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Solving Common Conversational AI Project Issues

This post was originally published on AI Time Journal.

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Back in 2019, I wrote an article on reasons why chatbot projects were failing or being abandoned before they even reached the testing stage. At the time, the conversational AI industry had been saturated with both false promises about the capabilities of the technology and a plethora of new start-ups with misleading claims about having AI-powered customer service bots. That left the chatbot and virtual agent landscape littered with poor-performing and failed projects along with negative press about the technology.

Fast forward to 2022, and much has changed in the world of conversational AI. One important change is the widespread acceptance that pure AI is not the right answer for automated customer service and employee support. Industry experts, analysts, and vendors (including those that previously claimed otherwise) now agree that a combination of humans and AI is the best approach to these chatbot and virtual agent solutions. This is coupled with important advancements in conversational AI technology that allow for the right balance of human and machine to create positive support experiences.

Conversational AI is now widely recognised as an important technology in digital customer experience and employee support strategies. During the pandemic, chatbots and virtual agents were a crucial tool for some organisations to meet the challenges of serving customers quickly and efficiently during a time when contact centres were overwhelmed and information was changing rapidly. These success stories demonstrate just how essential conversational AI technology is for successful digital strategies.

Yet despite all those success stories, some organisations are still struggling with a chatbot that’s not performing as expected, can’t be scaled as their business grows, or doesn’t properly reflect their brand. Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard a variety of reasons from business leaders on why their company is unhappy with their conversational AI tools. Here are the six most common issues they cite:

  • I can’t expand my solution to support my growing business and customer base.
  • I have limited integration options to create a seamless and personalised experience.
  • I started my project with an inexperienced start-up that isn’t able to provide the technology updates and support I need from my vendor.
  • I am struggling to manage multiple chatbots across different business divisions or departments.
  • I am unable to staff my chatbot project with internal resources with the necessary knowledge and experience.
  • I don’t own the user interface or training data with my current chatbot provider.

In those situations, it can be easy to mistakenly dismiss the technology as ineffective. Don’t fall into that trap! Instead of abandoning your investment and writing conversational AI off as a poor fit for your strategy, you need to engage with a vendor that has the tools and experience to get your project back on track.

My first recommendation for transforming a tool with any of these issues is to find a vendor that can leverage what you already have from your existing project or projects. You want to rescue your investment, not start over from scratch. If a vendor doesn’t have technology sophisticated enough to do this, then most likely their solution isn’t going to work for you in the long run anyway.

My second recommendation is to be very clear – both internally and with the vendor – about both your short-term and long-term goals for your chatbot. This is what is going to drive your conversational AI strategy and technology requirements. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your chatbot, then you can’t properly identify the functionality, integrations, reporting, etc. you need from a vendor.

And my third recommendation is to ensure you’re selecting a vendor with the right experience and expertise. You want to collaborate with a provider that has solved your issue before, understands the specific needs of your industry and/or use case, and has the references to back them up. Ask to talk to their current clients so you can hear first-hand from them what it’s like to work with the vendor.

If you’re interested in learning more, Creative Virtual has put together an eBook – Conversational AI Issues & Solutions – that talks about each of the common issues I listed above in more detail.

My overarching advice is: Don’t let any of these issues signal the end of your conversational AI project. Leverage what you already have to transform that project into the successful and valuable digital support solution your organisation needs.

A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

We have all been facing new personal, professional and community challenges this year as we continue to deal with the harsh impacts of a global pandemic. At Creative Virtual, the team has been working hard to help our customers with their challenges related to delivering quality customer and employee self-service as information and needs change quickly. So, when AI Time Journal approached us to contribute to their ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic,’ it was a no-brainer for us to take part.

The new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, takes a look at the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. Through a series of interviews with industry experts and innovators, the AI Time Journal Editors dive into current conversational AI trends and predictions for the future. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, was one of the experts interviewed and made this important observation:

“Organisations have realised the need to have and/or work with people skilled specifically in this technology to implement successful projects – a trend that’s being magnified by the current global pandemic. The increased focus on digital experiences and sudden spike in usage of conversational AI tools have highlighted how important this expertise is to development, maintenance and expansion of projects.”

That need for skill and expertise is reflected in the conversational AI success stories featured in the final section of the ebook. The first success story tells how an international financial services group’s V-Person™ virtual agent is rising to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world in early 2020 and restrictions were put in place, this international financial services group faced the same challenges as many other businesses: the closing of physical locations, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe and rapidly changing information. While the organisation’s V-Person virtual agent had been a key part of their customer support strategy for many years, it came to the forefront during this time, becoming their go-to method of communicating with customers.

