to the hearts of our animal loving Creative Virtual team and so it seemed fitting to coordinate fundraising for them. Our Administrative Assistant Lucy (of Galaxy Minstrels fame) jumped in to help liaise with the RSPCA to organise the best way to get a team of runners on our side to the run on July 13th.

The result is a Creative Virtual corporate team—Chris, Jeff, David, Bj?rn, Enda, Tracey, Chloe, Julie, and Sam will be joining me, with a few others still undecided—who need to raise £1000 by June 1st and another £500 by mid-July. We have decided to set up a JustGiving page that will not only mark the run but will also be the place for the whole Creative Virtual team to come up with other ways to fundraise for the RSPCA that need not involve moving legs at a distance.

May 2nd features our ‘Wear an Animal Onesie to Work Day’ and plans are afoot to have a Crazy Chicken Kart race in the office as well. Some of the Bristol-based team may do a bake sale and we might even have an auction.

As I write we have raised 9% of our goal – £146 so far. We shall keep you posted on our latest fundraising efforts and possibly training woes as we near July 13th.

So as we prepare to don a onesie, run, bake, eat a lot of food in too little time, race virtual chickens or race ourselves, please give a thought to the work done by the RSPCA and pay a visit to our JustGiving page. If you are in the UK, you can also text CVCV50 and your donation amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10) to 70070. Thanks in advance for all your support!

#CV10Years – A Day in the Life of a Junior Development & Support Technician

By Ferenc Csepregi, Junior Development & Support Technician

Don’t let the title mislead you – this article is not just for ‘techies’ and in no way will aim to bore you with difficult technical terms. Instead, I hope to give you an insight into what it’s like to be a part of both Creative Virtual’s London-based team and the company’s international Technical Team.

On this particular morning it’s a lovely warm and sunny day, and I’m holding a fresh cup of coffee. During my walk to the office, while sipping my beverage, I cannot resist stopping for a second to stare a bit at the jaw dropping view of those golden sunrays reflecting from the side of Canary Wharf skyscrapers. This is my moment to pause for a second and energize, inspire my mind – when I do the best thing I could in the morning, as I come across with the most creative ideas in these hours before my brain gets “distracted” by other things.

FeriI arrive at the office feeling inspired and beefed up with great ideas. I open the door, step in and face the reality – the reality that everybody else is just as ready to face the day as me (and usually also have a cup of coffee or tea in hand!). The office is a perfect place to share ideas, develop, improve, brainstorm, discuss, and collaborate with others. Each member of the team is original, with individual personalities and different views, but share one thing: a passion for creating innovation. As a member of the Tech Team, I’m proud to help computers understand humans – sometimes I feel like I’m performing magic, just like David Blaine.

In some ways the Tech Team runs the day nursery of our Virtual Assistants, monitoring servers and processes on each system to ensure that users have 24/7 access and assisting Knowledge Base Engineers to keep our Virtual Assistants as ‘clever’ as possible. The diversity of skills within the Tech Team allow us to work on multiple back-and front-end projects to continuously improve our installs and make our technology, including V-Portal™ (our knowledge management, workflow and reporting platform), more robust, more reliable and faster. We keep users in focus –for example, developing multiplatform solutions which tackle the massive growth of mobile visitors and incorporate sleek and bespoke UI (User Interface) designs. Speed is a very important ingredient in our work, and that’s why we design our system to reflect this in practice. We pay special attention to our deployment techniques so organisations have a quick setup and smooth finish in no time.

Even on days I have to face heavy rains and what must be 110 mph winds with just a small, foldable umbrella, I’m able to find inspiration in the next challenge on my ‘To Do’ list. It’s great to work for a company that has developed its own technology and to be a part of an international team working together to implement, maintain and improve that technology.

The Challenges of Starting and Growing a Company

Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris showing off his 10th anniversary fleece

Reaching the ten year mark as a company really does make you reminisce. There are many good stories to share of course which we are doing as part of our #CV10Years series of blog posts; but as the Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual I wanted to share some of the *interesting* challenges we have faced over these ten years.

Trying to get money from the bank

The biggest challenge at the start is always one of funding. I believe the UK was then a relatively difficult country to start and grow a successful business. I think the start-up environment has certainly improved, but problems still exist – the banking environment being one area that still needs significant improvement. I decided to invest my own money in the company and at the same time apply for funding from the bank. The amount of forms and bureaucracy one has to go through with the bank, and the time it takes, is simply not compatible with a start-up situation. I was literally faced with making a choice between spending time focusing on dealing with the bank or winning new customers and partners. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to fund the company myself in the short-term so I made the choice to concentrate on winning sales rather than spending time jumping through the various banking hoops. I really feel for the start-ups that don’t have that luxury.

That first big deal

We were fortunate enough to quickly land one of the UK’s largest banks (ironically!) as our first customer which meant the decision to focus on sales rather than funding was definitely the right one! – and I never underestimate how much luck plays a part in situations like this. I’m very proud to say that they remain a customer to this day.

The legal battle & developing our own software

In 2007 we were faced with two of our biggest challenges. At that time we distributed a product for another company. To cut a very long story short, that company was taken over and the new owner decided they wanted the UK market for themselves and set out to try and remove us. A long legal battle ensued, and I became an amateur expert in UK and German corporate law around asset purchase agreements and copyright (it’s funny how life takes you down routes you never planned to go!). We won the case at the High Court in London; the entire episode went on for nearly three years and took an enormous amount of time and money – and although we got back the majority of our financial costs, the time is not compensated, which is something that I strongly believe should be addressed in cases like this.

