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.

Chatbots in Action – Creative Virtual at CCW 2018

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

The end of February is Call Center World time, Europe’s biggest “international conference and trade show for innovative customer dialogue”, now in its 20th year. (Congratulations!)

Whilst chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) made it to the stage last year already, they have now become one of the major topics of the show and I am excited to have three speaking slots with our partner sogedes.

Excited and a little bit nervous: Since last year, the AI hype cycle is said to be past the “peak of inflated expectations” and having started the descent into the “trough of disillusionment”. Looking at what some people did promise and how they boasted about the “intelligence” of their solutions, that is a well-deserved set-back, but there is always the risk of an overreactions and buyers turning their back on technology altogether, just because of too high expectations. I will learn it the hard way, I guess, whether they have embraced the pragmatic (and working) hybrid approach already or not. My recent speeches in places as diverse as the Financial Forum in Hong Kong and the Service Desk Forum in Mainz, Germany give me hope, but you never know.

I am also looking forward to CCW 2018 because the world of call centres is comprehensively covered. It is the perfect place to see how virtual agents do (and must) fit into a customer communication strategy, how they can support agents best – “collaborate”, I should say – and which backend systems to integrate with. I’m also interested to hear where newer channels like messenger platforms (such as Facebook Messenger) are fitting into contact centre strategies. Could they be replacing AI as the most hyped topic?

In any case, it will be three challenging and inspiring days (from February 27 to March 1, since you ask) at the booth with sogedes and my colleague Katrin Zieren (Hall 3, Booth E8-E10). I am looking forward to that.

If you’re attending, be sure to catch our “Chatbots in action” presentation on Tuesday, February 27 at 11:30 in Hall 3 – International Plaza. We’ll also be showcasing chatbot solutions on Wednesday at 15:10 and Thursday at 13:00 in Hall 1 – TeleTalk-Demoforum. There’s more information and the full agenda on the CCW 2018 website.

If you can’t attend but want to learn more, request a live demo to see our chatbots in action.

Supporting Customers and Employees in the Digital Age

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Every organisation is going through a digital transformation, particularly in regard to their customer and employee experiences. Virtual agents and chatbots are ideal for supporting both digital customers and employees with a reliable and consistent self-service option that also helps reduce support costs and improve efficiency.

At Creative Virtual self-service solutions are our specialty, and we’re honoured to be named ‘Best Self-Service Solutions Provider 2017’ by Corporate Vision Magazine’s UK Corporate Excellence Awards 2017. For over 14 years we’ve delivered bespoke virtual agents and chatbots designed to provide a quick, easy way for users to get information and troubleshoot issues.

Once viewed as a novelty or ‘cool’ thing to have, virtual agents are now a key component of many customer engagement strategies. Smartphones, social media and a variety of other technological advancements have changed how we communicate with each other and how we want to communicate with brands. The traditional ways of providing customer service are no longer meeting the expectations of digital customers. As a society, we’re more inclined to seek out self-help options and are becoming increasingly more comfortable with using chatbots and virtual agents.

Despite most organisations being focused on improving their customer experience for a while now, an emphasis on improving the employee experience is relatively new for many. Yet organisations are starting to feel more pressure to make internal changes to better engage a digital workforce and lower costs. Virtual agents are proving to be a great fit for internal service desk and HR departments, giving employees an easy way to self-serve in a variety of situations. By giving employees the tools to troubleshoot and solve common problems anytime, anywhere on their preferred device, organisations can reduce costs and improve productivity.

Check out this recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth, now available to watch on-demand, for a look at how organisations are already using virtual agents and chatbots to improve engagement with digital customers and employees.

Our thanks to Corporate Vision Magazine and the UK Corporate Excellence Awards for this honour!

