Conversational AI and the Future of APAC Contact Centres

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Like many industry events this year, the annual HKCCA (Hong Kong Customer Contact Association) Symposium went virtual on 5 November. Our partner Continuous Technologies (CTINT) was once again an event sponsor and graciously invited me to present on the Symposium theme of Future Fit.

This was my sixth time speaking at the HKCCA Symposium, but the first time doing it from the UK. This event is always one of the highlights of the year for me, and I missed being in Hong Kong in person to take part in the great discussions and awards gala fun. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we participated in the Symposium, it has also greatly affected how businesses engage with their customers. The theme of Future Fit perfectly reflected the pressure contact centres around the world are experiencing as they tackle these current challenges and prepare for the unknown challenges of the future.

The event speakers covered a variety of topics with a strong emphasis on digital innovation and transformation within the contact centre industry. My session, Conversational AI & the Future of Your Contact Centre, also delved into how the digital CX impacts contact centres and agents. The fact is that even though APAC CX practitioners identify digital CX as a top trend, a majority of organisations are only in the early stages of their digital transformation journey and far from having an integrated, omnichannel experience.

While this may offer a rather gloomy view of the state of CX in the APAC region, I think it also provides an exciting opportunity for organisations to jump ahead of the customer experience curve and really stand out from competitors. Conversational AI is an important technology to help join up the contact centre with digital channels and prepare your contact centre and agents for the future.

Conversational AI is showing itself to be more important this year than ever before as the world comes to grips with the impacts of the pandemic. In 2020 there is an increased focus on automated technologies, such as chatbots and virtual agents, as companies face new customer service and experience challenges and customers alter the ways they engage with businesses. One advantage of this technology is that it can handle massive volumes of conversations at the same time, 24/7. Another advantage is that changes to content can be deployed very quickly, a must-have during a time when keeping information dynamic, up-to-date and accurate is key.

The companies that have the most success with their CX strategies take an approach that combines digital channels and the contact centre. They build a team that brings them together instead of keeping them separate as was done traditionally. This helps with creating and implementing an omnichannel, or channel agnostic, conversational AI strategy.

Conversational AI can become the friend, buddy and colleague of the contact centre agent when delivered in the form of an Agent Assist tool. This tool can be used as a research wizard to help agents answer questions. It can also be set up to ‘listen’ to calls or ‘watch’ live chat sessions to make suggestions to the agents with the relevant information. When agents override the tool’s suggestion, those changes are used to help train the chatbot or virtual agent. The future of the contact centre then becomes the training and best practice centre for bots – the Robot Academy, if you will.

In order to maximise the benefits of your contact centre agents’ expertise, be sure to partner with an experienced conversational AI vendor. You want to work with a team that has the experience to guide you through the creation of a business case and realistic project plan and then put that plan into action. Select a vendor that also offers consultation services to assist you with creating a positive experience for both customers and your agents. Having the right technology is important, but without a doubt the most important factor is the human part of building, deploying and maintaining conversational AI solutions.

If you want to learn more about conversational AI in the contact centre, you can request a personalised demo. A member of our team will be happy to set up a virtual session to show you live demonstrations of our implementations and explain more about the technology.

Thank you so much to CTINT for inviting me to speak again at this event, and a special thanks to Mabel Tsim for assisting me with my virtual presentation. Congratulations to the HKCCA team for putting together another great event despite all the extra challenges this year. I hope to see you all in person again next year!

On the Hunt for Better Customer Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The world always seems to be on the hunt for the next thing that will be bigger and better – the newest tech gadget, the latest fashion trend, the hottest social media challenge, the next break-out Netflix show. As customers, we want the best deal, the most innovative products and the greatest experience possible. This means that companies are always on the hunt for ways to meet those expectations, build brand loyalty and deliver a better customer experience.