In parallel with the court case, we embarked on a journey to develop our own software. This was an enormous task but gave us the opportunity to develop something unique in the marketplace, and I’m proud to say that our technology is now serving our customers and partners well, is winning global awards and is critically acclaimed as a key differentiator in the market.

Global recession

With these challenges out of the way, the credit crisis and the associated global recession were just around the corner. Actually, with our own innovative software, together with a good customer and partner base, we were in a relatively strong position to weather the storm. We also embarked on our global expansion at this time – and in fact I’m writing this blog post on a plane heading to Australia for the official launch of our Australia and New Zealand business.

Global expansion

As our growth steps up a notch, fuelled by our global expansion, the next challenge will be to manage this properly; especially as we have grown the company organically without any external funding. It’s a real honour to lead a company that is truly defining a new technology space; and this is made possible through the quirky, fun and dedicated people that make up the Creative Virtual team.

Inevitably, company announcements are spun to be highly positive by the marketing and PR teams, but as part of our ten year blog series I wanted to highlight some of our challenges over this period; every start-up will have their own set of challenges of course, and my advice is that if it’s something you really believe in then stick with it!

Most entrepreneurs tend to be optimists by nature, myself included, but it’s really important to balance this with a good dose of realism. In the words of the late Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Here’s to the next ten years and the new challenges that lie ahead!


#CV10Years – V-Portal™ is Revealed to the World

By Peter Behrend, Chief Technical Officer

For the first part of the company’s history, Creative Virtual was focused on providing natural language virtual assistant solutions as a standalone self-service solution. As our solutions became more sophisticated, additional possibilities for service channels began to emerge, and consumer preferences and expectations changed, it became increasingly obvious to us that the future of our technology would be much more than just virtual assistants. And so we embarked on a mission that resulted in what you today know as V-Portal, our multi-channel knowledge management, workflow and business intelligence tool.

V-PortalWe officially announced V-Portal to the world in October 2012, but that was by no means the beginning or the end of our journey. V-Portal was developed based on years of our own observations and experiences as well as the feedback and wish lists of our customers. It allows organisations to aggregate cross-channel content from internal databases, live chat transcripts, call centres, CRM and business intelligence tools from a single platform, thereby eliminating pesky information silos. This content can then be used to deliver company and customer specific information across multiple support channels, such as the web, call centre, mobile and social media, via our intelligent virtual assistant technology. The easy to use drag and drop graphical editor, sophisticated and customisable workflow and permission management capabilities, and unique reporting and analytics dashboard combine with our powerful natural language engine to create a platform that has been described as ‘a significantly strong differentiator in the industry, and one that will exceed customer expectations’ by Patricia Seybold Group.

Since it’s official release in 2012, we’ve continued to expand on V-Portal’s functionality and are constantly reviewing our technology roadmap to ensure we are providing our customers with the innovative solutions that will best serve their organisations and, of course, their customers. You can learn more about V-Portal on our website and also download the full report from Patricia Seybold Group here.

#CV10Years – NRE’s Lisa Sets the Stage for Video Avatars

By Maria Ward, Head of Web Services, Virtual Zone Ltd

NRE's Ask LisaMany of you who have travelled by rail in the UK have probably come across Ask Lisa, National Rail Enquiries’ intelligent virtual agent, perhaps even letting her help you plan your journey. Lisa has been a fixture on the NRE website since July 2007 when she was first launched by the The Virtual Zone in collaboration with Creative Virtual.

When Lisa debuted nearly seven years ago, she became the first virtual assistant deployed with this technology to use Flash Video of a real person for the avatar. While Lisa has undergone several makeovers and is now a static cartoon-like character, she set the stage for the video avatars that followed. Since Lisa’s first appearance, Creative Virtual has launched a number of different virtual assistants with video avatars, most recently within the internet banking area of UK bank first direct. This implementation joined the V-Person™ family in late 2013 and features various video avatars with accompanying voice over.

I’ve been involved with Lisa since her initial creation, and have worked closely with NRE to continuously improve the virtual assistant. I’m proud to say that an avatar swap isn’t the only change I’ve been through with Lisa! Today you can find Lisa on the NRE Facebook page as well as their website. She is updated with real-time travel information every two minutes so she can provide users with a list of current disruptions. She is also updated every night with revised station information so users can ask about station-specific information, such as car park prices and ticket office opening times. Her ‘hand hold’ feature means that she can collect travel information through a series of questions and then automatically complete the Journey Planner for the user. Lisa was so effective on the web, that a version of the system is also being used within call centres as a tool to assist live agents in answering customer enquiries.

Last year I joined Kathryn Daniels, Information Development Manager at NRE, and Creative Virtual for a case study webinar showcasing Ask Lisa and will be teaming up with them again for another webinar on 26th March. During the upcoming webinar, Kathryn and I will give a live demonstration of some of Lisa’s features and functionality. We’ll share insights into the benefits NRE has seen since first implementing a virtual assistant, and also discuss additional features and integrations planned for the future. Register here to join us next week!