[Meet the Team] Maria Ward: From Virtual Agent Customer to Partner to Expert Member of the Creative Virtual Team

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 Maria Ward, Account Manager/ Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Maria brings a unique perspective to her work managing, creating and implementing virtual agents, having first encountered the technology as a Creative Virtual customer, then working for a partner company for nine years before officially joining the Creative Virtual team in December 2015. Today she uses her expertise to support both new and long-standing clients with their virtual agents and chatbots, assisting them with the initial deployment as well as on-going development and enhancements. She shared with me the key factors in keeping virtual agent installs successful year-after-year and why saying The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is amazing just doesn’t do it justice.

What was your first experience working with virtual agent solutions and how has the industry evolved since then?

My very first experience with a virtual agent was when I worked at One Railway and oversaw the project to implement a virtual agent, which was a solution from Creative Virtual! Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] built it for Creative Virtual, and I was fascinated by the technology. It was such a fun and exciting project and I was really keen to try out some NLP [natural language processing]. I managed to convince my contacts at Creative Virtual to let me do a little bit of the NLP work, which I ended up loving. I was disappointed when my higher-ups decided to end the project.

Women in IT Excellence AwardsAfter a franchise change and some internal restructuring, I left that position and joined the Virtual Zone in October 2006. The Virtual Zone was partnering with Creative Virtual and I was excited to hear when I took the job that there was a chance I’d get to work on a new virtual agent. I remember going into my first meeting with NRE [National Rail Enquiries] in January 2007 and being extremely nervous. I believe Chris Ezekiel [Founder & CEO] was there, and I felt a little bit like an imposter talking about virtual agent technology when I felt like I still knew so little. Building the virtual agent for NRE was hard work – they had a huge amount of information and I was still new and learning as I went. I remember putting in long hours and questioning if I was up to the task. While it was pretty stressful, I also found it to be incredibly fulfilling.

The technology has really changed since my first experience with virtual agents. The virtual agent for One Railway was a basic implementation and wasn’t developed further after the initial build, but that’s not the case for solutions we’re delivering today. The ability to integrate with customer databases to provide personalised information directly through the VA [virtual agent] gives huge usability improvements and so does handing over to live chat based on rules decided by the customer. In addition, knowledge management with V-Portal™ was a big step forward for the technology. And now we’re also seeing improvements with things like semantic matching and deep learning. The NLP techniques I use today are very different from the early days. We’re able to take advantage of these changes to be more confident that the virtual agent is giving customers a good experience.

The industry has also seen a big change in the channels customers are using virtual agents on. It used to just be desktop, but now it’s much more mobile. In fact, Siri has made virtual agent technology more popular. It used to be that when I told people what I did for a living, they had no idea what I was talking about. Now they do … mostly!

And, of course, there’s lots of hype about AI [artificial intelligence] in the press these days. It’s a hugely popular topic, and lots of people are panicking about robots. I find it fascinating but realistically know we’re a long way off from AI robots taking over the world. I’m looking forward to continuing to work in the industry and seeing what kind of eye-opening projects I might get to take on in the future.

What are the key factors in keeping virtual agent and chatbot deployments successful over many years?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on both new installs and virtual agents that have been online for many years. The absolute key to a long-standing virtual agent is the relationship we build with the client. They need to be positive and excited about the virtual agent. It’s important that we, as the virtual agent experts, help our customers understand the worth of their solutions and see the potential the technology has to benefit their company and customers – that is a huge factor.

The virtual agents that have been successful for many years are the ones that are treated by our clients as an important part of their customer service strategy. They are kept as up-to-date as the website and viewed as providing important information to customers. They are also strategically used in a way that helps increase engagement.

Continuing to develop the virtual agent is also important. Adding functionality such as seamless handover to live chat and account-specific information that may not have been possible when the virtual agent was first launched help keep it delivering the experience expected by current customers. Creative Virtual’s Tech Team are amazing at helping our clients deliver these types of improvements.

