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.

Empowering Call Centre Agents: “If you don’t know, ask Mo!”

By Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations

“If you don’t know, ask Mo.” This is the slogan I heard repeated by at least one of the very able Motability Operations trainers as they were training a new group of recruits during my recent site visit.

This is not a throw away comment! Ask Mo – the Motability Operations self-help tool used by 200 of their advisor/call agents – is the essential tool for a new recruit as notetaking in training is not encouraged and manuals are no longer distributed. The focus is about “empowerment” to know where to access the knowledge as opposed to making sure that all the knowledge is recalled. Recounting the vast amount of information advisors need to assist callers can take months of training, but that is reduced drastically when the knowledge is held within a tool like Mo.

The objective for advisors is to get them to understand the Motability Operations ethos, how to work with people and provide smooth and caring customer service. That type of training is best done in workshops and amongst people, which is exactly what happens with each new group of recruits. Ask Mo is the virtual agent used to get the trainees up to speed on all other aspects of training, and is pitched as the “go to tool” for queries and processes to enable the advisor to best help the customer on the other end of the phone.

Having collaborated with Creative Virtual since 2007 on Ask Mo, Motability Operations have assessed how the user interfaces will best suit their advisors and have made various amendments to the template based on advisor needs. Recently there has been an added “toolkit” area on the template for advisors to click on and get more information about protocol and handy tips for how to work with various types of calls. The toolkit is an easily accessible area on the template that can be used when an advisor has some downtime and is not taking calls.

Having spent some time in a training room with 10 fresh advisors, I was impressed how the use of Mo was so much engrained as part of the exercises. As they filed out of the room to assess wear and tear on a car, I looked at what they had left behind in the room: 10 monitors with the Ask Mo template showing before the screen savers kicked in. It was clear – if they didn’t know, Ask Mo was indeed ready to assist in the further empowerment of providing an answer.

It is this approach to knowledge management that won Motability Operations a 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Award and consistently has them receiving top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores. It was inspiring to experience first-hand the positive impact Ask Mo is having in onboarding new advisors as well as enabling all advisors, new and old, to always have access to the most up-to-date information.

Be sure to check out Motability Operations’ award-winning case study, Ask Mo: how knowledge gives confidence with customers, to learn more about how they have successfully integrated their virtual agent into their company culture.

Debunking the Myth that Digital Customer Solutions Seem Labor Intensive and Costly to Maintain

By the Creative Virtual Team

Any company considering a new system that will bring about broad changes to their operation has to think about cost. A valuable business platform has a labor and capital cost involved to install and maintain the system: V-Person™ is no different. However, our solution has a few important characteristics that help you keep maintenance costs lower than you might think.

Data Tracking and Analytics

The key to getting better at a high-volume activity like customer communication is tracking and analyzing data. Our V-Portal™ platform features a powerful reporting functionality that can track metrics like:

  • Call deflection
  • First contact resolution
  • Conversion rates
  • Customer satisfaction levels

You can also use V-Portal’s reporting system to determine which questions or concerns are most common. This saves time and money for your support and sales departments because you can update your knowledge databases in accordance with issues that your customers and prospects are actually concerned about.

Additionally, since our virtual assistant is able to analyze your current customer requirements based on customer service chat or phone transcripts, much of the work required to set up a chatbot solution can be done without any labor. We can usually configure your virtual assistant to answer about 80% of your customers’ questions just by reviewing your old customer service transcripts.

Semantic FAQs

One of V-Person’s most powerful features is its ability to make intuitive presumptions and get to an answer on its own, without any direct oversight or input from a team member. These presumptions are based on loose connections made between relevant topics.

For example: if a power company was using V-Person and a customer went to their site and asked the virtual assistant about thunderstorms in their area, the VA would connect thunderstorms with service outages and suggest solutions for a service disruption.

Even though V-Person might not have any information about thunderstorms specifically, the semantic FAQs feature allows it to make an intuitive connection between storms and outages to help the customer. With semantic FAQs, you’ll cut down on customer service calls and minimize the amount of human input necessary to resolve customer issues.

Costs Compared to Support Agents

Though there is a cost to implementing and maintaining the V-Person solution, consider the cost of hiring agents to handle customer concerns. Research shows that the cost-per-contact of a virtual assistant is about 25% of the cost of a live agent chat, and about 10% of the cost of an agent phone call.

In some cases, a virtual assistant solution can even help a company deal with a large-scale staff shortage. Verizon has used virtual assistant technology to improve its customer service and eliminate millions of calls each month, despite a huge reduction in its workforce.

Consider the Lifetime Cost vs. Benefits

There will always be installation and ongoing maintenance costs when using any new business system, especially in an enterprise setting. To determine whether the labor and financial investment is worth it, you must consider not just the cost of the solution, but the cost and labor required to achieve the same results without the solution.

