Creative Virtual Brings Google Search Functionality to Their Virtual Assistants

by Mandy Reed, Global Marketing Manager

Creative Virtual Ltd has taken web self-service to the next level for two more customers with their recent integration of Google search functionality with the V-Person™ (virtual agent) solutions deployed on the Milton Keynes Council and Renault UK websites.

ask shak 2Milton Keynes Council’s online virtual assistant Shak now has the added power of Google search. When a user asks a question or enters a keyword, Shak searches both the V-Person knowledgebase and the Milton Keynes Council website for matches. Results of the site search are displayed in the ‘Google Search Results’ tab and, when no matches are found in the virtual assistant knowledgebase, in a page loaded in the background. This integration means that visitors to the Council’s website are now able to find the answers to all their queries with the ease of one user friendly interface.

Visitors to the Renault UK website now also experience an updated and improved automated online assistant. Whether launched from the site search box or via the link on the Contact page, the user now benefits from the extensive information in the ‘Ask Renault’ knowledgebase and a search of the website within one convenient tool. To accommodate this additional functionality, Renault has released a new V-Person template which allows both the ‘Question & Answer’ pair and ‘Search Results’ to be displayed in the same interface. Users can easily click between the tabs to find a complete answer to their query.

Learn more about Milton Keynes Council’s most recent updates to ‘Ask Shak’ here.

And more about the Renault UK integration here.

Virtual Agents Enter the Mobile Device Realm

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

Mobile devices are playing an increasing role in the lives of millions of people across the world, across all generations. As more and more online technologies deploy into the mobile realm, Virtual Agent technology is following this trend. Apple’s implementation of Siri, the voice-to-text virtual assistant feature they have added to the iPhone 4S, opened the world’s eyes to mobile Virtual Agent technology. Android also has added Vlingo, a similar feature that combines voice-to-text and voice recognition technology with its powerful “intent engine” to help users complete their desired action.

There are several key factors that make Creative Virtual’s mobile Virtual Agent an excellent online customer service solution:

    • It provides an immediate response to a customer’s inquiry.  Creative Virtual’s conversational transaction processing provides them with a straight forward answer to their question, instead of multiple and often confusing search results to choose from.
    • Transactions take place in a conversational style similar to Instant Messaging, which is a familiar interface to mobile users. Transactions require fewer clicks to complete and this leads to a quicker answer.
    • It makes excellent use of the restricted real estate on a mobile device, making it easier for the user to navigate and view what they need.
    • It provides easy escalation to Live Chat or Call Back in the same window if the Virtual Agent cannot provide an answer, so the user doesn’t have to navigate elsewhere on the website for further assistance.
    • The HTML5 interface runs across all mobile platforms without the need for specific apps.

Creative Virtual developed their mobile Virtual Agent device strategy with these needs in mind. Existing natural language processing is re-used, so implementing mobile content is simple, efficient and easy to maintain.mobile pic 4 cropped

The integration with the mobile platform our strategy offers make it possible to locate nearby services easily (bank branches, doctors’ offices, etc.). The system is also able to easily provide customer specific account information (e.g. “What is my account balance?” or “What are my outstanding orders?”). Creative Virtual’s mobile Virtual Agent technology is easy to scale, with a low cost per conversation.

As opposed to using specific apps, which can be expensive to create and maintain, Creative Virtual uses a simpler method of deploying their mobile V-Person™ that is just as effective: a browser interface that runs across all mobile platforms. The browser takes advantagemobile pic 5 cropped of specific device features on mobile devices and is easy to use. This is made possible by the use of HTML5, an emerging web standard that offers a device and manufacturer independent path. For more information on HTML5, check out this article from CNN Money.

Creative Virtual has implemented a mobile Virtual Agent browser version of Ask Verizon, which in 2010 brought on a dramatic increase in traffic for Verizon. The mobile version of Verizon’s V-Person is closely integrated with their backend systems, allowing users to find both general information, such as payment locations, and specific account information, such as their current balance. Many people are checking their account information and making payments while on the go.

Deployment on mobile devices is likely to expand the popularity of Virtual Agents. In his article “The Rise of Artificial Intelligence Personal Assistant”, Gregory Roekens predicts that “mobile is what will catapult [artificial intelligence] into adoption.” This, according to Roekens, is due to a smartphone’s ability to imitate the human cognitive process. “It can perceive through sensors that can not only replicate human senses (camera, touchscreen, microphone), but actually do more (geo-location, compass, etc.).” Indeed, the mobile platform allows Virtual Agents to assist users more intimately than on a computer.

Virtual Agents Intercept Online Security Issues

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

One of the many beneficial uses that companies have found a virtual agent brings to their website is the resolution of login recovery and security issues. This is beneficial to the customers as well, because 65% of consumers prefer online support, and would rather not have to waste a phone call. It makes sense, then, that something as common as a forgotten password or username, or other personal security issue, should be handled online.