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

10k for the RSPCAI’ve worked a long time with the Creative Virtual team! As a client, I really became fascinated with the technology and got a chance to try my hand at some NLP work. The virtual agent was a fun, exciting project to work on. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to develop that interest further when I joined the Virtual Zone. One of the biggest highlights of my time working with Creative Virtual as a partner was attending the Global Partner Meeting in London. I thoroughly enjoyed it and went away enthused about the technology. It was a really good way to rediscover the excitement I had when I worked on my first virtual agent.

I joined Creative Virtual in December 2015, and I love being a part of the team. Each person is such a character – and I mean that in a good way! Everybody is so friendly and supportive, and I like feeling more joined up with the team than I did as a partner. I love our quarterly company calls and having a chance to hear what is going on everywhere around the world, all the new developments and future plans. It was great to have the opportunity to travel to Australia and help the team there. And I also appreciate that I can work from home and still make regular trips to the Canary Wharf office to work in person with the London team. It’s a perfect combination for me.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

The Queen's Awards for EnterpriseIt’s such an amazing achievement! I haven’t got the words to properly describe it. I felt so proud to have been a part of the Creative Virtual team at the time we won. I told all my family and friends and shared it all over Facebook. Seeing Chris’ [Ezekiel] face and hearing him talk about it, you can just tell how chuffed he is – and rightly so! The Queen’s Award is a BIG DEAL, a big deal for five years. You don’t win an award like this for nothing. The whole team pulls together to bring projects to fruition – it’s a real credit to everyone and the fact that we have so many long-standing customers really says a lot about the team.

Our company celebration was such an amazing night. The atmosphere was wonderful and everyone looked so happy. It was great to see everyone come together and getting to meet Chris’ family was lovely. It was really an uplifting experience.

CX in 2018: Digital Transformation Means Combining Humans and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For years there was much more talk about digital transformation than any actual changes for many organisations, but that’s starting to change. More and more digital transformation projects are getting off the ground, and 2018 will be an important year for understanding the reality of the changes needed and putting plans into action.

During a recent roundtable event Econsultancy found that for many, digital transformation programmes are all about survival. Organisations are ‘trying to disrupt ourselves before being disrupted by others’. There is a fear of being made obsolete and digital transformation is a way to head off bankruptcy, particularly for those already struggling or less profitable than their competitors.

Yet well-established and profitable organisations are also moving forward with these types of programmes, particularly when it comes to customer experience. In Hong Kong, some of the biggest banks are launching smart chatbots as a way to serve tech-savvy customers as part of their digital transformations. The corporate banking unit of HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank by assets, launched the very first chatbot of its kind in the city. Chatbot Amy is an important part of their innovative digital banking experience and allows customers to get answers quickly and easily.

I recently read an article predicting that 2018 will see AI-enable chatbots providing a better customer experience than human-to-human chat exchanges. I would argue that in some cases they already are. While I disagree with the authors on that point, I wholeheartedly agree on their insistence that customer service chatbots should have human ‘escape hatches’ which seamlessly pass users over to a human.

When it comes to customer service and engagement, digital transformation means combining humans and machines. Organisations that ignore the importance of the human element or try to rely on pure artificial intelligence (AI) are going to see their initiatives crash and burn. Chatbots can be brilliant additions to digital engagement strategies but they need to be implemented in the right way and with the right expectations, like HSBC Hong Kong’s Amy.

One thing that has held back digital transformation efforts is coming to grips with the reality of implementing plans, which is often very different than expected. It’s important to work with an experienced, expert team – particularly when it comes to customer service chatbots. Don’t rush to deploy any old chatbot just to be able to say you have one. Be strategic about it as part of your overall digital customer experience transformation. Know how it can best serve your customers and how you want to integrate it with other support options such as live chat. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! gives some key features to look for when selecting a chatbot for customer support:

  • Personalisation – Can the chatbot be integrated with personalised account information?
  • Consistency and Accuracy – How will the chatbot help me keep my customer experience consistent and accurate?
  • Seamless Experience – Can I integrate the chatbot with other channels and support options?
  • End-to-End Support Journey – Can the tool bring together virtual and human support channels?

