[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.

C3 London 2018: Redefining customer care with conversational commerce

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On 8-9 May Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to London. Replacing the Intelligent Assistants Conference held the previous two years, this new event will explore conversational platforms and how organisations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features interactive panel discussions, industry case studies and networking opportunities.

Coined by Opus Research years ago, the term ‘conversational commerce’ has never been more important in the customer experience space than it is in 2018. Organisations are tackling the challenge of creating conversational engagement with digital customers across a wide range of contact channels. Advancements in chatbots and virtual agents have opened up powerful opportunities for using these tools to create conversations with customers.

Creative Virtual is sponsoring C3 London and lending our expertise in delivering intelligent conversational systems to the conference agenda. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, will be an expert speaker on the Demystifying AI – Enterprise Strategies for Digital Self-Service panel on Day 1 of the event. Having first entered the virtual agent and chatbot industry in 2000, Rachel will draw from her extensive experience building and implementing these solutions for organisations to discuss realistic expectations for artificial intelligence in the customer service space.

At the Creative Virtual stand, our team will be on hand to share live demos and success stories of organisations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots and live chat to deliver conversational customer care. Also stop by for insights and tips on building a business case for the technology in your organisation and how to approach implementing these solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 London event website. Be sure to follow conference announcements and updates using #C3London.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to receive £200 off the conference rate.  And if you aren’t able to be at the event in London, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you.

Mad Dogs and English People Go Out in the Noonday Sun… (and then some!)

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

Even 3 full days after London’s “hottest” marathon on record all of our legs still ache a tad. We’re part of those 40,000+ special (stupid?) runners who braved the heat and intense sunshine to conquer 26.2 miles.

Myself, Chris Ezekiel and Maria Ward were at the start line in Greenwich on April 22nd with varying expectations and high hopes for raising money for our selected charities. Whilst our virtual agents speak on behalf of their “owners”, I will not speak for my colleagues apart from that they ran superb runs in adverse conditions and raised money for Jewish Care and Marie Curie Hospice respectively. They both achieved personal bests at 3.43 and 4.04 and deserve a lot of kudos.

I am made of lesser athletic stuff and whilst I intended to simply “sub-5” and raise money for the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), the heat got the better of me and my keen sense of self-preservation kicked-in advising myself to walk/run after mile 13 as I felt as if I would faint soon after Tower Bridge. I “achieved” a PW (personal worst) at 5.30 but was delighted to have finished with a smile on my face and feeling fine – bar one blood blister and a bit of chafing on the arms due to the charity vest.

RNIB London MarathonThe atmosphere was wonderful – people lined most of the streets screaming our names as seen ironed on our vests. It was a perfect day to be a spectator – but not as optimal for the runners. Water stations were often jammed and I took full advantage of every shower and hose pointing our way. I’ve never had as much to drink at any race!

The route took us right through Canary Wharf and familiar territory for Creative Virtual marathoners due to various regular routes we took on post-work runs. I wasn’t exactly tempted to take a detour and visit the office, but I did give the office a thought as I ran down Cabot Square. We each had our own sights of crazy costumes but the ones notable to me were a suit of armour, several rhinos, a woman on stilts and a man dressed in full Victorian garb.

We all did it! The times varied widely but we all shared a commitment to finish and raise funds which was well accomplished. Yet… there is no rest for the wicked and trainer lacing starts again soon:

On July 15th, Chris, Maria and myself will join 7 more Creative Virtual team members (Andre, Dinah, David, Chloe, Tracey, Emma and Steve) to run the Virgin Sport British 10K through the centre of London in support of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) – one of our favourite charities.

10K QuarkWe aim to raise £1,000 and hit the London streets that are so much a part of the soul of Creative Virtual HQ. This will be the fourth time a team of runners from Creative Virtual will take part in a 10k to raise money for the RSPCA.

Stay tuned for training and fundraising updates. You can sponsor us through our team JustGiving page or, if you’re in the UK, text CVUK55 and an amount of £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070.

Congratulations again to Maria and Chris on their impressive marathon runs and a big thank you to everyone who sponsored and supported me. I’m excited to turn my attention to the 10k in July. Go Team Animal!

Running Towards My Virtual Viewpoint

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At the end of last year I started writing a regular column for The Wharf News, a weekly newspaper distributed in the Canary Wharf area of London. Aptly titled ‘Virtual Viewpoint’, the column gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on technology and science. I’m really enjoying writing these columns and looking at the impact technology and science have on our lives and businesses.

