Navigating the Chatbot Confusion in 2018

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The new year is here, and with it has come much of the confusion from last year about chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) and how it all fits with your organisation’s business goals. It’s easy to get swept up in the media hype. For some that means approaching chatbot and virtual agent projects with inflated expectations, and for others that leads to a scepticism about it all being a passing fad.

At Creative Virtual, we’ve always taken pride in the relationships we’ve built with our customers, guiding them through best practices for implementing this technology and keeping their solutions successful year after year. Recently we’ve seen our ability to act as expert consultants become more important than ever.

I’m proud to share that our industry expertise has won us two awards as part of Corporate Vision Magazine’s 2017 Consultancy & Advisory Awards: Best Self-Service Solutions Advisory Firm 2017 and Digital Marketing Consultant of the Year 2017 – UK. Congratulations to the whole Creative Virtual team!

There are several different aspects to our consultancy role in the industry. One part is general education about the technology to help dispel the confusion created from the media hype and overpromising of some industry vendors. This involves speaking at industry events around the world, presenting on webinars and publishing educational materials. A few resources I recommend you check out:

  • AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth – In this webinar, which is now available to watch on-demand, I dive into the confusion, false claims and inflated expectations to separate the truth from the myth. I share a realistic look at machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space and present a series of live demonstrations of the technology.
  • Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! – This educational whitepaper walks readers through the various names and terminology being used in the industry, tips for selecting a system to meet your objectives and current use cases for conversational self-service.
  • AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre – In this whitepaper, readers will get a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer experience space and how this technology is impacting the contact centre. It also covers ways you can leverage chatbots and virtual agents to prepare your contact centre for the future.

Our team also provides one-on-one advice and guidance for organisations. We’re passionate about helping businesses select the right solutions, guiding them step-by-step through the implementation process and then ensuring their deployments continue to meet the changing needs of users. We also continuously look for new and innovative ways our technology can be used to meet business needs. For example, we were helping organisations deploy virtual agents for employee self-service long before industry analysts were talking about that as a potential use case.

I firmly believe that just as important as choosing the right technology is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions. Contact us to learn more about how the expert Creative Virtual team can help you navigate the chatbot confusion as you look to implement your 2018 support strategies.

CXM 2017: Meeting New CX Challenges in India

By Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director, India

According to a recent study, the number of internet users in India is expected to reach 600 million by 2020, nearly double the approximately 343 million users currently. A big factor in this growth is the increasing availability and adoption of smartphones. As the world’s second largest mobile phone market, India is predicted to see a growth from 240 million smartphone subscriptions to 520 million by 2020. With more and more customers becoming digitally connected, companies in India are facing new challenges when it comes to building a happy, loyal customer base.

For this reason, creating world-class customer experiences for digitally inspired and demanding customers is the focus of Customer Experience Management 2017, India’s largest customer experience event. CXM 2017, which is being held on February 3rd in Mumbai, will feature insights on how organizations can transform their experiences to meet the heightened expectations of progressively sophisticated, diverse and demanding customers. As the event’s Omni Channel Partner, Creative Virtual is looking forward to showcasing our suite of Smart Help solutions and sharing insights into how enterprises around the world are using these tools to increase customer engagement, reduce customer support costs and increase revenue.

The increasing adoption of smartphones, both in India and globally, is forever altering the way customers engage with businesses. Expectations for instant 24/7 customer service options are becoming the norm. Organizations need to move away from the traditional approach to customer experience and make investments in delivering easy, seamless and personalized smart help across digital channels. In order to remain competitive, they must provide a fully-integrated, omnichannel customer experience that matches with the growing demands of their customer base.

During CXM 2017, I’ll be joining the ‘Analyzing Customer Voice’ panel discussion to specifically talk about how social media is changing the way digitally savvy customers interact with brands. They now have the ability to share their opinions – good and bad – about products and companies with a global audience almost instantly. Organizations need to pay attention to the viewpoints customers are sharing on social channels, but it can be a challenge to know where to start. As a panelist, I’ll share insights into how companies can effectively analyze and apply the customers’ voice to positively impact their customer experience strategies and effectively use this information to their advantage across geographies, cultures and markets.

