The Ever-Changing World of Customer Service Chatbot Creation

By Jeff Clifford, Project/Account Manager

I started building virtual agents and chatbots for customer service more than 12 years ago. A lot has certainly changed in that time. I talked about some of the changes in my Meet the Team interview a couple of years ago, but the industry has continued to evolve since then.

In my experience, there has been a major shift in customer expectations since 2015/2016 in the customer service chatbot industry. Pre-2014, most companies were looking to deploy chatbots that were pretty straight forward and consisted largely of FAQs, scripted conversation flows, keywords and a flat or standard UI. Some forward-thinking organisations were exceptions to that, and Creative Virtual worked with companies that took their solutions to the next level with innovative functionality like account integration to give personalised answers to logged in users.

Now, as we approach the end of 2019, chatbots and virtual agents are increasingly becoming the face of company help centres. Simple chatbot implementations are no longer enough to meet customer expectations. Customers also now expect self-service on new channels, such as Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa, that weren’t popular for customer service even a few years ago. The look of chatbots has also changed, with many companies now embedding their virtual agent into their own UI to give a cleaner, streamlined look and experience.

While previously personalised self-service was a major differentiator, now customers expect an experience tailored for them. Chatbots designed for enterprises have the features, functionality and integration options to deliver that. For example, chatbots are able to detect a customer’s language and country via integration with their user profile. This means the chatbot can display the user’s preferred language and can also return location-specific responses, such as a correct payment cut-off time that varies by country or time zone. Chatbots can also provide customised responses depending on where it was launched from, such as a section of your website about a particular product or service.

The goal of a seamless, omnichannel experience is becoming standard practice in organisations. Chatbots that can be deployed across channels are helping companies move away from a siloed approach to their customer service. When backed by the right orchestration platform, a single knowledgebase can be used across all channels while still delivering a specific answer based on the user’s device (such as a shorter answer on a mobile). A tight integration with live chat allows the virtual agent to pass a user over to a live agent seamlessly in the same panel while in the background passing over a full history of the conversation.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the chatbot industry is the use of more artificial intelligence (AI), and companies now want a chatbot that has AI capabilities. A good chatbot technology brings together different methods including semantic algorithms, deep learning, neural networks and machine learning in a way that still gives companies control. Chatbots are able to learn customer behaviours based on how users interact it with it and what suggested questions they are selecting in order to continuously improve. However, this shouldn’t be a black box. To be successful in a customer service role, the chatbot needs to have some level of human intervention and sign-off on content to keep information accurate and compliant.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of simple chatbots out there today that leave customers annoyed and with a bad impression of the technology. The team at Creative Virtual are on a mission to help save as many of these chatbots as we can by transforming them into tools that meet customer expectations and are worthy of being the face of the company’s help centre.

The chatbot and virtual agent industry is an exciting space to be in, and I love being able to help my clients implement the newest developments in their virtual agent projects. At Creative Virtual, we’re always pushing the boundaries of what the industry thinks is possible and consistently striving to bring new innovations to the table. It gives me a real feeling of pride to see long-standing chatbot implementations evolve along with these changes and continue to deliver the service that customers expect.

Three Cheers for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Every year during the first full week of October we celebrate the importance of customer service and the people who serve and support customers around the globe. The customer service landscape is more challenging than ever with a growing number of customer contact channels and increasing expectations for always-available support.

Even though the customer service industry is constantly evolving, the goal is always the same: to create happy, repeat customers through quality service and support. Here’s our annual blog post roundup of trends, tips and stats to help you consistently deliver a five-star customer service experience:

  • Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 – These eight tips address the most important items organisations should consider when evaluating and deploying chatbot or virtual agent technology. Get recommendations on how to build your business case, implement the right combination of humans and AI, and achieve long-term success with conversational self-service.
  • Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly – In our digitised world with expectations for immediate access to information, is it right to assume that we are so busy that we’d rather just get an answer than exchange any pleasantries? This post explores creating the right chat/service balance when supporting digital customers.
  • Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity – The long-term pros of having a chatbot go beyond providing basic self-service to customers. They can also be personalised marketing and sales tools and powerful sources of customer insights and feedback for companies that leverage them to their full capacity.
  • Creating a Better Experience for Indian Customers – There’s no denying the importance of providing a positive customer experience for digital customers. This post shares insights from this year’s Customer Experience Management (CXM) event held in Mumbai and a video of Creative Virtual’s presentation, including live demonstrations of our CX technologies.
  • The Digital Workplace in 2019 – Organisations are coming to understand the benefits of providing better and easier support for employees and are placing an increased focus on improving employee engagement. Chatbots and virtual agents are proven tools in the digital workplace for everything from onboarding new employees to helping troubleshoot common IT issues to training contact centre agents.
  • “Virtual Moron-Idiot!”: Why Chatbots Fail and the #ChatbotRescue Mission Saving Them – The chatbot and virtual agent landscape is littered with poor-performing implementations and failed projects, but it’s not all doom and gloom for the industry. Not only are there highly successful implementations that have been in place for years, but there are also options for getting failing projects back on track.
  • #CXDay: Serving Your Customers a Custom Support Experience – Frost & Sullivan predict that the year 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. Here are four tips to help you deliver a custom support experience for your customers.

#CXDay: Serving Your Customers a Custom Support Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy CX Day! Today is the annual global celebration of the professionals and companies that make great customer experiences happen. In a world of growing expectations for on-demand service and highly connected, always-on customers, creating and delivering a great customer experience (CX) is no easy task.

A couple of weeks ago I was at an alpaca farm, a stop on my local annual County Farm Tour, with my niece. She was excited to get a chance to feed and pet the alpacas but, having already endured a few hours of attention from random strangers, the animals were not so interested in what the afternoon visitors were offering. I chuckled to myself as I watched the children – and a few adults – follow the alpacas around with outstretched hands offering them a bite to eat as they ran up and down the fenced in area. As we followed some into the barn, my niece noticed that a couple alpacas that had refused to eat from her hand were eating from the feed trough instead. She wondered aloud why, if the alpaca was hungry, it hadn’t just eaten what she offered.

Digital customers, like those alpacas, aren’t always interested in engaging in a one-on-one human interaction – even though companies often feel that is the best way for them to build connections and loyalty. In fact, analyst firm Gartner reports that millennials are four times less likely to pick up the phone to resolve issues than older generations, opting instead to try to self-serve first. When companies don’t offer a way for customers to do that on their website or mobile app, those customers will end up looking, and possibly failing, on non-company channels. Organisations that want to empower customers to self-serve, and ensure they have a positive experience while doing so, need to offer those tools to customers themselves.

While self-service is increasingly imperative to a customer’s experience, that doesn’t mean that the one-on-one human interaction is no longer important. After watching numerous alpacas eat from the feed trough, my niece was ecstatic when one showed interest in the food she was offering and suddenly her hand was empty. The same is true with customers – not every customer wants to self-serve and not every customer issue or question is best resolved with self-service. A successful digital customer experience strategy never leaves out the human touch completely.

Here are a few CX Day tips to help you deliver a custom support experience for your customers:

  • Get to know your customers – It’s great to offer customers options for getting the information and support they need, but make sure they are the right options for your customer base otherwise you’re wasting time and money. For example, Rest knows that nearly 75% of their customer base is under 40 and most start their experience on the company website. In order to improve engagement with their growing customer base of digital natives, they now offer 24/7 support with virtual agent Roger on their website as well as other channels, such as Google Home.
  • Integrate self-service and human-assisted channels – As mentioned, self-service is not always the preferred method or the best way to answer customer questions. Other times customers will want to self-serve but then reach a point where they need or want to escalate to a human. This is why your self-service options can’t be standalone tools. Chatbots and virtual agents should be integrated with human-assisted channels such as live chat or call back to provide customers with a seamless experience. When customers are escalated from virtual agent to human agent, a full history of their conversation should be passed over as well. Internally, if you are using a virtual agent to assist contact centre agents, make sure you have feedback loops in place so your live agents can help keep the virtual agent’s content accurate and up-to-date.
  • Start small with a plan to grow – As with most things in life, trying to tackle a huge digital CX transformation project all at once just won’t work. Start small and then use what you learn from the first stages of your plan to make improvements as you scale your solutions and work through later phases. Transport for NSW started with their chatbot RITA on Facebook Messenger, a popular channel with their customers, and then grew their solution to be deployed across other channels, including their website and Amazon’s Alexa. This step-by-step approach has improved their customer experience and has won them numerous awards.
  • Work with vendors that have both the technology and expertise – Designing and delivering a customised support experience for digital customers requires a significant investment from companies and their employees. Selecting the best technologies for your goals is very important, but it shouldn’t be the only focus of your strategy. The customer support landscape is littered with failed and frustrating solutions, and the best way to avoid becoming one of those statistics is to work with an expert team that can provide consultation experience along with the technology. You want to work with a vendor that will collaborate closely with you and can provide guidance on both general industry and sector-specific best practices. Just as the service you offer customers needs to be a combination of self-service solutions and human support, your digital customer experience strategy needs to bring together the right blend of technology and human expertise.

