Reshaping Customer Engagement Priorities in the Financial Sector

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

“Changing World, Reshaping Priorities” was the theme of the 2017 Banking Conference hosted by Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) at the end of September. The conference looked at how the financial services industry can reshape their priorities, try new business models and better leverage technologies to improve operational efficiency and profitability against the backdrop of shifting customer preferences and economic policies. Creative Virtual had the privilege of joining HKT at the annual conference to meet with hundreds of bankers interested in digital transformation.

One key concern voiced at the conference was the need for a better customer engagement strategy. Financial brands struggle with huge call volumes and high operation costs in their call centres. As customer preferences are shifting, companies are faced with the need to handle multiple digital customer contact channels in addition to more traditional channels like phone. This can create even higher costs associated with staffing contact centres and training agents.

At the HKT booth we showed how chatbot solutions can help financial organisations dealing with these issues. Many visitors were familiar with “Ask Amy”, the virtual assistant chatbot we’ve implemented for HSBC in Hong Kong. With this technology, you can provide better customer service in e-channels by offering instant, accurate 24/7 support. Customers also receive consistent answers across the different digital channels and, through back-end integrations, are provided with personalised information based on their specific account or profile.

Chatbots also help improve efficiency within call centres and contact centres. By allowing customers to self-serve online, human resources can be prioritised for more important or complex engagements. The technology can be used within the contact centre as well to support agents by providing an easy way for them to access the information they need to help customers. This reduces average handling times and improves customer satisfaction. Chatbots are also proven to reduce the time and costs associated with training live agents.

There was also a buzz at the conference about artificial intelligence (AI) with a general agreement that AI is everywhere – even a rice cooker with fuzzy logic is now AI! Natural language processing (NLP) is part of the AI field and what allows our chatbots to understand the intent of customer questions and probe further if needed to provide the right and consistent answer.

It was a pleasure to be a part of HKT’s booth and spend the day with some of their experienced team. My thanks to HKT for the invitation to join them promoting FinTech, and to HKIB for hosting a successful event.

Want to learn more? Request a demo and discover how you can create a better customer engagement strategy with chatbot technology.

HKIB Banking Conference

 

Resisting Change Can Spell CX Disaster

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Over the summer, one of my Netflix obsessions was ‘Call the Midwife’, a TV drama that follows a group of midwives working in London’s East End during the 1950s and 60s. There often seemed to be a conflict between the traditional customs or ways of thinking and modern ideas that drove the storyline of the episodes. For example, patients resisting new medical practices such as giving birth in a maternity home instead of at home or the older generation of midwives dismissing the younger nurses’ ideas on topics like allowing husbands to be present for the birth. Often the arguments came in the form of “If it was good enough for my mum, it’s good enough for me!” or “We’ve always done it that way!”

Humans – and companies – are creatures of habit and often resistant to change. While the ‘but it’s always been done that way’ reasoning makes for a relatable and compelling TV show, it can spell disaster for organisations when they resist recognising changes in customer behaviours and preferences. Blockbuster has become a posterchild for missed opportunity, passing on the chance to purchase Netflix and then trying to get into the streaming trend too late, which ultimately led to the company’s demise.

When it comes to customer experience, organisations can’t afford to ignore the impact technology is having on the way we communicate with each other and with brands. Today’s highly connected digital customers are looking for 24/7 access to information and support across multiple channels and devices. They want a seamless experience that is personalised, consistent and easy. Companies like Amazon are often applauded for their superior customer experience, and customers are now expecting that same level of service from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry.

As consumers increasingly turn to self-service and digital channels, organisations need to analyse the changing preferences of their customer base and look to incorporate new channels and technologies into their customer support strategy. The change to self-service needs to happen in conjunction with an evolution of the contact centre. Current capabilities of AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents put these solutions in the perfect position to be complementary with the contact centre and live agents.

While some sceptics talk about chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space as a passing fad, the reality is that they are a tried and tested tool for providing digital self-service and are helping to define the future of customer engagement. Since the days of the early chatbots, these tools have improved greatly in their conversational abilities thanks to advances in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). The evolution of customer expectations has also driven massive amounts of innovation in the technology to allow for flexible back-end integration, easier maintenance and a reliable hybrid approach to self-learning.

Take the first step toward meeting the expectations of digital customers with chatbots by requesting a demo to see this technology in action. Change can be hard, but smart organisations (and midwives!) know it is the way forward.

