Putting in the Hard Work for That Moment of Recognition

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I recently attended an awards event organised by ISG where we collected Creative Virtual’s trophy for being named a Leader in the ISG Provider Lens™ for Conversational AI. It was such an honour to be recognised as a leader in a field that contains such technology giants as Microsoft, IBM and Google. After so many virtual events, it was an unusual experience from the very beginning: putting on a business suit after 18+ months of varying degrees of lockdowns and restrictions; meeting so many people face-to-face in such close proximity; and the different ways people have modified their interactions.

There were certainly some different behaviours on display from the last awards ceremony I attended pre-pandemic. Some people wanted to shake hands, some preferred fist bumps, some people wore a mask between dinner courses and sips of wine. What wasn’t different was it being wonderful to celebrate the successes of all the companies being recognised.

Several speakers made jokes about their suits shrinking during the months of lockdown. As I looked around the room, there were certainly many nods of agreement to comments about the ‘Lockdown Bulge’. I had recently taken part in the London Marathon so felt somewhat smug! That got me thinking about the parallels of receiving corporate awards, like this honour from ISG, and completing a marathon.

Accepting an award on behalf of Creative Virtual is always an honour for me. Running a successful technology company with such a great and dedicated team and collaborating with some of the world’s leading organisations is a privilege. There is so much effort, over many years, that goes into making that brief moment possible. A brief moment of joy: stepping on stage, with the loud music and camera flashes, to collect the trophy. It is the same with running a marathon: all that training, the big push on race day which invariably includes pushing through the pain barrier at around the 20-mile mark, culminates in stepping across the finish line and collecting your medal.

All that hard work and dedication leads to that one moment of recognition and celebration. But I think the brevity of these moments is what makes them even more special. In our busy lives, when we’re in need of a boost, we can easily recall those climatic moments that put a smile on our faces. I believe that because these moments are so brief, we are driven to innovate more and train harder in order to experience more of them.

The Creative Virtual team is still hard at work to ensure we are delivering the conversational AI technology and expertise our clients and partners need for success. We are also living up to our status as industry leader by investing in the next generation of our V-Person™ technology. We aren’t doing all of this for awards and trophies, but being recognised by an important analyst group like ISG does provide a little extra motivation!

Congratulations to the global Creative Virtual team on being a Leader in the ISG Provider Lens™ for Conversational AI! And thank you to the team at ISG for organising a wonderful evening of celebrations.

Check out ISG’s Conversational AI quadrant and report here to learn more about why they have named us an industry leader.

The Best Conversational AI Now and in the Future

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently Corporate Vision Magazine announced the winners of their 2021 Media Innovator Awards. Creative Virtual proudly accepted the award for ‘Best Conversational AI Solutions Provider – London’! This award recognises our London-headquartered company for our expertise in both developing conversational AI technology and delivering skilled consultation for implementing and maintaining solutions.

We’re coming up on eighteen years since I founded Creative Virtual, and so much has changed in the chatbot and virtual agent space since those early days. As a company, we’ve played a key role in both establishing and advancing the conversational AI market. It’s always an honour to be called the best, but that certainly doesn’t happen by chance. It requires the hard work and collaboration of our entire global team as well as strong relationships with our customers and partners.

Being a leader in a quickly evolving technology space, like the conversational AI industry, also requires a continuous emphasis on innovation. More specifically, that innovation must be focused on helping companies tackle their real challenges and deliver real results, now and in the future. That’s why I’m excited to be receiving this award as we are preparing for our next big product launch in 2022.

Our upcoming Gluon release of V-Person™ is the next generation of our award-winning conversational AI. It draws from our nearly two decades of experience in the industry to deliver updates to our chatbot, virtual agent, and live chat technologies. Gluon also features a re-architecture of V-Portal™, our innovative orchestration platform. The updated user interface will make it easier for our customers and partners to deploy and maintain their conversational AI solutions without compromising on any of the advanced enterprise-grade functionality they rely on to deliver personalised, seamless experiences.