Your company doesn’t need to have access to highly advanced technology or already have artificial intelligence solutions in place. An AI virtual assistant is a solution that can grow with your business – as your organization grows and changes, your virtual assistant will continue to improve its ability to provide excellent customer service and contribute to your business goals.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I presented Creative Virtual’s fourth annual Technology Innovation Showcase with CRMXchange. As I mention every year, this is one of my favourite webinars to do because it’s mostly live demonstrations with very few slides. Seeing the technology in action is the best way to understand how your organisation can implement these solutions to improve your customer experience.

This year’s webinar, Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, focused mostly on bringing together virtual agents and live chat. I started my presentation with some recent statistics from Forrester showing the growing usage of virtual agents and live chat. They summed up this research by saying:

Customers increasingly leverage self-service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction.

The bottom line is that your customers want effortless interactions with your company. There is a generational change taking place, with a new generation of customers who spend more time having text conversations with their friends and loved ones than they do actually talking to them. The last thing in the world they want to do is pick up the phone and speak to your company. Effortless also means brevity. They want to get the answers they need as quickly as possible, so the second to last thing they want to do is get into a lengthy email conversation with your company.

The call centre and contact centre as we know them today are finished. Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers. Smart assistants will learn from how they are being used and adapt as the organisation learns. They won’t be maintained separately, but instead will have feedback loops that help them learn just by the organisation learning in a really seamless way.

We’re already seeing much change in this area but, of course, this won’t happen overnight. There will be a transition to more automation, and combining virtual and real support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will give you the best way to manage that transition. Gartner is also seeing this trend, and they predict that by 2018, 30% of interactions will be via a smart machine such as virtual agent technology.

The combination of natural language virtual agents with live chat or web chat is an ideal way to give customers the effortless interactions they want. With the right integrations in place, your company can provide a seamless and personalised experience. Using a central knowledgebase and feedback loop that are linked with workflow functionality will allow you to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels.

I invite you to watch the recording of this webinar on-demand to see my demonstrations of intelligent virtual agents, the seamless integration of virtual agents with live chat and the industry-defining feedback loop that empowers live agents to consistently improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal jobs.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to schedule a personalised live demo to show you how this technology can help your organisation manage the transition to more automation and provide effortless interactions.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another great Technology Innovation Showcase.

Can V-Person™ customer support platform integrate with existing business databases?

By the Creative Virtual Team

Yes. Our solution was not designed as a platform to operate separately from your other business systems. Instead, we created our virtual assistant with the ability to draw on other tools being used by various departments across the organization. Not only does this make the implementation of your virtual assistant much easier, it enhances the customer experience in a few important ways.

How our self-service customer support solution integrates with other knowledge sources

One example of AI knowledge integration is the practice of uploading content to an artificial intelligence entity so that it can incorporate the information in its day-to-day activities. A great example: in May of 2016, Google uploaded over 11,000 books for its AI to read in an effort to teach it how to write poetry.

This type of manual learning is just one way AI can draw on existing sources of knowledge. In a business context, AI-based digital customer service software can automatically integrate with several important databases:

  • CRM platforms can be queried automatically to determine what type of solutions a customer has purchased and how frequently they buy
  • Accounting databases can be accessed to allow the virtual assistant to see what a customer’s payment status is and remind them of any upcoming or past-due payments
  • Customer support records from phone calls and live chats can be scanned to see if an individual customer has had problems with a certain issue in the past

These are just a few examples – thanks to the prevalence of today’s API economy, our virtual agent can integrate with almost any other system, online service or interactive technology.

V-Portal™: the key to seamless integration with business databases

At this point, you may be wondering exactly how our virtual assistant can integrate with so many different knowledge sources. The reason our customer service tools are so flexible is V-Portal, Creative Virtual’s omnichannel knowledge management system.

When a new client begins implementing our solution, we meet with pertinent team members to get a better understanding of their tools and workflows. We learn which APIs they use and how they apply them within the context of their business procedures.

From there, our clients can use V-Portal to manage workflows and database integration. With V-Portal, clients can:

  • Decide which databases, services or interactive platforms they want their virtual assistant to integrate with
  • Set guidelines for how information is categorized: by product, business line or channel
  • Determine how the virtual assistant uses categories and buyer attributes to offer proactive suggestions
  • Create safeguards that protect against repeated data to ensure customers are presented with unique information

V-Portal allows users to manage these and other functions without any technical or coding knowledge. The portal’s intuitive, visual dashboard uses a drag-and-drop interface that is simple to work with, even on a smartphone or tablet.