[Meet the Team] Jeff Clifford: Over Ten Years of Building and Implementing Natural Language Virtual Agents

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 Jeff Clifford, Lead Knowledgebase Engineer/ Account Manager with Creative Virtual’s UK team. For over ten years, Jeff has tirelessly worked to build, implement, manage and improve Creative Virtual’s virtual agents. He’s established great collaborations with organisations of all sizes and across all industries – from small local government councils to large international financial institutions – to help improve their customer and employee support with virtual agents and chatbots. For many members of the UK Operations Team, and quite a few team members in other locations, Jeff provided their first experience with building natural language virtual agents in his role as Creative Virtual’s go-to trainer. He shared with me why winning the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise feels like a personal victory for him and how virtual agent technology has evolved over the past ten years.

What do you remember most about your early days working with virtual agents and the company?

I remember walking out of the Canary Wharf office after my first day and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’. It was my first time working with NLP [natural language processing], and I didn’t understand it. I had studied a few programming languages at university, however this was something else. I remember spending a day trying to perfect the simplest of decision trees.

The company was so small at the time that within two weeks I was assigned to build a new virtual agent for a well-known financial services company. I had to learn quick and one of the best ways I learned about the technology was when I broke something and then frantically tried to fix it before the Tech Team found out. I felt like I was in over my head, and never imagined that ten years later I would be a specialist in the field!

I remember the early R&D meetings, discussions over beer and pizza on Friday evenings, that lead to our development of V-Person™ and V-Portal™. I also remember being constantly impressed that we had so many big clients when we were so small. I loved reading the adverts on the London Underground and counting how many of the companies were Creative Virtual customers. I remember the days when Chris our CEO would walk into the office very excited and mention we got another client. That hasn’t changed!

It’s been amazing to me to see how the company has grown. Someone said to me once when I was new that ‘one day people will be joining and you won’t know who they are’, which seemed strange to think of at the time – everyone knew everyone else and we immediately got to know the new people. But that’s exactly what has happened.

In the over 10 years you’ve worked in the virtual agent and chatbot field, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the technology and how the solutions are implemented?

When I first started in this industry in 2007, a virtual agent was a very niche thing. When people asked me what I did for a living, it never felt like an easy answer. I found it was often difficult to explain what I did, especially in social situations. Now a majority of the people I speak to know about virtual agents and chatbots because of the growth of the industry. Most folks I chat to have actually used a Creative Virtual virtual agent so understand from their personal experience with the technology.

Competitors have also changed in magnitude and volume, which is indicative of the industry growth and how far we have come. It’s impressive to think about the list of big, well-known companies, like IBM, that we’re competitive against now.

Virtual agents have also become an integral part of the self-service areas within websites instead of just being a cool novelty or add-on. Customers really want to be able to help themselves, and companies are now understanding that these solutions are so much better than a traditional site search or list of FAQs. Integration is limitless, especially the account integration work we do behind secure areas. We can answer personal queries about a user’s account and this is really where the virtual agent becomes more of a digital personal assistant

What are the biggest challenges you find organisations face today when deploying virtual agents?

One challenge is understanding that the virtual agent needs to ‘learn’ and that the system learns best by talking to real people. This is an area where our clients really benefit from our expertise. We know how to best leverage those real conversations to improve the virtual agent and can help companies with this process, both during development and after launch, and with setting realistic expectations.

Over the years I have also noticed that the collaborative partnerships we have with our clients is key to the success of a virtual agent. The virtual agent is able to provide our clients with valuable insight into the wants and needs of their customers, which in turn can be used to provide a better service and user experience.

Another age-old issue that’s common is users thinking they are chatting to a real person. I’m not sure we’ll ever stop running into that challenge!

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

2016 RunTenFor me the biggest highlight has been watching how big the company has grown and being a part of that development. I have an invested interest in Creative Virtual growing and being successful. I was lucky enough to be chosen to train the first few members of the Stamford-based team for the US office, and it’s been exciting to see that office grow. Like any company, we’ve been through our trials and tribulations, and I’m proud that we’ve become stronger because of the tough times.

I really enjoy the team camaraderie and being a part of a group of people who are willing to share their expertise and work together to best serve our customers. When I’m interviewing potential new hires, I always pay attention to their attitude as much as their experience and skill set. If that doesn’t fit with the company ethos, they aren’t going to be a good addition to our team. I love watching my trainees go from being overwhelmed on their first few days of training to flourishing in their new roles. The company has grown because of our culture of team work and people being willing to learn from each other. I’ve personally learned a lot over the years. I’m obviously much more experienced in NLP and building virtual agents than I was back in those first few months! I’ve also learned a lot about account management, dealing with clients and managing a team.Creative Virtual team

I also appreciate how agile we are as a company and the flexibility we have to turn around requests and updates from our customers so quickly. Many of our big competitors can’t do that. That’s one reason why we are able to build such great relationships with our clients. They really appreciate our expertise and dedication to making their projects successful. One of my client contacts from many years ago recently reached out to me to ask if I was still with Creative Virtual and to say she’d like to work with us again in her new role with a different organisation.