A few of the innovations and features of the Gluon release include:

  • Enhanced natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning
  • Microservices, widgetisation, and containerisation
  • Support for low-code and no-code
  • Ability to interface with multiple intent engines, CRMs, contact centre platforms, and voice technologies
  • Machine comprehension
  • Sophisticated dialogue management, personalisation, and entity extraction

The updates and innovations in our Gluon release are focused on enabling organisations to create accurate, reliable conversational AI solutions quicker and easier than ever. We give them complete control over the AI with a perfect blend of machine learning and natural language rules so there is never a machine learning black box to fear. All of this is designed to help organisations reach their goals for delivering better experiences for their customer, employees, and contact centre agents.

Congratulations to the Creative Virtual team on being named ‘Best Conversational AI Solutions Provider’! And thank you for your contributions to our upcoming product release, supporting our customers and partners with your expertise, and helping us deliver the best chatbot, virtual agent, and live chat solutions every day!

You can read our official award announcement here and watch a sneak peek video on our Gluon release here.

My thanks also to the Media Innovator Awards judges for recognising Creative Virtual’s conversational AI technology and expertise!

Take Your Customer Support from ‘Talking At’ to ‘Listening To’

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Once upon a time ‘market’ was a noun, denoting the place where people got together and negotiated public affairs. In some markets, like the Forum Romanum, history was made. Then, ‘market’ also became a verb. Now marketing basically means talking at people, often raising the level of volume, colours, and wordings whilst lowering niveau. 😊

Surely, to say such a thing is utterly unfair to many marketeers. Yet, when it comes to customer service, I uphold the claim that the communication is often rather unidirectional, and in the wrong direction on top of that. Countless the websites where FAQs are not “frequently asked questions” but rather “answers we’d like to give”. Or where obviously someone has created a user journey for me. Frankly, nobody needs to design that. I know pretty well where I want to go, thank you.

What I do want on my journey, is to have road bumps removed, gaps bridged, and connections optimised. If customer service was an airport, I don’t want the lounge refurbished; I want another fast lane and quick boarding.

I am aware that people are different and that the same person has different needs at different times. Therefore, there is not the one journey for all and clearing the path is not easy.

That’s where two-sided conversations, aka dialogues, kick in. Customer service is about listening as well as acknowledging that each experience will be unique. Virtual agents can play a role in that as they come with a free text input field. So even when customers are self-serving, they don’t need to guess the one correct search term or scroll through a list of FAQs someone else has selected.

When it comes to creating this dialogue with customers, there are good and not so good ways to start.Things like expectation management, consistency, focus, and coverage make a big difference. It also requires courage (customers will speak their mind!) and the will to act.

It may be an inconvenient truth, but customer service with a virtual agent (or any other tool for that matter) is not a one-off thing. Good customer service means listening to your customers and improving constantly, be it the NLP (natural language processing), answers in the virtual agent, your processes, your services, or your products. In customer service, the journey to design is your way to become a better and more successful company.

Whether you’re ready to add a virtual agent to your customer service plan for the first time or have realised that your current tool isn’t creating a helpful dialogue with customers, I recommend this whitepaper for tips from conversational AI experts.

Register Now: Expert Insights on Conversational AI and Customer Service

By Scott Tompkins, Vice President of Sales

Just like a puppy isn’t only for the pandemic, customer service insights aren’t only for Customer Service Week. This week of celebrating customer service professionals and successful customer service experiences should just be the beginning of a renewed focus on your own customer service and CX strategies.

To help you keep that Customer Service Week momentum going, destinationCRM is hosting a roundtable webinar next week: Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? I’m looking forward to hearing the panel of experts, including Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, discuss the current trends and future possibilities of conversational AI technology.

Drawing from his own experiences and those of Creative Virtual’s global team, Chris will share expert recommendations for how your organization can maximize the benefits of conversational AI technology. He will also be delving into ways you can use back-end integrations to take your digital self-service from basic FAQ tool to a personalized, conversational interaction.