Last week we celebrated Customer Service Week and CX Day, two annual events that place a spotlight on the importance of customer service and your overall customer experience as well as the people involved in supporting your customers. At Creative Virtual, we recognised these global celebrations with a special series of blog posts written by members of our expert team and published throughout the week. Each contributor selected their own topic independently, and the result was a well-rounded look at how humans and machines can help companies on that hunt for better customer service.

On Tuesday, we published a post by Rachel Freeman in which she explores the struggles contact centres have been facing during the pandemic. Long wait times have been fuelled by a sharp rise in calls combined with the unpredictability of available agents due to office closures and quarantines. She advocates for letting self-help tools, such as virtual agents and chatbots, share the burden being felt by contact centres.

“Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work” Rachel writes. This combination of humans and machines can create a seamless experience and more efficient customer service interactions. At the same time, using this approach helps companies prioritise the health and well-being of both their customers and employees.

This provided the perfect set-up for Laura Ludmany’s Customer Service Week Musings on how a machine knows if it’s wrong which we published on Wednesday. In her post, she takes a closer look at the different approaches that can be used to ‘teach’ chatbots and virtual agents. Her conclusion? When it comes to using these AI tools to provide customer service, they can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs.

Laura uses her experience working with self-service virtual agents to describe this hybrid approach and the different ways data can be collected from users and applied by the tool to learn about what is right and wrong. “As long as AI tools serve customer queries,” she explains, “they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.”

She ends her post by recognising the important role humans, both customers and the virtual agent experts, have in helping these self-service tools deliver a continuously improving experience. This theme of the importance of the human touch was then picked up in Thursday’s post by Björn Gülsdorff.

Björn starts by recalling the presentation he gave in March at the CCW 2020 conference in Berlin which was all about the human touch in AI. The human touch was a hot topic at the event, being seen as the latest trend in Bot Building, and one that Creative Virtual has been doing for years. In his session, Björn talked about putting your customer in the centre of the project, keeping the human experts involved and giving the virtual agent’s responses a personal touch to improve the customer experience.

Now, seven months on from that conference, Björn acknowledges, “The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.” He advocates for the use of technology to bridge the gaps created by the physical distancing needed to control the spread of COVID-19 but stresses the importance of remembering that these are just tools being used to connect people. Keeping the human touch in customer service by keeping humans in the loop is more important than ever.

So, what does this all mean for companies on the hunt for a better customer service experience? Having the right technology in place to enable customers to self-serve is imperative. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digital customer service. Customers who may have turned to digital channels and self-service options out of necessity this year, are now familiar with their convenience and are more likely to make them a part of their new customer service expectations. Contact centres also benefit from this technology with a better agent experience and improved customer interactions.

However, having the technology does not automatically ensure success. It needs to be combined with the right human expertise and support in order to be developed, implemented and maintained correctly for your organisation, customers and agents. That type of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight or come from reading a few blog posts (even great ones like these!). It takes a deep understanding of the technology, how the tools work and the ways users interact with implementations. That expertise only comes from years of actual experience in developing, implementing and maintaining self-service solutions.

Customer Service Week may be over for this year, but the never-ending hunt for better customer service – by companies and customers – goes on. 2020 has forced changes on all of us and accelerated the push for digital transformation. Smart companies know the present and future of better customer service lies in the combination of humans and machines, people and technology, live agents and virtual agents.

Customer Service and the Voice of Your Customers and Team

By Katrin Zieren, Business Development Consultant

V-Person from Creative VirtualThe communication habits of your customers have changed and are changing yet. They are increasingly using voice for entries rather than typing. They are speaking into their mobile devices to create messages on apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram, asking their search engine for information or giving commands to smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Or – wow, this is amazing 😉 – they are using their mobile phone to call your service centre.

What’s the impact on your customer service? It’s not complicated. Just consider voice as part of your strategy when you want to offer self-service, whether if it is for your clients or your team.

The good news is that the natural language understanding (NLU) solution of Creative Virtual, or let’s say “the brain of your self-service supply”, does not really care about the input type. It is processing text and there are different possibilities to convert speech to text (STT) and text to speech (TTS).