I often use my running time to think about my column and how technology is impacting the world – and I’ve had a lot of time to think lately since I’ve been training for the London Marathon! Sometimes I find myself reminiscing and taking a walk down memory lane; sometimes I find myself contemplating our digital future; sometimes I find myself analysing technology’s impact on businesses. At the end of my runs, I often find that I’ve thought about things in a different way and come up with ideas I know I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I enjoy seeing my column in print every month, but I also wanted a way to share them digitally and have started publishing them on LinkedIn as well. Check out the links below to catch up on the ones already published:

  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 30 November 2017 – I take a look at the current technological revolution and the impact artificial intelligence will have on jobs and quality of life.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 4 January 2018 – I contemplate whether we are reaching a point of having too many gadgets and the issues of privacy and data protection that come with using them.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 1 February 2018 – I think back to a time before instantaneous global communication and reflect on why we all need to find a way to escape the digital world.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 8 March 2018 – I share my annoyance with people failing to communicate properly and how dumping ‘old’ methods of communication diminishes our lives along with companies’ profits.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 5 April 2018 – I know my pro-Brexit view isn’t popular within the business community, but I believe this is a historic opportunity to build a global economy for UK businesses to thrive within.

For those of you who are local, don’t forget to pick up a free copy of The Wharf every Thursday. I’ll also continue to add my new ‘Virtual Viewpoint’ columns on LinkedIn, so be sure to connect with me there. I’m sure I’ll be finishing the marathon on Sunday exhausted but with lots of fresh inspiration for my upcoming columns.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported my London Marathon fundraising efforts for Jewish Care. You can still sponsor me here. Good luck to my fellow Creative Virtual marathon runners – Rachel Freeman who is running for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (sponsor Rachel) and Maria Ward who is running for the Ipswich Hospital Charity (sponsor Maria)! See you at the finish line!

Alexa, Please Play Music

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Do you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you’re talking to a digital assistant like Alexa or Siri? Is it rude if you don’t? Does it really matter?

When I came across an article back in December exploring this topic, it gave me pause. The author, Chaim Gartenberg, argues that even though it doesn’t really matter to digital assistants if you’re being polite – they are just machines after all – that being polite to them helps reinforce positive behaviour. We speak to our devices the same way we speak to real people, in natural language, and so he comes to the conclusion that we should be polite to these digital assistants for our own benefit.

I had never really thought about this before. As I considered how I interact with voice-activated assistants, my niece popped into my head. When I first got my Amazon Dot, she was very interested in how I spoke to Alexa but was hesitant to try herself. She would regularly ask me to ask Alexa for the weather forecast or to play us music while we made dinner or tackled a craft project. Then one day she finally felt comfortable enough to ask herself and said, ‘Alexa. . .please play music.’ At the time, the fact that she said ‘please’ had made me smile to myself because she sounded so polite even though she was just talking to voice recognition software. She was illustrating the author’s point perfectly, speaking to Alexa the same way she would an actual person.

This past weekend that article came to mind once again. I wasn’t paying much attention to how my niece was asking Alexa to play music – ‘Alexa, play music’ – until she turned to me and said very matter-of-factly, ‘You don’t really have to say please.’ She was right of course. Alexa is not a person, and I had never specified that my house rule about using manners extended to electronic devices!

So often when I’m writing about customer engagement I talk about how technology is altering our communication preferences and the nature of our conversations. There are millions of articles about Millennials and how they’d rather text or get information online than make a phone call, and how organisations can take advantage of that to improve customer service. In some ways it all seems very over-hyped.

Yet, the truth is that technology has, and continues to, rapidly change how we interact and our expectations around communications. When I was young, the idea of talking to some kind of device to check the status of a bus or train, play a song list or even simply set a timer was the thing of fantasy and cartoons. Today my niece, at the ripe old age of five-and-a-half, lives in a reality that’s very different. Her world is texting, FaceTiming, Googling and not really having to say please when she asks Amazon’s Alexa to play her some music. She will never know a world without smartphones and talking to digital assistants will always be a normal part of everyday life.

I think it’s an important point Chaim raises in his article about ‘rudeness’ to digital assistants bleeding into our normal speech patterns. If we are constantly interacting with voice-activated assistants and chatbots in a blunt, please-and-thank-you-less way, will we start to interact with the real people around us in the same fashion? My inner anthropologist is intrigued with how this may impact our cultural norms and the ways my niece’s generation will communicate as they get older.

For now, I’m left with a dilemma. Do I extend my rule about using manners to include Alexa? Or will that cause me to lose some points in the family competition to be the ‘cool’ auntie? If only Alexa could please tell me what to do. . .