Conversational AI solutions, like chatbots and virtual agents, can have a powerful impact on customer loyalty and retention. When designed, implemented, and maintained correctly, these solutions have been proven to reduce support costs, increase sales revenue, and even reduce employee turnover. The next generation of conversational AI advancements are poised to improve customer service even more.

Register now to join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 pm ET for the live webinar, Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? This destinationCRM roundtable will be recorded, so be sure to sign up even if you can’t join the live event.

Once you’ve registered, I recommend checking out (or re-reading!) all of the posts from the Creative Virtual team that make up this year’s Customer Service Week Blog Celebration. There are lots of great insights on conversational AI use cases, customer expectations, and customer service trends.

Dialogues are Between People

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Have you ever heard about the H-H-Interface, aka the H2I? Likely not, because I just made it up. But I did so with a reason and here’s why.

When it comes to transactional tools, there is a lot of talk about the Human Machine Interface (or HMI), the look and feel, and other technicalities. That is all fine and important of course, but customer communication, however, is about people talking to people. Even if this communication is automated and asynchronous, it is still Human to Human.

Customers use conversational AI on the web, in apps and other channels. They interact with virtual agents and chatbots in a technical sense, but they certainly do not converse with them. The replies they get are perceived as coming from a person or a group of people (usually called a company 😊).  Having this in mind makes an important shift of focus in the virtual agent design. The focus goes from designing transactions to creating the dialogues you’d like to have with your customers.

Just think about voice mail: When you are greeted nicely and the message makes you smile, will you think “What a friendly machine!”? Or will it be: “What a nice person!”? See? When creating a virtual agent, the same thinking applies.

You need to create a dialogue between yourself and your customers. You need to ask yourself, who are you talking to and what do you want to tell them.  As a result, it is about personal contact and the tools you use are not the deciding factor. Or let me phrase this differently: You need tools that do not get in the way between you and your customers. You need a platform rather than a readymade, which allows you to create conversations with your customers – or with your customer groups, for that matter.

As this year’s Customer Service Week celebrations come to an end, be sure to keep the H2I focus in your digital strategy. And if your conversational AI solution doesn’t provide you with the platform options to create the dialogue you want with customers, then it’s time to make a change.

Reducing Stress, Drama and Frustration When Things Go Wrong – A Troubleshooting Outline

By Rachael Needham, VP of Strategy & Operations

For most people and companies, business-as-usual dramatically shifted in the last year and a half, which can add stress and anxiety to already busy lives and work environments. Our ability to communicate and problem solve has become more important than ever. Good communication can help reduce stress and frustration while improving efficiency and productivity.

Whether in the workplace or our personal lives, making a conscious effort to improve our communication and problem-solving skills will only benefit us. Being negatively stressed or stressed out adds a level of difficultly none of us need, so finding ways to deal with stress that work for you is important. I shared some simple solutions for handling stress in a previous post – check those out here.

In this post, I’m sharing a model to assist you and your team when things go wrong, pressure is high, and solutions are needed ASAP. When we are equipped with the skills to communicate well with each other, and put those skills into action, we can reap the benefits of lower stress.

In the spirit of Customer Service Week, let’s take a closer look at some troubleshooting steps for customer-related issues in the B2B space. Some of this may seem pretty obvious, but when things go wrong, and it’s not immediately clear what needs to happen, following some basic practices can greatly reduce the stress and frustration levels for team members.

Step 1: Identify the issue – It’s key to identify the problem or impact of a situation. Not accurately identifying, understanding, or explaining an issue leads to unnecessary stress and frustration. Clearly understanding the issue equips the team to provide relevant input or feedback.

  • Ask: Is the issue critical, impacting production or customers in real time?
    • If yes, getting all necessary team members on a call to discuss can be the fastest way to be sure everyone is aligned and aware of what’s happening. When facing issues with production impact, gather your tech, content, client relationship, and any other relevant teams on a group call as fast as possible. Move to Step 2.
    • If no, the normal troubleshooting and bug fixing process can be followed.

