Aligning Artificial Intelligence with Human Talent to Transform Customer Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I recently presented on the CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase, a webinar we‘ve done for the last six years. Presenting on a webinar for an hour with about a hundred company executives listening from all parts of the world, with potentially hundreds of people listening to the recording later, and without any friendly faces to look at in the audience, or in fact without any feedback whatsoever, doesn’t sound like much fun! But I love it.

The reason I love presenting on a webinar of this nature is that it gives me the opportunity to present the best of what our employees, customers and partners have produced over the past twelve months. I’m fortunate enough to run an organisation that is at the forefront of helping organisations deliver superior customer experience in the modern world. Using technologies like natural language processing and machine learning, combined with the amazing talent within our company, is like a dream come true for me.

Don’t get me wrong, running a company in a highly competitive market is not always a bed of roses, but the joys far outweigh the negatives, and it’s preparing for a webinar like this that gives me the opportunity to reflect on all the great stuff our company does, and at the same time it helps me to contemplate the next generation of our products and services. We have some fantastic research and development projects going on that promise to transform customer experience even further.

The key to our success, though, is not to get too carried away with the latest and greatest shiny stuff, but to align our passion for innovation and technology with the needs of our customers. Timing is crucial for a company to be successful. And judging by the great feedback I received following this latest webinar (thank you!), I’m confident that Creative Virtual remains exactly on the right track.

I would like to say a big thank you to our Creative Virtual team for all their hard work and dedication, and to our customers and partners for all their great support. Thank you all for attending or taking the time to watch the recording, and to Sheri and CRMXchange for hosting the webcast. There’s still an opportunity to view the webinar, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple, on-demand here.

C3 San Francisco 2018: Enabling conversational commerce for customer service

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On September 12-13, Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. Following on from C3 London held in May, the event will explore conversational platforms and how organizations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features case studies, industry use cases, and a series of interactive, topical panel discussions.

Creative Virtual is a sponsor for C3 San Francisco and will be lending our expertise in building and deploying conversational systems to the conference agenda. Scott Tompkins, VP of Sales, will be an expert speaker on the ‘Achieving the Right Balance in Conversational AI’ panel on Day 2 of the event. This session will address the important discussions organizations must have around human involvement in automated solutions and the best ways to implement machine learning and chatbots.

Members of the Creative Virtual team will also be available at our stand to share live demonstrations and success stories of organizations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots, and live chat to optimize their conversational customer care. They will also be discussing tips on building a business case for this technology in your company and best practices for implementing solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement and build better relationships with customers.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 San Francisco event website. Also, be sure to follow conference announcements and updates on your social accounts using #C3SF2018.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to received $200 off the conference rate. If you aren’t able to be at the event in San Francisco, we’d be happy to arrange a personalized demo at a time that works for you.

Showcasing the Perfect CX Power Couple: Humans & AI

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Move over Beyoncé and Jay-Z, George and Amal, Will and Jada. There’s a new power couple in town: Humans and Artificial Intelligence. While you’re not going to see them on the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine or walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere, the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and humans is already making a mark on the world of customer experience (CX).

With the growing emphasis customers are placing on CX when making purchasing decisions and the growing challenge companies are facing when delivering service and support on more contact channels than ever before, this powerful new approach has arrived on the scene at just the right time. Humans and AI make the perfect power couple for meeting CX expectations – they both bring something to the table, learn from each other, support one another and build together.

On Thursday, 6 September Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, will feature the combination of AI and human input during the company’s sixth annual CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase webinar. He’ll give an inside look at bringing together humans and AI to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance, and increase customer satisfaction scores. Through a series of live demonstrations, attendees will learn:

  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents, and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of machine learning and human curation of content to reduce support costs while improving conversational engagement

Register now for Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple to see how organisations around the globe are already using the combination of humans and AI to provide successful customer service and how your organisation can leverage this new power couple to deliver a positive CX. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Tech Showcase will be sent to all registrants after the event.