Frost & Sullivan predict that the year 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. Are you serving your customers a custom support experience that makes your company stand out?

Digital CX Challenge: Humanising Your Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

For as long as virtual agents and chatbots have been used by companies to provide customer self-service, they have been criticised for removing the human touch from interactions and taking away the opportunity to build an emotional connection with customers. While some organisations have used that as a reason for not providing automated tools for customer service, they are now facing the reality that more and more customers want – and expect – self-service solutions. This is putting more pressure on organisations than ever before as they try to figure out how to bring together self-service with the human element.

On 3rd October, a new event is coming to London that is focused specifically on this challenge. The Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference is a one-day event being held at the Museum of London Docklands. Creative Virtual is proud to be an event sponsor, and Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel will present a session titled ‘Conversational AI & the Human Touch’. As someone with many years of experience working with enterprise executives and industry experts, Chris understands the challenges companies face when implementing self-service as part of their digital customer experience strategies:

“This conference is addressing an important aspect of today’s customer experience – keeping the human element even as organisations transition to more digital and self-service solutions. Offering intelligent chatbot and virtual agent tools should never mean a removal of humans from your customer service and support strategy.”

During his presentation, Chris will share industry research and live demonstrations as he explores best practices for combining conversational AI and self-service with the human touch for a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. He’ll help attendees gain a better understanding of:

  • Current challenges companies face when implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat
  • Reasons why conversational AI and self-service solutions need a combination of self-learning and human input
  • Tips for selecting, deploying and maintaining successful digital self-service tools

More information and a full copy of the event programme can be found on the Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference website. As an event sponsor, Creative Virtual is able to offer our blog readers a discount on tickets – use code Partner150 when booking your pass online.

If you’re unable to attend the event or just want to learn more about how you can bring together humans, AI and self-service in a way that creates reliability and consistency for your organisation and your customers, request a live demo with a member of our expert team.

“Virtual Moron-Idiot!”: Why Chatbots Fail and the #ChatbotRescue Mission Saving Them

This post originally appeared on AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative.

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

It’s hard to find anyone involved with the chatbot and virtual agent industry who hasn’t heard the cautionary tale of Microsoft’s AI chatbot Tay. In less than 24 hours, Twitter users trained Tay to give offensive, racist and inappropriate responses which resulted in Microsoft taking Tay offline. Described as a ‘machine learning project designed for human engagement,’ Tay ended up becoming an often-cited example of an AI chatbot gone wrong.

As someone who has been working with virtual agent technology for nearly 20 years, Tay reinforced for me that pure AI is not the right answer for customer service and employee support virtual agents and chatbots. Yet, when Facebook announced the launch of chatbots on their Messenger platform and the media frenzy around AI and chatbots took hold, some conversational AI vendors jumped on the AI bandwagon. The industry suddenly became saturated with both false promises about the capabilities of the technology and a plethora of new start-ups claiming to have AI-powered customer service bots.

Fast forward a few years, and the chatbot and virtual agent landscape is now littered with poor-performing implementations and failed projects. In some cases, these failing projects have garnered negative press for companies. Telecommunications company Telstra was in the news when their virtual agent Codi was branded a ‘virtual moron-idiot’ by customers for failing to answer even basic questions. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), a government agency in Australia, was criticised for spending more than $3.5 million AUD on a chatbot project that never even reached the testing stage. In other cases, enterprises are struggling behind the scenes with internal chatbot projects. It’s not unusual to find companies with more than 10 projects in progress, but none of them delivering on their potential.

This is a common theme in organisations around the world. Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom for the industry. While there are many chatbot and virtual agent projects failing or never coming to fruition, there are also lots of highly successful implementations that have been in place for years. For example, at Creative Virtual our very first enterprise customer is still a customer today – that’s over 15 years of consistently delivering successful virtual agent solutions for them. So why do some chatbot projects fail while others achieve long-term success? There are two main pieces to the puzzle – the technology and the people.