Step 2: Troubleshoot with the right people – As you troubleshoot a high priority, production impacting issue, be sure to have the relevant team members present to share and collaborate. In addition to the Technical team members, having the Customer Success and Delivery Management account leads are key as they will be relaying the information to the client and will most likely be the ones who have assessed the client’s anxiety or concern level, which should be considered along with any tech risk.

Client concern should be weighed alongside the tech risk because those relationships are important and can tip the importance level on an issue in one direction or another. For instance, if there is an issue, but the client has some other key deliverables with a higher importance level to them, the issue may be considered less severe. Likewise, it could go in the other direction, where something the Technical team views as low risk is seen as high risk by the client. This is often related to the client’s individual business rules and objectives.

  • Ask: Is the issue already clearly identified?
    • If yes, move to the root cause.
    • If no, work together to define and clarify the issue as precisely as possible. This may mean getting on the phone with the client or whomever identified the issue.
  • Ask: Is the root cause for the issue known?
    • If yes, do we know how to fix it?
    • If no, how much time can we take to identify it? What has been communicated to the client thus far about timing?

Step 3: Avoid common pitfalls – Getting to a real and viable solution can be extremely difficult when the issue isn’t understood. Not accurately identifying or understanding the problem can easily create more stress and frustration on top of an already frustrating situation and take more of the teams’ time.

When there isn’t clear communication about a situation, lots of time can be wasted trying to get to the bottom of the issue. Productivity and efficiency are greatly reduced, and the added pressure can cause unnecessary and unhelpful tension.

For high priority/ production impacting issues, I highly recommend having a team phone call, as it’s one of the easiest ways to ensure everyone is on the same page and fully aware of the status. While group texting channels (Slack, Teams, etc.) are great for day to day, it can be too easy for people to miss things as the channel is flooded with comments.

If you aren’t already, start paying attention to how you are communicating and engaging with those around you. Improving those skills is an ongoing process and worthwhile endeavor; acknowledge mistakes you’ve made and use them to make positive changes in future communications.

 

Developing the skills to communicate well is a key part of emotional intelligence. Good communication and problem solving takes practice and can be particularly challenging in times of high stress and anxiety. However, the benefits of clear and open communication in high stress situations pay off as you and your team bring solutions to the table with speed and efficiency.

When it comes to B2B customer service and handling critical support issues, speed and efficiency are essential. With a conscious effort to improve your communication skills, use the help of this outline to reduce stress, drama, and frustration when things go wrong. Happy troubleshooting, solution finding, and communicating!

Analysing Customer Queries to Improve Customer Service

By Maria Ward, Account Manager & Knowledgebase Engineer

I’ve worked in the chatbot field for over 15 years helping companies deliver better customer service, experiencing the technology both as a client and a provider. One of my favourite parts of my job is being able to use all my years of experience to steer my clients through the minefield of options to deliver a conversational AI solution that is both effective and efficient.

One of the reasons Creative Virtual has so many long-term customers is that we really get to know them and their products and services. This approach allows me to collaborate closely with my clients to identify opportunities that will specifically help them improve their chatbot experience.

Earlier this year I was working with one of my clients on expanding their customer-facing chatbot to provide self-service on more topics. One area we agreed would provide significant benefit to customers was addressing error codes they might encounter. However, due to the wide range of different machines and models customers might be using, the list of possible error messages they could see was very, very long!

Given the knowledge I had about their business and my experience with developing chatbot content, I knew right away that attempting to address every single error message would be wasted effort. I quickly steered them away from that pitfall and instead suggested our first step should be to go directly to the source: their own customer queries.

I analysed the previous year’s data collected by their chatbot to look for trends. What were the most common error codes users were asking about during that period? The goal of this analysis was to better understand which error messages customers were actually needing help with and how they were asking about them.

Once I identified the trends, I liaised with the client to select the error messages that should be added to the chatbot first. We looked at which ones customers were most frequently asking the chatbot about and which ones the client knew were likely to be the most common. We also looked at which errors could be explained and resolved best with a self-service approach. The error messages on this list were the ones that would deliver the biggest impact on their customer service.