As you embark on new digital transformation initiatives to improve your customer experience this year, ensure that you examine them in context of your overall strategy and customer needs. And don’t overlook the importance of combining humans and machines, live agents and chatbots to best serve your customers and reach your CX goals.

A Look Back: 2017 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The end of 2017 is quickly approaching and so, as has become our tradition, it’s time to take a look back at Creative Virtual’s year. To say this has been an exciting and busy year for us, our customers and our partners would be an understatement! 2017 will go down as one of the most important years in Creative Virtual’s history, so let’s take a look at some of the year’s highlights.

Queens Awards for EnterpriseBy far our biggest company announcement came in April when we were officially recognised as the winner of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017! The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is the UK’s most prestigious business award for British companies, and we were recognised for innovation for our V-Person™ and V-Portal™ technology. Over the summer, our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, and CTO, Peter Behrend, attended a Royal Reception at Buckingham Palace for the winners and got to meet Her Majesty the Queen and several other members of the royal family. In September, the company hosted our official award ceremony and celebration, bringing together Creative Virtual team members from around the world, customers, partners and a variety of other guests in London. Mr Leslie Morgan OBE DL, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, presented our award on behalf of the Queen, and Jim Fitzpatrick, our local Member of Parliament (MP) for Poplar and Limehouse, also said a few words.

Creative Virtual was recognised by a variety of other awards programmes this year as well, being named ‘Best Customer Service Solutions Provider 2017’, ‘Most Innovative Customer Support Tool: V-Person Live Chat’, and ‘Best Virtual Assistant Solutions Provider 2017’ among others. We were also a proud part of the APPEX Omnichannel Catalyst which took home the Outstanding Performance in the Catalyst Program award at TM Forum Live! 2017.

Two individual members of our UK team were recognised by independent awards programmes this year for their contributions to Creative Virtual. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, was a finalist in the Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Hero of the Year (SME)’ for demonstrating excellence in her support of others and going beyond the call of duty to achieve a business goal. And I was honoured to be named ‘Best CX Solutions Business Marketer – UK’ in the 2017 Business Woman of the Year Awards for my success in driving brand recognition, thought leadership and lead generation activities. It was certainly a big year for award wins for us as a company and individually!

While we enjoyed celebrating – and walking the red carpet! – this year, we were also busy sponsoring and hosting industry events and delivering thought leadership presentations in 11 different countries – India, the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Luxembourg, Singapore, Germany, Australia and Hungary. Our fifth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar (Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre) with CRMXchange had a record-breaking number of registrations, highlighting the huge surge in interest in chatbots, virtual agents and artificial intelligence (AI). You can still watch that webinar on-demand, as well as our most recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth.

While there has been a marked increase in interest in chatbots and virtual agents this year, there’s also a lot of confusion, unrealistic expectations and false promises being perpetuated in the marketplace. We drew on our expertise to share a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer space in our whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre. Founder & CEO Chris similarly tackled this topic in a column for CMRXchange, Are Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre?. Chris also shared his expertise in interviews with ReadITQuik and The Wharf Newspaper, and Mike Murphy, CEO of Creative Virtual USA, shared his thoughts on the industry in a CRMXchange Executive Interview. Following on the heels of our launch of V-Person Live Chat last year, early in 2017 we created a new video showing how you can combine self-service virtual agents and human-assisted channels to deliver a fully integrated support experience.

This year we welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network. Our V-Person Family continued to grow throughout 2017 with new virtual agent and chatbot deployments across the globe in a variety of languages, and our collaborations with current customers resulted in new features and functionality being added to existing installs. This year Motability Operations’ award-winning ‘Ask Mo’ and National Rail Enquiries popular ‘Ask Lisa’ virtual agents both celebrated their 10th birthdays. REST Industry Super’s virtual agent Roger played a part in two award wins for them this year: ‘Best Innovation Super Feature’ in Money Magazine’s Best of the Best Awards and ‘Best Fund: Innovation 2017’ in the Chant West 2017 Super Fund Awards.