Forrester analyst Diane Clarkson wrote a great article around this issue entitled “Reducing the Call Center Cost of Login Recovery Should be a Top E-Business Priority”. Her research concluded that of the calls coming in to most business-to-consumer companies’ call centers, a whopping 30-40% of them are regarding login issues. The cost of resolving these issues is outrageous, ranging from $250,000 to $1,000,000 out of the company’s budget per year. It’s no wonder so many of these companies are in search of alternatives. hsbc olivia screenshot 2

Creative Virtual was first approached by HSBC as they were preparing to introduce new security measures for Personal Internet Banking accounts. Ask Olivia was developed to answer customer questions about the new Secure Key and staying safe while banking online. This virtual agent is conveniently located on the Security Centre page as well as the Personal Internet Banking log-in pages allowing customers to find answers about online security any time of the day or night without a phone call.

Ask Verizon, Verizon’s virtual agent developed by Creative Virtual, has also served as a log-in assistant for the millions of Verizon customers that have an online account for TV, phone and/or Internet. If customers forget their username and password, Ask Verizon easily walks them through the steps of recovering the information. Login recovery is a customer service issue that can be easily resolved, as long as website visitors know where to go and what steps to take. That is where virtual agents provide a cost effective and convenient solution. By having intelligent virtual agents available to provide support online, call centers can focus on other issues that actually require a live person.

For the latest news and updates on Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology and implementations, please visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Virtual Travel Agents Pave the Way to Your Next Destination

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

When booking a vacation, there are multiple factors and details that need to be taken into account, such as destination, timeframe, hotel accommodations and price. Meeting all of your criteria can be a challenge, but now more and more travel websites are implementing automated virtual travel agents on their websites to help you find what you are looking for at no cost.

on_the_beach_alison_screenshotUsing a virtual agent can speed up the process of booking a trip, which can become time-consuming and stressful due to the number of factors that must be coordinated and specific criteria that must be met. Many times people are looking for simple details such as what airlines are available or what time their reservation is at, which can be easily answered by a virtual agent. Having a virtual agent as a central point of reference on the website makes a huge difference, and it also encourages more people to book online.

Since the launch of On the Beach’s Ask Alison, developed by Creative Virtual, incoming calls to the call center have been reduced by 20-30% per week, allowing live service agents to better assist clients who need to speak to a human with more complex reservation issues. On the Beach is a UK-based company that offers cheap flight and hotel deals to top destinations around the world. Among Alison’s skills are assistance with destination decisions, hotel and airline options, online check-in and even the ability to provide users with current weather conditions for the specific destination the customer is traveling to. Ask Alison also serves as an excellent marketing tool for hotels and airlines that are booked through the On the Beach website. The template for Ask Alison features a context sensitive customer service/promotional area on the bottom right so that a variety of clickable images are displayed depending on the user input.

National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa, also developed by Creative Virtual and their partner The Virtual Zone, went live in 2007 on the NRE website. National Rail Enquiries is the source of information for all passenger rail services on the National Rail network in England, Wales and Scotland. With over one hundred million website visits per year and 12,900ask lisa with border1 pages on the website, the company was very much in need of virtual agent to assist customers in finding the specific answers they need to plan their journey. Lisa is able to give specific information about each station, including car park prices and ticket office opening times, as well as updates on service interruptions. Through integration with the website’s Journey Planner, she is able to enter travel details given to her by the user to walk them through the planning process.Ask Lisa answers an average of 9,000 questions every day.

The September 2011 article “Eight Cardinal Sins of Online Customer Service In Travel” highlights some of the issues many travel websites are experiencing in customer service, such as failure to give real-time updates, delayed responses and lack of clarity. Virtual travel agents can remove these issues for online customer service on travel websites. On the Beach customers making last-minute travel plans do not have to worry about delayed email responses or call center hours with Ask Alison available 24/7 and positioned prominently on the website. Also, with Alison there to manage the wealth of options available on the website and present the right ones to the customer depending on their criteria, making the right decision becomes easier and less confusing for the customer. National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa is updated with real time travel information every 2 minutes and station information every night.

As the weather starts to cool, travel websites’ customer service technology begins to heat up. These innovations are bound to greatly reduce the unnecessary stress that can sometimes take place leading up to an otherwise much-anticipated holiday.

Click here for more information on Ask Alison, On the Beach’s virtual agent.

Click here for more information on Ask Lisa, National Rail Enquiries’ virtual agent.