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

Winning the Queen’s Award means as much to me as it does to Chris [Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO]. Just as he said he couldn’t be prouder to be leading this company, I am super proud to be a part of his company. I’ve been telling everyone, all my family and friends, that we’ve won and that Chris got to meet the Queen. When your boss gets to meet the Queen because of the work you and your colleagues did, that’s an amazing thing to be a part of and something you want to tell everyone. We’ve won many awards, but the Queen’s Award feels like a lifetime achievement award for me.

Chatbots are Transforming the Way Mobile Apps are Built and Used

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“By 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development.”

As one of Gartner’s top strategic predictions for 2018 and beyond, this projection really drives home the fact that chatbots are more than just a passing fad. Gartner explains that chatbots are becoming the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and transforming the way apps are built. Forward-thinking organisations are staying a step ahead of their competitors by examining their digital strategies and finding ways to incorporate chatbot technology into their customer engagement plans.

Some companies have already made their chatbot available in their customer app. One example is Time Warner Cable who offer customers the option to get instant help from their virtual agent, and even escalate to a live agent when needed, in the MY TWC app – check out the video below to see it in action.

Other organisations are taking advantage of the growing popularity of messaging platforms by deploying their chatbot on apps such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. These platforms have become key communication channels, and chatbots offer a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support to customers already using these apps to connect with family and friends. For example, Transport for NSW in Australia uses RITA (Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant), their Transport Bot, to provide bus, train, ferry and light rail service information on Facebook Messenger.

A survey published earlier this year found that 71% of millennials (ages 18-34) surveyed were interested in trying chatbots from consumer brands. According to that same survey, 67% said they were likely to buy items and services from brands via chatbots. Based on those results, it’s no wonder that enterprises are starting to seriously invest in chatbots to engage with customers. Some may even look to completely replace their traditional mobile app with a chatbot.

branded chatbot survey

It’s not enough for companies to invest in any chatbot, though – they need to invest in the solution that’s right for their needs. There are new vendors popping up every day claiming to provide chatbots and virtual agents for customer support, but smart organisations know it’s essential to work with an experienced provider offering a proven solution. Smart organisations also know that chatbots need to be implemented as an integrated part of their overall customer engagement strategy, not as a stand-alone tool or app. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Excellent Customer Service: What’s the secret to achieving success now and in the future?

By Susan Ott, Customer Success Manager, USA

Often, customer service can be a challenging world. Solving problems, providing information, making sure things run smoothly…it’s not always easy.

When I take a moment and think about companies that emanate unmatched customer service, I see an atmosphere in which employees and management alike are engaged on the front lines with their customers. Pride in the company you work for should always be at the forefront of every interaction. That emotion of pride instills a sense of teamwork and customers can feel it!

Companies who employ individuals who go above and beyond will always win me over. Most often it’s those little “extra” moments that customers remember and foster a sense of loyalty to your brand. Delivering a personalized and effortless customer experience is really what it’s all about.

As we find ourselves in this age of internet-driven, 24- hour news cycles, we see a world full of ever changing landscapes. Customer touch points are rapidly expanding, and we see companies asking: How can we keep up and stay relevant?

Fortunately, new technologies are out there opening pathways for us to build a dialogue with our customers. We are already seeing that chatbots will have a major impact on the world of customer service over the next several years. Digital interactions will help employees complete tasks both great and small. Features that make our conversations seem natural and super convenient are constantly being improved upon.

The bottom line with regards to the future of customer service? Focus on creating a seamless experience BEFORE, DURING and AFTER a customer interaction. That is what customers want and if a chatbot can help with the process, we shouldn’t be opposed!

Contact us to hear more about how we can help with AI experts and solutions.

Improving Engagement and Empowering Your Team

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Every day I speak with organisations going through digital transformations, particularly in regards to their customer service initiatives. Selecting the right software and working with a knowledgeable provider can make or break these efforts. Organisations need technology solutions that are cutting-edge but that also complement existing systems and infrastructure.