A Complete Omnichannel Experience for Those at a Desk and on the Move

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

In my nearly 11 years with Creative Virtual, I’ve worked with organisations across all sectors looking to implement successful virtual agent solutions and have seen the industry and the technology change massively. As the number of communication channels have grown and customers have become more digitally savvy, virtual agent technology has also become more advanced and sophisticated. Today companies are using these solutions to increase engagement through natural language conversations and are seeing all the usual benefits that you’ve heard associated with chatbots and virtual agents for years – an enhanced user experience, improvement in CSAT scores, reductions in calls to the contact centre and lower customer service costs.

Yet, as I explain in my recent Executive Interview with CRMXchange, the benefits go beyond that with today’s solutions. Chatbots and virtual agents can now provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move. By being able to linkup channels – web, mobile, Facebook, messenger apps (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), voice assistants (like Google Home and Amazon Alexa), etc. – companies are benefiting from delivering a consistent, accurate and seamless experience that’s available to customers 24/7.

It’s important that companies looking to implement a virtual agent fully explore the benefits of deploying the solution across multiple contact channels using a single knowledgebase. This then needs to be a central consideration during their selection process. Many virtual agent and chatbot solutions on the market today don’t have this capability which means you end up with a stand-alone tool on a single communication channel and an even more disjointed customer experience.

In my interview I also talk about the benefits of using self-service virtual agents for employee support, particularly for internal service desk and HR support, and how working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual can help an organisation get the most from their virtual agent. I discuss why human moderation of the machine learning component of chatbots is essential and the effect the explosion of media hype and buzz around artificial intelligence and chatbots has had on the industry.

Read my full interview for more and request a live demo to see Creative Virtual’s technology in action. My thanks to CRMXchange for the opportunity to participate in their Executive Interview series!

[Meet the Team] Eileen Stall: Looking Past the Machine Learning Buzz & Chatbot Hype

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organization apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Eileen Stall, Knowledgebase Manager with Creative Virtual USA. Having prior management and customer care experience and a degree in art history, Eileen came across a Creative Virtual job posting in 2015 while looking for a new role with a better work-life balance. Now a key member of our operations team, she is responsible for the building and upkeep of virtual agent knowledgebases for a number of large enterprise clients, including Cox, The New York Times and IHG. Eileen works closely with these organizations to enhance their content, utilize analytics to improve answer quality and coordinate new expansions of their virtual agents. She shared with me how the media buzz around machine learning has created industry challenges and why Creative Virtual’s diverse team is key to the company’s success.

What have you found to be major challenges facing the chatbot and virtual agent market today?

Chatbots have gone from being an obscure technology to one that everyone knows about and have likely had experience with. It’s nice that now chatbots have some recognition value when I explain my job! But “machine learning” becoming a buzz word has created a big challenge for the market. Companies don’t understand the huge amount of data that you actually need to implement a solution that only relies on machine learning. The idea that you can just deploy a chatbot and never have to work on it again is simply not possible. I find that a divorcing of technologies from their original contexts has created a lot of misplaced hype in the tech world.

Creative Virtual USANow the market is seeing a number of chatbot pilots which attempted to implement machine learning to inappropriately small datasets ending with some messy results. In several cases, we as Creative Virtual have had to go through a re-education process about the realities of machine learning after potential clients have heard some fantastical pitches from competitors. We’ve opted not to rely solely on machine learning in spite of the buzz. Rather, we leverage human curated content and look at user intents to determine the best responses. This may take a little longer than what’s promised with some other solutions, but that extra time is better than a Twitter bot disaster!

This is what sets us apart from those other vendors. We have a solid understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, not just making technology decisions based on the buzz. Even when the market started going crazy about deploying fully self-learning virtual agents, we stood firm in our combination of machine learning and human curation of content because we knew that was the best approach to accurate and reliable solutions.

Why is it important to work with an experienced chatbot and virtual agent vendor like Creative Virtual?

