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Conversational AI and the Future of APAC Contact Centres

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Like many industry events this year, the annual HKCCA (Hong Kong Customer Contact Association) Symposium went virtual on 5 November. Our partner Continuous Technologies (CTINT) was once again an event sponsor and graciously invited me to present on the Symposium theme of Future Fit.

This was my sixth time speaking at the HKCCA Symposium, but the first time doing it from the UK. This event is always one of the highlights of the year for me, and I missed being in Hong Kong in person to take part in the great discussions and awards gala fun. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we participated in the Symposium, it has also greatly affected how businesses engage with their customers. The theme of Future Fit perfectly reflected the pressure contact centres around the world are experiencing as they tackle these current challenges and prepare for the unknown challenges of the future.

The event speakers covered a variety of topics with a strong emphasis on digital innovation and transformation within the contact centre industry. My session, Conversational AI & the Future of Your Contact Centre, also delved into how the digital CX impacts contact centres and agents. The fact is that even though APAC CX practitioners identify digital CX as a top trend, a majority of organisations are only in the early stages of their digital transformation journey and far from having an integrated, omnichannel experience.

While this may offer a rather gloomy view of the state of CX in the APAC region, I think it also provides an exciting opportunity for organisations to jump ahead of the customer experience curve and really stand out from competitors. Conversational AI is an important technology to help join up the contact centre with digital channels and prepare your contact centre and agents for the future.

Conversational AI is showing itself to be more important this year than ever before as the world comes to grips with the impacts of the pandemic. In 2020 there is an increased focus on automated technologies, such as chatbots and virtual agents, as companies face new customer service and experience challenges and customers alter the ways they engage with businesses. One advantage of this technology is that it can handle massive volumes of conversations at the same time, 24/7. Another advantage is that changes to content can be deployed very quickly, a must-have during a time when keeping information dynamic, up-to-date and accurate is key.

The companies that have the most success with their CX strategies take an approach that combines digital channels and the contact centre. They build a team that brings them together instead of keeping them separate as was done traditionally. This helps with creating and implementing an omnichannel, or channel agnostic, conversational AI strategy.

Conversational AI can become the friend, buddy and colleague of the contact centre agent when delivered in the form of an Agent Assist tool. This tool can be used as a research wizard to help agents answer questions. It can also be set up to ‘listen’ to calls or ‘watch’ live chat sessions to make suggestions to the agents with the relevant information. When agents override the tool’s suggestion, those changes are used to help train the chatbot or virtual agent. The future of the contact centre then becomes the training and best practice centre for bots – the Robot Academy, if you will.

In order to maximise the benefits of your contact centre agents’ expertise, be sure to partner with an experienced conversational AI vendor. You want to work with a team that has the experience to guide you through the creation of a business case and realistic project plan and then put that plan into action. Select a vendor that also offers consultation services to assist you with creating a positive experience for both customers and your agents. Having the right technology is important, but without a doubt the most important factor is the human part of building, deploying and maintaining conversational AI solutions.

If you want to learn more about conversational AI in the contact centre, you can request a personalised demo. A member of our team will be happy to set up a virtual session to show you live demonstrations of our implementations and explain more about the technology.

Thank you so much to CTINT for inviting me to speak again at this event, and a special thanks to Mabel Tsim for assisting me with my virtual presentation. Congratulations to the HKCCA team for putting together another great event despite all the extra challenges this year. I hope to see you all in person again next year!

On the Hunt for Better Customer Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The world always seems to be on the hunt for the next thing that will be bigger and better – the newest tech gadget, the latest fashion trend, the hottest social media challenge, the next break-out Netflix show. As customers, we want the best deal, the most innovative products and the greatest experience possible. This means that companies are always on the hunt for ways to meet those expectations, build brand loyalty and deliver a better customer experience.

Last week we celebrated Customer Service Week and CX Day, two annual events that place a spotlight on the importance of customer service and your overall customer experience as well as the people involved in supporting your customers. At Creative Virtual, we recognised these global celebrations with a special series of blog posts written by members of our expert team and published throughout the week. Each contributor selected their own topic independently, and the result was a well-rounded look at how humans and machines can help companies on that hunt for better customer service.