This is exactly what we do at Creative Virtual, and I am proud to share that it has earned us a spot as a finalist in the category of ‘Software Innovation of the Year’ in the 2017 Digital Entrepreneur Awards (DEAs)! To be shortlisted, we needed to demonstrate that our software improves engagement and output, and empowers individuals and teams, which fits perfectly with our company vision. We offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement backed by the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. This not only improves the customer experience but also empowers employees.

Digital Entrepreneur AwardsA perfect example of this is the integration of our V-Person™ virtual agents with live chat. Our virtual agents and chatbots give customers an easy and convenient way to self-serve and are playing an important role in helping organisations meet the engagement demands of digital customers. However, we know that sometimes customers will have complex issues that are best served by live agents, or they simply prefer to talk to a real person. Based on a set of customisable rules and triggers, the virtual agent can seamlessly escalate users from virtual to real agent, with a complete history of their conversation being passed to the live chat agent.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person Live Chat™ solution is integrated with the same knowledgebase being used to power the self-service virtual agent. As customers ask questions, the platform automatically presents live chat agents with the response found in that knowledgebase. Agents then have options to reply with the answer as it appears, send an edited version of the text or type in their own response. The customisable console also gives options for agents to provide real-time feedback and suggestions on content. Live agents are empowered to become knowledge experts and share the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

Our thanks to the award judges for recognising our digital innovation, and the proven business results are customers are achieving with our solutions, by shortlisting Creative Virtual for Software Innovation of the Year. We look forward to the winners from the South region being announced during an awards dinner on 8th November in London.

Cutting Through the AI Hype

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Last year when I attended the Social Robotics & AI conference I had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Noel Sharkey which brought back memories of being a contestant on Robot Wars. This month I attended the event, now called AI & Robotics THE MAIN EVENT, for a second year and again got to hear Professor Sharkey speak. This time I started reminiscing about my appearance on Techno Games where he was also a judge. I was also very aware that the robot my team entered into that competition back in 2002 seemed like a child’s school project when compared with the robots at this event!

This year’s AI & Robotics conference was held in London and aimed to investigate emerging technologies and their real world impacts on business and work. It cut through all the hype to focus on the reality of AI and automated technology in the corporate world. The event agenda featured a variety of academic and industry speakers sharing their expertise, including our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel.

chatbots and your customersIn his presentation, Chatbots & Your Customers: A Realistic Look at Using AI & Machine Learning, Chris drew from his extensive experience working with companies around the world to give insights into the world of enterprise chatbots. He explored the current realities of machine learning and AI and the role they should play in the customer experience space. Customer service chatbots need to use a combination of machine learning and human curation of content in order for companies to ensure a predictable, reliable and accurate customer experience.

In addition to watching the live demonstrations Chris gave during his presentation, many attendees also stopped by our stand during the ‘AI in Action’ sessions to see more examples of chatbots and virtual agents we currently have deployed for our customers. While speaking with them, it became clear that many of them were actively looking to add this technology to their customer support strategies. Some mentioned that they had been looking into these types of tools for a couple of years and were now very aware that the time is right to push the project forward or risk missing the boat. These sentiments didn’t seem to be specific to any one industry either. I heard the same thing being echoed across the board.

In my opinion, this year’s event was just as good as last year, if not better – from the list of speakers to the lunchtime spread! Our thanks to the event organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to sponsor the event again.

Please take a look at our Products page to learn more about Creative Virtual’s suite of Smart Help solutions and then request a personalised demo to see how chatbots can help you build relationships with your customers.

I’m sure you’re itching to see my appearance on Techno Games, so check out the video below starting at about the 11-minute mark.

Is the Contact Centre Part of Your Digital Transformation Programme?

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I say this every year, but the Technology Innovation Showcase webinar Creative Virtual does with CRMXchange is one of my favourite webinars to present. This was the fifth year running that we’ve participated in the webcast series, and it was our most popular one yet with a record-breaking number of registrations. I love this webinar because it gives me a chance to share more live demonstrations than slides, and I know the best way to understand how our technology works and what it can do for customers and organisations is to see it in action.

For this year’s Showcase, I focused on the theme of ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’. There’s so much buzz and hype, as well as unrealistic expectations and disappointments, around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots that it can be difficult to know how best to deliver, implement and support these types of solutions. My goal during the webinar was to showcase best practices in deploying chatbots in conjunction with human assistance for customer support and sales. I selected my demonstrations specifically to show how the virtual and real can work in perfect harmony to meet business objectives.