Creative Virtual has what I like to call a concierge approach. We offer a packaged deal of innovative software and years of accumulated experience in the industry. Clients can leverage our experience to create a successful virtual agent. Companies don’t have a “bot division” so the more we can provide a concierge type of experience, the better the result and the less overwhelmed they feel. How can you expect someone with no experience to build out the bot, to know what content to put in, to identify when a user needs to be escalated to live chat? That doesn’t make sense. We don’t burden our customers with requests to provide huge amounts of content or put pressure on their copywriter. We have the experience to guide and assist through the entire process. We can be ghostwriters, creating content in the brand’s voice, but tailored to the chatbot platform, such that all that is needed is the client sign-off.

We customize our virtual agents on a case-by-case basis but have developed expertise in many industries. For example, I’ve worked a lot with telecommunication companies so I’m very familiar with the type of questions their customers are asking most often. The 80/20 rule has definitely applied to deployments in this sector wherein nearly 80% of the inputs are asked about the top 20% of content. Deploying a slimmer knowledgebase with the plan to build out is a great approach for that situation. You start with the most common questions being asked repeatedly – questions about a bill, how to cancel or change service, etc. – and then build the other content organically based on actual user conversations and the customer’s voice. That way the knowledgebase is being driven by what customers are really asking about. The more unnecessary content you have in a chatbot knowledgebase, the harder it is to achieve a high level of accuracy. Of course, the virtual agent won’t be able to answer 100% of questions at first, so it’s important to make sure your secondary support system, such as live chat or a help page, is robust. That way you have a back-up for users and can still provide a good customer experience. This approach is successful when you’re working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual because we have the expertise to build out an effective knowledgebase quickly and efficiently.

How has the explosion of new contact channels affected the deployment of virtual agents?

A lot has changed in the world of virtual agents over the past few years. Now companies are coming into new deployments with a plan for their bot. They have a space in their business where they need to provide help and know they don’t need a human to do that. They also know enough about the technology to understand the benefits of working with an experienced vendor who can help them finetune and implement their plan to achieve the best possible results. They have confidence in our expertise and take advantage of our large library of existing integrations and knowledge about rolling out chatbots to additional channels.

Creative Virtual USAIt can be like the wild west with new technologies though, with people and companies suffering from tech hype. There’s a growing confidence in bots and so you don’t need to convince people to use them. However, before rolling out a chatbot to another channel, companies need to keep in mind the context of their customer engagement rather than making a decision simply on that the fact that something is new and creating a lot of buzz.

For example, enterprises might already have some stats and live chat transcripts from a channel like Facebook Messenger that they can use when considering adding their chatbot to that type of channel. Similarly, adding a bot to their app can be informed by what customers are already doing on mobile. When faced with a completely new channel where there is no history of experience with customers there, that’s when it’s hard to determine whether that channel can provide value. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are getting a lot of media coverage now, and they can be a great channel for chatbot deployment for some use cases. This is where context is important to provide a positive customer experience. Does your content lend itself well to a voice conversation? Or do your customers need a visual, such as a diagram or chart, to really benefit from the virtual agent’s answer? That’s another reason to work with an experienced provider like Creative Virtual. We can help guide you through the maze of new contact channels to develop the best experience for your customers.

I love that there’s always something new in this industry, so my work never gets stale! There’s always something to learn and new ways to use these developments to help our clients provide better customer support.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Creative Virtual USABeing American, I had never heard of the Queen’s Awards, so when Creative Virtual was announced as a winner I did a little research and was happy to discover that the award went beyond simply recognizing companies for their financial success. The award also recognized the people behind that success who bring together our variety of experiences every day to create and deliver our innovative solutions. This really resonated with me as I’ve always felt that the diversity of our team in the US is what makes us a good vendor and partner. Everyone is coming together from different backgrounds with different perspectives to become experts in the field.

This award is fitting because on top of delivering innovation to our customers, we also prioritize developing our staff. Cultivating positive interpersonal relationships in the office and across customer and partner companies is an important part of the Creative Virtual culture. Our diversity has been key to our success, particularly on difficult projects. We’re not your stereotypical bunch of old white men sitting in a boardroom; we’re a diverse group of people combining our unique outlooks and experiences to deliver the best solutions possible to our customers.

