Combining Chatbots and Voice for Omnichannel Experiences

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Last week Creative Virtual joined our partner Spitch as co-sponsors of The European Chatbot & Conversational AI Summit. The event was 100% virtual this year and featured two afternoons of various presentations, workshops, and panel debates. While being virtual is never quite the same as talking with someone face-to-face, it was great to see so many thought-provoking exchanges on the Discussion board and interesting questions asked by attendees during the sessions.

I teamed up with Gary Williams from Spitch to present on Day 1 of the Summit. Our session, The Omnichannel Solution: Chatbots + Voice, explored combining natural language chatbots with speech recognition capabilities to create powerful voicebot solutions. We shared some industry research from ContactBabel that showed 85% of CX professionals identified creating omnichannel/connected journeys as very or somewhat important to their strategies in the next two years (download the full report here). It’s no secret that customers want and expect an omnichannel support experience.

The tight integration of chatbots and voice creates a seamless journey as users switch between channels to help you deliver that connected experience. Gary and I shared two example voicebot use cases, one for customer support and one for employee support, that showed how the user could start a process on one channel and complete it on another in a smooth, seamless way.

For those interested in getting started with their own voicebot project, we ended our session with three important tips:

  1. Work with experienced vendors – Today’s market is crowded with new start-ups and inexperienced providers. You want to work with vendors that already have proven experience with both deploying and maintaining these solutions in your industry or sector. By partnering with experts, you immediately benefit from their experience. They can help you avoid common pitfalls, guide you on best practices, and ensure compliance with industry requirements and regulations.
  2. Select reliable technologies – This is why Creative Virtual and Spitch have partnered on voicebot solutions. We both bring years of expertise and documented results for each of our respective technologies. Be cautious about vendors that have attempted to tack on their own poorly developed chatbot or voice technologies to their main solution just so they can shout ‘Me too!’ You want technologies that are secure, can scale to current and future requirements, offer the hosting options you need, and will give you reliable results.
  3. Understand the integration options – When it comes to integrations, you need to first make sure there is a deep, seamless integration of the chatbot and speech technology to have a successful voicebot. Then consider what other integrations you are going to need to create a personalised user experience. You want a solution that can easily integrate with any existing content sources, backend systems, CRMs, other communication channels, etc. so that you can create a custom experience and connected journey.

If you’re interested in learning more about voicebots, schedule a demo to see these solutions in action and discuss possible use cases. You can also read more about the Creative Virtual and Spitch collaboration in our integration overview.

Thanks to Gary and Spitch for their event partnership and to The European Chatbot & Conversational AI Summit organisers and attendees for two days of great virtual content!

How Much Does it Cost to Make a Chatbot that Actually Works?

By Paulo Barrett, Chief Operating Officer

Ask any seller of a highly complex and customizable chatbot or virtual agent system about cost and you’re likely to get an evasive answer. ‘There’s no one-size fits all.’ ‘I’d need to talk to you on the phone to give you an accurate quote.’ Increasingly, in this ever-saturating market, it’s easy to find elements of chatbot pricing (i.e., API request fees) or flat monthly subscription costs for low-end systems, but who is giving the educated bot buyer a clear, top to bottom view of what it costs to build a system that will really work?

By ‘really work,’ I mean one that will materially contribute to cost savings, improve customer satisfaction, and maybe even generate new revenue. In other words, how much is it realistically going to cost to build a bot your customers will actually want to use.

The truth is, building a successful chatbot is not purely a question of technology. Whether you are buying a platform to BYOB, getting something cheap and cheerful off the shelf, or looking for a bot consultancy to support your internal efforts, your work is really just beginning once you have the system configured and deployed. The ongoing work to improve the chatbot’s performance and to get the best out of self-service in your unique deployment is what makes the difference.

It can be difficult to predict exactly what actions your customers will want to take in the beginning. That means being able to take an informational system and swiftly evolve it as desired customer outcomes become clear is key for success. This is enhanced by using great technology, of course, but ultimately, you need the right experts (internal or external) to separate your deployment from the crowd of others (often failures) which are flooding the support world.