The quickest way to update information

Accessing the most recent information was important to customers to help them make sound financial decisions during an uncertain time. Providing that information was paramount for this financial services group but meant they had to have a way to keep content up-to-date as the government issued new programmes and schemes, regulations and processes changed, and pandemic restrictions evolved.

The organisation discovered that their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid changes and deliver accurate information to customers. The process to update content within the virtual agent was quicker and easier than updating content on their website, allowing them to make as many changes as needed while minimising the amount of time the team spent actioning those changes.

The support needed for a transitioning call centre

Restrictions and guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 meant it could no longer be business-as-usual for the organisation’s call centre. As the call centre dealt with rotating shifts and transitioning to a new way of working, they faced a period of having fewer agents available to deal with a rising volume of customer queries. To help relieve pressure from live agents, they began to proactively direct customers to self-serve through their virtual agent.

Since the virtual agent could provide the most updated information available, this approach was a win-win for customers and the call centre. Customers appreciated being able to quickly find answers to their questions without the hassle of making a call and dealing with long hold times. Call centre agents benefited from fewer calls which gave them more time to help customers with complex issues or who preferred to discuss their question with a live agent.

The right collaboration for a better CX

In the past, the team responsible for keeping the virtual agent’s content updated would need to reach out to the call centre for input. Now call centre teams are actively providing feedback and new content to add based on incoming calls from customers. This collaboration is enabling the organisation to keep their virtual agent performing well and delivering accurate answers to customers’ most pressing questions.

During the 3-4-month period of widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, the financial services group saw their virtual agent traffic double and then nearly triple. Even after those large peaks, usage of the virtual agent continues to be greater than usual with high customer satisfaction scores.

While others struggled with their CX, this financial services organisation recognised the potential of their virtual agent and successfully pushed it to the forefront of their strategy.

Download a full copy of the Conversational AI Trends 2020 ebook for a complete look at highlighted industry trends, insights and success stories. You can also request a live demo with a member of the Creative Virtual team to learn more about our V-Person virtual agent, chatbot and live chat solutions and see them in action.

A big thank you to Martin Russo and the team at AI Time Journal for inviting us to take part in this ebook!

It’s Time to be Smart About Your AI Strategy

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I first started working in the world of virtual agents in 2000 and, even though the technology was very much in its infancy at the time, saw huge potential for innovation and growth in the industry. Having now led my own company in this space for over 15 years, I have a unique perspective on the advancements of conversational AI technology and the ways it can be used. I was pleased to share some of my insights with the AI Time Journal recently in an interview for their Conversational AI Initiative.

Whether you use chatbots, virtual agents, conversational AI or one of the other numerous terms in the market today to describe this technology, one of the biggest challenges the industry faces (besides the inconsistent terminology!) is the lack of understanding within organisations about deploying these solutions. Just a few years ago this was due to them not really knowing much about virtual agents or how these tools can be used to improve the customer and employee experience. Now there is typically a general understanding of what virtual agents are, and the lack of understanding stems more from the media hype around AI and the confusion created by other vendors making false promises about the capabilities of the technology.

As I discuss in the interview, I truly believe that the key to a successful conversational AI strategy is to work with an experienced team of people. Enterprises need to be smart about the choices they make and not get swept up in the AI hype and empty promises if they want to have a strategy that will not only work today, but also set them up for future innovation and expansion.

This is why the Creative Virtual team is the company’s biggest asset. We’re able to provide organisations with the consultation services they need to really understand the possibilities – and limitations – of the technology and develop a customised implementation plan rooted in industry best practices. It is our combination of an experienced, expert team and our award-winning technology that sets us apart from other vendors in the space. In fact, this was one of the reasons that Frost & Sullivan selected Creative Virtual as the AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader this year. You can read more in their independent report.

In a world where customer experience is THE differentiator, one of the biggest opportunities for organisations implementing conversational AI is the ability to provide a superior and personalised experience to their customers. They can deliver on customer expectations for an experience that is effortless and embedded within their normal day-to-day activities. The interaction with your company becomes like that of friends interacting with each other.

Enterprises also shouldn’t overlook the big opportunity to leverage this technology to provide that same type of effortless, personalised experience for their employees. That can be onboarding new team members, training and supporting contact centre agents, delivering internal service desk support, offering easy self-service for HR questions – just to name a few! We’ve seen a huge increase over the past few years in these types of internal implementations with impressive results.

My interview also delves into my thoughts on voice-enabled conversational interfaces, challenges of channel-specific chatbots, and future technology trends that will impact the industry. My thanks to the AI Time Journal Editorial Staff for including me in their Conversational AI Initiative! You can read my full interview here.