I hope you’ll join us in Mumbai at the beginning of February for what promises to be an inspiring day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities. My panel discussion on ‘Analyzing Customer Voice’ is set to begin at 11:30. You can learn more and register for the event on the CXM 2017 website.

If you aren’t able to attend, be sure to request your own personalized demo to learn more about our omnichannel smart help solutions.

Messaging Apps: Over 3 Billion Users and Counting

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Times are a-changin’. After a transatlantic phone call with me several years ago, my now 94-year-old grandfather marvelled to my parents about how clear the line was and how easy it was to understand what I was saying. It was nothing like the international calls he used to get from his sister many, many years earlier! Compare that with the expectations of my 4-year-old niece. I recently had to explain to her what a payphone is (or was!). For her, it’s normal to be able to FaceTime with me even if we have the Atlantic Ocean between us.

Technology is changing and so is the way we communicate with each other. There certainly is a generational change taking place. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are quickly growing in popularity. A recent Forrester report identified the top three apps as being WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger with more than 1 billion active users each, and WeChat with 806 million active users. Users are increasingly turning to these and other messaging apps to communicate with each other. While one study found that consumers currently prefer SMS over messaging apps for communicating with businesses (see chart below), the results showed that they are also open to engaging with companies through these platforms too.

Mobile messaging with businesses

So why should organisations care? According to Forrester’s The Future of Messaging Apps report, messaging apps combine the three keys to powerful digital relationships: frequency of use, emotional connection and convenience. This makes them a prime channel to deepen conversations with customers. In China, a typical customer in a metro area spends 10.4 hours a week using WeChat and over half of them open the app more than 10 times per day. Messaging apps are also achieving some of the highest interaction rates for both UK and US customers according to Forrester. Brands would be foolish to ignore this opportunity to allow customers to engage with them through these platforms.

Earlier this year Facebook created a buzz with their announcement of chatbots to allow businesses to deliver automated service and support to customers through Facebook Messenger. While technologies such as natural language processing, machine learning, AI and semantic search are currently viewed as being part of a separate market, Forrester sees them as blurring the lines between messaging apps and chatbots in the future. With the popularity of apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, it’s likely that these will be the platforms where customers will cultivate their expectations of AI-based tools, such as intelligent virtual agents.

Chatbots and virtual agents are perfect tools for offering self-service through both messaging apps and SMS. For companies already providing these solutions on other channels such as their website, it’s a no brainer to extend the virtual agent to a messaging platform. By using the same knowledgebase, organisations create consistency across channels and eliminate the cost and time involved with maintaining separate tools. For companies not currently offering a virtual agent, messaging apps are a great way to introduce customers to self-service chatbots. And because the same knowledgebase can be used for self-service across other customer contact channels, they can quickly and easily deploy their conversational virtual agent to those channels to create a consistent experience and maximise their investment.

Companies do need to be careful though when selecting a chatbot solution for platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. Deploying a siloed solution that’s not integrated with other systems can be detrimental to the ultimate goal of providing a seamless, omnichannel experience. The five point checklist Choosing a Virtual Agent Solution for Instant Messaging Platforms and SMS outlines some important questions for organisations to ask before adding a chatbot to these channels.

As Forrester analyst Thomas Husson writes on his blog, “Messaging apps will introduce a paradigm shift for marketers where interactive and contextual conversations will replace ad broadcasting. New conversational interfaces will drive deeper relationships between consumers and brands.” Times are a-changin’ and organisations that don’t change with them are going to be left in the dust.

[Part 3] How Top Banks Leverage IVAs to Enable Self-Service: The Integration of IVAs in Non-Traditional Channels

By Richard Simons, CEO of Creative Virtual USA

This is the third post in our seven-part blog series – How Top Banks Leverage Intelligent Virtual Assistants to Enable Self-Service.

