Not All Chatbots are Conversational AI Solutions

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Over the past several years businesses around the world have faced significant hardships and uncertainty. As these difficulties continue and new challenges arise, the IT sector will play a critical role in keeping companies connected and enabling them to adapt. SME News Magazine is recognising this with their newly established IT Awards programme.

The new IT Awards honour companies that are driving forward innovation and focusing on client-centricity while remaining true experts in their industry. I’m excited to share that Creative Virtual has been awarded Best Conversational AI Solutions 2022!

Creative Virtual has built our reputation as a conversational AI leader by consistently delivering successful and innovative solutions to our customers and partners for nearly two decades. It’s an honour to be recognised by the SME News IT Awards as the best in the industry – especially since this award comes on the heels of us being named the Conversational AI Innovation Excellence Leader by AIxOutlook.

Having worked in the virtual agent and chatbot field since 2000, I’ve experienced first-hand how these solutions and technologies have changed. It’s been exciting to lead one of the companies that has helped drive innovation forward in the industry. The virtual agents of today are certainly not the same as those I was working on 20 years ago.

What has also changed over this time is the variety of names used for these solutions. In fact, there have been so many names, and such little agreement amongst industry experts and analysts on how these names are used, that there is a lingering confusion in the market. Virtual agents, chatbots, virtual assistants, virtual customer assistants, intelligent virtual agents – the list goes on. In general, all these names can be, and often are, regularly used interchangeably to describe solutions.

Most recently, the industry has adopted the name of ‘conversational AI’. However, conversational AI is more than just another name for these solutions. It is more specifically describing the technology behind them. While a virtual agent, chatbot, or virtual assistant can be a conversational AI solution, not all of them currently deployed today are.

This raises an important question: What makes a virtual agent or chatbot a true conversational AI solution?

There’s lots of discussions about how successful conversational AI tools use artificial intelligence, both in the initial development stage and to continuously improve as part of the ongoing maintenance. This is vitally important for identifying real conversational AI solutions, of course. It isn’t the only identifier though. Too often overlooked is the need for integration and personalisation.

True conversational AI virtual agents and chatbots are backed by a platform that enables flexible integration with a variety of other technologies and systems. This includes knowledge management platforms, ticketing systems, live chat technologies, contact centre platforms, voice systems, real-time information feeds, multiple intent engines, CRMs, messaging platforms – to name a few.

These integrations help create conversational and personalised engagements. Personalisation goes beyond just knowing a logged-in user’s name and account or order details. It’s also about personalising the experience based on the user’s engagement channel, location, language, job title or member status, saved preferences – to name a few.

True conversational AI goes beyond a basic FAQ chatbot to deliver solutions that are customised for the business and for the individual users. As we’ve developed and improved our V-Person™ technology over the years, we’ve always maintained a focus on integration and personalisation. In fact, V-Person is recognised as the first virtual agent solution to successfully deliver personalisation by both Gartner and Patricia Seybold Group. We are continuing that focus with our upcoming Gluon Release which will make it quicker and easier to build, deploy, and maintain integrated, personalised conversational AI solutions.

If you’d like to learn more about Creative Virtual’s true conversational AI solutions and get an early look at our next big V-Person release, arrange a personalised demo session with one of our experts.

My thanks to SME News and their research team for our Best Conversational AI Solutions recognition! Congratulations to the Creative Virtual team for another well-deserved award!

Innovation Excellence in Conversational AI

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Conversational AI is a very hot and in-demand technology right now. This is not surprising given the pressures on organisations to improve digital experience and provide smarter automation. It’s also not surprising that this demand has led to a very crowded field of competing vendors, from big companies down to small, new start-ups.

An over-crowded and highly competitive marketplace brings both positives and negatives for buyers. While having options can be nice, evaluating so many choices makes it more time consuming and difficult to select the best vendor for you. Competing vendors can drive innovation, but those innovations don’t necessarily mean better solutions and real business benefits. It can be hugely helpful for buyers to have knowledgeable insights from independent industry experts.

This is why AIxOutlook, a part of Sceptertech Digital, are conducting their Best Practice Research. Their uniquely designed evaluation process benchmarks vendors’ performance against competitors to identify industry leaders. They award their Innovation Excellence Leadership recognition to companies committed to innovation and offering the next generation of products and services.

Creative Virtual is proud to be named the Innovation Excellence Leader in the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report! Prasobh Namboothiri, Associate Editor at AIxOutlook says:

“Creative Virtual is the clear Innovation Excellence Leader in a crowded and competitive conversational AI industry. Businesses collaborating with them benefit from their cutting-edge technology as well as their expert consultation, resulting in customised, integrated, and personalised solutions that deliver real business value.”

