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Innovation Excellence in Conversational AI

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Conversational AI is a very hot and in-demand technology right now. This is not surprising given the pressures on organisations to improve digital experience and provide smarter automation. It’s also not surprising that this demand has led to a very crowded field of competing vendors, from big companies down to small, new start-ups.

An over-crowded and highly competitive marketplace brings both positives and negatives for buyers. While having options can be nice, evaluating so many choices makes it more time consuming and difficult to select the best vendor for you. Competing vendors can drive innovation, but those innovations don’t necessarily mean better solutions and real business benefits. It can be hugely helpful for buyers to have knowledgeable insights from independent industry experts.

This is why AIxOutlook, a part of Sceptertech Digital, are conducting their Best Practice Research. Their uniquely designed evaluation process benchmarks vendors’ performance against competitors to identify industry leaders. They award their Innovation Excellence Leadership recognition to companies committed to innovation and offering the next generation of products and services.

Creative Virtual is proud to be named the Innovation Excellence Leader in the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report! Prasobh Namboothiri, Associate Editor at AIxOutlook says:

“Creative Virtual is the clear Innovation Excellence Leader in a crowded and competitive conversational AI industry. Businesses collaborating with them benefit from their cutting-edge technology as well as their expert consultation, resulting in customised, integrated, and personalised solutions that deliver real business value.”

Conversational AI Innovation Excellence

AIxOutlook’s evaluation focuses on both innovation and customer impact and finds Creative Virtual to be the leading conversational AI innovator driving the industry forward with our V-Person™ technology. They call out V-Person’s flexible integration options that enable organisations to develop customised solutions for delivery of unified, personalised experiences.

Another vital differentiator identified in the report is our approach to AI and the training of our chatbots and virtual agents. The analysts praise our blending of machine learning and a rules-based approach to natural language processing (NLP) and refer to our conversational AI management platform, V-Portal™, as cutting-edge.

Check out the 2022 Innovation Excellence Leadership in Conversational Intelligence report for AIxOutlook’s full independent assessment of our conversational AI capabilities. The report also includes an evaluation of the global conversational AI market along with current developments and trends in the industry.

As a pioneer in the virtual agent and chatbot space, Creative Virtual has always been committed to innovating in a way that will help companies tackle their current challenges and be prepared for future changes. It’s an honour to be recognised for this long-standing dedication to being a trendsetter in the conversational AI market. Our goal is to always deliver the best possible combination of innovative technology and expertise to our customers and partners.

Download a full copy of the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report here. And then request a personalised demo here to discuss how V-Person can help improve your customer and employee experiences with an expert member of our team.

Composable CX: Becoming Agile and Flexible

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Anyone involved in the customer experience (CX) space has likely come across articles, research, and discussions around composable CX. This concept is all about being agile and flexible to deliver better results even when faced with uncertainty and rapid change. It’s certainly no surprise that composable business jumped to the forefront in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it was one of the main themes of a virtual Gartner conference I attended in November 2020.

Over the past two years, composability has become a key discussion point for many organisations looking to take a more agile approach to their customer experiences. In an August 2021 webinar, Impact CX with the 3 Building Blocks of Composable Business, Gartner shared the prediction that 60% of mainstream organisations will identify composable business as a strategic objective by 2023. The analysts broke this approach down into three areas:

  • Composable thinking starts with the belief that anything can be made composable. It enables employees to better respond to rapidly changing customer needs with empathy and emphasizes the sharing and seeking of ideas from both inside and outside of the organisation.
  • Composable architecture is all about unleashing innovation at scale by creating a resilient application experience through the use of APIs, microservices, and event streams. It allows for both innovative and traditional customer experiences in order to respond to disruption with agility.
  • Composable technologies, including low code, data mesh, composable platforms, and contextual intelligence, offer the needed guidance and flexibility for customers and employees.

During Argyle’s CMO Leadership Forum earlier this month, composable CX was the focus of a panel discussion. Panellists shared insights based on their experiences working with organisations to develop and implement CX strategies as part of a composable approach.

One of the key takeaways from that session for me was the importance of, and value in, making composability a companywide effort. Maximising the benefits of an investment in this approach requires it to become part of the company’s culture. There needs to be collaboration across departments and from the C-suite on down.

The panellists also stressed that just because composability enables you to do something, that doesn’t mean your organisation should do it. You must still be thoughtful about how you approach your CX strategy and solutions, being sure the decisions you make will bring real value to your customer relationships.

Perhaps not surprising, chatbots were raised as an example of a solution that a company may feel pressured to implement because ‘everyone is doing it’ but may not be the best choice for all businesses. Panellists also used chatbots to illustrate the importance of selecting the right technologies for composable CX. Basic chatbot solutions do not deliver the same benefits and flexibility as sophisticated conversational AI platforms.