THE INTEGRATION OF INTELLIGENT VIRTUAL AGENTS IN NON-TRADITIONAL CHANNELS

We’re increasingly seeing smart machines like our intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) being integrated into various systems to help people self-serve and create a more efficient use of human resources. Typically, IVAs have been used online and with live chat, but some of our clients are being creative with their deployments, even creating a customer engagement hub that reduces customer effort and helps them find information faster. Here are four non-traditional ways our clients are deploying IVAs in non-traditional channels.

Mobile

More customers want access to customer support from their mobile devices, and our apps are being configured to ensure the optimum experience for customers. For example, some virtual agents are built as standalone app and some mobile apps contain a link to a intelligent virtual agent that is integrated into their regionalization. When people ask questions, the virtual agent knows where they are and can provide specific information based on their geography.

For example, when a customer asks, “Where’s my nearest store?,” the typical result would be to deliver a webpage that asks the user to provide more information such as zip code. With an IVA, when a user asks the same question, the IVA immediately provides the retail locations nearest to them. This makes it effortless for the user and deflects calls from the call center. Using V-Person™ technology, clients are receiving contact deflection rates of up to 80%.

Social Media

  • Twitter: Clients can use their IVA on Twitter. Rather than having the user type a question into Twitter of 140 characters of less, they can just click the link to the IVA and type their specific question. Since the IVA can be linked to their personal account, they can get a personalized answer directly on Twitter without leaving the site.
  • Facebook: Our clients are using IVAs on Facebook. Customers can ask questions in the Facebook environment, and receive answers without leaving Facebook. They can also be linked to the appropriate page on the brand’s website, or escalated to live chat, IVR or a live agent.
  • Forums: Our technology is being used by another client within Lithium forums. Users post questions which gets parsed using our smart V-Person™ technology. If we have an answer it will be automatically posted to the forum. Our surveys show that 40% of questions posted in a forum can be answered by an IVA.

CRM Systems

  • Process Integration: Clients are linking their IVAs with CRM software like Salesforce and Siebel to help customers activate their software. When a customers gets an error code during activation, the IVA pops up and takes them through a process. We’ve seen an 80% reduction in human intervention in this process of validating their software licenses.
  • Support Ticketing: Clients have also integrated their IVAs with the Salesforce ticketing system. IVAs look at the tickets, and automatically offer a solution or answer to the inquiry. The ticket will remain in the Salesforce queue until the customer says, “Yes, you’ve answered my question.”

Call Centers & IVR Systems

  • Call Center: Clients are deploying IVAs within their call centers to increase agent productivity and increase overall customer satisfaction. Using our knowledge management system, V-Portal™, they are leveraging their ability to reuse all of the natural language and understanding of common customer questions to provide different answers to the call center where appropriate.
  • IVR: One of the big concepts that we’ve helped our customers with is that customers 1) don’t want to repeat themselves and 2) want first interaction resolution. It’s easy to do this in live chat because you can just pass the conversation through to the live agent, but you can also pass conversations through to the IVR. If the customer asks a question that needs to be escalated to the IVR channel, they are given a smart route through the IVR without having to go through the traditional channels. This proves to be faster for the user, and a more effective use of the IVR.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Stay tuned for the fourth part of this blog series – Using an Intelligent Virtual Agent to Increase Sales. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss a post.

Did you miss the previous posts? Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Offering Mobile and Social Support for Increased Customer Engagement

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

It’s impossible to have a comprehensive discussion about customer engagement without raising the topics of mobile and social. Customers are on the go and expect in-the-moment service, literally at their fingertips. They are increasingly taking to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and community forums to seek support and air their complaints. Organisations that ignore these channels are missing out on prime opportunities to engage with customers and risk being branded as out-of-touch with consumer lifestyle.

During my recent presentation at Internet World, Creating a Mobile and Social Experience for Your Customer’s Lifestyle, I took on these two hot customer experience topics. As our lifestyles change as consumers, so do our preferred channels for communicating with companies. Traditional contact channels such as call centre and email are declining in popularity while Facebook, Twitter and mobile are all on the rise. And our expectations as customers continue to increase as we continue to be empowered by new technologies.