Once we narrowed down the list of error messages, the next step was to identify whether each needed a new answer added to the chatbot or if there was existing content that was relevant. I also looked at how conversation flows could be used to guide customers to the specific information they needed to deal with their error code.

In the world of customer service, surveys are common tools for getting customer insights. However, you should never underestimate the value in analysing customer queries. The data collected by a self-service tool like a chatbot provides an honest, unfiltered look into your customers’ needs and what they are really asking.

My tip this Customer Service Week for improving your organisation’s customer service is to analyse your customer queries. Whether that’s transcripts from your chatbot, live chat, or contact centre, you can gain priceless insights that allow you to align your customer service updates with the actual needs of your customers.

AI Growth in the Insurance Industry

By Susan Ott, Senior Customer Success Manager

At the outset of the global pandemic in 2020, there was already a great emphasis on the consumer’s desire for artificial intelligence (AI) in day-to-day life.  As we find ourselves making our way, 18 months and counting, in this new normal it is a safe bet that the world of AI-powered self-service isn’t going anywhere.

One industry that has experienced an influx in the need for self-service is Insurance. With technology advancing every day, the need for instant service and issue resolution is becoming more and more expected. The preference of customers to be able to self-serve isn’t waning, but their patience with companies that don’t provide that option certainly is.

AI remains a major trend in the technology sector that will continue to alter how we work and live. Within the customer service space in particular, conversational AI is enabling companies to successfully meet the growing need for instant service.

These new technologies are being used in the multi-faceted Insurance field to automate Claim Processing, get Pricing/Quotes, and improve the overall Customer Service experience for Auto, Home and Life policyholders. Here are some examples:

  • Claim Processing: Companies spend a lot of money on Claims personnel, often times increasing rates to account for the large number of calls coming into their contact centers. Using AI, these companies can reduce their hiring budget by automating many of the routine questions that representatives field on any given day.
  • Pricing/Quotes: This is a huge area in which AI can be beneficial. Using AI, companies can be more competitive in their pricing and allow for personalization tailored to individual policyholders. Knowing some key criteria about a person, such as geographical location, marital status, and likelihood of filing a claim, helps to set premiums.
  • Customer Service: Companies need to look at AI in terms of it acting as a personal Concierge for users coming into the company’s website. It gets them where they need to be to best resolve their questions, allowing for a seamless and smooth experience, while decreasing phone or other live contacts via this digital channel.

Insurance companies should approach AI projects with the goal of creating better experiences for their policyholders, agents, and contact center teams. When used correctly, these technologies provide instant service that is personalized, convenient, and meets the expectations of today’s consumers. Automating processes and top customer service queries with AI also improves efficiency, increases productivity, and helps build customer trust and loyalty. All of this is more important than ever as we continue to make our way through this new normal.

Satisfied Customers and Happy Employees Require a Long-term Mindset

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

Whilst we celebrate customer service with a special week, we should always acknowledge that customer service is not something we can only think about 7 days out of the year! Equally, with the imminent COP26 taking place soon in Glasgow, we shouldn’t only spend a few weeks thinking about sustainability and climate change as a flavour of the month for it to then be tucked away until the next global summit.

We should use these special and timely events to do a deeper dive into what we can do to improve for the rest of the year and ways we can treat these topics with a focus year-round. In fact, I think that Customer Service Week and COP26 have a few overlaps in their objectives.

Part of the many aspects of ESG (environmental, sustainability, governance) objectives includes ensuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as providing a safe working environment. Having happy and safe workers, who feel valued, increases both productivity and retention levels.

The parallel for how we should approach our customers is strikingly similar: well-treated customers, who feel safe in the care and attention given to them, are likely to be retained as customers. So long as the value we have for them continues and develops with their requirements, we will have happy, long-term customers.