Creative Virtual Grabs Attention at LivePerson’s Aspire 2011

by Jessica Cody, Marketing Manager

Creative Virtual exhibited their virtual assistant and Live Chat integration at Aspire 2011, the LivePersonCustomer Summit, October 24-26 in New York City’s Chelsea Arts District.  The global customer summit focused on intelligent consumer engagement, with numerous keynote speakers from LivePerson, their customers and the partners that have helped develop their applications.  The event had a turnout of about 350 attendees, who exchanged ideas of how to better engage their customers and drive sales through the use of Live Chat, along with other web self service products.  The event was a meeting of the minds for many professionals in business development, customer relationship management, sales, marketing and beyond.  Creative Virtual’s clients O2, Verizon and Intuit attended the conference.  Other companies that attended include Capital One, PETCO, Adobe Systems and ICON Health and Fitness.

Creative Virtual, who has a strategic partnership with LivePerson, showcased theilucy_screenshotr seamless virtual assistant and Live Chat integration for O2 at their exhibition booth.  When questions are asked to Lucy, O2’s online virtual agent, she provides an automated response.  However, if the question may require more personalized assistance, Lucy escalates the user to a customer service advisor, and there is a change in avatar to signify the user is now speaking to a live agent.  There was much buzz around the subject after Richard Clarke, Head of Self Service at O2, demonstrated the integration as well in his Tuesday morning presentation, “How to Create Fans and Influence People”.  “About two-thirds of people that speak to Lucy on our website do not need to go anywhere else for support,” Clarke stated on Tuesday.  He also mentioned that there are approximately the same amount of people that speak to Lucy as those that use LivePerson’s Live Chat.

The integration offers much convenience, because those looking for answers can find them all in one place without having to open any other windows or go to a different place on the website.  Also, when the user is passed to Live Chat, a copy of the conversation is provided to the live agent, so no time is wasted rehashing the customer’s issue they are trying to resolve.  With Lucy as the first point of contact, the Live Chat agent’s time is utilized more productively.

All in all, therobert locascio liveperson event was a great learning experience.  Ideas were generated, and connections were made.  There was much positive energy shared around a common goal: making a better experience for the customer.  The message gained from Aspire 2011 was that a happier customer and happier company go hand in hand.  As Robert LoCascio, CEO of LivePerson, said in his closing statement on Wednesday, “The best customer support is our people being themselves.  It’s creating meaning in the world.  It goes beyond selling software.  It’s something we have to live.”  Creative Virtual looks forward to pursuing new opportunities through their partnership with LivePerson.

The Impact of Intelligent Virtual Agents on Financial Services

The financial services sector is one of the fastest-growing markets for intelligent virtual agent technology. With more and more people doing their daily banking, investing and trading online, the need for customers to have online help is greater than ever before. Implementing a virtual agent allows companies to provide instant assistance to their customers when and where they need it most.

hsbc olivia screenshot 2Virtual agents are successful in the financial services industry because they are able to answer commonly asked questions such as how to log into an account, how to retrieve a forgotten password, where to check an account balance, where to sign up for a new credit card, and how to open a new account. Informational sites such as those in the financial services industry have a higher call avoidance than troubleshooting sites. Where the virtual agent knows that a question cannot be answered online, it can provide an escalation path to live chat and call center help.  Based on information from back end systems, intelligent virtual agents can provide accurate and customized answers for users instantly. These systems are providing users with a concise answer to their queries, not just a traditional list of search results or FAQs.  Some of Creative Virtual’s financial services clients have seen results showing up to 30% call deflection rates based on surveys within their virtual agent.

For example, HSBC’s Ask Olivia is a virtual agent that was developed by Creative Virtual for the purpose of assisting online banking customers with changes to online security.  This V-Person™ has proven to be an invaluable resource for customers needing help to gain access to their accounts any time of the day or night. Ask Olivia has been able to easily resolve many online security issues that would otherwise tie up call center phone lines. She has been strategically placed on the Security Centre page as well as the Personal Internet Banking log-in pages.

Intelligent virtual agents also serve as useful sales reps for financial services companies.  MyCyberTwin created an intelligent virtual agent many refer to as Sarah that is used by financial services companies. Erika Morphy, a Forbes.com contributor, states in her article “It’s the Attack of the Sales Bots” that Sarahhas a 94% accuracy rate and has managed to drive sales for many companies as well. The article states that people are starting to choose virtual agents over live help when it comes to sales inquiries.

Creative Virtual is happy to add E-Trade to their repertoire of financial services clients, which includes HSBC, Intuit, Lloyds Banking Group, Sainsbury’s Finance, and M&S Money. E-Trade is a holding company that offers online discount stock brokerage services for self-directed investors. They offer banking and lending products such as checking and savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit and credit cards. According to Virtual Agents: The New Value Proposition, by IBM Global Services, “Having started as a low-cost platform for stock trading, online trading has quickly matured into a diversified, multi-provider investment platform that allows investors to research and buy a wide range of financial services.” Very few people make investment decisions completely on their own, so having an intelligent virtual agent that they can trust available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week takes a lot of stress off both the investors and their advisors. Virtual agents can carry out advanced services that require a high level of competence, including household investments, risk management recommendations, and lending and tax planning.