Conversational AI Innovation Excellence

AIxOutlook’s evaluation focuses on both innovation and customer impact and finds Creative Virtual to be the leading conversational AI innovator driving the industry forward with our V-Person™ technology. They call out V-Person’s flexible integration options that enable organisations to develop customised solutions for delivery of unified, personalised experiences.

Another vital differentiator identified in the report is our approach to AI and the training of our chatbots and virtual agents. The analysts praise our blending of machine learning and a rules-based approach to natural language processing (NLP) and refer to our conversational AI management platform, V-Portal™, as cutting-edge.

Check out the 2022 Innovation Excellence Leadership in Conversational Intelligence report for AIxOutlook’s full independent assessment of our conversational AI capabilities. The report also includes an evaluation of the global conversational AI market along with current developments and trends in the industry.

As a pioneer in the virtual agent and chatbot space, Creative Virtual has always been committed to innovating in a way that will help companies tackle their current challenges and be prepared for future changes. It’s an honour to be recognised for this long-standing dedication to being a trendsetter in the conversational AI market. Our goal is to always deliver the best possible combination of innovative technology and expertise to our customers and partners.

Download a full copy of the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report here. And then request a personalised demo here to discuss how V-Person can help improve your customer and employee experiences with an expert member of our team.

Composable CX: Becoming Agile and Flexible

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Anyone involved in the customer experience (CX) space has likely come across articles, research, and discussions around composable CX. This concept is all about being agile and flexible to deliver better results even when faced with uncertainty and rapid change. It’s certainly no surprise that composable business jumped to the forefront in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it was one of the main themes of a virtual Gartner conference I attended in November 2020.

Over the past two years, composability has become a key discussion point for many organisations looking to take a more agile approach to their customer experiences. In an August 2021 webinar, Impact CX with the 3 Building Blocks of Composable Business, Gartner shared the prediction that 60% of mainstream organisations will identify composable business as a strategic objective by 2023. The analysts broke this approach down into three areas:

  • Composable thinking starts with the belief that anything can be made composable. It enables employees to better respond to rapidly changing customer needs with empathy and emphasizes the sharing and seeking of ideas from both inside and outside of the organisation.
  • Composable architecture is all about unleashing innovation at scale by creating a resilient application experience through the use of APIs, microservices, and event streams. It allows for both innovative and traditional customer experiences in order to respond to disruption with agility.
  • Composable technologies, including low code, data mesh, composable platforms, and contextual intelligence, offer the needed guidance and flexibility for customers and employees.

During Argyle’s CMO Leadership Forum earlier this month, composable CX was the focus of a panel discussion. Panellists shared insights based on their experiences working with organisations to develop and implement CX strategies as part of a composable approach.

One of the key takeaways from that session for me was the importance of, and value in, making composability a companywide effort. Maximising the benefits of an investment in this approach requires it to become part of the company’s culture. There needs to be collaboration across departments and from the C-suite on down.

The panellists also stressed that just because composability enables you to do something, that doesn’t mean your organisation should do it. You must still be thoughtful about how you approach your CX strategy and solutions, being sure the decisions you make will bring real value to your customer relationships.

Perhaps not surprising, chatbots were raised as an example of a solution that a company may feel pressured to implement because ‘everyone is doing it’ but may not be the best choice for all businesses. Panellists also used chatbots to illustrate the importance of selecting the right technologies for composable CX. Basic chatbot solutions do not deliver the same benefits and flexibility as sophisticated conversational AI platforms.

If you are considering adding a new CX tool or contact channel, such as a chatbot, you should first evaluate if and how that will enhance the overall experience. Using composable thinking, ask yourself:

  • Will my customers use this type of tool or solution? Are my customers already using this channel, app, etc. and interested in engaging with our business there?
  • How will my customers use this tool or channel? Will they expect a personalised experience? What other systems, channels, tools, etc. will need to be integrated with this new solution to meet customer expectations?
  • Can we deliver a positive experience with this tool or channel? Do we have the right resources and technology to create the solution we need? Are we prepared to properly maintain and update this solution for long-term success?

Composable CX is all about being agile and flexible. It is about being able to create and deploy solutions quickly but doing so in a way that responds to customer needs in a thoughtful and empathetic way.

Even if you’re tempted to write off composable business and CX as just the latest industry buzzwords, don’t ignore the concepts and approach behind them. Organisations that are stuck in their traditional, siloed ways of working are going to find it increasingly difficult to compete with competitors that have invested in becoming more agile and flexible.