As he does every year, Founder & CEO Chris took the award for most travelling as he once again flew around the world visiting with the Creative Virtual team, partners and customers and taking part in a number of different events. In November, he also added a new job title to his CV, taking on the role of monthly technology columnist with The Wharf Newspaper.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out our 2017 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled shots from our official presentations and events as well as our fun group activities and award celebrations – everything from Founder & CEO Chris meeting to Queen to him taking a pie in the face during our fundraising efforts for the RSPCA. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.

It’s Time to be Realistic about AI, Chatbots and Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I had the opportunity to present a webinar with Engage Customer titled ‘AI, Chatbots and Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth’. I’m sure we can all agree how hot the market is for all things artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and live chat at the moment. It really is exploding out there! We’re also seeing a lot of confusion, false claims and inflated expectations. My goal during this webinar was to separate the truth from the myth by showing some real-world customer examples and, through a series of live demonstrations, share best practices in deploying chatbots and human assistance for customer support.

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of when AI goes wrong, such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which became sexist and racist because it learned from the way people were interacting with it. This is the simple reason why artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service, so you need to be very careful there. Companies need to be realistic about chatbots and virtual agents, but also make sure they select a system that fits with their roadmap for implementing this technology. And, just as important as the technology, is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions.

Right now we’re in a digital and artificial intelligence revolution, and there’s no doubt that the contact centre in its current form is finished. Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation initiatives and, of course, the contact centre needs to be a key part of that. All too often the contact centre is still siloed and we’re seeing them being left out of those discussions, though. In the future, there will be a paradigm shift and the contact centre will go from dealing with repetitive inquires to being the centre of excellence for knowledge and playing an important role in keeping self-service chatbots up-to-date.

When it comes to using artificial intelligence for customer service chatbots, a blended approach – not pure AI – is best. Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology uses a hybrid approach that allows organisations to tune how much machine learning and how much human curation of content they want to provide for the solution. Companies already know their top call drivers and machine learning isn’t needed to determine that. In fact, it gets in the way and gives a bad experience if it doesn’t take into account the learnings that the organisation already has. A hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of chatbot responses.

I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to get a better understanding of this topic and to see the live demonstrations I shared of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used around the world.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar.

AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Industry analysts are predicting a huge increase in the number of customer interactions that will involve technologies such as machine learning applications and chatbots over the next five years. Smart organisations are already setting themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating chatbots and virtual agents into their customer support strategies to meet the expectations of digital customers.”

-Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another article pushing artificial intelligence (AI) or another analyst forecasting an increase in machine learning to improve customer experience and engagement. But, if you feel like the hype doesn’t always match up to the reality, you aren’t alone.

On Tuesday, 5th December 2017 at noon (UK time), Engage Customer will host a live webinar titled AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth. This webinar will challenge the myths perpetuated by media hype and overpromising to walk attendees through a realistic explanation of machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space. It will be presented by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel and Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media.

In addition to giving insights on how to realistically incorporate AI, chatbots, virtual agents and live chat into your customer support strategy, Chris will share a series of live demonstrations showing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve customer engagement and build brand loyalty. The webinar will also cover:

  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

As customers increasingly seek out digital and self-service options, organisations are facing an evolving customer service landscape filled with changing engagement preferences. AI, chatbots and live chat can help organisations meet the expectations of digital customers, but they need to be implemented correctly. Join Engage Customer and Creative Virtual as we help you separate the truth from the myth.

This webinar is free, but advance registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be provided for registrants unable to attend the live event.

[Meet the Team] Rebekah Needham: Deploying Virtual Agents and Chatbots Around the World

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 Rebekah Needham, Senior Knowledgebase Engineer. Rebekah has been a part of the virtual agent industry since the Summer of 2008 when she first worked on a Spanish proof-of-concept for Creative Virtual. She officially joined the London-based team in 2009 and over the years has been involved with virtual agent projects around the world. She’s built chatbots in the UK, trained new hires in the US and supported customers and partners in Asia Pacific. She shared with me her insights on how culture is driving virtual agent implementation in different parts of the world and why she wasn’t surprised to hear Creative Virtual was being recognised for innovation by the Queen.