On Tuesday, we published a post by Rachel Freeman in which she explores the struggles contact centres have been facing during the pandemic. Long wait times have been fuelled by a sharp rise in calls combined with the unpredictability of available agents due to office closures and quarantines. She advocates for letting self-help tools, such as virtual agents and chatbots, share the burden being felt by contact centres.

“Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work” Rachel writes. This combination of humans and machines can create a seamless experience and more efficient customer service interactions. At the same time, using this approach helps companies prioritise the health and well-being of both their customers and employees.

This provided the perfect set-up for Laura Ludmany’s Customer Service Week Musings on how a machine knows if it’s wrong which we published on Wednesday. In her post, she takes a closer look at the different approaches that can be used to ‘teach’ chatbots and virtual agents. Her conclusion? When it comes to using these AI tools to provide customer service, they can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs.

Laura uses her experience working with self-service virtual agents to describe this hybrid approach and the different ways data can be collected from users and applied by the tool to learn about what is right and wrong. “As long as AI tools serve customer queries,” she explains, “they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.”

She ends her post by recognising the important role humans, both customers and the virtual agent experts, have in helping these self-service tools deliver a continuously improving experience. This theme of the importance of the human touch was then picked up in Thursday’s post by Björn Gülsdorff.

Björn starts by recalling the presentation he gave in March at the CCW 2020 conference in Berlin which was all about the human touch in AI. The human touch was a hot topic at the event, being seen as the latest trend in Bot Building, and one that Creative Virtual has been doing for years. In his session, Björn talked about putting your customer in the centre of the project, keeping the human experts involved and giving the virtual agent’s responses a personal touch to improve the customer experience.

Now, seven months on from that conference, Björn acknowledges, “The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.” He advocates for the use of technology to bridge the gaps created by the physical distancing needed to control the spread of COVID-19 but stresses the importance of remembering that these are just tools being used to connect people. Keeping the human touch in customer service by keeping humans in the loop is more important than ever.

So, what does this all mean for companies on the hunt for a better customer service experience? Having the right technology in place to enable customers to self-serve is imperative. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digital customer service. Customers who may have turned to digital channels and self-service options out of necessity this year, are now familiar with their convenience and are more likely to make them a part of their new customer service expectations. Contact centres also benefit from this technology with a better agent experience and improved customer interactions.

However, having the technology does not automatically ensure success. It needs to be combined with the right human expertise and support in order to be developed, implemented and maintained correctly for your organisation, customers and agents. That type of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight or come from reading a few blog posts (even great ones like these!). It takes a deep understanding of the technology, how the tools work and the ways users interact with implementations. That expertise only comes from years of actual experience in developing, implementing and maintaining self-service solutions.

Customer Service Week may be over for this year, but the never-ending hunt for better customer service – by companies and customers – goes on. 2020 has forced changes on all of us and accelerated the push for digital transformation. Smart companies know the present and future of better customer service lies in the combination of humans and machines, people and technology, live agents and virtual agents.

Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

On the wall of my parents’ kitchen hangs my mother’s beloved rotary phone, referred to by the family as simply The Rotary. Fans of Stranger Things will have watched Joyce receiving her first contact with Will from the Upside Down on a near replica of The Rotary – right down to the amazing mustard yellow colour – that was hanging on her wall, too.

The Rotary, now only functioning to answer incoming calls to the landline, is an oddity in today’s world of smartphones. For the grandkids it’s one of those weird things you only see at your grandparents’ house because they’re old. For my siblings and me, it’s the source of a long-running family joke and a little bit of nostalgia.

The trends and preferences in our personal communications and the technology we use to stay connected have changed drastically over the lifetime of The Rotary. The same is true for how companies engage with and support us as customers. Newer channels, such as messaging apps, have entered the mix and preferences are shifting more and more towards digital self-service as a first choice. Yet even with these changes, customers still sometimes want or need to reach out to a human agent in the contact centre.

In the 2020 edition of The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel surveyed business leaders about their current and planned customer service offerings and investments. One survey question focused on the role they saw artificial intelligence (AI) playing in their contact centre. Among respondents from the UK, 94% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would be used to support human agents. There was an agreement that this helps to speed up responses and provide customers with higher quality resolutions.

No one taking part in the UK survey viewed AI as unimportant to their contact centre, and only 24% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would replace human agents. Respondents from large contact centres with 200+ seats were more likely to think that agents would be replaced by AI than those from small or medium-sized contact centres.