[Meet the Team] Tracey Biela: Crazy About Virtual Agent Technology Since 1999

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Tracey Biela, Senior Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Tracey started in the virtual agent field in 1999 with a company in Hamburg, Germany and fell in love with the technology. After leaving that role in 2005 and then moving away from Hamburg, she feared she would never get to work in the industry again. Thankfully for Creative Virtual, that was not to be the end of Tracey’s virtual agent journey! In 2011 she joined the Creative Virtual team and is now involved with defect management, testing, training and supporting partner implementations. She shared with me why she is crazy about chatbots and virtual agents and how she still looks for a way to slip the company’s Queen’s Awards win into conversations.

How has your early work with virtual agent technology influenced your current role with Creative Virtual?

That was when I first started to love virtual agents. I’m crazy about the technology! I started working with virtual agents when I lived in Hamburg. It was at that company where I first met and worked with Chris [Ezekiel] before he founded Creative Virtual, and also worked with several others who would eventually be a part of the Creative Virtual team. I was interviewed for that first job by Olaf Voβ [Lead Application Designer] and trained by Björn Gülsdorff [Chief Business Development Officer]. I also worked with Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] and Katrin Zieren [Business Development Consultant].

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualAfter having my kids and relocating again, I thought to myself, “What have I done?!” I thought I would never get to work in the business again. It was only after I reconnected with Chris and Rachel that I realised there might be a possibility of joining Creative Virtual. I’m so happy to be back again and working for Chris. We share a similar philosophy on things, so I knew it would be good to work for him.

The very first VA [virtual agent] I worked on was named Mark and was built to sell virtual reality glasses and talk about science fiction in German and English. I worked on the English version and Björn did the German. At that time I never thought that eighteen years later I’d find myself working on virtual agents that are helping large organisations deal successfully with a very high amount of traffic.

During my time at my first virtual agent job, I was involved with developing the basic knowledgebase and still see some of that early work reflected the VAs I work on today.  I also had the opportunity to be involved with the servers, UI [user interface] and backend aspects of the technology which has been an advantage when supporting partners in my current role.

What makes Creative Virtual stand out in the virtual agent industry?

V-Portal™ is the fifth system I’ve used during my career for building virtual agents, and it is by far the best. V-Portal is amazing! Our clients really appreciate that we provide a suite of products. In particular, that V-Portal works hand-in-hand with our Live Chat and virtual agents. No one else does that.

I have a background in linguistics, with a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics, so the language aspect of VAs is something else I love. Creative Virtual has built our technology to work with any language which is incredibly important. V-Portal’s multi-lingual capabilities allow our VAs to maintain accuracy across all languages.

Creative Virtual’s hybrid approach of human input and self-learning also makes our solution the best out there. The world has seen what happens when you let users completely train your chatbot, and that doesn’t work.

What do you enjoy most about your role and being a part of the Creative Virtual team?

I always feel like I am part of such an excellent team! The company is really flexible and understanding of family obligations, which also takes up a lot my day. In between juggling family life and work, I love it when I get to train clients or colleagues, especially when I’m working with a really engaged group. I enjoy meeting different people and learning as much from our customers and partners as they are learning from me.

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualMy current role really brings together my skills and interests. My linguistics background and interest in languages has been really helpful when working with VAs in Turkish, Swedish, Danish and other languages. This is a fascinating way to play with languages and be able to help our clients to help their customers. I sometimes see myself in a communicator role, helping to translate from technical terms and jargon into ‘normal’ language to explain things to clients and partners in a way they can easily understand. I also find myself really enjoying the part of my job that involves testing and replicating defects. I love being able to bite into a defect until I figure it out.

This work can be really stressful and busy at times, and it’s not for everyone. I tend to be a workaholic, so I need to make sure I’m taking some time off. As a company we seem to have a reputation of being hard workers but really knowing how to celebrate when we get together! I’m not sure how that started, but it came up again after one of the clients I work with was at our Queen’s Awards celebration and commented on how fun it was to celebrate with us.

RSPCA Creative VirtualIn addition to celebrating, the team also gets together to do good for the community. This will be my fourth time doing the 10k for the RSPCA, and I’m really looking forward to it this year. The first time I didn’t think I could do it. This year I started training earlier and am hoping to get a new personal best.