As with any other product or technology, not all chatbot and virtual agent solutions are created equal. Here are just a few of the common problems enterprises are encountering because they don’t have the right virtual agent technology in place:

  • Channel-specific solutions – While providing 24/7 self-service on one channel can be a great way to get started with a chatbot, organisations are discovering that technology designed only for one channel is now creating a disjointed experience for customers because the tool can’t be linked up with any other channels. These companies are struggling with the challenge of having yet another siloed tool to maintain that makes it harder to deliver a seamless, omnichannel customer experience.
  • ‘Dumb’ solutions – Basic chatbot solutions are designed to do just that – have basic interactions. Organisations using these platforms are struggling to create unstructured conversation flows and deliver intelligent self-service that can help users solve issues using natural language. Without options to integrate with existing content sources, other support options and account information, simple chatbot solutions don’t allow for the easy, personalised experience users want. They also don’t have the right combination of machine learning and human input on the backend to help them continually improve in a reliable way.
  • Tough-to-grow solutions – Some enterprises thought their chatbot was on-track until they tried to grow their solution. Not all platforms give organisations the ability to scale their chatbot to other touchpoints, to support millions of users, to expand into other business areas, to link the contact centre to digital channels, to meet specific security and hosting requirements, to control the amount of machine learning and human input used – the list goes on and on. A self-service tool that can’t grow with the company won’t deliver long-term success.
  • DIY solutions – Lots of companies jumped at the chance to build their own chatbot only to discover that they don’t have the experience, know-how and data to create a tool that will meet their customer and/or employee engagement goals.

That last issue is just part of the reason why people are the other main ingredient for a successful chatbot implementation. As I mentioned in my Conversational AI interview, I truly believe that the key to a successful chatbot/virtual agent/conversational AI strategy is to work with an experienced team of people. There are lots of confusing options and challenges in the industry today, and enterprises need to be smart about the choices they make. Organisations need to work with an experienced partner that can help guide them in creating and implementing a chatbot strategy that will work today and also set them up for future innovation and expansion.

Often chatbot projects fail because the organisation isn’t working with a vendor that can provide consultation experience as well as the right technology. It’s important to work with a team that will collaborate closely to design a customised solution and provide guidance on both sector-specific and general industry best practices. This expertise needs to go beyond the initial implementation process to include experience in ongoing development and optimisation. New start-ups typically can’t provide that type of insight and support, and most organisations don’t have that expertise internally.

The good news for enterprises struggling with poor performing chatbots and projects that never got off the ground is that there are options for getting their projects back on track. Instead of abandoning these projects, they can save their investments by leveraging what they already have and building on that to create a successful chatbot by upgrading to the right platform. As someone who has been involved with this technology since its infancy, I’m passionate about helping these organisations save their investments. The expert team at Creative Virtual and I know intimately how well this technology can work for enterprises and don’t want them to continue to miss out on those benefits.

If your organisation is struggling with a chatbot or virtual agent project, I encourage you to reach out to learn more about Creative Virtual’s Chatbot Rescue Mission.

If your organisation hasn’t started out on your conversational AI journey yet but is worried about selecting, deploying and maintaining a successful solution, I recommend downloading these Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019.

It’s Time to be Smart About Your AI Strategy

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I first started working in the world of virtual agents in 2000 and, even though the technology was very much in its infancy at the time, saw huge potential for innovation and growth in the industry. Having now led my own company in this space for over 15 years, I have a unique perspective on the advancements of conversational AI technology and the ways it can be used. I was pleased to share some of my insights with the AI Time Journal recently in an interview for their Conversational AI Initiative.

Whether you use chatbots, virtual agents, conversational AI or one of the other numerous terms in the market today to describe this technology, one of the biggest challenges the industry faces (besides the inconsistent terminology!) is the lack of understanding within organisations about deploying these solutions. Just a few years ago this was due to them not really knowing much about virtual agents or how these tools can be used to improve the customer and employee experience. Now there is typically a general understanding of what virtual agents are, and the lack of understanding stems more from the media hype around AI and the confusion created by other vendors making false promises about the capabilities of the technology.

As I discuss in the interview, I truly believe that the key to a successful conversational AI strategy is to work with an experienced team of people. Enterprises need to be smart about the choices they make and not get swept up in the AI hype and empty promises if they want to have a strategy that will not only work today, but also set them up for future innovation and expansion.