If you are considering adding a new CX tool or contact channel, such as a chatbot, you should first evaluate if and how that will enhance the overall experience. Using composable thinking, ask yourself:

  • Will my customers use this type of tool or solution? Are my customers already using this channel, app, etc. and interested in engaging with our business there?
  • How will my customers use this tool or channel? Will they expect a personalised experience? What other systems, channels, tools, etc. will need to be integrated with this new solution to meet customer expectations?
  • Can we deliver a positive experience with this tool or channel? Do we have the right resources and technology to create the solution we need? Are we prepared to properly maintain and update this solution for long-term success?

Composable CX is all about being agile and flexible. It is about being able to create and deploy solutions quickly but doing so in a way that responds to customer needs in a thoughtful and empathetic way.

Even if you’re tempted to write off composable business and CX as just the latest industry buzzwords, don’t ignore the concepts and approach behind them. Organisations that are stuck in their traditional, siloed ways of working are going to find it increasingly difficult to compete with competitors that have invested in becoming more agile and flexible.

How to Make Your Chatbot More Conversational

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When customers use your chatbot to self-serve, what kind of experience do you deliver? Does your chatbot need questions asked a particular way to return the correct response? Do your customers have to guess the correct keywords to enter or know specific terminology to locate the right information? Are users repeatedly told by your chatbot to try rephrasing an input that doesn’t have a direct match in the system?

All of these scenarios provide a frustrating, negative self-service experience. They often lead to an escalation to a live chat session or a call to the contact centre for resolution, meaning your support agents are left to deal with the immediate impacts of that poor experience. With digital self-service such an important piece of customer support, a chatbot with these limited capabilities is detrimental to the success of your customer experience (CX) strategy.

This is why using a high-quality conversational AI technology to build your chatbot is so important. You want your chatbot to engage with users conversationally. That isn’t possible with basic bot platforms which act more like simple FAQ tools or don’t give you options for backend integrations.

Engaging ‘conversationally’ doesn’t mean that a goal of your chatbot should be to make users think they are chatting with a real person. It’s always best to be clear that it is an automated self-service tool. Customers appreciate transparency about whether they are using a human-assisted or automated digital support option. The last thing you want to do is make them feel tricked!

Here are a few ways to create the right conversational engagement through your chatbot:

  • Create a conversational tone – Just because you aren’t trying to make users think they are talking to a real person doesn’t mean that you must make your chatbot’s responses sound stiff and bland. Craft your responses using a conversational tone that reflects your brand and has the same type of language you use on your website and in customer communications.
  • Understand free text inputs – There is more than one way to ask the same question, and in a conversation both participants understand this. Ensure your chatbot is trained to respond to the various ways users can word an input rather than requiring a specific keyword or phrase. This includes taking into account both common synonyms for your language and region as well as those for your particular industry, products, and services. And on occasions when a user’s input can’t be confidently matched to a response and the chatbot asks for the question to be rephrased, also offer some clickable suggestions or possible related FAQs to improve the experience.
  • Craft conversation flows – Adding customised conversation flows enables your chatbot to guide users through a process step-by-step in a very natural, conversational way. These flows are perfect for troubleshooting account or device issues, completing a form with the chatbot, or pinpointing a very specific piece of information to assist the customer.
  • Deliver personalised support – Integrate your chatbot with backend systems so it can provide customised responses based on that customer’s current account, subscriptions, orders, etc. Using sophisticated slot-filling functionality also enables users to authenticate within the chatbot at any time to create a seamless and more personal conversation.

The best conversational AI technology for customer support chatbots uses a blend of machine learning and natural language rules. This lets you take advantage of recent innovations in machine learning so your chatbot is constantly improving based on your users’ activities. At the same time, it gives you control over the AI so you can ensure your chatbot is using those learnings to continue providing accurate, reliable responses in a conversational way.

If you currently have a chatbot that’s failing the conversational test, check out this eBook on Conversational AI Issues & Solutions for ways to improve your solution.

If you don’t have a customer service chatbot yet and are concerned about choosing the right conversational AI technology, check out this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for some insider expert tips.

A chatbot can be a valuable self-service option for your customers, but it must be backed by a high-quality conversational AI technology – with an emphasis on conversational.

Resolve to Make Your Conversational AI Project Healthier this Year

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is here and that means it is time for New Year’s resolutions. The most common personal resolutions are focused on being healthier – exercising more, eating better, improving fitness, losing weight, stopping smoking. People join the gym, sign up for weight loss programmes, and download meditation apps.

But what about your conversational AI project? Does it need a New Year’s resolution to be healthier in the new year, too?

If your organisation already has a conversational AI project, then you don’t need me to wax on about the importance of digital customer support. You get it. However, if you’re concerned that your current conversational AI tool isn’t up to the task of improving your digital support experience in 2022, then it’s time to make a resolution for change.

Even the best laid plans sometimes take a wrong turn or need to be tweaked as customer expectations and your organisation change. The start of a new year is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate your conversational AI project and strategy. If this review leaves you dissatisfied with what you find, you’re not alone. Here are some common reasons other organisations have given for being unhappy with their conversational AI projects:

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

The good news is that none of these common issues are dealbreakers that mean you must scrap your current virtual agent or chatbot project and start over. Like any New Year’s resolution to be healthier, you just need a plan that starts where you are and takes you to your goal of creating a successful, valuable, and healthy solution.