A few key takeaways from my presentation:

  • 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. Chatbots and virtual agents should blend human curation of content with machine learning. This hybrid approach enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of responses.
  • Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation programmes and the contact centre needs to be a key part of that, although that’s not always the case today. In the future, the contact centre will be the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels and organisations need to put the necessary tools in place to facilitate that change. By including the contact centre as part of this transformation instead of allowing it to become a siloed and outdated entity, it benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.
  • Customers are starting to specifically demand chatbots for digital self-service, with research showing that many would choose to interact with a chatbot before a human to get instant answers. To meet the demands of customers, organisations need more than just chatbots and virtual agents that are available 24/7 though. Over the past several years providing an effortless way to interact with your company has become more and more important. Instead of offering a wide range of support options for customers to choose from, you need to offer one place for customers to ask a question and for that system to be the intent matcher. Then, once you understand the intent, immediately provide the most appropriate method for assistance. You also need to provide a seamless experience that’s available on any device, can easily switch between languages and provides personalised responses.

I invite you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to understand more about these three points and to see the live demonstrations of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used by some of our customers around the world.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another successful Technology Innovation Showcase for us. I’m already looking forward to presenting again next year.

AI in the Corporate World Today

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long been the stuff of science fiction, often portrayed as becoming evil and turning against its human creators – from robots rising up to destroy humanity to supercomputers trying to take over human minds. In recent years, however, AI has moved from something seen as a far-off dream of the future to an actual reality in households and workplaces around the world. AI is powering the voice assistants on our phones and in our homes, the self-driving cars appearing on our streets and the chatbots that are popping up on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

AI & Robotics THE MAIN EVENT, being held on 14 September in London, will focus on the reality of AI and automated technology in the corporate world today. The conference will cut through the hype and highlight the tangible actions and results of AI and robotics in the business world, including the impact these technologies are having on performance, profitability and workforce efficiency.

Creative Virtual is a Gold Sponsor of this year’s event and will showcase their V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots as part of the conference’s ‘AI in Action’ sessions. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel will also speak as part of Session 1, ‘Almost Human – How Chatbots Transform Customer Experience and Corporate Life’ starting at 14:30. Drawing on his extensive experience working with organisations around the globe, Chris will explain the realities of AI and machine learning in the world of enterprise chatbots. He’ll also explore the role these technologies will have in the future of customer engagement.

“When it comes to AI, chatbots and virtual agents,” says Chris “Enterprises need to make decisions based on realistic expectations but shouldn’t shy away from incorporating this technology into their customer support strategy.”

We hope you’ll join us at the Victoria Park Plaza on 14 September for a day of interactive discussions, networking and AI in action. A full copy of the AI & Robotics conference programme, as well as ticket information, can be found on the event website.

Can’t attend but interested in learning more and seeing real enterprise chatbots in action? We’d love to schedule a personalised live demo at a time that works for you.

The Most Innovative Customer Support Tool

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At Creative Virtual our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. We saw this vision come to fruition last year when we officially added V-Person Live Chat™ to our suite of Smart Help solutions. Since then, our roadmap has continued to be all about providing a world leading enterprise level end-to-end customer engagement platform.

It is an honour to have this vision and hard work recognised for a third straight year by the Technology Innovator Awards. This year I’m proud to share that we’ve been awarded ‘Best Global Customer Engagement Software Provider 2017’ and ‘Most Innovative Customer Support Tool: V-Person Live Chat’! These awards are a testament to the Creative Virtual team’s dedication to providing enterprises with innovative customer support solutions.

Our technology is designed to assist organisations in aligning their contact centre directly with the digital function to meet the growing expectations of customers for 24/7 access to accurate information and support. We are defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents and a unique feedback loop that allows live agents to help keep content accurate across self-service channels and human-assisted channels just by doing their normal jobs.

At the heart of our suite of products is our V-Person virtual agent technology which is utilised by organisations around the world to improve their customer support experience, reduce costs, increase sales and build brand loyalty. Our multi-lingual chatbots and virtual agents are currently answering over 50 million questions a year – and that number is always growing! We’ve had a number of exciting additions to our V-Person family over the past several months including Helen, the new chatbot communicating with Octopus users in Hong Kong Cantonese which was implemented with our partner Continuous Technologies. Forward-thinking companies like Octopus recognise that customers are increasingly turning to digital channels and self-service first and are leveraging conversational chatbots to improve their digital engagement.

My thanks to the Technology Innovator Awards for recognising Creative Virtual and our innovative software and solutions for a third year. You can read our official award announcement here.

Check out the video below to learn more about our innovative integration of virtual and real support and request your own personalised demo to see our technology in action.