Now, let’s take a look at the different possibilities of speech conversion:

mobile virtual agentOn mobile devices, speech recognition and language generation are built-in features under full customer control and no further integration is needed.  So, if you have, for example, a chatbot on your website, users can use the voice capabilities of their mobile device to ask their question. You don’t have to consider anything. The device converts speech to text and the outcome is the same as if the user would type into the entry box.

 

smart speaker chatbotA variety of smart speakers, like Alexa, Cortana or Google Home, can be integrated with our self-service virtual agents. For example, Virtual Agent Roger for Rest is available on the web as well as through Google Home. The Virtual Agent for Transport for NSW uses Alexa to let the user know if there are any issues on their commute at that time.

 

contact center agent assist

If you want to offer phone as a contact point for self-service, you need STT and TTS. We have a very big partner network for this technology, and can integrate with any other third-party system of your choice, provided they have a full featured API. Also, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and avatars with lip synchronisation are covered by our partners.

 

So this Customer Service Week, make sure your support strategy fits with your users’ communication habits. Are you enabling them to self-serve within their channel and language modus of choice?

If you want to learn more about our voice solutions, just schedule a live demo with us.

Keeping the Human Touch in Customer Service is More Important Than Ever

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

At the CCW in Berlin in March, I gave a speech about the human touch in AI. It was about putting your customer in the center of the project, keeping the human expert involved because they know most, AND – not accidentally last in this list – give the responses a personal touch, allow small talk, feedback, etc. as and when it helps to improve the customer experience.

Funnily enough, human touch was one of the big topics at the show. Not for the first time, I found myself telling people that at Creative Virtual we were doing for years what the industry now saw as the latest trend in Bot Building. I know this sounds a little condescending, but nearly 17 years in business creates a fair deal of justified “been there, done that” attitude.

So, after the event I meant to write a blog post about how we add a human touch to the way machines interact with humans.

Since then, times have changed and we are all affected in one way or another, most of us working from home more than ever and spending countless hours in online meetings. The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.

If you have had enough of ‘we have just the right tools for you to go digital’ messages, bear with me because I feel the same and want to go somewhere else.

All the measures taken against COVID-19, be it social distancing, home offices, travel stops or actual lock downs, just made it clearer than ever that it is all about people and here ‘it’ is everything, indeed. Tools to bridge the gap are very important of course, but they are just tools, which must be used to connect people. It starts with having the technology to include escalation into our projects (which we’ve been doing for years 😉 but we always strive to make it easier for the end-customer) and it extends to making sure that the communication with our customers keeps rolling.

I am happy and grateful how well this has worked and how we managed to keep up and sometimes intensify the cooperation. It has certainly helped that we always considered our people our main asset and that everything we do focuses on people, be it our customers or the end-customer interacting with a virtual agent or chatbot.

So, what are my thoughts for Customer Service Week? Keeping the human touch by keeping the human in the loop is more important than ever.

Our latest whitepaper focuses on the importance of the human touch when implementing a chatbot or virtual agent. Download it here to find out why a technology company says that when it comes to selecting a vendor you should forget about the technology.

To our customers: I miss you and I look forward to seeing you in person again!

Customer Service Week Musings: How does a machine know if it’s wrong?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There are many comparisons dealing with the main differences between humans and machines. One of the recurring points is while humans have consciousness and morals, machines can only know what they are programmed to, hence they are not able to distinguish right from wrong unless they are provided data to make decisions based on that information. There have been many discussions on the self-awareness of robots, which is a topic as old as Artificial Intelligence, starting from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, continuing to the Turing test and nowadays AI ethics organisations.

One thing is commonly agreed – bots need to be ‘taught’ morals, and to achieve this there could be two approaches, both having their advantages and disadvantages. The first one contains a loose set of rules, but plenty of space for flexibility; this system could always reply to questions. However, it could also result in many false positives cases and could go wrong on many levels. The other would mean more rules and a narrower approach. The system could answer a limited number of queries, however, with very few or non-false judgements.