Having a career in the virtual agent industry does have a downside, though. My kids have an Amazon Alexa and are always asking her things. At first, they sounded a lot like the inputs we often get on a brand-new VA – cuss words and childish questions like “can you fart?” – when people are testing it out, which made me laugh. Now when Alexa misses a question or doesn’t have the answer, I find myself saying to my kids that she “hit the safety net” or “must not have those keywords”, and then suggesting another way they can ask. I can’t just enjoy Alexa like everyone else – I’m always analysing her knowledgebase! Although, I guess that’s a small price to pay for having my dream job.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Winning the Queen’s Awards is absolutely fantastic! I’m still excited! It’s such a prestigious award and not one that many companies can say that they won. I think I told everyone I know about Creative Virtual’s win, and I still look for a reason to slip it into conversation any time I can. I’ve told all of my family in the USA and all of my friends know. Some clients’ names are not always recognisable, but when you mention the Queen they always know the award is a big deal!

A friend once told me many years ago that when you find a job you get co-workers that you like or work that you like or you will like the pay. Working for Creative Virtual has been my dream job – I got all three! I mention this in every year in my annual review, and I feel grateful to work with such a great team and a great company.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Build Better Relationships with Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The buzz and hype around all things artificial intelligence (AI) is pretty amazing as I’m sure you’ll all agree. It’s important for organisations to go beyond that buzz and really understand how AI can help them reach their business goals. CRMXchange’s recent Tech Tank roundtable webinar, Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center, dug into this topic with industry research and live demonstrations. I was pleased to be able to join the expert panel and share insights into this topic.

During my presentation I shared how chatbots, people and AI are being used across organisations to create a seamless customer experience. The contact centre needs to be at the heart of these digital transformation projects. We’re in a world where knowledge management and how we learn from the way people interact with that knowledge is absolutely key. It’s a world where humans and machines work together, creating a hybrid of human curation and machine learning to support customers. This approach is being seen as best practice by industry analysts and consultants.

For some time now, we’ve been learning about how customer experience is a key differentiator in the marketplace. Recent research shows that the customer experience is still growing in importance for consumers when it comes to making their purchasing decisions. Industry experts are predicting a significant increase over the next two years in customer service and support operations integrating virtual agents and chatbots across engagement channels to help improve their customer experience.

With this in mind, where should your contact centre focus? During the webinar, I summarised three key areas:

  • Centralising knowledge managementKnowledge management is very important, and you need to ensure this integrates from a workflow perspective with all of the ways your organisation learns and delivers information. This creates enormous benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy and consistency. Knowledge is always up-to-date with this approach and becomes a single point of truth.
  • Integrating chatbots and live agents – This creates a seamless customer experience, with humans and machines working in harmony. I showed this in action during my live demos.
  • Combining AI and human input – We’ve all seen the potential disaster if AI is left on its own to provide customer service. An infamous case is Microsoft’s chatbot that became sexist and racist as it learned from the way people were interacting with it. It’s important that the system you implement enables human moderation of the machine learning component.

What does all this mean for your contact centre? It allows agents to really concentrate on the more complex issues and move their focus from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with your customers. Your contact centre benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

If you weren’t able to attend the live webcast, I encourage to watch the Tech Tank recording on-demand to see my live demos of chatbots and live chat. The Creative Virtual team would also love to give you a personalised demo to show how this technology can help your organisation improve your contact centre performance and customer experience.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for hosting the webinar and to the other expert presenters from NICE Nexidia and CallMiner.

[Meet the Team] Rachael Needham: Building Positive Relationships and Grounding Chatbot Technology in Human-ness

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Rachael Needham, Head of Delivery Management with Creative Virtual USA. In 2007, ready for a career change, Rachael took a leap of faith and spent the last of her savings on a flight to London to interview for a position with Creative Virtual. The rest, as the saying goes, is history! Rachael has filled a variety of roles over the years, helping to build both successful virtual agents and a strong team in the US. In her current position, she oversees Creative Virtual USA’s implementations and coordinates with various teams and departments to ensure each deployment is delivered efficiently and in alignment with each customer’s requirements and goals. She shared with me the benefits of developing a healthy emotional intelligence and how Creative Virtual is evolving within an industry the company helped to create.