We’ll Spend 1 Billion Years Online in 2018

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It’s certainly no secret that we’re spending more and more time online. In fact, the 2018 Global Digital suite of reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite, published earlier this year, share data showing that the average internet user spends about 6 hours online every day. When you add that up for the 4 billion internet users across the globe, the world will spend an impressive 1 billion years online this year!

Nearly a quarter of a billion new users came online for the first time last year, bringing the total internet users to 53% of the world’s population – up 7% from 2016. Much of this growth is due to more affordable smartphones and mobile data plans. Social media use is also on the rise, up 13%, with over 3 billion people using social media platforms each month. Not surprisingly, 9 in 10 of those users are accessing those platforms on mobile devices.

Digital Around the World in 2018

The Growth of Messenger Apps

During 2017 nearly 1 million people started using social media for the first time every day, which breaks down to more than 11 new users every second. Facebook’s core platform is still the leader in active users, but WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both grew twice as fast. The number of people using each of those messenger apps was up by 30% last year, tying them at about 1.3 billion active users on each platform. However, WhatsApp wins when it comes to geographic penetration, boasting top messenger app status in 128 countries compared to Facebook Messenger’s 72 countries.

 Top Messenger Apps

The Rise in E-commerce

1.77 billion people worldwide are now buying consumer goods online, a growth of 8% during 2017, reaching a total annual spend of nearly $1.5 trillion USD last year. Adding in other categories such as travel and digital content raises the global e-commerce figure to be closer to $2 trillion USD.

Approximately 45% of all internet users are now making purchases online although there is a wide variation among countries. The United Kingdom leads the pack with 78% of the population buying consumer goods online; the United States comes in at 69% and Australia at 59%. Not surprisingly, the average revenues per user (ARPU) has also shown solid growth and is up 7%.

e-commerce consumer goods

e-commerce

Get to Know the Trends AND Your Customers

More than just providing attention grabbing statistics (like the world spending a whopping 1 billion years online in 2018!), these reports highlight some important worldwide trends for businesses. More than half of the world’s population is now online. It’s where we go to connect with each other, find answers to our questions and do our shopping. We’ve become highly connected digital customers looking for 24/7 access to information and support on a variety of devices. Organisations and brands need to keep their finger on the pulse of these trends – both global and local.

Getting know the trends is a great place to start but it isn’t enough. Companies also need to get to know their customers in order to understand how best to apply these trends and address the changing digital landscape. For example, organisations should be looking at how they can engage with customers on messenger apps and other social platforms but need to know which ones their customers are already using or those efforts will be wasted.

A good example of an organisation doing this is Transport for NSW in Australia. They saw an opportunity to connect with customers on Facebook Messenger and introduced an interactive chatbot, their Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant (RITA), on the platform. They then built on RITA’s success in Facebook Messenger by adding the chatbot to their website and, in January of this year, integrating RITA with Amazon’s Alexa.

By combining global, local and industry trends with an understanding of their customer base, organisations can take advantage of the world’s growing dependence on the internet and preference for purchasing goods online. Companies will benefit from increased engagement and a better experience by meeting their digital customers where they are already spending their time.

Overcome Language and Culture Barriers with Chatbots

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the annual Asian Financial Forum (AFF) in Hong Kong with our partner HKT. The forum brought together some of the most influential members of the global financial and business community to discuss developments and trends in the dynamic Asian markets.

The two-day forum featured over 100 international speakers sharing insights into the event theme “Steering Growth and Pioneering Innovation: Asia and Beyond”. On Day 2, HKT sponsored a session on “Business Transformation along Your Belt and Road Journey”. This session discussed megatrends in global business development and how companies can accelerate their growth in overseas and mainland China markets through transformation and the effective use of various infrastructure and ICT services.

Björn Gülsdorff, Creative Virtual’s Chief Business Development Officer, joined me at the forum and gave a presentation on chatbots as part of HKT’s Belt and Road session. I asked him to share his thoughts with me after the event:

The One Belt One Road initiative is one of greatest business initiatives of our time – and as ours is the time of globalisation, that is to say: in all times. In this undertaking, Hong Kong is a central element for all sorts of reasons. So, when entering the plenary hall of the Asia Financial Forum 2018 in HK, I wasn’t surprised to find the stage taken by an executive board member of the German Federal Bank in discussion with Group CEO of HSBC (among others in that league).

The event nicely mixed the big picture with more workshop-type sessions about the very next steps and what this means for the individual business. I think it is fair to say that many companies see a big challenge in this new outward facing and more connected way for China to do business in the world. Being the world’s workbench and garden was much more clear-cut and even easier in a way.