What does this mean from the customer service and customer experience (CX) view and for virtual agents answering real time customer queries? If we narrow down our conditions, bots would deliver the right answers at most times. However, they could not recognise many simple questions, making users frustrated. The same can happen with the loose set of conditions: the assistant would easily deliver answers but could misinterpret inputs, resulting again in annoyance.

To solve this problem, we must use a hybrid approach: an AI tool can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs. While we can add our well-established set of rules based on previous data and set a vague network of conditions, the bot will learn day-by-day by discovering new ways of referring to the same products or queries through user interactions. Half of a virtual assistant’s strength is its database, containing these sets of rules. The other half lies within its analytics, which is an often-overlooked feature. What else could be better training for a CX tool than the customers leaving feedback at the very time an answer was delivered? Conversation surveys are not only important to measure the performance of the tool. They are also crucial for our virtual assistants to be able to learn what is wrong and what is right.

Our approach at Creative Virtual to reporting is to follow the trends of ever-changing user behaviour. We offer traditional surveys, which measure if a specific answer was classified as helpful or not by the user and if it saved a call. Sometimes, the specific required action or transaction cannot be performed through self-service options and the customer must make a call, or else, the answer has been slightly overlooked and needs to be updated – for these cases there is a designated comment section, so users can express themselves freely.

We all know from personal experience, that we can’t always be bothered to fill out long or detailed surveys – we are on the go and just want to find the information we were looking for without spending extra time to leave feedback. This is typical user behaviour, and for this we came up with different options for our clients such as star ratings and thumbs up and down, keeping the free text box, to make the rating simpler for users. The solutions deployed are always dependent on the requirements and preferences of our clients, which are in line with the nature of their business and their website design. For example, financial organisations usually go with the traditional options for their customer-facing self-service tools, but internal deployments often have more creative user feedback options.

What if, during a conversation, a virtual assistant delivered the correct answer to five questions, but two answers advised the user to call the customer contact centre and one answer was slightly outdated? Does this rate as an unsuccessful conversation, due to three unhelpful answers? To solve this dilemma, we have End of Conversation Surveys, which ask customers to rate the whole conversation, on a scale to 1-10 and choose what they would have had done without the virtual assistant. As always, there is a free text box for further communication from the customer to the organisation. These surveys show high satisfaction levels as they measure the overall success of the conversation, which can have some flaws (just as in human-to-human interactions), but still can be rated pleasant and helpful.

Let’s take a step further – how can the virtual assistant learn if it was right or wrong if none of these surveys have been taken up by the user? Is this valuable data lost? Our Creative (Virtual) analytics team have levelled up their game and came up with a solution! During voice interactions, such as incoming calls to customer contact centres, there is a straightforward way to understand if the conversation wasn’t successful, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, as the tone might change or the same questions might be repeated. But how can we rate a written communication with our customer? There has been a specific platform developed, which sits on the top of our previously described survey layers. This platform classifies the whole conversation, with a carefully weighed several-factor-system, which can be tailored to our client’s needs, containing factors such as if there has been more than one transaction, whether the last customer input was recognised by the virtual assistant, if there have been negative user responses recorded, etc.. The primary ‘hard’ indicators remain the user-filled surveys, so this is just a nice icing on the cake, as our mature deployments show over 80% of successful conversation rates.

With our proactive approach and multi-layer analytics tool sets, we can be sure that our virtual assistants will learn more and more about what is right and wrong, to increase the customer satisfaction level continuously. However, I think no machine will ever be able to answer all questions correctly, as this would mean that deployments have stopped being fed up-to-date real-life data. Our world is changing rapidly as are our user queries. These cannot be fully predicted ahead, just analysed and reacted to appropriately. As long as AI tools serve customer queries, they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.