AI in the contact centre

Survey respondents from the US also viewed AI as having the role of supporting agents, with 83% agreeing or strongly agreeing. However, they were more likely to believe that AI will replace human agents with 59% agreeing with that survey option. Interestingly, the US survey also had 12% of respondents thinking AI is unimportant to their contact centre.

AI in the contact center

There’s been a lot of hype around AI taking over jobs and making humans obsolete in certain roles and industries. While there’s been impressive advancements in the use of AI within the customer service space over the past several years, it’s certainly not at a point where it can completely replace all of your human agents. The fact that a majority of survey respondents in both the UK and US felt that AI will be used to support agents is right on the money. The combination of humans and AI makes for an improved customer support experience.

One way in which companies can support their live agents is with AI-enhanced virtual agents and chatbots. Back in 2015, Motability Operations won a Customer Contact Innovation Award for their contact centre virtual agent, Ask Mo, and gave a presentation on their winning case study. While the presentation is a bit old now (although not nearly as old as The Rotary!), it provides some great insights into why Ask Mo – which is still used in their contact centre today – has been so successful. It provides real evidence to back up the survey’s findings that using AI to support agents provides customers with higher quality resolutions and a better experience.

Be sure to download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights into the ways organisations are using AI as part of their self-service and contact centre strategies. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies and methods to help them support those channels, as well as newer ones, in a better and more cost-effective way.

Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.

A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Businesses around the world are navigating through unchartered and very uncertain waters at the moment, making difficult decisions and trying to stay afloat. With physical offices and locations closed, many are struggling with the influx of customer questions to their contact centres – an issue that may be compounded by the sudden need to support agents working from home.

Self-service tools, such as conversational chatbots and virtual agents, are a great option to help alleviate some of the pressure from the contact centre and give customers a better option for finding quick answers to their questions. Organisations with an existing self-service solution have a definite advantage. Organisations without one – or with a solution that isn’t up to the challenge – know they must take action right away.

While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience. By not doing that, organisations run the risk of making their current situation worse by frustrating customers even more with a disjointed and unhelpful self-service experience.

The good news is that even if organisations take the time to be thoughtful about how a new self-service solution will fit in with the bigger picture, it’s still possible to move the project forward quickly. Working with a vendor that has extensive experience and a deep understanding of how to implement the technology for both quick wins and long-term success is key.

Here are two recently published resources that will help any organisation jumpstart their quest for a successful self-service solution:

How to Select a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for Your Self-Service Project

Download here >>

Part of destinationCRM’s Best Practice Series, this guide provides insider tips for selecting a chatbot or virtual agent to positively impact your customer care. There are recommendations both for companies deploying a chatbot or virtual agent for the first time as well as those struggling with an existing poor-performing chatbot. It breaks down selection criteria for these self-service solutions to help you select the best technology to meet your current needs and enable long-term success.

 

The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service

Download here >>

This independent research report published by ContactBabel explores survey responses from consumers on their preferences and usage of self-service channels as well as use cases and results from organisations currently offering self-service options. It takes a deep dive into opportunities for using AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to improve self-service channels. The report guides organisations on important questions to ask and pitfalls to avoid when implementing a new or updated self-service channel.

 

A large part of the world may be panic buying toilet paper, but organisations don’t need to panic about their self-service strategy. By taking a step back to look at their overall customer experience (CX) and working with experts in conversational AI, chatbots and virtual agents, they can make sound decisions while moving forward quickly.

APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

This year the Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) has been celebrating their 20th anniversary. Every year this not-for-profit organisation holds the HKCCA Symposium and the HKCCA Award Presentation and Gala Ceremony as part of their mission of advancing the contact centre industry. Creative Virtual was excited to be invited back to participate again by our partner Continuous Technologies International Ltd (CTINT) in the Symposium held on 31 October and to attend the Gala the following evening.

HKCCA Symposium - Chris EzekielThis was the fifth year we have attended the event as a solution partner of CTINT and Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, has presented on the event theme. His session was titled Smart Self-Help for a Seamless, Omnichannel Customer Experience and focused on delivering the right information on the right channel at the right time for customers. This hit right at the heart of the challenges faced by customer experience (CX) practitioners across the APAC region.