So, we had a packed room and an eager audience in our session on “Business Transformation”. Flanked by two great co-speakers I shared some ideas how virtual assistants and chatbots can help businesses to grow across countries, time zones and languages without jeopardizing their customer communications. Thankfully, I could do this in English (and listen to Chinese speeches), because the organizers provided real time translations via headsets – what a great service! My only “problem” was that I had to scratch the artificial intelligence (AI) part of my speech because Professor Daniela Rus, Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, had just explained in a key note how much manual work it takes to get machine learning right. Regular readers of our posts will immediately picture me nodding heavily for the entire 45 minutes. What really struck me at this conference, was the nearly unanimous view that technology will be key, but shall support people, not replace them. In short, the financial services sector in this part of the world is ready for virtual assistants and a hybrid approach of human and machine labour.

For me, the forum really showed that chatbots and AI are no longer just areas of study or something for companies to research. In the Finance sector, organisations are now taking action and making this technology a real part of their digital initiatives. Deploying a chatbot in different languages breaks through the barrier of initial customer engagement in doing business in “One Belt One Road” countries.

We are delighted to have engaged HKT as our partner to promote Creative Virtual chatbot solutions in Hong Kong. HKT is one of the largest suppliers of high-end Omnichannel Contact Centre solutions in Hong Kong, where chatbots are increasingly being used for improving customer engagement, and for expediting customer services. Together, HKT and Creative Virtual shall deliver outstanding customer engagement solutions, combining the strengths of both companies. We are looking forward to that.

Our thanks to HKT for inviting us to take part in AFF 2018 and to the event organisers for putting on a great forum. To learn more about how chatbots and virtual agents can help you overcome language barriers and grow your business, request a personalised demo.

Asian Financial Forum

What Goes Around Comes Around: A look at customer sentiment and intent

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

I’m delighted that one of the main reasons why I started working in this industry 18 years ago (eegad!) has re-surfaced as a credible and viable objective to move ahead with conversational flows that also provide a profitable punch: customer sentiment.

During the first wave of all things cool and nifty on the web – when website stickiness and brand promotion online was first and foremost – a virtual assistant was often deployed to assist a marketing campaign and answer “silly” questions about random topics that might have little to do with the brand. So long as the virtual assistant (always with an avatar) was presented in a branded UI, then the key was to keep a customer on the page and enable the engagement to be about whatever the user wanted.

Of course, the problem with that approach at its most extreme was that it lost its financial credibility since, without promotion or discussion about the products/ services, there was little to no ROI on the tool. The virtual assistant was demoted as a bit of expensive frivolity that was often axed once the first tech bubble burst and focus moved from bling to bottom line.

That was when I lost my job creating such novelties as VC money was running out and there was little to no appetite to fund such projects and focus on user sentiment and fun smalltalk, like whether the virtual assistant enjoyed pizza on a Saturday night or playing chess with fellow 24/7 assistants.

Creative Virtual evolved after that burst as it saw an opportunity at that time to take this technology and move it away from sentiment and emotions and casual smalltalk to focus on the business proposition of enabling a client’s customers to find and self-serve answers to relevant FAQs.

The company was built by actively addressing the public’s requirements. These requirements have changed over the years from quick and efficient delivery of answers, limited smalltalk and some avatars to moving away from avatars and focusing on back-end integration with APIs ranging from currency trackers to train delays. Then there was a major focus on user journey and intent – what does the customer need and what is the quickest and smoothest way to get him/ her there? Organisations were keen to link their virtual assistants to live chat and use decision trees or conversation flows. We saw the removal of the avatar in many situations and flat web designs for simplicity.

Now in 2018, we’re in the age of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and conversations – sometimes even via voice. User intent is assumed based on channels and the context of when the customer starts a conversation. Now it is time to get back to assessing if the user is happy or frustrated and work out which channel and journey the user needs to take to feel special (personalisation) and guided (customer service) after a fulfilled mission of getting what was required (positive user experience). True conversations need to happen and no longer just a session with Q&A pairs. The “silly” questions and random topics have a place if it helps hand hold the user to an endpoint – and the circle the virtual assistant industry (myself included!) started to draw in 2000 can now be closed!

The whole aspect of AI and NLP (natural language processing) combined with human curation requires more blog posts – but suffice to say that for the purposes of this post –  the “science of conversation” is truly back on the map for self-service tools. And we at Creative Virtual will be leading the pack as we were (a number of us working at other companies first) at the beginning when sentiment was more important than intent. Now we know how to join them both up in the same conversation – and the future of the industry is looking bright!

Want to learn more? The best way to understand The science of conversation™ is to see our technology in action with a personalised demo.