Contact Centres are Crying Out for Help

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Contact centres and contact centre agents are under immense pressure, dealing with increased contact volumes, rising customer frustration, and agent attrition. A recent survey of 1000 contact centre leaders in the UK, US, and Australia has revealed a very telling and consistent view that contact centres are hanging on by a thread.

This survey, conducted by Censuswide, found:

  • 68% of contact centres report rising chat and call volumes
  • 66% of contact centres agree that contact volumes are spiralling beyond their capacity to handle them
  • 70% of contact centres report escalating customer churn
  • 68% of contact centres are experiencing increased agent attrition
  • 66% of contact centres report that dealing with frustrated customers is impacting the mental health of frontline customer service employees

The findings of this survey are not good. Not good for contact centre agents, not good for customers, and not good for businesses. However, the survey also uncovered that 96% of contact centres are planning technology upgrades in the next 12-24 months to keep from a complete breakdown of customer service under these pressures.

While technology won’t solve all the issues facing the contact centre industry, the right solutions will go a long way in alleviating some of the stress being placed on agents. These solutions include both tools designed specifically to support agents as well as customer-facing tools that create easier digital self-service.

Offering 24/7 intelligent self-service options to customers alleviates pressure on busy contact centres by reducing the number of incoming contacts. Chatbots and virtual agents can answer your most common questions that don’t require engagement with a human, so your agents no longer have to answer the same basic queries over and over. Chatbots backed by a more sophisticated conversational AI platform can also guide customers step-by-step through troubleshooting instructions and hand-hold users through the completion of forms, applications, and even the sales process. This further reduces contact volumes and frees up agents to deal with most sensitive, complex customer issues.

Regardless of what channels your agents are delivering support on – phone, email, social media, SMS, messaging apps, live chat – it’s important for them to have the information and tools they need to help customers efficiently and accurately. Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions are proven to reduce training time for agents and also give all contact centre staff members easy access to the same level of information to help customers.

Agents can find the information they need by typing in questions using natural language or internal abbreviations. As with customer-facing chatbots, a high-quality conversational AI platform allows for conversation flows to help agents guide customers through procedures, processes, and forms. The tool can provide ‘next-best-action’ prompts to assist with up-selling and cross-selling. And when integrated with voice technology, the tool can ‘listen in’ on calls and present agents with relevant information as the caller explains their issue.

Staff training on how to deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements can be augmented with an agent self-service tool for supporting potentially vulnerable customers. Agents use search terms such as ‘job loss’, ‘anxiety’, and ‘autism’ to access tips on how to support customers’ needs effectively and sensitively within company guidelines. Links to practical and helpful resources can also be included to help create more empathetic experiences for vulnerable customers as well as act as a way for agents to find reliable information and services for themselves.

With these customisable contact centre tools, agents no longer need to worry about memorising and retaining content or shuffling through multiple pages of notes and handbooks. Instead, they know they have all the information they need at their fingertips and can concentrate on the human engagement with customers.

Deploying conversational AI technology for both customers and agents as part of a cohesive strategy delivers a variety of benefits for the contact centre:

  • Customers are happier and less frustrated because they have a better option to self-serve.
  • Increased self-service containment and resolution means reduced contact centre traffic.
  • Agents are more readily available to support customers with the most complex issues instead of spending time dealing with basic, repetitive questions.
  • Agents have instant access to information, guides, and tips for helping customers effectively and sensitively.
  • An improved experience for agents means lower agent attrition.
  • An improved experience for customers means lower customer churn.

There is no quick fix or magic solution for all the pressures contact centres are currently experiencing. However, conversational AI is one technology that can help overcome some of these challenges by addressing them from both the customer and agent viewpoints. The key to finding success with this approach is to work with a conversational AI provider experienced in both areas.

If you find yourself agreeing with the findings of this survey within your own organisation, then it’s time to talk to the conversational AI experts about crafting your own contact centre strategy.

Conversational AI and the Employee Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I was invited to contribute an article to the Collaboration Journal, a quarterly publication from the Collaboration Network, as a guest columnist. The Journal always features a variety of thought leadership articles focused on achieving better outcomes for customers and employees. They address topical business challenges within the context of the current state of the world.

I shared insights with readers from my over two decades in the conversational AI industry. I started out by talking about conversational AI tools being thrust into the customer service spotlight in 2020 as businesses dealt with COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions, and rapidly changing information. This created an increased adoption of, and preference for, digital self-service tools.

The key takeaway from my article wasn’t about customer service, however. While conversational AI tends to be associated with delivering easy customer self-service, I encouraged readers not to overlook its value for employee self-service, too. This technology is achieving impressive benefits for both customer-facing and internal use cases.