We had more enquiries this year than ever before about using virtual agent and chatbot technology internally to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. This reflected the shift we’re seeing in the region of an increasing number of organisations looking to use artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies. We were able to share with Symposium attendees a few examples of how this technology is already being used:

  • The relationship managers at a bank have access to a virtual agent customised specifically for them to use while meeting face-to-face with customers. It shortens the time they need to search for information so they can provide a better in-person service experience for customers.
  • Starting with their existing self-service FAQs, a utility company is developing a virtual agent for contact centre agents to use while they are handling cases from different channels. They are starting with voice and e-mail and then will expand this to include chat and messaging apps in the future.
  • Another organisation is using our natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to enhance their agent desktop. This means they can provide an AI-assisted virtual agent to reduce average handling times (AHT) for an improved customer experience.

A lot has changed in the contact centre space during the HKCCA’s 20 years. The advancements in AI and virtual agents are bring more changes. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and work load. When looking to use AI, NLP and virtual agent technologies, there are lots of important things APAC decision makers should consider, including:

  • Language support – The virtual agent should be able to handle enquiries in different languages and give users the option to get answers in the language of their choice.
  • Omnichannel service – The solution should give you the ability to join up information silos, contact channels, etc. so customers receive a seamless, consistent and accurate service experience.
  • Combination of AI and humans – The virtual agent should be powered by a combination of AI and human input to give your organisation control over the accuracy of information and your agents the ability to help keep content up-to-date through integrated feedback loops.

The HKCCA Symposium’s theme this year of ‘Customer Autonomy’ highlighted the impact technology is having on changing customer expectations. It was exciting to be a part of the discussions of how contact centres can meet new expectations with AI, virtual agents and chatbots.

HKCCA Award Gala 2019On behalf of the Creative Virtual team, I want to express our thanks to CTINT for inviting us to participate in the Symposium and attend the Gala Ceremony. We value your partnership in the region and appreciate all the work you put into making this event a success each year. Thank you!

I also want to wish the HKCCA a Happy 20th Anniversary! We are already looking forward to next year’s event.

To learn more about using AI and virtual agents in your contact centre and what questions to ask when selecting a technology, download the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. You can also request a live demo to see our solutions in action and discuss with our team how the technology can fit with your CX plans.

Preparing Contact Centres for the Impact of AI

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s that time of year when shopping centres are transforming into Christmas Wonderlands, children start to worry about being on the Naughty List, and industry analysts make their predictions for the impending new year. It’s only natural to want to know what the future holds – whether it be what you’ll find in your stocking on Christmas morning or what challenges and changes your business will face in the coming year.

There have been lots of predictions over the past several years about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot technologies will have on customer service. In particular, there has been a fear that automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents would completely replace the contact centre and eliminate the need for human agents. Those with a real understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and the needs of customers know those predictions are far-fetched and not going to be a reality any time soon.

However, AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents are changing the role of contact centres and human customer service agents. The analysts at Forrester talk about some of these changes in their Predictions 2020: Customer Service. One trend they mention that will have a growing impact on contact centres is the need for more highly skilled customer service agents because of improvements in AI and automated self-service tools. This will impact contact centre locations, budgets and agent experience.

Organisations that have well-established virtual agents and chatbots available to their customers have already been seeing this shift in their contact centres. As more and more customers self-serve for simple questions and easy tasks, contact centre agents are freed up to deal with more complex issues that need human assistance. This means agents no longer have to deal with the monotony of repeatedly answering basic questions all day long. However, it also means that contact centres need to be staffed with agents that are highly skilled and trained to deal with complicated and more sensitive situations.

New research from CCA, The Future of Work and Automation in CX, found that 85% of executives feel future agents will need to be skilled in handling multi-channel interactions and 83% think that problem-solving skills will be more important due to this shift of simple requests to automation. Responses to this survey also highlighted the importance of agent training to equip them with the skills necessary to show empathy and have emotional intelligence in order to deal with a wide range of demographics.

Contact centre leaders are realising that the AI chatbot technology being used to deliver a quality, 24/7 customer self-service experience can also be deployed to support their live agents. When used as a tool to assist agents, a chatbot or virtual agent gives them instant access to information at their fingertips, so their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers. This is especially important as agents transition to dealing with those more complex issues customers can’t solve by self-serving.