Virtual customer service knowledge integration for your business

The most important thing to understand about our customer engagement platform is that all of its integration features are designed to drive sales and customer service goals. We’ve applied knowledge gained from years of working with Fortune 500 banks, telecom providers and hospitality brands to design a robust virtual agent solution that is strengthened by our clients’ existing databases and workflows.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Knowledge Management + Virtual Assistants = Award-Winning Contact Centre Solutions

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In 2015 Motability Operations, a long time Creative Virtual customer, was recognised with the Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture as part of the Customer Contact Innovation Awards presented by The Forum. The judges selected Motability Operations because “their approach to knowledge management builds trust and supports effective conversations, getting it ‘right first time’, optimising call length and – above all – helping advisors give customers confidence.”

This year, The Forum has generously invited Creative Virtual to their annual flagship Customer Strategy and Planning conference, which culminates with the Customer Contact Innovation Awards gala dinner. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, will present a lunchtime showcase to demonstrate the technology behind Motability Operations’ award-winning approach to knowledge management. His session will focus on the powerful uses of combining intelligent virtual assistants with knowledge management and feature several live demonstrations of current customer implementations. He’ll cover breaking down information and departmental silos to create consistency, keeping content accurate with a feedback loop in line with industry best practices, and building confidence with customers while achieving top customer and employee satisfaction scores.

Creative Virtual’s innovative V-Person Contact Centre™ solutions bring together natural language virtual assistant technology with a powerful knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform (V-Portal™). Motability Operations, and their virtual assistant Ask Mo, is a great success story of how this technology can help contact centres reduce agent training times, keep content accurate and consistent, increase first contact resolution and optimise call length.

The Forum’s Customer Strategy and Planning 2016 will be held 25-26 April in Stratford upon Avon. Chris will present his Knowledge Management Showcase on Day 1 of the conference starting at 13:10. Creative Virtual will also be exhibiting and giving individual demonstrations as part of the Conference Expo on both days of the event. More information and the full agenda can be found on The Forum website.

If you aren’t able to attend the conference but would like to learn how the combination of intelligent virtual assistants and knowledge management can help your contact centre achieve success, please request an individual demo.

Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The New Year is here, and with it the much anticipated 2016 predictions, outlooks and trends for just about every industry and field, including customer service. With customer service a key part of the overall customer experience, every organisation should be keeping an eye on developments in the space and evaluating which can help improve support for their existing and potential customers.

Analyst Kate Leggett shared five of her top trends to watch this year in her blog post Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016. Trend number one should come as no surprise: Companies will make self-service easier. Kate reports that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when customers were unable to successfully self-serve, rather than as the initial channel of contact. In 2016, organisations will strive to make self-service easier for customers by looking at their knowledge management strategies and exploring virtual agent solutions.

The themes of self-service and human assistance – and the combination of those channels – also featured prominently when Call Centre Helper turned to their readers and contact centre experts with the question: What Will Happen to the Contact Centre in 2016 and Beyond? One contributor predicted that artificial intelligence will ‘take care of everything’ with only complaints being escalated to a human agent. Another reader looked to self-care options to handle transactional queries but not be able to replace the desire of customers to speak with a human. A third reader declared that as soon as virtual agents pass the Turing Test, ‘it will be Artificial Intelligence all the way!’

While it’s not likely that contact centres will turn to artificial intelligence ‘all the way’ in 2016, it’s important to recognise the impact that advances in natural language virtual agents are having in the customer service space today. Once stand-alone tools only able to answer basic questions, they are now sophisticated Smart Help solutions proven to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing support costs for organisations. Virtual agents are great at handling transactional queries, including personalised, account-specific questions and tasks, thanks to advanced integration options. When backed by the right knowledge management platform, virtual agents can easily be deployed across customer channels, including web, mobile and social, to make consistent, accurate self-service easier for both companies and their customers.

The virtual agents of 2016 are also designed to be complementary to live chat and other human-assisted support channels, with seamless escalation from self-service to a human agent. They are being successfully deployed within contact centres to support live agents and assure consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels. Through real-time and Voice of the Customer reporting, virtual agents are also giving organisations incredible insight into customer questions and behaviours that help improve their customer service strategies.

With customer preferences shifting towards easy self-service, there’s no better time than 2016 for organisations to explore the combination of virtual and human agents to create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.

CBD in Arabic: “Upside down and right-to-left”

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

It’s been very exciting times recently as we prepared the launch of an Arabic version of Commercial Bank of Dubai’s (CBD) Virtual Assistant Sara. Building a virtual assistant in Arabic turned the interface and our natural language processing upside down.

Or, to be precise, it flipped it from left-to-right to right-to-left.