As we celebrate Customer Service Week this year, we need to recognise the role customers play in helping to teach our AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants right from wrong and the experts that know how to gather, analyse and incorporate that data to help train those tools. Check out our special buyer’s guide that explains why experience matters for using this hybrid approach to create reliable and always learning bots.

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Customer Experience: It’s all about long-term relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, like everything else, is held with the dark cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. Customer experience has always been a key competitive differentiator, and this has never been more apparent than this year. It’s a true saying that when the chips are down you find out who your true friends are. As the CEO of Creative Virtual, I’ve been on two sides on this equation during these tough times: supporting our customers and being a customer myself.

Customer experience is a much-debated subject of course, but the thing that’s often missing from these debates is the importance of building strong customer partnerships that can stand the test of time. Creative Virtual is fortunate to have many long-term customers: one of our first customers has been with us since the formation of the company (nearly 17 years ago!). Having a great team, who are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the customer, is the main attribute for a long-term partnership. Being flexible, listening and supporting our customers as they face their own challenges, and taking a longer-term perspective, is an inherent part of our company culture.

I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. The pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in the customer experiences that myself or people I know have encountered. Like all of us, I’ve been truly inspired and humbled by our key workers. The dedication and positivity from staff at the local Waitrose, for example, has been a breath of fresh air (service with a smile!). There are some bank and landlord experiences that I’ve heard about that have been pretty bad. And these cases are particularly beguiling when there’s been a long-term relationship in place and the bank/landlord has turned their back in a moment of need. Purely from a business perspective, these actions are completely counterproductive as this often leads to a loss of business.

Today much of the customer experience is automated, and when I consider what makes our chatbot/ virtual agent and live chat technology successful, it’s taking that long-term view. Building the right foundations at the beginning means the technology can be easily adapted as business priorities change and can be readily scaled up as required. This was particularly put to the test during the height of the pandemic when our customers saw a dramatic increase in virtual agent transactions and required quick updates to the chatbot/ virtual agent content. Taking a long-term perspective is just as important for chabots/ virtual agents as it is for human relations!

If you’re planning to add a chatbot virtual agent to your CX strategy to help improve your customer relationships, you’ll want to download this whitepaper: Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. The guide provides insights from industry experts on how having a strong partnership with your technology vendor sets your self-service solution up for long-term success.

As you celebrate CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, consider the approach you are taking with your customer experience strategy. Are you striving to build strong, long-term customer partnerships? Are you empowering your employees to make decisions to strengthen those customer relationships? Are you taking a long-term view to achieve success with automated CX tools?

Customer experience is all about long-term relationships – and that’s never been more important than right now. When the chips are down, are you a reliable partner for your customers?

Two Thumbs Up for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Today we kick off the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service, the people who deliver that service and the impact it has on successful business practices. 2020 has brought new customer service challenges for companies and altered the way customers engage with businesses, perhaps forever. Delivering service that gets two thumbs up from customers has been – and continues to be – no easy feat!

This is the fifth year I’ve put together a blog post roundup to start off Customer Service Week, and it might just be the most important one yet. The global pandemic has put digital transformation projects on the fast-track for many organisations, including digital customer service initiatives. Having expert insights, resources and industry stats is important for getting those strategies right. Here are some of the key blog posts on customer support we’ve shared over the past year that can help you with improving and extending the customer service you provide:

  • Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-10 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers – COVID-19 has put organisations under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This three-part blog series explores the business value of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide easy-to-use self-service, starting with supporting customers. Also take a look at Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents and Part 3: Supporting Employees.
  • Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part blog series dives into the real experiences of financial organisations as they took quick action to keep the information they were providing to customers up-to-date during a period of fast-paced changes. They used their existing virtual agent implementations both to analyse customer needs and deliver 24/7 support for better customer service.
  • Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector – Starting in late February and early March, Creative Virtual saw a spike in virtual agent traffic that surpassed anything the company had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By the end of the first week in July, those virtual agents had already recorded about 75% of the total transactions completed the previous year. While some sectors saw a return to more normal usage after the initial spike, the Banking sector continued to see increased usage compared with the first two months of 2020.
  • A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic – In August, AI Time Journal published a new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, exploring the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. The ebook also covered several conversational AI success stories, including one telling how an international financial services group’s virtual agent rose to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.
  • The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters – If you are considering virtual agent or chatbot options and providers, then you will benefit from the expertise of this group of industry insiders. Together they offer 83 years of experience in a field that has only been commercially viable for about two decades. Learn about the six areas of experience that are necessary for the success of a conversational self-help tool.
  • APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies – There has been a shift in the APAC region as an increasing number of organisations look to use AI and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and workload.
  • Hindsight May be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision – Customers are expecting more from the companies they give their business to, and that includes effective service across touchpoints. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.
  • A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture – While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience to avoid frustrating customers with a disjointed, unhelpful experience.
  • Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents – Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Whatever you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. Selecting and deploying the right technology for your company is key to achieving success.
  • Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre – A ContactBabel customer service survey found business leaders agreed that AI will be important to the future of the contact centre. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies to help them support those channels in a better and more cost-effective way.

 

The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director & Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

Whitepapers are designed to be plain-speaking and informative documents spanning an array of subjects. At Creative Virtual, whitepapers are not created too often as they hold a special place in our repository of resources since they offer information that stays valid for a much longer time than other documents. We write them as valuable reference points which can be reviewed when required.

We take great pleasure in introducing this newly created whitepaper from Creative Virtual as it has a lot of straight talk about one of our favourite subjects: user experience in the realm of self-help tools. The insight and intel our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience contains spans the width and breadth of the company: sales, marketing, technical and not least the operations team, some of who contributed by submitting their hottest and most relevant tips.

Where else can you find a paper that consolidates industry understanding and expertise from a group of people with a combined 83 years of experience in a field that has only been viable, commercially, for about the past 20?!

In addition to contributions from both of us, the whitepaper also includes insights from Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and Mandy Reed. We drew from our extensive experience in the virtual agent and chatbot field to explore six areas of experience that are necessary for success. For example, we touch on the importance of skill in building a strong business case, integrating with other systems and technologies, creating the right user experience and identifying future developments.

We were so glad to contribute to this guide as it really brings the whole team closer to the readers. Having that personal touch makes a difference and helps to make the technology as well as industry jargon and terms more understandable. Having to choose a self-service solution can be a daunting task – there are so many industry-specific, and often even provider-specific expressions (which usually all mean pretty much the same thing!), that during your search, you might just feel even more confused than before you started. Demo calls might have the same effect, especially if you need to pass on the gained information to your team.

It helps to have clear, short and objective guides to help with your selection process – our 7-page long whitepaper is a perfect example of this. AI tools don’t need to be complicated and overwhelming if you go with the right team who can make things simple and easily understandable for you.

For example, we’ve found in our personal experience that as we go through the deployment and content curation processes clients, especially those who are new to self-service solutions, often find somewhat abstract our third area covered in the whitepaper: Experience with building and deploying successful solutions. To them, customer behaviour analysis and conversation flows are mysterious things and so they find it difficult to identify and deliver complex user journeys.

For an experienced virtual agent team, this is a typical case when a picture, or in this instance one demo flow, is worth a thousand words. Once we create a prototype flow for our customers, they are able to visualize their content flows and get quickly into the swing of things, supplying us new journeys and loops proactively. This is the sort of invaluable consultation experience you will receive when you work with the right virtual agent vendor.

The right team will also help you with analysing your virtual agent or chatbot’s usage to help you identify some quick wins. For example, for a new project we’ve been recently working on, our analysis enabled us to suggest creating new structured conversation flows by linking together existing content. This meant the client did not have to provide any new content, yet the user experience and their specific KPIs (key performance indicators) were improved significantly. It is personalised recommendations like this that enable you to get the most from your self-service tool, and that only happens when you work with a provider that builds a close relationship with your company and team.

virtual agent & chatbot guideWe encourage you to take a look at the tips and nuggets of wisdom from a dynamic and accomplished group of people on the Creative Virtual team who know their stuff and are happy to share it. We hope you find it useful as reference as you consider self-help tool options and providers. We may be a little biased, but we firmly believe you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better and well-informed source!