Think of it like buying an instrument. No matter how expensive or special it is, either you learn to play it, or you get someone else to play it for you (alternatively, it ends up gathering dust and doing absolutely nothing for anyone). One way or another, this expert training costs time and money. You have to weigh this investment against the return.

Now to the million-dollar question … pun intended. What will a chatbot that your customers actually want to use cost for a large enterprise? While it’s true that most deployments are unique to every client and require some customization, there are some standard pricing building blocks you can expect to see.

The first cost to nail down is the pilot fee. How much am I gonna spend to test this thing out and see if it works for me? The financial risk associated with a pilot should be shared by the customer and the vendor and typically runs around $50,000 (USD). While the client assumes some risk via the initial cost, you should expect this to be credited against the cost of the full production-level deployment if you choose to move forward. This fee will cover all hosting, software deployment, content development, technical consultancy, and transactional fees for the agreed period. Typical pilots run 30-60 days from go live to give you enough time to see material results and make a decision about the ongoing plan.

Once you convert from pilot to full system (we pride ourselves on a +90% conversion rate!), you have some choices to make about how you pay for the tools and ongoing consultancy. Some customers wish to be purely pay-for-performance. Often, they go with a tiered model based on volume with session costs starting at a dollar (i.e., a single interaction with a user, with unlimited question/integration calls in that session). This per session cost may fall based on meeting certain volume thresholds. With any variable pricing model there are pros and risks for both the customer and the vendor.

If you prefer not to have a variable rate in your forecasting, you can purchase a more traditional software/services package. A standard production system should include integration with a live chat platform as well as your CRM. This will ensure your customers get personalized answers to their questions and are able to complete transactions with the bot online, rather than just receiving flat, informational content. The cost to provide the software and ongoing consultancy, along with an adequate knowledgebase of 100-200 solutions, will generally cost somewhere between $150,000 and $250,000 (USD) per annum, depending on the number of sessions.

While this may seem like quite the investment, you have to ask yourself: What is the cost of deploying a support tool that my customers don’t want to use and delivers a negative, frustrating experience?

Ready to learn more? Our team is always on hand to arrange a personalized demo with you and answer any questions you may have about getting started with your pilot.

Delivering Innovation that Enables Successful Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Innovation is essential for companies to stay relevant, be competitive and achieve long-term growth. History is littered with brands that resisted change and failed to keep up with new trends and preferences in the marketplace – like Blockbuster – which ultimately resulted in their demise. However, simply being innovative is not enough to ensure success.

What is too often missing from the emphasis on being innovative is the necessity for that innovation to be applicable to the real life needs and challenges of your company and customers. Having innovation at the heart of our company culture at Creative Virtual has served the company well, but only because we innovate with the objective of delivering products and services that genuinely help our customers meet their goals in increasingly better ways.

Today we announced Creative Virtual’s latest award win: ‘Most Innovative Conversational Self-Service Solutions, 2020’ in Corporate Vision Magazine’s Corporate Excellence Awards. As a company we are proud to receive this recognition for innovation. We are even prouder to know that our dedication to innovation is enabling us to provide both the conversational AI technologies and the expert consultation and managed services needed to create quality self-service experiences.

Conversational self-service tools have progressively become more mainstream in the nearly two decades of Creative Virtual’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust them into the spotlight even more in 2020 as companies scrambled to automate online customer service, better support a remote workforce, and relieve growing pressure on contact centres. Organisations already using V-Person™ solutions from Creative Virtual had a distinct advantage in meeting the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.

Many customer experience (CX) predictions for 2021 foresee conversational self-service becoming more integral to customer support strategies. Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert, included chatbots in his Top 10 Business Predictions for this year:

“Chatbots will do more than just communicate with customers. Most companies use chatbots as a way to manage customer support. Chatbots will continue to do that, and get better at it, but they will also help decide what happens next. The initial interaction is the starting point for automating processes or escalating the issue to a human.”