How has Creative Virtual evolved and grown as a company since your early days?

Creative Virtual USAWhen I first started with Creative Virtual, the company was still small and there was a lot of responsibility placed on the Knowledgebase Managers. There were lots of individual jobs that weren’t specified; everyone pitched in where they were needed. I’m pleased to say that I helped develop some of the reports with our Analyst, Lester [Lane] in those early days that we still use today! As the company grew, and we started working with an increasing number of large enterprises in the US, it became clear that we needed to start separating out those job roles.

In the US, companies are aggressive in their quest to be cutting-edge, so we designed our team structure with that in mind. By separating out job roles as Creative Virtual grew, we made our workflow more relevant to corporate industry while also allowing for career progression. Even though team members are still capable of taking on a variety of responsibilities, they are now able to develop more specialized expertise and take ownership of their piece of the workflow. Our team members are invested in our projects. We can see this difference in the Delivery Manager role, where DMs go beyond traditional project management and play a strategic role. I read an article a couple of years ago outlining three qualities that I feel define how we operate: extreme ownership, infectious enthusiasm, and growth mindset. I believe this is what has carried us as a company.

Creative Virtual USASomething that hasn’t changed, but which has helped the company grow, is that Creative Virtual has always been client-driven. By asking “What do clients really need?”, we’ve tailored what we do to our customers. We’ve developed our processes in a way that makes it easy for them to work with us. I’ve been involved with the development and documentation of the process flows and finding ways to address any pain points. I’ve also been involved with changing how we scope projects in the US which has created more visibility, built more confidence with our clients, and helped us address frustrations. While this was initially a tough change, and received some resistance, we now have a scoping process in place that’s allowing us to deliver implementations more efficiently and helping us build better relationships with our clients.

What changes have you experienced in the chatbot and virtual agent industry?

“Chatbot” was a negative term when I started in the industry – nobody wanted to buy a chatbot! Using “virtual agent” and “virtual assistant” was more acceptable but the technology wasn’t widely recognized or understood. The companies that were looking at their digital strategy then were early adopters that are very much at the forefront of the industry today.

Creative Virtual helped create the industry and develop the market. At the time, we were focused on proving virtual agent technology worked. Now people have bought into automation and know that chatbots, when done well, are part of an improved customer experience. The industry has changed and shifted, so we are now facing new challenges. Today, we are more focused on educating the market on what solutions to use and how to implement them. We’re also finding ourselves competing against lots of new start-ups. I’m curious to see what happens with these start-ups as the industry continues to shift.

What sets Creative Virtual apart in today’s crowded chatbot marketplace?

Most of the new start-ups are building a chatbot product but not the service around it, so they don’t have that support of a managed service. In that respect, they can’t compete with Creative Virtual’s offering. We have industry knowledge – for example, what is needed for a telco is different than what needed for a financial company, yet there are basics which can benefit both. We look at a client’s website and their goals, and then we tailor a solution specifically for them. It’s that human connection that makes companies want to do business with us.

The relationships we build with our clients are key. They know we are experts and trust us to help them with their online digital strategy. They come to us with questions and follow our advice because they have confidence in our knowledge and experience.

Creative Virtual USAAs my team will tell you, I’m a big proponent of emotional intelligence. How we handle situations and deal with stress without letting it affect our work is extremely important. I believe strongly that developing a healthy emotional intelligence is imperative and a big factor in building positive relationships. Creative Virtual has a technology product that companies want, but it’s the people on our team who they interact with. Our team plus the software is a winning combination.