Once again, we saw the advantages of our rule based approach: Starting from the English version of Sara, we created a language library and a CBD knowledgebase in parallel. Doing this, we focused on the content needed for the project at hand, without having to start with complicated language models, grammars and whatnot. A quite straightforward process managed by the Netherlands and UK offices, in collaboration with the client who provided the business content while we looked at the natural language processing side of things. As V-Engine™ is language agnostic anyway, most of the work happened in V-Portal™ and soon we were having the first conversations in Arabic. My Arabic is non-existent unfortunately, so my own “dialogues” consisted of copying a question into the input field and enjoying the beauty of Arabic lettering. Proper tests were carried out by Arabic speakers at Creative Virtual and by CBD.

We learned a great deal about handling Arabic and similar languages and, as can be expected, had a few unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The nice part of the learning exercise was, in fact, how smoothly various people can work largely independently on business content, language processing rules, knowledgebase structure and scripting, with only the first two tasks requiring any skills in Arabic! A successful approach that has since then been applied to the creation of other language cores.

Soon we had dealt with all the issues, localized the UI, added Sara to the English site at cbd.ae and created a little language detection in both versions of Sara which make her offer a switch to the respective other language. You can also easily switch languages through a link in the UI. And now, conversation logs in Arabic are rolling in. Seems like the times will be very exciting a bit longer!

If you want to know more about Arabic Sara, check out our official announcement and read CBD’s Customer Success Story.

2015 FStech Awards Shortlist Includes Smart Help Solution from Creative Virtual

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

We’re excited to start off the year with the announcement that Creative Virtual has been named as a finalist for the 2015 FStech Awards in the category of ‘Online Technology Provider of the Year’. In its 15th year, the FStech Awards programme recognises excellence and innovation in the field of information technology within the UK and EMEA financial services sector. This year the winners will be announced on 26 March at a Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony in London.

Our shortlisted entry featured the Smart Help solution currently deployed for TSB, specifically the additional integration and functionality released during 2014 to further improve the online customer experience by creating one central system for asking questions. Through the ability to continually monitor the solution’s performance and learn from real-time customer feedback, the Smart Help tool, as well as the overall customer experience, can constantly be improved. During 2014, TSB also addressed the growing popularity of mobile devices by deploying their virtual agent in an adaptive template.

Lorraine Donington, Head of Digital User Experience at TSB said:

“It’s great to hear that TSB and Creative Virtual have been shortlisted for the FStech Awards. It’s important to us that people can bank with TSB the way they want to, whether that’s in a branch, on the phone, via an app or online. Improving the customer experience on our website is therefore a key focus area, and working with Creative Virtual has helped us to do that.”

The financial services industry is becoming increasingly competitive and facing an ever growing demand from customers for easy access to banking options and information 24/7. With Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ for Finance solutions, financial organisations can escape traditional bankers’ hours by offering on-demand self-service solutions around the clock and deliver a personalised, customer-centric experience that helps drive brand loyalty.

You can find a full list of entries shortlisted for the 2015 FStech Awards here.

Analyst Report: A Very Good Report Card for V-Person™ Technology

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The Patricia Seybold Group, a strategic advisory service for customer-centric executives, recently released their second evaluation of Creative Virtual’s V-Person technology. This independent report, written by Mitch Kramer, Senior Consultant and titled Creative Virtual V-Person: Delivering Personalized Answers to Customers’ Questions, serves as a follow-up to the original review produced in 2012. In the report, Mitch evaluates our virtual agent technology against a rigorous set of customer-focused criteria important to organisations that want to improve customer experience, increase brand loyalty and reduce customer support costs.

The detailed, 37-page analysis takes a deep dive into V-Person and V-Portal™ (our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform) and outlines how our technology can be used to deploy virtual agents on web, mobile, social and IVR channels to answer customers’ questions directly or through guided, question and answer dialogs. It also highlights the significant improvements and increased functionality added to our solutions since the previous report.  Mitch writes:

“V-Portal is a product strength and competitive differentiator. Personalized answers and knowledge management are V-Person’s most significant strengths and differentiators. V-Person is currently the only virtual agent offering with packaged personalization.”

The report describes personalisation as a ‘significant step forward’ for virtual assistant technology and credits V-Person as being the first to implement this functionality. This new personalised customer service capability is mentioned as an attractive option for account management scenarios in financial services, government, healthcare, telecommunications and travel.

V-Person earns very good grades on the Virtual Assisted-Service Report Card with an ‘Exceeds Requirements’ evaluation in the categories of Answers, Analysis and Matching, and Analytic Functionality. The report recommends that large B2C and B2B organisations and government agencies implement V-Person to deliver cross-channel virtual customer support, lower cost to serve and improve customer satisfaction.

A complimentary copy of this comprehensive review of V-Person technology can be requested here.