Creative Virtual’s chatbots and virtual agents are already doing that, which is one of the reasons why we were named most innovative by the award judges. In 2020, we introduced the Neutrino release of V-Person (our conversational virtual agent and chatbot technology) which brings together humans and AI with powerful integration options and easy-to-manage workflows. With V-Portal™ (our virtual agent, chatbot and live chat management platform), organisations can create personalised conversations, identify next-best-actions, and escalate from virtual to human support in a seamless way.

Being innovative in this area requires more than just having cool technology, though. It also demands having the experience and expertise to implement that technology in innovative ways to create positive, reliable self-service engagement. This was hugely important in 2020 – and another reason Creative Virtual received this recognition – when businesses, customers, employees, and contact centres were facing new challenges and rapidly changing circumstances. Our team rose to this task, finding ways to help our customers achieve success. In the words of one of our customer contacts from a major financial services group:

“The service from Laura and Andi has been great since we launched our virtual assistants. They have been on hand to support with any question I have and support I’ve needed. During the tough times of the COVID-19 outbreak, we have had to make multiple changes quickly and they have made this process simple.”

Congratulations to the whole Creative Virtual team on this recognition as ‘Most Innovative Conversational Self-Service Solutions, 2020’ and your ongoing dedication to developing and delivering successful self-service!

You can read our official award announcement here and request a personalised demo of our self-service solutions here.

Our thanks to the Corporate Excellence Awards judges for recognising our commitment to innovation and growth throughout 2020!

Setting Course for Success in 2021: It’s all about people and relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Happy New Year!

We all know how tough things have been, and indeed continue to be, with a lot of uncertainty still. And the festive period was very different for everyone. But a new year brings new hope, and we can see the dawn of the vaccines rising above the horizon. I’m sure 2021 will be remembered as the year that we defeated this awful pandemic. Hats off to the remarkable scientists, their teams and the vaccine trial volunteers! Whilst we reflect on the devastating suffering and loss of life, let’s hope that some of the good things, like the renewed community spirit, stay with us forever.

On the one hand we are reminded of the vulnerability of human life when there’s no defence against a virus wreaking global havoc, and on the other hand we have come so far considering the incredible vaccine progress and comparing that with other pandemics over the centuries. Education and curiosity are what drives human endeavour. When you consider the world’s greatest inventions and advancements, whether it’s been down to lone genius or collaboration and teamwork, one thing is for sure: the education and business environment needs to be right to enable such individuals and teams to flourish.

It’s been a tough period for every organisation. At Creative Virtual we are very fortunate to have fantastic customers and partners, and it’s been truly incredible how everyone has pulled together. When I founded Creative Virtual 17 years ago, I put long term relationships at the centre of our Creative Virtual DNA and taking a longer-term view on things has never been more important than this past year.

Whether it’s about the company or helping in the community, it all comes down to the people. I’m so proud to lead a company with so many amazing people! Teamwork has certainly been the operative word this past year! We talk about the importance of our people in our ‘Focus on Experience’ whitepaper. Innovation is another key characteristic of our company, and during the past year we have been investing significantly in the next generation of our products.

Governments around the world have had to put unprecedented amounts of money into supporting economies. Eventually, the books will need to be balanced, but we owe it to the generations to come to maintain a healthy environment where our scientists and innovators can flourish.

As we embark on a new year, let’s celebrate the quirky ones who dare to try new and unconventional things. And let’s remember that quite often we need to fail before we can succeed. Let’s support individuals and businesses that are changing the world for the betterment of mankind. That would be a fitting legacy to the pandemic of 2020.

Onwards to 2021! Happy New Year!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

As we approach the end of 2020, the whole Creative Virtual team around the world want to say thank you to all our blog readers, customers and partners for joining us on this roller coaster of a year!

We started the year celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen and are ending it with a wealth of new expertise gained from supporting our customers, our partners and each other through many unexpected challenges. One of our goals this year became sharing our deep knowledge and extensive experience with virtual agent, chatbot and live chat solutions with you so that you could also meet the challenges you faced supporting employees and customers. We are very proud of our newest whitepaper, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience, which features ten of our own industry experts with over 83 years of combined experience in this space. Be sure to download it if you haven’t already! Then check out our 2020 in Review blog post for more highlights and educational resources.