To stay competitive, Creative Virtual needs to continue our development work, adding new features and integrations, which is something we’ve always done. People have the impression that AI [artificial intelligence], chatbots, and machine learning can do things on their own, but the reality is that for now humans need to be involved to make sure the solutions are successful. I hope to always keep a human element to our technology, continuing to be successful by grounding it in human-ness.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Winning the Queen’s Awards is definitely cool! In the US, the idea of royalty is a thing of fantasy. I loved seeing the photos of Chris [Ezekiel, Founder & CEO] and Peter [Behrend, CTO] meeting the Queen; it made something that was distant feel more real. I think corporate America doesn’t realize the prestige of a Queen’s award, so we didn’t feel the full impact here. But it was exciting to receive messages of congratulations from our customers and partners around the world. I look forward to more awards and recognitions for Creative Virtual as we continue to grow and help define the virtual agent industry.

I’ve never once regretted putting my neck out to get my job with Creative Virtual, as it’s been a great place to grow and be introduced to the corporate world. I’m grateful for all the fun memories over the years and for the opportunity to work for a company that has taken the time to focus on employees.

Training for the Virgin Sport 10k for RSPCA

By Maria Ward, Account Manager/ Knowledgebase Engineer

On Sunday, 15 July 2018 I’ll be joining nine other runners from Creative Virtual – Rachel, Andre, Dinah, David, Chloe, Tracey, Emma, Chris and Steve – for the Virgin Sport Westminster 10k. We’re running to raise money for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). I trained for and ran the London Marathon on 22 April, so you would think that the 10k distance would not be an issue. Wrong!!!

Excuse Number 1: I suffered quite badly with blisters, the worst of which was the size of a planet (a small planet, you understand – like Pluto rather than Jupiter) on the ball of my foot! Walking was excruciating for many days let alone running!

Excuse Number 2: A two-week holiday and all the excesses that accompany it, and only two pitiful runs (during which my planet-sized blister re-opened) left me a good few pounds heavier and with considerably reduced fitness level.

Excuse Number 3: Post holiday blues led to post holiday binge-eating.

But enough of the excuses! The first few post marathon/ holiday runs have been hard. Legs so heavy it felt like gravity had been turned up a notch. Lungs struggling to supply my muscles with oxygen. Every step a thud and no bounce in sight.

10k for RSPCAWith just over a month to go, my foot is allowing me to run up to around 5 miles. I am now going to concentrate on trying to get that spring back in my feet in the hope that I can get somewhere close to my 10k personal best on race day. The rest of the team are stepping up their training too, going for group runs after work when possible, and we’re all reporting our progress on our group chat.

As for the fundraising, I have put some of my weird doodles up for sale (and some people have actually bought a couple!). We’re also selling old monitors from the office with all the proceeds going towards the RSPCA and using cute pictures of puppies to encourage our friends and family to donate.

This is the fourth time a group of Creative Virtual runners are doing a 10k in support of the RSPCA, and we’re excited to be raising money for such a worthy cause. You can sponsor us through our team JustGiving page or, if you’re in the UK, text CVUK55 with an amount of £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Live Demonstrations of Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

No longer a thing of fantasy or science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is finding a place in our homes, schools and businesses, helping to automate tasks and make our lives easier. For organisations striving to improve their customer experience (CX), implementing AI has become vital. The contact centre must play a key role in digital transformation initiatives around AI, automation and customer self-service in order to avoid creating silos that will damage CX.

On Thursday, 14 June 2018, Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join the expert panel of speakers for CRMXchange’s Tech Tank Roundtable Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center. The live webcast, scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm UK time/ 2:00 pm ET/ 11:00 am PT, will feature insights on how to use machine learning and natural language solutions to make an immediate and positive impact in the contact centre.

Chris will give an inside look at how Creative Virtual’s intelligent solutions help contact centres build better relationships with customers through centralising knowledge management, integrating chatbots and live agents, and combining AI and human input. He’ll explore recent statistics, discuss industry predictions, and share live demonstrations of current implementations. Chris will also provide some practical tips for implementing natural language virtual agents and chatbots to enable seamless customer engagement and help your contact centre improve through lower costs, reduced staff turnover, and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

Register for the Tech Tank now to learn more and see live demonstrations from Chris and other industry experts from CallMiner and NICE Nexidia. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Roundtable will be sent to all registrants after the event.