This is why the Creative Virtual team is the company’s biggest asset. We’re able to provide organisations with the consultation services they need to really understand the possibilities – and limitations – of the technology and develop a customised implementation plan rooted in industry best practices. It is our combination of an experienced, expert team and our award-winning technology that sets us apart from other vendors in the space. In fact, this was one of the reasons that Frost & Sullivan selected Creative Virtual as the AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader this year. You can read more in their independent report.

In a world where customer experience is THE differentiator, one of the biggest opportunities for organisations implementing conversational AI is the ability to provide a superior and personalised experience to their customers. They can deliver on customer expectations for an experience that is effortless and embedded within their normal day-to-day activities. The interaction with your company becomes like that of friends interacting with each other.

Enterprises also shouldn’t overlook the big opportunity to leverage this technology to provide that same type of effortless, personalised experience for their employees. That can be onboarding new team members, training and supporting contact centre agents, delivering internal service desk support, offering easy self-service for HR questions – just to name a few! We’ve seen a huge increase over the past few years in these types of internal implementations with impressive results.

My interview also delves into my thoughts on voice-enabled conversational interfaces, challenges of channel-specific chatbots, and future technology trends that will impact the industry. My thanks to the AI Time Journal Editorial Staff for including me in their Conversational AI Initiative! You can read my full interview here.

Our Charity Runs for the RSPCA

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As per our company tradition, Creative Virtual this year again is fundraising for the RSPCA – but this time with a twist. Previous years we selected a 10k in London and put together a team of runners to take part as a group. This year, people who were willing to be a part of our ‘Team Animal’ and participate in a race could join a local one instead of having to travel to London.

I really liked this idea and it made the whole effort more global – like the Creative Virtual team. We had runners in three different countries take part in races in Hamburg, London, Ipswich and Dublin so far. There’s still the opportunity for others to sign up for more races and contribute to our fundraising efforts.

Challenging yourself, setting goals to work towards and making a commitment is a great mental exercise. And, of course, training for your upcoming race keeps you fit as well! Perhaps even more importantly, it’s heartwarming to support a good cause and do something for a charity. Even if you feel like your contribution is small, it can really make a difference.

RSPCA fundraisingThe RSPCA is largest and most well-known animal welfare charity in the UK, founded in 1824, and covers all areas of animal protection and help. Everyone loves animals – who wouldn’t like to help our fluffy friends and make their lives better?

I was eager to sign up for a race close to me and started to train and go to gym classes to increase my level of fitness. My enthusiasm even got my friend to sign up for the same race, so we kept motivating each other to prepare for our big day! She has a pug, who we took for our running sessions occasionally so we could really feel the spirit of Team Animal. 🐕

I know my fellow Creative Virtual runners are very experienced runners (Well done to all!!!), but for me it was a great achievement to complete my run that Sunday. It was a lovely day, with some breeze and the course was in a castle park with forest all around. I did 5km in a respectable 30 minutes (there is room for improvement!). I didn’t think it would have gone so smooth, so I’m happy I challenged myself and accomplished this goal. It was a fantastic experience and I will definitely do it again! In fact, I have already checked into upcoming races to feel the rush again.

As I’m writing, we have raised 95% of our fundraising goal for the RSPCA. Thank you to everyone who has already sponsored our team of runners! You can donate towards this very worth cause through our JustGiving page.

Go Team Animal!

We’re Coming to Rescue Your Failing Chatbot Project!

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In my role leading a global company, I have the opportunity to travel all over the world speaking at conferences, meeting with enterprise executives and collaborating with other industry experts. Everywhere I go, I hear stories from organisations that have started on chatbot projects which is exciting for the industry. Yet all too often that excitement turns to disappointment in these stories as we are seeing many of these projects failing or never coming to fruition.

I’m not alone in seeing this common theme. I’ve had many discussions with industry analysts this year who have echoed this same concern, and we’ve encountered this issue first-hand with some of our most recent customers who came to us for help after struggling with other chatbot products. Failing chatbot projects have also garnered negative press coverage for companies. Telecommunications company Telstra was in the news when their virtual agent Codi, a joint project with IBM and LivePerson, was branded a ‘virtual moron-idiot’ by customers. Failing to answer even basic questions, it left users frustrated and sharing their negative experiences with the world. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), a government agency in Australia, was criticised for spending more than $3.5 million AUD on an IBM Watson chatbot project that never even reached the testing stage. It’s not uncommon today to find enterprises with more than 10 internal chatbot projects in progress – and none of them actually delivering on their potential.