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

Reading through Jeff’s interview [read the interview with Jeff Clifford here] made me chuckle and think back to being trained by Jeff myself. At the time, I was living in the US and he was in the London office. I had a two-hour NLP [natural language processing] training session and was expected to start working on a Spanish proof-of-concept. I remember thinking, “What have I got myself into?!” Later Jeff told me he was impressed that I “got it”; I had to laugh and tell him I was glad he thought I “got it”!

Obviously, I had more thorough training when I officially joined the team and now I’m the one training new people. I’ve trained some of the guys in the US office and am now training in Asia Pacific, sometimes in languages I don’t speak. I find it’s a good test of my knowledge as I need to explain things in a way that the person I’m training can take information and apply it in another language. I also need to ensure a trainee understands well enough to train other people on his or her team.

Creative Virtual teamHaving opportunities to rise to a challenge is one of the things I enjoy most about being part of the Creative Virtual team. Taking on challenges is something we do regularly as a company; we’re always pushing ourselves to do more and be better. Whatever country you’re in or projects you’re working on, the whole team works together to find solutions and help our customers.

I find myself travelling a lot, but I know I always have access to the teams in the UK, US, India, Europe, and Asia Pacific no matter where I may be. We reach out to each other for support, and people don’t hesitate to have calls or help troubleshoot something important at odd hours to accommodate different time zones. Despite the challenges, we can always talk, laugh and have a good time together. I’ve been friends with several people on the team for a long time, and I appreciate having a company culture that encourages us to build those strong relationships.

What differences do you see in the way virtual agents and chatbots are used in different parts of the world?

It’s interesting to look at the ways virtual agent implementations are driven by demands for technology in different countries. In the US, for example, we typically see large enterprises deploying focused solutions that have a very streamlined template. Whereas in Asia Pacific, we are often working with smaller organisations who are looking for a conversational style virtual agent utilising templates that feature an avatar and FAQs. The virtual agents really are a reflection of what’s going on in that part of the world, both culturally and technologically.

Creative Virtual teamI feel that Creative Virtual’s global expansion has really helped drive our innovation forward. Each new region has their own set of demands and requirements for our virtual agents to be successful. As a company, we are perceptive to these challenges and flexible enough to deliver quickly for our customers – a definite advantage we have over larger competitors. Rich [Mason] is a magical being! As our Head of Innovations, he has been key in helping us address regional differences. The entire company then benefits from these developments regardless of the region that first inspired them.

What are some challenges that organisations face when implementing a chatbot in multiple languages?

When it comes to implementing virtual agents in different languages, NLP works relatively the same way but we’re conscious of the fact that languages are written in different ways – whether that be Chinese which uses symbols instead of letters or Thai which doesn’t use spaces between words, for example. The engine needs to be able to parse each language correctly, and this is a challenge that Creative Virtual has overcome beautifully.

I find that we often act as consultants for organisations looking to deploy virtual agents in multiple languages, guiding them on how to best deliver these solutions. They appreciate how exceptionally flexible we are, both as a company and in the ways our technology can be implemented. At the moment, we have some virtual agents with 5 or 6 different languages in one knowledgebase while others are set up with a separate knowledgebase for each language. As we continue to innovate in this area, there will be an evolution of how multiple languages are managed and how we implement best practices.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Creative Virtual teamWhen I heard the news that we won a Queen’s Award, my initial reaction was “Wow, that is so cool!” And then I thought, “Of course we won.” I take great pride in the work we do at Creative Virtual and know we are doing a great job, so I wasn’t surprised that we won such a prestigious award. It really is confirmation that we are at the forefront of the virtual agent field. Both as a group and individually, we are always driving towards excellence, and the award reaffirms for us that we are delivering a high level of expertise and quality to our customers and partners every day.