Your first step should be to download the new ebook Conversational AI Issues & Solutions: Transforming Ineffective Chatbot & Virtual Agent Projects. It takes an individual look at each of the common issues listed above, explaining how they can negatively impact your conversational AI project and exploring ways they can be solved.

When you’re ready to work out the details of your plan for a healthier chatbot or virtual agent and put it into action, the Creative Virtual team is ready to be your personal trainer and coach. Contact the team here to learn more about the expert consultation and technology that’s helping brands around the world deliver reliable and valuable conversational AI solutions.

This new year, resolve to transform your conversational AI project into a healthier, more effective customer service solution. Make 2022 the year your customers, employees, and company experience the full benefits of a successful chatbot or virtual agent.

Wishing you a Season that’s Magical & Bright!

As we wrap up another year at Creative Virtual, our entire team around the world want to say a big thank you to all of our blog readers, customers, and partners!

2021 brought both challenges and celebrations for us as a company and the wider conversational AI industry, and we’re ending it looking forward to what is to come next year. In particular, we’re excited about the next big release of our V-Person™ technology, Gluon. You can find a special sneak peek here. We are also excited about the brand new ebook we recently published to help organisations solve common issues they are having with their conversational AI projects. You can get your copy of the ebook here. Be sure to subscribe to our Blog (if you aren’t already!) so you don’t miss our Gluon release announcements and new educational resources in 2022.

On behalf of all of us at Creative Virtual, wishes for a magical, festive end to 2021 and a new year full of even more bright moments!

A Look Back: 2021 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Welcome to Creative Virtual’s annual year in review blog post for 2021! It’s that time once again when we take a look back at the happenings and accomplishments of the last 12 months. That time when we reflect on the highlights of the year for our company and celebrate the latest developments in the conversational AI industry.

There’s no doubt that one of our biggest highlights of the year was being named a Leader in the ISG Provider Lens™ for Conversational AI! Published in March, the report compared 19 vendors based on the depth of their service offerings and market presence. The analysts at ISG found Creative Virtual to be a clear Leader based on our comprehensive solution portfolio and industry experience, emphasizing our long history of developing and delivering conversational AI solutions that provide real results. Here’s Mrinal Rai, Lead Analyst at ISG Research, explaining why we are a Leader in conversational AI:

 

Mrinal also joined our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, and Jan Erik Aase, Partner and Global Head – ISG Provider Lens™, for a (virtual) discussion on conversational AI. Their conversation covered current industry trends, the impact of the pandemic, and setting conversational AI project goals. They also discussed the findings of ISG’s research and current successful virtual agent implementations. Here’s a recording of their full discussion:

 

When ISG held their awards ceremony in October, Chris and Liam Ryan, Sales Director, were able to accept Creative Virtual’s trophy in person from Jan Erik. And while there were no ceremonies for these awards, Creative Virtual was also honoured this year with: ‘Most Innovative Conversational Self-Service Solutions’ in the Corporate Excellence Awards, ‘Best Conversational AI Solutions Provider – London’ in the 2021 Media Innovator Awards, and recognition in The 2021 CRM Top 100 Companies in Customer Service, Marketing, and Sales. We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 as well, recognising that all of these awards are the result of the hard work and collaboration of our entire global team.

With travel and in-person events still restricted this year, we kept our focus on producing content that could be shared, read, and watched virtually over digital channels. We teamed up with our partner Spitch as co-sponsors of The European Chatbot & Conversational AI Summit, presenting a joint session at the virtual event on combining chatbots with speech recognition to create voicebot solutions. We were also one of the sponsors for destinationCRM’s roundtable webinar Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service?, sharing insights on how to maximise the benefits of this technology through integrations and personalisation.

We drew on our industry expertise and deep understanding of the conversational AI marketplace to publish a number of educational and thought leadership materials, including:

One of my personal favourite ways the Creative Virtual team shares our individual insights is through our annual blog post celebration for Customer Service Week and CX Day in October. This year we had 10 posts from nine authors – Chris Ezekiel, Khushal Hirani, Rachel Freeman, Susan Ott, Maria Ward, Rachael Needham, Björn Gülsdorff, Scott Tompkins, and me – covering a variety of customer experience, employee support, and contact centre topics. I’ve compiled our 2021 collection here so you can easily explore them all.

All of that expertise and our nearly two decades of experience as a company are also being channelled into the development of our next V-Person™ release, Gluon. Gluon includes updates to our chatbot, virtual agent, and live chat technologies as well as a re-architecture of our V-Portal™ orchestration platform. Gluon will enable our customers and partners to create accurate, reliable conversational AI solutions quicker and easier than ever, resulting in better experiences for their customers and employees. Learn more about our Gluon release here and check out this video for a sneak peek:

 

As we come to the end of 2021, we celebrate the highlights of this year and look forward to the ones the next year will bring. Stay tuned for new educational resources, updated conversational AI research, and our Gluon release of V-Person – coming in 2022!

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.