As someone who has been involved with virtual agent and chatbot technology since its infancy, I felt passionately that it was time for my company to act – and the expert team at Creative Virtual agreed. We know intimately how well this technology can work for enterprises and don’t want them to continue to miss out on those benefits. That’s why we are now on a Rescue Mission!

The goal of this mission is to rescue organisations struggling with poor performing chatbots and projects that never got off the ground. Instead of abandoning their failing projects, we are helping companies save their investments by leveraging what they already have and building on that to create a successful chatbot. We’re offering a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to our award-winning V-Person™ platform to get the transformation project started.

Creative Virtual is in a unique position to rescue these failing chatbot projects. As a company, we have over 15 years of experience in the virtual agent and chatbot space. Our very first enterprise customer is still a customer today – that’s 15 years of consistently delivering successful solutions for them! We’re able to do that because we have a highly experienced team that delivers best practice expertise alongside our innovative and award-winning technology.

Earlier this year Frost & Sullivan named Creative Virtual the AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader. In their independent review, they praised not only the capabilities and performance of our technology but also the effective way we provide the guidance of an experienced strategic partner to our clients. That combination of people and technology is what makes us perfectly suited to lead this Rescue Mission!

If you’re struggling with a poor-performing chatbot/virtual agent or are unsure about what to do with a failing chatbot project (or 10 failing projects!), we want to help. Let Creative Virtual save your investment by transforming your failing chatbot into a successful conversational AI solution. Sign up today for your no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade.

We’re coming to rescue you!

Conversational AI in the Contact Centre

This post originally appeared on AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative.

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Contact centres require a great deal of investment for organisations – from recruiting and training staff to putting the right tools in place for agents – and yet still often deliver a poor customer experience. Plagued by long wait times, agents dealing with inadequate or incomplete access to information and a disconnect from digital channels, contact centres are struggling to meet customer service expectations. With industry experts predicting the year 2020 as the point when customer experience (CX) will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition, organisations can’t risk ignoring these common contact centre issues.

Smart companies are working hard to better their CX. Organisations everywhere are embarking on digital CX initiatives in an effort to improve their experience, build loyalty and increase sales. Conversational AI is increasingly an important piece of these initiatives with chatbots and virtual agents becoming essential tools for providing 24/7 self-service to digital customers. Available on websites, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, chatbots are helping organisations deal with the growing number of customer touch points.

Yet, all too often these digital initiatives and conversational AI strategies ignore the contact centre. This creates expensive silos that damage the customer’s experience. A truly successful strategy goes beyond what customers are experiencing online to include what’s happening in your contact centre.

Chatbots are more than customer self-service tools

Many organisations are utilising conversational AI to create a self-service experience for customers but are overlooking the added benefits of using this technology in the contact centre. Chatbots and virtual agents help maximise on contact centre investments by instantly providing agents with information to assist callers, reducing average call handling times and increasing first contact resolution. Training time for live agents is drastically reduced, and organisations build confidence with customers by assuring consistent communication from all agents. When agents know they always have the information they need at their fingertips, their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers.

The tool understands questions asked in natural language, as well as common abbreviations used by agents, and can guide agents through processes and forms step-by-step as they assist customers. By giving all staff easy access to the same level of knowledge, anyone from support teams to trainers and coaches can step in to answer customer questions with confidence at peak or busy times. Chatbots also lend themselves well to gamification around content awareness, skills training and performance improvements.

Not all chatbots are designed for the contact centre

There’s a record number of chatbot options on the market today, but not all of them have been designed for the contact centre. In fact, many of them are channel-specific solutions that create a disjointed experience for customers. Enterprises serious about creating a seamless CX – and aligning the contact centre directly with the digital function – should avoid those solutions. Here are four tips to help with selecting a conversational AI platform for contact centre agents:

