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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.

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.