Valued employees are more receptive to learning, listening, and wanting to support the company, which in turn means supporting our important customers – and they are ALL important! – in the best possible way. It is a team effort to create value in a company’s products, services, and support.

This creates a cyclical process which rewards everyone yet is crucial to maintain and takes ongoing attention and nurturing.

A linear customer experience can be defined as: customer asks for product; company gives product, end of story. This works well if you are buying a hot dog, for example.

However, a cyclical customer experience includes having the “lifecycle” of the exchange extended through communication and understanding of requirements and working to see how the customer can be supported. The experience covers everything from design to implementation and after-care. It aims to draw from core company values and expertise to offer best-of-breed advice.

This sounds so simple, but the key is to continue to monitor the cycle and check in on both employees and customers regularly to evaluate motivation, satisfaction, and success. Those are the prime elements for keeping satisfied customers and happy employees and for working towards sustainable ecosystems.

October and November will offer specific opportunities to consider all of the above. We should take advantage of these events with the mindset of carrying their importance with us for a lot more than just the next 12 months. Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, often ends his internal company communications with “Onwards”, and I feel this is a perfect moment for me to do the same.

Onwards and upwards towards never quenching the thirst for keeping both employees and customers happy and for operating within a sustainable working model that maintains the long-term investment ethos.

#CXDay: You Gotta Understand Expectations if You Wanna Meet Them

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Last week my neighbor sent me the image below with the caption: How to ruin Trick-or-Treat!

trick or treat

Is there anyone who has gone Trick-or-Treating who doesn’t remember that house that always gave a crappy “treat”? For me, it’s the woman who ran a little hair salon in her basement and always handed out combs – and insisted on chatting with each kid forrrr-ever, slowing you down from getting to all the houses with the good treats!

So, what’s wrong with handing out combs or mini salad bags on Halloween? Why do those kinds of treats get a bad rep? The problem is that they don’t meet the expectations of Trick-or-Treaters. If you are going house to house in your costume, you are expecting a sugary piece of candy, a salty snack, or a fun little toy or gadget. When the Trick-or-Treat experience doesn’t match with your expectation, you are left disappointed.

Today the world is celebrating CX Day, as we do on the first Tuesday of October every year. This celebration is an opportunity to recognize the professionals who create and deliver great customer experiences and to share insights into how to make our CX strategies better. It also happens to be the second day of Customer Service Week, which is fitting since customer service is an important piece of a customer’s experience.

Creating and successfully implementing a CX strategy that delivers consistently positive experiences is hard. It requires a team effort across the entire company. It requires the right processes and procedures. It requires properly integrated technologies. But most importantly, it requires a true understanding of your customers’ expectations.

Understanding the expectations of your customers has to be at the core of your CX strategy or you’re doomed to fail. Implementing the latest technologies, conducting training workshops for your employees, or launching cool new product updates can be great for your customer experience, but only when they are approached with your customers in mind. Defining customer expectations – of your digital tools, of your staff members, of your products – must always come first.

For most companies, the digital experience they provide has now become central to their overall CX. It can be tempting to think that throwing a new technology at a digital issue or pain point will provide a quick fix. Unfortunately, this approach often fails to resolve the underlying problem or creates an unnatural, frustrating, and disjointed interaction. The reality is that unless that technology is strategically selected and deployed, it can actually make the experience worse for customers.

Before you implement a CX technology, be sure you can:

  • Define how it will meet the expectations of your specific customer base.
  • Explain the ways it will improve the experience for customers and employees.
  • Identify your own internal expectations and goals for the solution, both short-term and long-term.

When it comes to CX, there’s no shortcut to success. You gotta understand your customers’ expectations if you wanna meet them.

That is why I always aim to give the Trick-or-Treaters who come through my neighborhood what they expect – and that means no mini salad bags at my house! In fact, this year my costumed visitors will be greeted by a big basket of fun rubber duckies, back by popular demand after overwhelming positive reviews last Halloween from kids of all ages.

This CX Day, ask yourself: Does my business really understand our customers’ expectations?