  1. Centralise knowledge management control: To reap the benefits of using conversational AI within the contact centre – and for customer self-service – you must have a solid foundation in knowledge management. Chatbots and virtual agents can only give accurate responses if they are backed by a knowledgebase with accurate content. Using a single knowledge control centre for both customer-facing and contact centre chatbots creates consistency across channels. It also allows organisations to more easily keep content up-to-date and create a single point of truth.
  2. Integrate chatbots and live agents: The future of customer engagement lies in humans and machines working together in harmony. By bringing together automated and human support, organisations can create the seamless, omnichannel experience customers want. They can also take advantage of the contact centre becoming the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels. Providing a chatbot that works for the specific needs and requirements of the contact centre is key for properly supporting agents and getting the most from this integrated solution. There should be choices to personalise the agent console as well as options for agents to use voice and for the tool to also be deployed on the IVR (interactive voice response) channel.
  3. Combine artificial intelligence and human input: The foundations of successful chatbots lie in the control of the response given. A hybrid approach of machine learning and human curation of content allows the chatbot to continually improve based on the way it is being used while also enabling companies to maintain control over the reliability of responses. Combining human learnings with AI creates dependable self-service solutions and gives organisations the control they need to comply with industry standards and regulations.
  4. Work with an experienced vendor: An often-cited barrier to deploying a chatbot by company executives is a lack of internal expertise. So, while selecting a conversational platform that offers the right features and functionality is essential for success, it’s just as important to select a vendor that can provide that experience and knowhow. When an organisation is working with the right provider, they don’t need to have existing internal experience to make the solution successful. The right vendor will be a partner throughout the process, collaborating on a customised chatbot and providing guidance on industry best practices and new innovations.

Be realistic but plan for the future

Before starting to evaluate chatbot offerings for the contact centre, an organisation needs to first determine how the solution will fit into their overall customer experience plan. Just as digital CX initiatives that ignore the contact centre create damaging silos, selecting a tool for the contact centre that ignores other customer channels can create similar issues. It’s crucial for companies to be ambitious, and at the same time realistic, about the role the contact centre currently plays – and the role it should be playing – in their overall CX strategy.

For a more in-depth look at these four tips along with 12 essential questions to ask when selecting chatbot technology for the contact centre, download the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. With the right conversational AI technology and partner, organisations can maximise on contact centre investments, provide seamless omnichannel customer support and incorporate the contact centre into their digital CX strategy.

Conversational AI for Financial Services

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Traditional banks and financial institutions can no longer count on lifelong loyalty from their customers. Gone are the days of people selecting and staying with a bank simply because their family has been banking with that institution for generations. Fintechs and digital start-ups are disrupting the space, and customers are increasingly willing to take their business to a financial brand that offers them a personalised, easy experience that fits with their lifestyle.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics can help financial brands keep pace with customer expectations, but these types of digital transformation projects aren’t always easy to get off the ground. At the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum at the end of June, the expert speakers and panellists addressed some of the customer experience (CX) challenges the industry is facing.

Our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel’s opening keynote – Taking Your CX into the Future with Conversational AI – got the day started with a look at AI-enhanced chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. Chris gave insights into what is possible with conversational AI technology and then backed that up with real examples through a series of live demos. He emphasised the need for the contact centre to be a part of digital transformation initiatives, which had many in attendance nodding their heads in agreement.

One theme that ran through the various presentations and panel debates was the great opportunity the financial services industry has to make life easier for customers and employees with new AI solutions. Whether it be giving customers easy, 24/7 access to smart self-service or helping compliance teams stay on top of changing regulations, AI technologies should be approached as positive additions to transformation strategies. However, internal education about the real benefits and limitations of the technologies and getting executive buy-in continue to be major challenges in many organisations.

During the networking breaks, there continued to be insightful discussions about AI and machine learning, including lessons learned through both successful and unsuccessful projects and ideas on how to overcome anti-AI sentiment based on misunderstandings of the technologies. We had a number of attendees stop by the Creative Virtual table to see more live examples of chatbots and virtual agents. They were excited to see how financial brands are using the technology today to provide customer self-service, assist agents in the contact centre and provide internal HR and service desk support. We even had one attendee say she had specifically come to the event to hear Chris’ presentation because his live demos always provide her with great use cases to share in her consulting work.

If you’re thinking about adding a chatbot to your digital strategy, or have a failing chatbot project you’re ready to abandon, download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019. Our team would also love to show you our AI-enhanced self-service solutions in action, so I encourage you to request a live demo.

Our thanks to the Informed.AI team for putting together an insightful forum agenda and a delicious lunchtime spread. We’re looking forward to joining you again for the CXtech Conference & Showcase in October.

AI & CX in Financial Services