Why did I place my focus on using conversational AI for employee support? One reason is the important fact that your customer experience starts with your employee experience. Employees that feel supported and have the proper tools to do their jobs are going to be happier and more engaged. In turn, that means better products, services, and support for your customers.

The same growing customer base of digital natives who appreciate having 24/7 intelligent self-service options always available, also appreciate having those same types of digital tools offered within their workplace. This has been amplified by the switch to fully remote and hybrid working arrangements within many organisations.

Sophisticated conversational AI platforms provide options for creating fully integrated virtual agents that can deliver personalised information and support. These can be deployed on company intranets and microsites to support logged-in, authenticated employees regardless of their physical location.

Use cases for internal virtual agents range from supporting contact centre and live chat agents to delivering support for HR and employees’ day-to-day jobs. All employees, whether or not they are in customer-facing roles, can benefit from having access to self-service tools.

Virtual agents and chatbots have come a long way over the past two decades, and there are even more exciting developments on the horizon. Now is the perfect time to make conversational AI a key part of your employee support strategy.

If you aren’t a member of the Collaboration Network, I encourage you to visit the Collaboration Network website to request a copy of the Summer 2022 edition of the Collaboration Journal. It includes many great thought leadership articles on pressing issues such as the impact of the cost of living crisis, supporting vulnerable customers and employees, and scam prevention.

My thanks to the Collaboration Journal team for inviting me to be a guest columnist!

The Buzz about Digital Transformation

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

While there has been buzz for years about digital transformation, the shift to digital has now become an imperative for many businesses to stay competitive. The wider availability of technology and devices, an increased adoption of digital channels during the pandemic, and a growing customer base of digital natives are coming together to spur a digital transformation push.

According to Forrester, 72% of APAC decision makers report an accelerated shift to digital business as a high or critical priority over the next 12 months. Their three top drivers for digital transformation are promoting agility and innovation, improving operational efficiency, and improving the customer experience.

APAC businesses aren’t alone in this drive for digital transformation. Organisations around the world are exploring additional technologies as a way to improve business performance. In their 2022 CIO survey, Gartner found that there is a broad demand for digital transformation across industries as well. They also highlight the push to get from limited digitalisation to full transformation quickly as being half-digital is an unsustainable position for businesses.

Digital transformation is certainly a worthwhile and valuable investment for organisations. However, to be successful it needs to be implemented with a strategic and thoughtful approach. Digital projects that are carried out in isolation can severely hinder a company’s full transformation. They can reduce efficiency and worsen the customer experience, the opposite of what they should be delivering.

A comprehensive digital strategy requires clear goals, obtainable objectives, and the right key performance indicators (KPIs). It must consider both the employee and customer experience, as well as identify when and how the two can be linked to create seamless experiences. It also must ensure that the technologies and solutions being implemented will positively impact and support the work of the humans involved.

Conversational AI is one of the technologies increasingly being added to digital transformation strategies in the areas of customer service and employee support. These solutions are proven to increase efficiency and improve experiences for customers, employees, and contact centre agents while also typically reducing costs.

A high-quality conversational AI platform will support integrations with other systems within the platform. This enables organisations to connect conversational AI solutions – chatbots and virtual agents – to other digital tools such as CRMs, ticketing systems, forums, voice technologies, payment systems, and live chat to create easy, seamless digital experiences.

While actioning digital transformation should be a priority for organisations, it’s just as imperative that they are transforming in a way that creates positive digital engagements. Having a poor digital experience can be as damaging to business, employee retention, and customer satisfaction as having limited digitalisation.

If you’re looking to add conversational AI to your digital transformation strategy, check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for expert tips.

If you already have a conversational AI project but are finding that it’s not delivering the results you need within your overall digital strategy, check out the Conversational AI Issues & Solutions eBook.

And when you are ready to take the next step with your project, contact the Creative Virtual team to arrange a demo and discuss an individual workshop to help build your conversational AI strategy as part of your full digital transformation.

Building a Cohesive Virtual Agent and Live Chat Solution

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

Adding a virtual agent to an existing live chat deployment

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

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

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

Adding live chat to an existing virtual agent deployment

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

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

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

Adding both a virtual agent and live chat or changing providers

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

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

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

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

Celebrating a Platinum Jubilee and Long-Term Relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would You Rather Call Customer Support or Clean a Toilet?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you intelligently route customers to the right agent?

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

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

Do you provide agents with the best training and tools?

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Z and your Customer Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

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

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

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

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

2022 ACA Study

The report called out these two important stats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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