As contact centres put together their Wish List for the coming year, they need to take a hard look at these industry predictions and trends. If they aren’t proactive now in preparations for the changing role of the contact centre and customer service agents, they will face a difficult struggle to catch up. When you add to the mix Frost & Sullivan’s prediction that 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the top way companies will differentiate themselves, ignoring the impact of AI on the contact centre sounds even more foolish – and will likely put you on Santa’s Naughty List.

Conversational AI in the Contact Centre

This post originally appeared on AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative.

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Contact centres require a great deal of investment for organisations – from recruiting and training staff to putting the right tools in place for agents – and yet still often deliver a poor customer experience. Plagued by long wait times, agents dealing with inadequate or incomplete access to information and a disconnect from digital channels, contact centres are struggling to meet customer service expectations. With industry experts predicting the year 2020 as the point when customer experience (CX) will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition, organisations can’t risk ignoring these common contact centre issues.

Smart companies are working hard to better their CX. Organisations everywhere are embarking on digital CX initiatives in an effort to improve their experience, build loyalty and increase sales. Conversational AI is increasingly an important piece of these initiatives with chatbots and virtual agents becoming essential tools for providing 24/7 self-service to digital customers. Available on websites, messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, chatbots are helping organisations deal with the growing number of customer touch points.

Yet, all too often these digital initiatives and conversational AI strategies ignore the contact centre. This creates expensive silos that damage the customer’s experience. A truly successful strategy goes beyond what customers are experiencing online to include what’s happening in your contact centre.

Chatbots are more than customer self-service tools

Many organisations are utilising conversational AI to create a self-service experience for customers but are overlooking the added benefits of using this technology in the contact centre. Chatbots and virtual agents help maximise on contact centre investments by instantly providing agents with information to assist callers, reducing average call handling times and increasing first contact resolution. Training time for live agents is drastically reduced, and organisations build confidence with customers by assuring consistent communication from all agents. When agents know they always have the information they need at their fingertips, their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers.

The tool understands questions asked in natural language, as well as common abbreviations used by agents, and can guide agents through processes and forms step-by-step as they assist customers. By giving all staff easy access to the same level of knowledge, anyone from support teams to trainers and coaches can step in to answer customer questions with confidence at peak or busy times. Chatbots also lend themselves well to gamification around content awareness, skills training and performance improvements.

Not all chatbots are designed for the contact centre

There’s a record number of chatbot options on the market today, but not all of them have been designed for the contact centre. In fact, many of them are channel-specific solutions that create a disjointed experience for customers. Enterprises serious about creating a seamless CX – and aligning the contact centre directly with the digital function – should avoid those solutions. Here are four tips to help with selecting a conversational AI platform for contact centre agents:

  1. Centralise knowledge management control: To reap the benefits of using conversational AI within the contact centre – and for customer self-service – you must have a solid foundation in knowledge management. Chatbots and virtual agents can only give accurate responses if they are backed by a knowledgebase with accurate content. Using a single knowledge control centre for both customer-facing and contact centre chatbots creates consistency across channels. It also allows organisations to more easily keep content up-to-date and create a single point of truth.
  2. Integrate chatbots and live agents: The future of customer engagement lies in humans and machines working together in harmony. By bringing together automated and human support, organisations can create the seamless, omnichannel experience customers want. They can also take advantage of the contact centre becoming the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels. Providing a chatbot that works for the specific needs and requirements of the contact centre is key for properly supporting agents and getting the most from this integrated solution. There should be choices to personalise the agent console as well as options for agents to use voice and for the tool to also be deployed on the IVR (interactive voice response) channel.
  3. Combine artificial intelligence and human input: The foundations of successful chatbots lie in the control of the response given. A hybrid approach of machine learning and human curation of content allows the chatbot to continually improve based on the way it is being used while also enabling companies to maintain control over the reliability of responses. Combining human learnings with AI creates dependable self-service solutions and gives organisations the control they need to comply with industry standards and regulations.
  4. Work with an experienced vendor: An often-cited barrier to deploying a chatbot by company executives is a lack of internal expertise. So, while selecting a conversational platform that offers the right features and functionality is essential for success, it’s just as important to select a vendor that can provide that experience and knowhow. When an organisation is working with the right provider, they don’t need to have existing internal experience to make the solution successful. The right vendor will be a partner throughout the process, collaborating on a customised chatbot and providing guidance on industry best practices and new innovations.