On behalf of all of us at Creative Virtual, wishes for health and happiness during this holiday season and the coming year!

Being Grateful in a Year of Challenges

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As we say goodbye to this year, we can all agree that 2020 has brought us a wide range of unexpected situations and challenges, affecting both personal and business life. This period of the year is a great time to reflect and, even though this year seems to be gloomy and simultaneously flying by and lasting forever, we still need to find reasons to stay positive and be grateful.

Many, if not all, self-improvement books, practises and lectures emphasize the importance of expressing gratitude and looking for the silver lining in whatever challenges we might face. According to Dr David Hamilton, some of the many benefits of gratitude are –

  • Good for mental health – People who were asked to list blessings were around 25% happier, compared to people who were asked to list hassles and annoyances.
  • Helps counter stress – Gratitude switches our focus and helps us notice more of the good things in life. This effect also comes in handy when we can’t get to sleep, as counting blessings (not sheep!) helps relax us.
  • Makes us feel less lonely and more connected – During these times of lockdown and self-isolation, practising gratitude can make us feel more connected and part of life as a whole. It also increases our sense of belonging in the world.

Sadly, furlough, reduced hours and redundancy have become a part of our everyday vocabulary in 2020, which can make it hard for us to stay positive. Yet, there are things to be grateful for. At Creative Virtual, our sense of community is more important than ever, hence we made a small survey to see what we are grateful for as a team:

1. We are grateful for our customers and the ability to be able to help them.

Many of us expressed a sense of purpose at work. With our reports and client feedback, we can clearly see how our tools can improve the customer experience, save calls and direct users to the best sources to self-serve. We have long term personal relationships with our customers which really makes a difference.

‘I am grateful that our jobs have always been able to help other companies help their clients at a really difficult time.’

‘I’m grateful for the messages of thanks we’ve received from our customers this year expressing their gratitude for the ways Creative Virtual team members made their jobs easier when so much else was harder than usual.’

 

2. We are grateful for our creative work.

Due to our close relationships with our clients and solutions, our approach is very responsive to sudden changes from the real world of customer inputs and there is a great deal of collaboration with our key contact people, often on a daily basis. Ad-hoc reporting requests, queries, urgent updates, new templates and functionalities are all part of our days, making the day-to-day work dynamic and variable.

‘I am grateful for the fun of never knowing what updates or emails I will get – days are colourful and not repetitive.’

 ‘I am grateful for working in an area that is technical, creative and challenging. Every day at work is a joy.’

 

3. We are grateful for our local and global team.

We are a good bunch of quirky people, and no one feels to be left alone with a task, because we know we can always rely on each other. We had loads of Creative Virtual live streams during the spring involving our global team, when we could learn more about each other in an interactive way. Our team is truly multinational and across the globe. I love to be Slacking with my colleagues who are based in the US, Australia, India or in a different country in Europe!

‘I’m grateful to have such a lovely bunch of supportive colleagues and managers.  Everyone’s willing to share their knowledge and help out when needed. Teamwork really does make the dream work!!’

‘I am grateful to be working for and with such an awesome team. Everyone has a lot of experience and know-how. I truly enjoy working with them.’

 

This was our quick ‘what we are grateful for list’ at Creative Virtual, with final thoughts from our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel:

As we enter the Christmas season, it’s always a good time to reflect. We all look forward to a New Year and hopefully a way out of this awful pandemic. It’s been amazing to see our Creative Virtual team working hard to support our customers and partners during these difficult times. Teamwork is our strength and has brought us through 2020. I’m very proud to be leading such a wonderful team and look forward to raising a virtual glass and having some fun with them all during this festive season!

 

Here’s to a new habit of practising gratitude on a daily basis for a more positive new year!