That leaves organisations the question of where to begin with social and mobile engagement. I recommend following these three steps:

  1. Get to know the mobile & social customer – Before you can successfully engage with your customers, you need to get to know them. Gartner predicts that by 2015, at least 60% of the Internet users will opt for mobile customer service as their first option, and CeBIT reports that 71% of consumers receiving a quick brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others. Educate yourself on the research and studies out there and then determine how those statistics apply to your customer base.
  2. Create consistency across channels – To be in sync with current customer lifestyle takes more than just offering engagement options on mobile and social platforms. You must ensure that regardless of the channel the customer chose, they are receiving a consistent, accurate and personalised experience across the board. The key to doing this is knowledge management. Implement a knowledge management tool that will allow you to eliminate departmental and information silos and manage all content from one platform. Then you will be able to easily identify gaps in information and deliver consistent messaging across all channels.
  3. Offer a convenient customer experience – Intelligent virtual assistants are a great way to offer engagement options that are convenient for your customer’s lifestyle. With this technology you can be where your customers are, including mobile and social channels, with self-service choices that are available 24/7. Flexible integration options create a seamless experience across channels even when a customer must be escalated from virtual to live agent. And because virtual assistants can be deployed across channels via one knowledge management platform, you can ensure customers are always receiving accurate and consistent answers.

There are some great examples of companies already offering convenient and accurate support on mobile and social channels. During my presentation I was able to give live demonstrations of a couple of these implementations. You can check out National Rail Enquiries’ ‘Ask Lisa’ on their company Facebook page, the HTML5 virtual assistant template offered by RSPCA on a mobile device, and Autodesk’s use of their Virtual Agent to troubleshoot on Twitter. If you’d like to see more, please get in touch and a member of the Creative Virtual team will be happy to give you a personalised demo.

My thanks to the event organisers for inviting me back to speak for a second year at Internet World. It was another great experience, and I’m already looking forward to the 2015 event. If you missed my session, you can view my presentation on SlideShare.

Join Me at Internet World 2014 for My Session on Creating a Mobile & Social Experience for Your Customer’s Lifestyle

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In today’s world, social and mobile platforms have become a lifestyle. Smart companies know that customers will connect with them on smartphones before work, from computers during the day and from tablets in the evening. Customers are looking for, and expect, an experience that is convenient for their lifestyle, regardless of how inconvenient those demands might be for your organisation. And research shows that if you don’t provide that experience, they will leave you for a competitor that can.

On Wednesday, 18th June I will be sharing more about creating a mobile and social experience that fits with customer lifestyles as a speaker at Internet World 2014. My session will begin at 10:30 am in the Mobile Theatre and marks my second consecutive year presenting at this event. After my great experience in 2013, I’m thrilled to be back as a speaker again this year. I’m also excited to be addressing mobile and social engagement—two hot topics in customer experience management. I’ll be sharing insight into the mobile and social customer and tips for creating the consistent and convenient experience that fits with their expectations.

As the flagship event of London Technology Week, Internet World is being held 17-19 June at ExCel London. Online registration for the event is quick, easy and free. I hope to see you there!

How Intelligent Virtual Assistants Can Transform the Social Channel

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager

Intelligent virtual assistants have brought customer service a long way from the days of the switchboard operator in the 1960s. Back then who could have guessed that one day a virtual person could play the same role answering thousands of questions in what would equate to light years for a human being. And now, with social networks becoming a mainstay of communication, virtual agents are working their way into the fabric of social conversation.

When used in the social channel intelligent virtual agents can do wonders. They are valuable from both the customer and company perspective. Not only can they hold conversations using natural language that is similar to a live person, they can host thousands of conversations all at once. Human capital is expensive when maintaining the social channel so leveraging different levels of automation can help companies better focus their resources on higher value interactions with their fans and followers.