Download your copy of our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience right now! Don’t forget you can always request more information or your own expert consultation by contacting us here.

A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

We have all been facing new personal, professional and community challenges this year as we continue to deal with the harsh impacts of a global pandemic. At Creative Virtual, the team has been working hard to help our customers with their challenges related to delivering quality customer and employee self-service as information and needs change quickly. So, when AI Time Journal approached us to contribute to their ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic,’ it was a no-brainer for us to take part.

The new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, takes a look at the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. Through a series of interviews with industry experts and innovators, the AI Time Journal Editors dive into current conversational AI trends and predictions for the future. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, was one of the experts interviewed and made this important observation:

“Organisations have realised the need to have and/or work with people skilled specifically in this technology to implement successful projects – a trend that’s being magnified by the current global pandemic. The increased focus on digital experiences and sudden spike in usage of conversational AI tools have highlighted how important this expertise is to development, maintenance and expansion of projects.”

That need for skill and expertise is reflected in the conversational AI success stories featured in the final section of the ebook. The first success story tells how an international financial services group’s V-Person™ virtual agent is rising to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world in early 2020 and restrictions were put in place, this international financial services group faced the same challenges as many other businesses: the closing of physical locations, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe and rapidly changing information. While the organisation’s V-Person virtual agent had been a key part of their customer support strategy for many years, it came to the forefront during this time, becoming their go-to method of communicating with customers.

The quickest way to update information

Accessing the most recent information was important to customers to help them make sound financial decisions during an uncertain time. Providing that information was paramount for this financial services group but meant they had to have a way to keep content up-to-date as the government issued new programmes and schemes, regulations and processes changed, and pandemic restrictions evolved.

The organisation discovered that their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid changes and deliver accurate information to customers. The process to update content within the virtual agent was quicker and easier than updating content on their website, allowing them to make as many changes as needed while minimising the amount of time the team spent actioning those changes.

The support needed for a transitioning call centre

Restrictions and guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 meant it could no longer be business-as-usual for the organisation’s call centre. As the call centre dealt with rotating shifts and transitioning to a new way of working, they faced a period of having fewer agents available to deal with a rising volume of customer queries. To help relieve pressure from live agents, they began to proactively direct customers to self-serve through their virtual agent.

Since the virtual agent could provide the most updated information available, this approach was a win-win for customers and the call centre. Customers appreciated being able to quickly find answers to their questions without the hassle of making a call and dealing with long hold times. Call centre agents benefited from fewer calls which gave them more time to help customers with complex issues or who preferred to discuss their question with a live agent.

The right collaboration for a better CX

In the past, the team responsible for keeping the virtual agent’s content updated would need to reach out to the call centre for input. Now call centre teams are actively providing feedback and new content to add based on incoming calls from customers. This collaboration is enabling the organisation to keep their virtual agent performing well and delivering accurate answers to customers’ most pressing questions.

During the 3-4-month period of widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the financial services group saw their virtual agent traffic double and then nearly triple. Even after those large peaks, usage of the virtual agent continues to be greater than usual with high customer satisfaction scores.

While others struggled with their CX, this financial services organisation recognised the potential of their virtual agent and successfully pushed it to the forefront of their strategy.

Download a full copy of the Conversational AI Trends 2020 ebook for a complete look at highlighted industry trends, insights and success stories. You can also request a live demo with a member of the Creative Virtual team to learn more about our V-Person virtual agent, chatbot and live chat solutions and see them in action.

A big thank you to Martin Russo and the team at AI Time Journal for inviting us to take part in this ebook!