Be realistic but plan for the future

Before starting to evaluate chatbot offerings for the contact centre, an organisation needs to first determine how the solution will fit into their overall customer experience plan. Just as digital CX initiatives that ignore the contact centre create damaging silos, selecting a tool for the contact centre that ignores other customer channels can create similar issues. It’s crucial for companies to be ambitious, and at the same time realistic, about the role the contact centre currently plays – and the role it should be playing – in their overall CX strategy.

For a more in-depth look at these four tips along with 12 essential questions to ask when selecting chatbot technology for the contact centre, download the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. With the right conversational AI technology and partner, organisations can maximise on contact centre investments, provide seamless omnichannel customer support and incorporate the contact centre into their digital CX strategy.

The Campaign to Win Over Customers

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In electoral campaigns, candidates share their ideas, come up with catchy slogans and make promises to gain the support of voters and best their opponents. For businesses, every day is like a day on the campaign trail. There is a constant battle with competitors as they try to outdo each other with a superior product or service, lower pricing and an easier customer experience. As customers, we are choosing the winners and the losers every day by deciding where to spend our money.

I wrote recently about the prediction that 2020 will be the year that customer experience overtakes product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves in the marketplace. While we don’t have long to wait to see if that prediction comes to fruition, businesses don’t have the luxury of taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. If they haven’t already been putting time and effort into improvements to their customer experience and cultivating the company culture needed to make that a priority, they’ve put themselves at a great disadvantage.

I’ve also written before about the so-called ‘Amazon effect’ on customer experience expectations. Amazon and other companies that are delivering high quality experiences, including excellent service and support, are creating a customer base that is now expecting that same level of customer experience from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry. This is helping to push customer experience ahead of product and price in purchasing decisions.

Case in point: over the weekend I got a text from a friend that read ‘Lesson learned…I’m sticking with Amazon from now on…returns are super easy!’ She had been dealing with a drawn-out and frustrating return process for an item that, had she purchased it from Amazon, could have been sorted out in minutes on their website. That business had just lost a customer because of the poor experience they delivered; an experience that didn’t meet the expectations created by a customer knowing there could have been a simpler, quicker process in place.

Customer service and support is one area of the overall customer experience where organisations have often struggled to keep customers happy. One reason is the rapid change in how we communicate both with companies and each other, driven by technology and increased internet access. Not that long ago, businesses were only dealing with providing support in person, over the phone or via email. Now customers are looking for answers and information on websites, social media, messaging apps and smart speakers, too.

Forward-thinking companies understand that the future of customer service lies in automation. It’s not feasible to support customers on every communication channel with humans alone – and customers don’t expect that. Conversational chatbots and virtual agents are a smart way to deliver automated self-service for customers across multiple channels. These automated solutions can also be used to assist customer service agents in the contact centre to improve both the customer and agent experience. The key is to be smart about this automation, though. Work with a knowledgeable team to implement the right combination of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and human input to set your efforts up for long-term success.

In the relentless campaign to win over customers, it’s easy for businesses to promise a seamless, easy and positive customer experience. But as customer experience becomes more and more important in the decision-making process, it will be the companies that deliver on those promises that will come out victorious.

A Look Back: 2018 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

As 2018 is quickly coming to an end and planning for 2019 continues to move full steam ahead, it’s time once again to take a moment to slow down and look back over the past year. It’s been another exciting year not only for Creative Virtual as a company, but also for the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat industry, with lots of new developments and innovation. So, as per our annual tradition, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the past 12 months.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 by publishing more Meet the Team interviews and pushing forward with our Innovations Roadmap. In September, we added a new recognition to our growing list of accomplishments when we won a place on The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 as one of Britain’s fastest-growing private technology companies. Rachel Freeman (Operations Director), Peter Behrend (CTO) and Chris Ezekiel (Founder & CEO) attended the awards ceremony in London to accept our award and spend an interesting evening mingling with other Tech Track 100 companies. This year we also had the opportunity to share our story in The Parliamentary Review as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector. It was exciting to see our article in print – there are still copies of the publication available in our London office – and talk about our journey from a small industry pioneer to a global leader in our space and our company culture based on innovation, teamwork and ownership of which we are very proud. You can read our full article here.

We can’t mention recognitions without a special shout out to the Transport for NSW team and their chatbot RITA on having an exceptional year. RITA was in the news in January for giving commuters access to voice-activated information with a new integration with Amazon’s Alexa. The team also brought home three separate awards this year: ‘Most Innovative and Intelligent BOT for Customer Experience’ at the AI Conference Awards, ‘Best Multichannel Customer Experience’ in the EY-Ashton Media 2018 CX Awards, and a win in the Solutions category at the Transport Recognition Awards for “A new frontier in customer information”. Congratulations!

There were also some other noteworthy and news making announcements for individual members of the Creative Virtual team this year. Maria Ward, Andre Matthews, Dinah Clarke, David Barker, Chloe Tooley, Tracey Biela, Björn Gülsdorff, Steve Smith, Rachel Freeman and Chris Ezekiel completed the Virgin Sport Westminster 10K in July and exceeded their fundraising goal for the RSPCA. This was the fourth time a group of runners from Creative Virtual did a 10k in support of the RSPCA. Jeff Clifford was invited to speak at Milton Keynes College during Digital Day in February to share insights on chatbots and virtual agents with students (read our interview with Jeff here). Rachael Needham had her ‘Meet the Team’ interview featured in her local newspaper, the Cameron Citizen-Observer, in September (read the article here and our full interview with Rachael here). Liam Ryan was featured in CRMXchange’s Executive Interview series, sharing his thoughts on self-service technology and recent industry developments (read his full interview here).  And I was honoured to be named ‘Most Influential Marketing Manager 2018 – UK’ as part of the 2018 Business Woman Elite Awards for my work at Creative Virtual.

We once again celebrated Customer Service Week (1-5 October) and CX Day (2 October) with a special series of posts on the Creative Virtual blog. This year we explored the evolving role of chatbots and combining automation with a human element to better support customers with special contributions from Laura Ludmany (Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity), Rachel Freeman (Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly) and Chris Ezekiel (Automation Shouldn’t Force Customers to do the Work Themselves). We also shared our annual blog post roundup (Five Stars for Customer Service Week) to kick off the week and released a brand new whitepaper, A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre, which shares tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform to support agents and provide an omnichannel customer experience. It includes 12 specific questions to ask when deciding what solution will work best for your organisation.

In September, we presented our sixth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar with CRMXchange, this year titled ‘Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple’. Chris Ezekiel shared a series of live demonstrations showcasing how to bring together artificial intelligence and human input to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance and increase customer satisfaction scores. You can watch the recording on-demand here. Then at the end of November, he presented another webinar, this time with Engage Customer titled ‘Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience’. He again shared live demos along with eight recommendations for organisations either looking to implement chatbots, virtual agents and live chat or who want to improve any of those tools they already have in place. Within minutes of finishing the live webinar, Chris received an email from an attendee that read, “I would like to say thank you for the best online presentation in my life.” Luckily you can also watch that recording on-demand here to experience it for yourself!

As always, we were busy sponsoring and joining our partners at industry events around the world during 2018 – Hong Kong, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, India – and were grateful to deliver thought leadership presentations and/or sit on expert panels at many of them. In addition to presenting at four of these events, Chris Ezekiel also penned an article for CRMXchange, Are You Ready for the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Contact Center?, which identifies three areas contact centres should focus on when it comes to developing and implementing digital initiatives and AI projects. We released two new Customer Success Stories this year: Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, who use virtual agent Roger to provide 24/7 support for customers on their website and Google Home; and a large Government Department that is reducing internal service desk costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent.

This year we celebrated the launch of a brand new Creative Virtual website that better reflects our company, brand and technology. We welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network, and our V-Person™ Family continued to grow with new deployments in a variety of languages and additional features and functionality being added to existing installs.

November marked the 15th anniversary of Chris Ezekiel founding Creative Virtual in London’s East End, and January will be the anniversary of when the company first started trading. As we finish out the end of 2018, we’re looking forward to celebrating our 15th anniversary next year!

Don’t forget to check out our 2018 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled photos from our official events and presentations as well as our fun group activities, company celebrations and fundraising activities. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.