A Look Back: 2020 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Around this time every December, I put cursor to page and fingers to keyboard to take a look back over the last 12 months and reflect on some of the highlights of the year for Creative Virtual. This is the seventh time I’ve done this annual year in review blog post, but never have I had to review a year that was like 2020. I don’t need to tell you that not everything went as planned, but there were still some bright spots for us and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry.

Creative Virtual started 2020 celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel shared his pride in ‘building a successful, world-leading company over a sustained period of time with an amazing group of people’ in our first blog post of the year. As an organisation that has been in the industry since the infancy of virtual agents and chatbots, we really understand the past, present and future of these solutions and bring a wealth of experience and expertise alongside our technology.

It is that experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team that took centre stage this year. As physical offices and business locations were closed to comply with lockdown and stay-at-home orders around the world, our customers were faced with a surge of incoming queries from their customers and new challenges in supporting their employees while also dealing with rapidly changing information and guidance. They turned to our team for advice and assistance in keeping their virtual agent and chatbot solutions updated and proactively relieving pressure from their contact centres. Laura Ludmany, one of our experienced Knowledgebase Engineers, wrote a two-part blog series about helping some of our financial customers with their 24/7 customer support tools during this time. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Several months later, AI Time Journal approached us for a contribution to their upcoming ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic’. We were happy to share the experiences of one of our international financial services group customers using our V-Person™ virtual agent to provide customer support. You can read more here and download the full ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, here. For this organisation, their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid content changes and deliver accurate information to customers. With the support of our team, they were able to successfully push their virtual agent to the forefront of their CX strategy.

Neutrino release of V-PersonThe consultation and guidance that we provide is also key to the Neutrino release of V-Person which we introduced to the market in June. The localised support, international insights and best practice expertise of our team are combined with our virtual agent/ chatbot technology (V-Person) and orchestration platform (V-Portal™) for the conversational AI industry’s smartest solution yet. With Neutrino, organisations can leverage their existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

2020 was a record-breaking year for use of our virtual agent and chatbot implementations. With the help of Creative Virtual Analyst, Lester Lane, we took a look at the usage spikes and trends across different regions and sectors in two blog posts. Our initial look in April showed a spike starting at the end of February and beginning of March that surpassed anything we had seen in the 16+ years of the company’s history. When we reached the halfway point of the year, we again crunched the numbers and discovered that those virtual agents had already recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from the previous year.

This explosion in usage of virtual agents and chatbots wasn’t surprising given the closure of physical locations and long call centre wait times that many businesses experienced. However, offering these digital self-service tools delivers no benefits to customers or companies if they don’t provide a consistently positive and accurate experience for users. That is what inspired us to publish a new whitepaper this year titled, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience.

virtual agent & chatbot guideOn the surface, it may sound like something else crazy happening in 2020 – a technology company saying to forget about the technology! The reality is that it doesn’t matter how great the technology is if you don’t have the skill and know-how to implement it in a way to achieve success. In this whitepaper, Creative Virtual team members once again put our knowledge and expertise in the spotlight, explaining the six essential areas of experience your virtual agent vendor should have and why each is important to the success of your solution. We highlight expert tips from ten members of the team – Rachel F Freeman, Laura Ludmany, Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and myself – who combined have over 83 years of experience specifically in the virtual agent and chatbot field.

With travel and in-person events unsafe for much of this year, we couldn’t attend and join our partners at industry conferences as we normally do. Instead, after attending CCW 2020 in Berlin with our partner Sogedes in March, we focused on producing content that could be shared, read and watched virtually over digital channels. We held a webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, which can now be viewed on-demand. Mugdha Desai, Head of Operations for Creative Virtual India, and Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director of Creative Virtual India, each presented in virtual AI and chatbot events. Founder & CEO, Chris spoke for a sixth time at the Hong Kong Customer Contact Association (HKCCA) Symposium at the invitation of our partner Continuous Technologies, but this time virtually. We are sponsoring one more webinar this year with Customer Contact Central on 17 December, The Future of Contact Centers: A New Paradigm for Superior Customer Experience.