A Tale as Old as Time: Striving for the Best Customer Service

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

Every year across sectors, buzz words crop up, trends start and people look to see what is or isnt the next best thing on the market – whether it be an innovative piece of machinery, the next best app, an idea to revolutionise the way we operate in a work space or indeed what we eat in order to be more efficient and focused (does a group huddle or corporate run before indulging on beetroot and chia seed smoothies sound familiar?).

Ideas keep coming, which is wonderful, and in the world of technology it is imperative to keep things fresh and dynamic in order to be responsive to the ways of the marketplace.

What drives the marketplace? The customer. Ironically (the way I see it), the one thing that doesnt change but is at the heart of what most of us in all industries need to consider is customer service.

Customer service is a hallowed objective and yet I cant think of any new-fangled ways to describe it another way or market the concept any differently. Customer service is at the heart of what we in the workplace all do and the only thing that changes through time is how we deliver it based on the tools and the circumstances of our era.

There was a time in living memory when consumer (retail) banking, for example, was conducted entirely via bricks and mortar branches and/or the phone. This meant that banking times were dictated by branch opening hours and phones being available and the likelihood of needing to wait or stand on a queue for an average of 15 to 20 minutes was considered acceptable. The customer service was focused on the friendly demeanour of the teller or bank manager and what type of advice or loan the bank could provide to make the customer feel properly guided. A lot of faith needed to be placed in the people in the bank to manage the retail accounts of the customers.

Nowadays it doesnt take much to see how things have changed drastically on so many levels. Banks are selling or renting many of their former beautiful Neo-Classical buildings so they are converted to restaurants/cafes/clothing stores; they are closing various high street branches and instead there is a bigger focus on their digital strategy and modernised approach to customer service. The customers who used to be wowed by the grandeur of their bank branch now need to be kept in awe by the digital experience they can get in return.

The modern digital benefits mean that banking can now be done 24/7 – you can access your accounts directly and manage your transfer seamlessly online at any time you want and now – with mobile devices – you can perform the transactions from wherever you need to without worrying about the constraints of a fixed location.

Customer service has gained levels of autonomy the customer never knew before – the customer has been empowered to take control of his/her accounts and with access to online information a customer can quickly assess and compare deals for loans or products and services with a few quick internet searches.

Has this new world of customer service left anything behind? This is for the customer to decide and for vendors to be in close contact with their clients to understand their needs and requirements.

Creative Virtual is providing banks with self-help tools to enable their customers to be empowered and we need to listen to our clients to understand what their customers want so we can adjust the tool we provide to help them give the best user experience. We are quick to respond to client needs and have allowed our clients to access online reporting directly so they can be empowered themselves to see how the tools they apply on their digital spaces are performing. We spend time adding elements of personalisation into our tools so that our clients can ensure that their customers are remembered when they return online and they can access their specific account information without needing to repeat themselves.

Similarly, our seamless live chat capabilities will give a customer an opportunity to speak to a live agent when required and the agent will have all of the customers information along with the previous conversation leading to the live chat so there is no need for the customer to have to repeat his or her issue.Greater London Enterprise Awards

Creative Virtual are proud to have been awarded the latest accolade of Best Customer Service Solutions Provider 2017 in the Greater London Enterprise Awards. This is not too much of a surprise as Creative Virtual aims to listen to our clients, who in turn are working with their customers, so we can be on the frontline for amending our tools to provide the customer experience that works the most efficiently for the current circumstances of our digital world.

The tools will change throughout the years but the objective of keeping the customer happy is a constant through time. For as long as we have our eyes and ears open to the needs of the customer we are ready to respond and relish the challenge. It is what keeps us fresh and motivated.

Our thanks to the Greater London Enterprise Awards for naming Creative Virtual the Best Customer Service Solutions Provider! You can read our official announcement here. And you can see our customer service solutions in action for yourself by requesting a live demo.