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C3 San Francisco 2018: Enabling conversational commerce for customer service

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On September 12-13, Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. Following on from C3 London held in May, the event will explore conversational platforms and how organizations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features case studies, industry use cases, and a series of interactive, topical panel discussions.

Creative Virtual is a sponsor for C3 San Francisco and will be lending our expertise in building and deploying conversational systems to the conference agenda. Scott Tompkins, VP of Sales, will be an expert speaker on the ‘Achieving the Right Balance in Conversational AI’ panel on Day 2 of the event. This session will address the important discussions organizations must have around human involvement in automated solutions and the best ways to implement machine learning and chatbots.

Members of the Creative Virtual team will also be available at our stand to share live demonstrations and success stories of organizations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots, and live chat to optimize their conversational customer care. They will also be discussing tips on building a business case for this technology in your company and best practices for implementing solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement and build better relationships with customers.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 San Francisco event website. Also, be sure to follow conference announcements and updates on your social accounts using #C3SF2018.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to received $200 off the conference rate. If you aren’t able to be at the event in San Francisco, we’d be happy to arrange a personalized demo at a time that works for you.

A Complete Omnichannel Experience for Those at a Desk and on the Move

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

In my nearly 11 years with Creative Virtual, I’ve worked with organisations across all sectors looking to implement successful virtual agent solutions and have seen the industry and the technology change massively. As the number of communication channels have grown and customers have become more digitally savvy, virtual agent technology has also become more advanced and sophisticated. Today companies are using these solutions to increase engagement through natural language conversations and are seeing all the usual benefits that you’ve heard associated with chatbots and virtual agents for years – an enhanced user experience, improvement in CSAT scores, reductions in calls to the contact centre and lower customer service costs.

Yet, as I explain in my recent Executive Interview with CRMXchange, the benefits go beyond that with today’s solutions. Chatbots and virtual agents can now provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move. By being able to linkup channels – web, mobile, Facebook, messenger apps (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), voice assistants (like Google Home and Amazon Alexa), etc. – companies are benefiting from delivering a consistent, accurate and seamless experience that’s available to customers 24/7.

It’s important that companies looking to implement a virtual agent fully explore the benefits of deploying the solution across multiple contact channels using a single knowledgebase. This then needs to be a central consideration during their selection process. Many virtual agent and chatbot solutions on the market today don’t have this capability which means you end up with a stand-alone tool on a single communication channel and an even more disjointed customer experience.

In my interview I also talk about the benefits of using self-service virtual agents for employee support, particularly for internal service desk and HR support, and how working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual can help an organisation get the most from their virtual agent. I discuss why human moderation of the machine learning component of chatbots is essential and the effect the explosion of media hype and buzz around artificial intelligence and chatbots has had on the industry.

Read my full interview for more and request a live demo to see Creative Virtual’s technology in action. My thanks to CRMXchange for the opportunity to participate in their Executive Interview series!

Overcome Language and Culture Barriers with Chatbots

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the annual Asian Financial Forum (AFF) in Hong Kong with our partner HKT. The forum brought together some of the most influential members of the global financial and business community to discuss developments and trends in the dynamic Asian markets.

The two-day forum featured over 100 international speakers sharing insights into the event theme “Steering Growth and Pioneering Innovation: Asia and Beyond”. On Day 2, HKT sponsored a session on “Business Transformation along Your Belt and Road Journey”. This session discussed megatrends in global business development and how companies can accelerate their growth in overseas and mainland China markets through transformation and the effective use of various infrastructure and ICT services.

Björn Gülsdorff, Creative Virtual’s Chief Business Development Officer, joined me at the forum and gave a presentation on chatbots as part of HKT’s Belt and Road session. I asked him to share his thoughts with me after the event:

The One Belt One Road initiative is one of greatest business initiatives of our time – and as ours is the time of globalisation, that is to say: in all times. In this undertaking, Hong Kong is a central element for all sorts of reasons. So, when entering the plenary hall of the Asia Financial Forum 2018 in HK, I wasn’t surprised to find the stage taken by an executive board member of the German Federal Bank in discussion with Group CEO of HSBC (among others in that league).

The event nicely mixed the big picture with more workshop-type sessions about the very next steps and what this means for the individual business. I think it is fair to say that many companies see a big challenge in this new outward facing and more connected way for China to do business in the world. Being the world’s workbench and garden was much more clear-cut and even easier in a way.

So, we had a packed room and an eager audience in our session on “Business Transformation”. Flanked by two great co-speakers I shared some ideas how virtual assistants and chatbots can help businesses to grow across countries, time zones and languages without jeopardizing their customer communications. Thankfully, I could do this in English (and listen to Chinese speeches), because the organizers provided real time translations via headsets – what a great service! My only “problem” was that I had to scratch the artificial intelligence (AI) part of my speech because Professor Daniela Rus, Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, had just explained in a key note how much manual work it takes to get machine learning right. Regular readers of our posts will immediately picture me nodding heavily for the entire 45 minutes. What really struck me at this conference, was the nearly unanimous view that technology will be key, but shall support people, not replace them. In short, the financial services sector in this part of the world is ready for virtual assistants and a hybrid approach of human and machine labour.

For me, the forum really showed that chatbots and AI are no longer just areas of study or something for companies to research. In the Finance sector, organisations are now taking action and making this technology a real part of their digital initiatives. Deploying a chatbot in different languages breaks through the barrier of initial customer engagement in doing business in “One Belt One Road” countries.

We are delighted to have engaged HKT as our partner to promote Creative Virtual chatbot solutions in Hong Kong. HKT is one of the largest suppliers of high-end Omnichannel Contact Centre solutions in Hong Kong, where chatbots are increasingly being used for improving customer engagement, and for expediting customer services. Together, HKT and Creative Virtual shall deliver outstanding customer engagement solutions, combining the strengths of both companies. We are looking forward to that.

Our thanks to HKT for inviting us to take part in AFF 2018 and to the event organisers for putting on a great forum. To learn more about how chatbots and virtual agents can help you overcome language barriers and grow your business, request a personalised demo.

Asian Financial Forum

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.

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.

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.

Time Back To Do The Important Things

By Christina Wilson, Head of Customer Success, USA

As a busy, working mom of three daughters, I am always challenged to find more time. Time for dinner, kid’s activities, bill paying, going to the gym, excelling at work, you get the picture. I am equally challenged to make certain I am focusing on the important things. It is an exhausting, emotional and rewarding journey!

I am very passionate about finding ways to steal back time in my day to keep the main thing the main thing. I think that is why I find my job so rewarding. I spend my days helping clients build Customer Service strategies that give people their time back, allowing them to go to their son’s soccer game or watch their 3rd grade daughter’s Fall play instead of spending their evening on hold for hours with a Customer Service representative.

Artificial Intelligence or AI has reached new levels in the last 5-10 years and has become easy to access, intelligent and conversational. What used to require a long, drawn out phone or chat conversation with a live agent, now can be accomplished in a 2-5-minute personalized conversation with a chatbot. Smart chatbots can allow customers to pay a bill, book a flight or file an insurance claim in just fractions of the time it took before while achieving the goal of giving each customer time back in their day to focus on the important things. I can’t wait to see how AI really grows in the next five years! How smart and efficient can AI become?

If you are interested in giving your customers a better experience and giving them time back in their day, reach out to learn more about our AI experts and solutions.