With the ability to use natural language instead of key word searches virtual assistants enable organisations to provide low cost access to both general and personalised information while empowering customers to service themselves on-demand. To see some virtual agents in action on Facebook and Twitter, check how these clients are doing it below:

Ask Lisa on Facebook

Ask TSB on Twitter

Ask Verizon on Facebook

National Rail Enquiries Launches Virtual Agent “Ask Lisa” on Facebook

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

Creative Virtual and their partner The Virtual Zone have enhanced social media Virtual Agent technology with the launch of National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa on the company’s Facebook page.  Instead of simply having the website Virtual Agent accessible from Facebook, Ask Lisa has been integrated into the Facebook page as an app.  This allows the user experience to remain in one location, so there is no need to leave Facebook or open another window.

nre facebook lisa1

This advancement in Virtual Agent technology shows how the Virtual Agent can be placed in a number of locations and presented in different layouts.  Facebook Virtual Agents such as these are easy to implement, since the knowledgebase from the website Virtual Agent is re-used in a new context.

While having a conversation with the Virtual Agent, the user is able to “like” the Virtual Agent answers, which are then displayed on their Facebook wall.  This serves as an excellent method of viral marketing for companies like National Rail Enquiries, since Facebook users are able to see the interactions others had with the Virtual Agent.   If someone clicks on an answer, they are taken directly to the Virtual Agent Facebook interface.

From an analytics perspective, having a Virtual Agent within Facebook is very beneficial to the company as well.  The Virtual Agent is able to gather profile data about the users with which it has conversations, and this gives the company a more complete picture of their customer than they get from website Virtual Agent analytics, such as the user’s interests, age, job, etc.

Click here to chat with Facebook Lisa about the National Rail network in Great Britain (she is located just under the cover photo on the company’s Facebook page).  To find out more about Virtual Agent innovations, visit Creative Virtual and The Virtual Zone.

Incorporating Social CRM Into Virtual Agent Technology

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

Maximizing your company’s social media presence and delivering an excellent customer experience go hand in hand. When deciding whether to go with a certain product or company, individuals are much more likely to listen to the opinion of a fellow customer than to a company advertisement. For this reason, it makes sense to combine social media with a company’s customer relationship management system.

Social media is a simple, yet cost-effective, way for customers to engage with your brand, and to listen to what people are saying about your company and/or product. Social media presence can come not only from social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, but also online product reviews and a company’s online community, which can be a very useful resource for support.

Creative Virtual and Lithium Community Software have partnered to provide an advancedask tina intuit strategy for combining Virtual Agent technology with online customer communities for clients such as Intuit and Verizon. When a customer asks a question, Intuit’s Ask Tina is able to respond with not only knowledgebase answers, but answers provided from Intuit’s online community, along with links back to the community where many customers engage. Go to Quickbooks Canada and click “Chat with Tina Now” under “Ask Intuit” along the right side; inquire about “Working with your upgraded company file in Quickbooks 2010”, and the Intuit Community page is offered as a clickable link option in the bottom right corner of the pop-up. Incorporating community discussion into the Virtual Agent experience reduces customer service costs because many problems can be easily solved peer-to-peer, saving a call to the call center.

Verizon’s online community also serves as a keen resource for the company’s Virtual Agent, Ask Verizon. Launch the Virtual Agent, select the FiOS TV tab and ask “Why won’t my Media Manager function properly?” The Virtual Agent answers with a notification that a peer-to-peer forum answer has been found for that question, with a link to the forum post. Click on the link and a screen pops up with several helpful questions and answers from other users on the topic.

Content promoted from the community drives down the cost of knowledge creation, and helps keep current information available to customers. Any product issues that multiple customers have posted about are identified by Creative Virtual’s system and used to update the knowledgebase with current information that will assist users experiencing that issue. This allows them to stay on top of any pressing support needs, and integrate community conversations into everyday customer support.

From a sales perspective, this integration is also effective because community entries can influence customers to purchase a particular product, or present new, innovative ideas to the company. Whether you realize it or not, your customers are actually advertising for you. Why not take advantage of it?

Twitter is another great tool for listening to what your customers think about your company and/or product.The Virtual Zone has created an excellent Twitter tool that allows companies to listen to customers’ particular tweets about their company or product, using sentiment analysis (an application of natural language processing). The tweets are sorted by sentiment (positive, negative, question or comment) and subject. Response tweets can be automated or done manually. For more information, visit The Virtual Zone blog.

Below is a video demonstration of Creative Virtual and Lithium’s strategy: