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Take Your Customer Support from ‘Talking At’ to ‘Listening To’

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Once upon a time ‘market’ was a noun, denoting the place where people got together and negotiated public affairs. In some markets, like the Forum Romanum, history was made. Then, ‘market’ also became a verb. Now marketing basically means talking at people, often raising the level of volume, colours, and wordings whilst lowering niveau. 😊

Surely, to say such a thing is utterly unfair to many marketeers. Yet, when it comes to customer service, I uphold the claim that the communication is often rather unidirectional, and in the wrong direction on top of that. Countless the websites where FAQs are not “frequently asked questions” but rather “answers we’d like to give”. Or where obviously someone has created a user journey for me. Frankly, nobody needs to design that. I know pretty well where I want to go, thank you.

What I do want on my journey, is to have road bumps removed, gaps bridged, and connections optimised. If customer service was an airport, I don’t want the lounge refurbished; I want another fast lane and quick boarding.

I am aware that people are different and that the same person has different needs at different times. Therefore, there is not the one journey for all and clearing the path is not easy.

That’s where two-sided conversations, aka dialogues, kick in. Customer service is about listening as well as acknowledging that each experience will be unique. Virtual agents can play a role in that as they come with a free text input field. So even when customers are self-serving, they don’t need to guess the one correct search term or scroll through a list of FAQs someone else has selected.

When it comes to creating this dialogue with customers, there are good and not so good ways to start.Things like expectation management, consistency, focus, and coverage make a big difference. It also requires courage (customers will speak their mind!) and the will to act.

It may be an inconvenient truth, but customer service with a virtual agent (or any other tool for that matter) is not a one-off thing. Good customer service means listening to your customers and improving constantly, be it the NLP (natural language processing), answers in the virtual agent, your processes, your services, or your products. In customer service, the journey to design is your way to become a better and more successful company.

Whether you’re ready to add a virtual agent to your customer service plan for the first time or have realised that your current tool isn’t creating a helpful dialogue with customers, I recommend this whitepaper for tips from conversational AI experts.

Register Now: Expert Insights on Conversational AI and Customer Service

By Scott Tompkins, Vice President of Sales

Just like a puppy isn’t only for the pandemic, customer service insights aren’t only for Customer Service Week. This week of celebrating customer service professionals and successful customer service experiences should just be the beginning of a renewed focus on your own customer service and CX strategies.

To help you keep that Customer Service Week momentum going, destinationCRM is hosting a roundtable webinar next week: Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? I’m looking forward to hearing the panel of experts, including Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, discuss the current trends and future possibilities of conversational AI technology.

Drawing from his own experiences and those of Creative Virtual’s global team, Chris will share expert recommendations for how your organization can maximize the benefits of conversational AI technology. He will also be delving into ways you can use back-end integrations to take your digital self-service from basic FAQ tool to a personalized, conversational interaction.

Conversational AI solutions, like chatbots and virtual agents, can have a powerful impact on customer loyalty and retention. When designed, implemented, and maintained correctly, these solutions have been proven to reduce support costs, increase sales revenue, and even reduce employee turnover. The next generation of conversational AI advancements are poised to improve customer service even more.

Register now to join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 pm ET for the live webinar, Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? This destinationCRM roundtable will be recorded, so be sure to sign up even if you can’t join the live event.

Once you’ve registered, I recommend checking out (or re-reading!) all of the posts from the Creative Virtual team that make up this year’s Customer Service Week Blog Celebration. There are lots of great insights on conversational AI use cases, customer expectations, and customer service trends.

Dialogues are Between People

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Have you ever heard about the H-H-Interface, aka the H2I? Likely not, because I just made it up. But I did so with a reason and here’s why.

When it comes to transactional tools, there is a lot of talk about the Human Machine Interface (or HMI), the look and feel, and other technicalities. That is all fine and important of course, but customer communication, however, is about people talking to people. Even if this communication is automated and asynchronous, it is still Human to Human.

Customers use conversational AI on the web, in apps and other channels. They interact with virtual agents and chatbots in a technical sense, but they certainly do not converse with them. The replies they get are perceived as coming from a person or a group of people (usually called a company 😊).  Having this in mind makes an important shift of focus in the virtual agent design. The focus goes from designing transactions to creating the dialogues you’d like to have with your customers.

Just think about voice mail: When you are greeted nicely and the message makes you smile, will you think “What a friendly machine!”? Or will it be: “What a nice person!”? See? When creating a virtual agent, the same thinking applies.

You need to create a dialogue between yourself and your customers. You need to ask yourself, who are you talking to and what do you want to tell them.  As a result, it is about personal contact and the tools you use are not the deciding factor. Or let me phrase this differently: You need tools that do not get in the way between you and your customers. You need a platform rather than a readymade, which allows you to create conversations with your customers – or with your customer groups, for that matter.

As this year’s Customer Service Week celebrations come to an end, be sure to keep the H2I focus in your digital strategy. And if your conversational AI solution doesn’t provide you with the platform options to create the dialogue you want with customers, then it’s time to make a change.

AI Growth in the Insurance Industry

By Susan Ott, Senior Customer Success Manager

At the outset of the global pandemic in 2020, there was already a great emphasis on the consumer’s desire for artificial intelligence (AI) in day-to-day life.  As we find ourselves making our way, 18 months and counting, in this new normal it is a safe bet that the world of AI-powered self-service isn’t going anywhere.

One industry that has experienced an influx in the need for self-service is Insurance. With technology advancing every day, the need for instant service and issue resolution is becoming more and more expected. The preference of customers to be able to self-serve isn’t waning, but their patience with companies that don’t provide that option certainly is.

AI remains a major trend in the technology sector that will continue to alter how we work and live. Within the customer service space in particular, conversational AI is enabling companies to successfully meet the growing need for instant service.

These new technologies are being used in the multi-faceted Insurance field to automate Claim Processing, get Pricing/Quotes, and improve the overall Customer Service experience for Auto, Home and Life policyholders. Here are some examples:

  • Claim Processing: Companies spend a lot of money on Claims personnel, often times increasing rates to account for the large number of calls coming into their contact centers. Using AI, these companies can reduce their hiring budget by automating many of the routine questions that representatives field on any given day.
  • Pricing/Quotes: This is a huge area in which AI can be beneficial. Using AI, companies can be more competitive in their pricing and allow for personalization tailored to individual policyholders. Knowing some key criteria about a person, such as geographical location, marital status, and likelihood of filing a claim, helps to set premiums.
  • Customer Service: Companies need to look at AI in terms of it acting as a personal Concierge for users coming into the company’s website. It gets them where they need to be to best resolve their questions, allowing for a seamless and smooth experience, while decreasing phone or other live contacts via this digital channel.

Insurance companies should approach AI projects with the goal of creating better experiences for their policyholders, agents, and contact center teams. When used correctly, these technologies provide instant service that is personalized, convenient, and meets the expectations of today’s consumers. Automating processes and top customer service queries with AI also improves efficiency, increases productivity, and helps build customer trust and loyalty. All of this is more important than ever as we continue to make our way through this new normal.

Conversational AI and the Contact Centre: The perfect customer service pair

By Khushal Hirani, Customer Success Manager

You can’t celebrate Customer Service Week without talking about the contact centre. Onboarding agents in a contact centre can be very time consuming and expensive. From the recruitment process, to training, up until they are on the floor taking calls, it takes a very long time until new agents are self-sufficient.

The job of a fully trained contact centre agent can also be extremely stressful. They must remember how to use several tools and different areas to access certain knowledge. They often must memorise certain scripts and be able to explain detailed processes. This puts a lot of pressure on agents and can result in a poor customer experience, unnecessarily long call times, and low customer satisfaction scores.

For example, contact centre agents tend to keep notepads or workbooks with their own notes at their desks to ensure they remember the processes. This means communication of processes from one agent could be completely different when speaking to clients than from another agent.

Too often contact centre agents are also dealing with many tools and applications to do their job. This means that before they can even start working with customers, they face extensive training to learn them all. Then after completing their training, this makes it hard for contact centre agents to switch between screens while answering customer questions. This increases the time on the call for customers and creates a very disjointed experience.

Fortunately for contact centre agents and customers, conversational AI tools can help eliminate some of these issues and stresses. Here are some benefits of using conversational AI in your contact centre:

  • Training time is reduced – When contact centre agents are onboarded, the training time is reduced as the agents don’t need to learn complicated tools or multiple applications. This means less time to get agents to the floor and more of a focus on training agents on the human side of providing empathetic customer service.
  • Single source of truth – Knowledge and processes are in a single location where everything is accessible to all contact centre agents, giving everyone the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience level. Conversational AI tools like virtual agents can also be set up to provide support through public-facing solutions from the same knowledgebase with answers customised for both agents and self-serving customers.
  • New knowledge identified with agent feedback – Every contact centre agent can identify any knowledge gaps as well as contribute towards creating new processes or updating content with a built-in feedback loop. This keeps the customer experience accurate and consistent by ensuring the most up-to-date information is going out to all the end-users through multiple channels.
  • Integration with back-end systems – Integrations into different applications make it easier for the agents to use conversational AI because they have one tool that lets them find what they need. A customised agent dashboard can bring everything together in one place, including real-time alerts and step-by-step process flows.
  • Reports and metrics tracking – Reporting that is accurate and easy to understand gives important insights into what conversations the agents are having with customers and what knowledge gaps have been identified. This helps you track important metrics and see opportunities to further improve your support experience.

Contact centres are a big investment for companies and important for customer support. When used in the contact centre, conversational AI gives agents easy access to all the knowledge and processes they need to provide a better customer service experience. It makes their jobs easier and lets them focus on the human side of serving customers. Conversational AI and contact centre agents become the perfect customer service pair.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 1

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

In the technology industry there tends to be a focus on being innovative, cutting-edge, and ground-breaking. Industry awards, conferences, and articles frequently showcase and reward vendors for technological innovations. Analysts and expert speakers regularly highlight case studies of companies that are early adopters, deploying technologies in inventive ways, or finding success by taking a chance on something new and unproven.

Innovation is essential to the advancement of technology but doesn’t automatically equal practical business benefits. Having companies try out new technological developments and deploy existing solutions in creative and unfamiliar ways is important for finding practical applications for new innovations. However, being the organisation that deploys an innovative technology typically requires being comfortable with a high level of risk.

Most companies don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take that degree of risk, whether real or inferred. For them, proven and reliable results are more important than being innovative and flashy. Projects that get budget approval and management backing are ones that are considered safe bets because they utilise established technologies that have documented business benefits.

Conversational AI is one technology that is regularly described with words like ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’. Simply having ‘AI’ in the name makes some people think of it as being futuristic or only for companies with the resources to implement it for the cool factor. It can be easy for business leaders to associate conversational AI with being a high-risk investment.

Deploying conversational AI solutions like chatbots and virtual agents can be risky but doesn’t have to be. Your organisation doesn’t need to be an early adopter of new innovations to benefit from this technology. Chatbot and virtual agent technology has been used by businesses for over two decades as part of their customer experience and employee engagement strategies, and you can take advantage of those learnings to leverage conversational AI within your organisation.

Over the course of this three-part blog series, I’ll outline three steps for minimising risk and maximising benefits of conversational AI projects. Let’s get started with the first and most important step:

Step 1: Be selective when deciding on a vendor and technology.

The conversational AI market is oversaturated with new, inexperienced start-ups and technologies that haven’t been well-tested in the real world. The first step to reducing your risk is to choose a vendor that is established in the industry and provides a technology that has proven results. Both criteria are important when it comes to risk level.

Vendor experience is critically important because the more knowledge your selected provider brings to your project, the more confident you can be in their advice and guidance. You want a vendor that will become an extension of your own team and knows what they are doing because they’ve done it all before. Working with experts means you benefit from their many years of experience, thereby making your investment less risky even if your company is new to this type of technology.

When evaluating a vendor’s experience, ask specifically about how many years the company has provided conversational AI technologies, as these solutions may be an offering added recently even though the company has been in business for decades. Also ask about the experience of their individual team members and staff turnover rates. If they have high staff turnover and are constantly training replacements for departing employees, then you will likely miss out on the risk-reducing personal expertise you want the vendor to bring to the collaboration.

Just as critical as the vendor experience is having proof of their technology delivering positive results in real world applications. Don’t assume that just because a provider isn’t a brand-new start-up that they have a well-performing conversational AI technology. If the company has been in business for four or five years and only has one customer, you should question why more companies aren’t using their technology and if working with them is a risky option.

To reduce risk, ask about how the vendor has deployed their technology within your industry and what documented business benefits those solutions are providing. Saying they have the ability to deploy important features and functionality is great, but you want to see the technology in action in live installs. Also ask them about the length of their customer relationships as long-term engagements indicate that existing customers are happy with the technology, their results, and the collaboration. The vendor should be able to provide you with customer references so you can get first-hand feedback on their conversational AI projects.

Keep in mind that even if your company is minimising risk by selecting a proven solution with reliable results, you still want to partner with a vendor that is consistently innovating. You may not be the organisation trying out those new innovations first, but you don’t want to invest in a solution that’s not going to improve as those advancements become well-tested and are shown to deliver business benefits.

In my next post, we’ll explore building a realistic business case as part of Step 2 for reducing risk. In the meantime, check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. It explains in more detail the most important questions to ask a vendor about their experience during your procurement process.

It’s Time to Pull Back the Curtain on Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Enterprise software pricing is often shrouded in mystery and the subject of intense negotiations between the supplier and customer. For applications where the market is immature then this is necessary as it takes some time to equate the cost with the business value. Whilst chatbots and virtual agents have been around for a long time, it’s relatively recently that they’ve become ubiquitous within the enterprise. I’m very pleased to report that Creative Virtual is stepping forward to lead the way in removing this shroud of mystery around conversational AI pricing.

Long-term relationships based on trust and transparency are attributes that underpin the culture within Creative Virtual, and we’re proud to launch the ‘Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing: Calculating the Cost of a Successful Chatbot or Virtual Agent’ whitepaper

This comes at a particularly important time as the conversational AI market is oversaturated with solutions that do not deliver the level of sophistication, flexibility, and customisation needed for a well-performing enterprise solution. These tools come with a lower price tag but end up negatively impacting the organisation’s bottom line by harming the customer experience and eroding customer loyalty.

This expert guide pulls back the curtain on enterprise-level pricing to empower organisations with the knowledge they need to properly budget and evaluate costs of conversational AI solutions.

We have drawn on our many enterprise-level customers and partners, together with a world leading amount of experience within the industry, so that organisations can have confidence not only in the pricing but also the advice on the effort and expertise required to maintain a successful solution. And whilst the technology platform is clearly a key part, the experience and expertise are often undervalued. That was the motivation for our previous whitepaper, ‘Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience’.

conversational ai pricingNow, your organisation has two important complementary whitepapers that draw on Creative Virtual’s nearly two decades of delivering successful solutions in many sectors to help you develop a conversational AI roadmap designed to give your company a customer experience competitive advantage.

Download our new guide to enterprise conversational AI pricing for insider tips on budgeting for your solution, typical pricing models, and average costs for pilots and full systems.

When you’re ready to learn more and start building your own business case for a conversational AI solution, our expert team will be here to arrange a personalised demo and discuss your consultation workshop.

Will Old Internal Systems Destroy your Conversational AI Dream?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Microsoft announced this week that they will stop supporting Windows 10 in 2025, with no new updates or security fixes being released after 14 October. This news comes as the company plans to reveal a new Windows operating system later this month. Screenshots of the new Windows 11 have been leaked online ahead of that virtual event – you can check them out here.

Whether you’re a Windows user or not, this type of announcement can highlight the need for wider discussions about the technology and systems being used internally at your organisation. Are you one of the many companies that relies on old or out-dated solutions? These legacy systems can have a knock-on effect, sometimes creating issues when the restrictions they create aren’t acknowledged at the start of a digital project or even keeping organisations from embarking on new projects at all.

For example, this can be the case when deploying an internal conversational AI solution for employee support. As virtual agent and chatbot expert, Peter Studd explains in a conversational AI guide:

“It’s very important to be aware of your users’ technology when you’re implementing a virtual agent to ensure it will be compatible. For example, it’s not uncommon for large companies to have very old systems and browsers that are still being used companywide. This can cause issues if not taken into consideration when developing an internal virtual agent.”

Constraints created by old systems and browsers don’t necessarily mean you need to abandon your plans for an internal virtual agent. However, they should be identified and discussed at the beginning of your project to avoid any unwanted surprises. If not, you could find that you’ve invested time and money into a solution that can’t be properly integrated with an important legacy system or isn’t user friendly for employees using older browsers.

This is just one of the downsides of taking a DIY approach to building and deploying a chatbot or virtual agent. If you don’t have people with the right experience on this team, it will be easy to miss or overlook older systems that could create project roadblocks. You end up with a case of ‘we didn’t know what we didn’t know’ and a tool that doesn’t meet expectations.

An experienced conversational AI provider will know the right questions to ask to help you pinpoint any potential compatibility issues upfront. They’ll provide guidance on any changes or accommodations you may need to make to your plan. They’ll also be able to offer suggestions for ways to work with potential constraints based on a deep knowledge of their technology and prior experience with similar challenges.

In an ideal world, all of the systems and technologies being used by your organisation would be up-to-date and easy to incorporate into new conversational AI projects. Since that’s not likely to become a reality any day soon, the best course of action is to work with a provider that can not only help you identify potential challenges but also provide the guidance on how to overcome them. Old internal systems don’t need to destroy your conversational AI dream.

Stop Trying to Improve Efficiency at the Expense of CX

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Earlier this year my niece starting reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie book series, and I’ve been rereading them along with her. It’s been fun having discussions with her about the books and hearing what part of the stories stuck out for her as most interesting or surprising about Laura’s pioneer life. It’s also made me grateful to have modern conveniences like running water and refrigeration!

Over the course of history, humans have always looked for ways to improve efficiency and productivity. Think about all the inventions you studied in school, like the printing press and cotton gin, that initiated key moments of change for industry and society. Innovation drives progress, but that progress doesn’t innately mean a better experience or quality of life for everyone.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have meant more potential use cases for automation technologies. Businesses see this as an opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity – and it is. However, being too focused just on those goals often means they overlook the importance of the experience.

Forrester analyst, William McKeon-White writes about this as part of his research on help desk chatbots. He points out that prioritizing efficiency over experience leads to the critical element of user success being overlooked. If users don’t have a good experience with the chatbot, they won’t keep using it. And if users aren’t coming back to the tool, there’s no way for the organization to achieve positive longer-term outcomes.

It’s important to understand this as you build your business case for a conversational AI tool. As chatbot expert Rachael Needham explains in a vendor selection guide:

“Having a clear business objective will dictate much of what and how the chatbot is implemented. For example, is the objective to reduce phone calls or live chats – and how will that be tracked? Is it to improve customer satisfaction – and how will that be measured? Another key question to ask when thinking of customer experience is: are we really meeting the needs of our customers or are we just trying to make a score look better?”

Improving productivity and efficiency are worthy and important goals but shouldn’t be attempted at the expense of the user experience. Your chatbot or virtual agent should be designed to create a better experience by providing quick, easy support. Reducing phone calls or live chat sessions because you’re giving customers a better way to get help, without having to take the time and effort to engage with a contact center agent, is an efficiency improvement that’s positive for your business and your customer experience (CX).

In a recent discussion with ISG, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, pointed out that he has seen a shift in the focus of organizations when implementing conversational AI. Five years ago, the business cases for these solutions were heavily centered around contact deflection. However, as businesses come to recognize the competitive advantage of improving CX, that focus moves to creating better experiences as the key priority.

This doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t have the goal of improving efficiency and productivity with conversational AI tools. Instead, they should identify those objectives as part of their strategy to improve the overall experience. Often, you’ll find they go hand-in-hand. Efficiency improvements can be a crucial means by which the experience is made better. Expert conversational AI professionals understand the best ways to balance these needs and set goals that go beyond just making a score look better to achieving real success.

For more tips on creating a conversational AI strategy and building a business case, check out these resources:

Successful Conversational AI: Blending Machine Learning & Human Intelligence, Part 1

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In February ISG, a leading global technology research and advisory firm, published their ‘ISG Provider Lens™ Intelligent Automation – Solutions & Services’ report. In the report Mrinal Rai, Principal Analyst at ISG, evaluated 19 conversational AI vendors based on a set of market-driven criteria. The result of that evaluation placed Creative Virtual as the clear Leader in conversational AI, surpassing all other vendors with our competitive strengths.

Recently Mrinal and I (virtually!) sat down with Jan Erik Aase, Partner and Global Head – ISG Provider Lens, for a discussion on conversational AI. Our conversation covered a lot of ground, including current industry trends, the impact of the pandemic, and setting conversational AI project goals. We talked about the findings of ISG’s research as well as current successful conversational AI implementations.

We have divided our nearly 30-minute-long discussion into three parts, the first of which I’m excited to share with you in this post (scroll to the bottom to watch Part 1).

Jan Erik and Mrinal start off the discussion by diving into the ISG Provider Lens™ Quadrant Report and why Creative Virtual has been identified as a Leader. Mrinal points out that when it comes to conversational AI, it’s not just about the solutions themselves but also how they blend with human intelligence. His evaluation focused on both V-Person™ (our virtual agent, chatbot, and live chat technology) and V-Portal™ (our innovative orchestration platform). The power of our technology to blend machine learning and human intelligence along with our strong presence in the market were the key factors that led to ISG positioning Creative Virtual as a Leader in the space.

I then joined the conversation to discuss with Jan Erik some questions that ISG see coming up with their advisors as well as their clients. In Part 1 of the discussion, we explore:

  • What current trends and developments in conversational AI are important when evaluating virtual agent and chatbot management platforms?
  • With conversational AI now being a key part of omnichannel support strategies, how are the roles and responsibilities of contact centre agents and customer service professionals evolving?

Check out Part 1 of our ‘Successful Conversational AI: Blending Machine Learning & Human Intelligence’ discussion:

 

 

My next post will take a look at Part 2 of our session where we explore some of the biggest barriers organisations face when it comes to building, deploying, and maintaining successful conversational AI projects. In the meantime, be sure to download your copy of the ISG Provider Lens™ – Conversational AI Quadrant Report.