The team also produced our annual blog celebration of Customer Service Week (5-9 October) and CX Day (6 October) with insightful tips and recommendations that reflected the new customer service challenges that 2020 brought to businesses. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

Founder & CEO, Chris may not have been able to do his usual travelling around the world to spend time with our team, partners and customers throughout the year, but he did take part in a podcast and two online interviews. In February, Chris participated in the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s podcast alongside one of his heroes, Sir Geoff Hurst, to discuss leadership. In AI Time Journal’s interview series AI vs COVID-19: Sharing Sessions with People in AI, he talked about turning the remote work challenge into an opportunity to learn more about each employee, how technology may impact our need for in-person interactions and the difference AI is making in combating the virus. Chris also took part in Startup.info’s Innovators vs COVID-19 interview series where he discussed Creative Virtual’s approach to innovation and the pandemic’s effect on the conversational AI industry.

100 SmartTech Innovators 2020This year we celebrated being named to the Top 100 SmartTech Innovators List. We continued the five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017, and Chris continued to tell everyone about going to Buckingham Palace with our CTO, Peter Behrend, to meet the Queen – see the photographic evidence here! We grew our Global Partner Network and added new technology integration partnerships, including those we announced this year with Spitch and Semafone’s Cardprotect Relay+.

Unlike other years, we don’t have a 2020 in Review photo album to share with you since we weren’t able to gather much in-person for group activities or events – and no one wants to look at a whole album of grainy screenshots of video conferences! Be sure to check out the Creative Virtual Facebook page though for a few photos and virtual company celebrations.

And now we head into 2021 with a year of overcoming professional and personal challenges under our belts and a deep sense of pride in knowing that the experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team helped our customers and partners survive their challenges, too. It’s impossible to know what next year will bring, but we’re looking forward to finding out!

Past the Point of No Return: Customer and Employee Experience Post-Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Last month I attended Gartner’s IT Symposium/Xpo 2020, EMEA which was fully virtually this year. As you’d expect, there were lots of presentations discussing the various impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic and what the ‘new normal’ will look like for communities, businesses and individuals as we head into 2021.

In a number of the sessions I streamed, the presenting analysts specifically made a point about the fact that when it becomes safe for our day-to-day lives to return to a more pre-pandemic ‘normal’, we will not be able to take that step as the same people we were at the beginning of 2020. We will all bring with us the experiences and knowledge we internalised during this year of lockdowns and quarantines. Students and teachers will return to classrooms with a new set of technology skills. Employees and employers will re-evaluate the need for physical office space based on the successes and failures of remote working. Customers will approach buying decisions with new access to and experiences with digital and online options.

This observation isn’t ground-breaking. Any significant life event we experience creates a change in who we are and how we view ourselves and the world – the birth of a child, a life-threatening illness, a major career change, living or studying abroad, a natural disaster. The difference with the experience of COVID-19 is that it has happened to the world. And while each of us has still had an individual experience and been impacted in our own unique way, it has also been a global event that is leaving lasting, substantial effects on communities and companies everywhere.

Keeping this in mind will be essential as your company moves forward into the new year and beyond. Your business plans and strategies must take into account the impacts – both good and bad – the current public health crisis has had on your employees and customers. At the end of the day, your organisation’s success depends on the people and the experiences you deliver internally and externally. If you don’t adjust those experiences based on the new skills and knowledge and the changed expectations and views of employees and customers, you can’t be successful in a post-pandemic world.

That might be pushing ahead plans to add or scale up customer self-service. That might be giving more opportunities and support to employees wanting to work remotely. That might be continuing to utilise digital options for client meetings when possible to decrease your team’s carbon footprint. That might be providing trainings and workshops for employees to improve their stress management and emotional intelligence.

We are collectively past the point of no return. We have experienced too much uncertainty, overcome too many unexpected challenges, developed too many new digital skills and created too many new expectations to be the same as we were prior to this global pandemic. Your organisation needs to acknowledge these changes and leverage them to become a better company.

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.