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Past the Point of No Return: Customer and Employee Experience Post-Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Last month I attended Gartner’s IT Symposium/Xpo 2020, EMEA which was fully virtually this year. As you’d expect, there were lots of presentations discussing the various impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic and what the ‘new normal’ will look like for communities, businesses and individuals as we head into 2021.

In a number of the sessions I streamed, the presenting analysts specifically made a point about the fact that when it becomes safe for our day-to-day lives to return to a more pre-pandemic ‘normal’, we will not be able to take that step as the same people we were at the beginning of 2020. We will all bring with us the experiences and knowledge we internalised during this year of lockdowns and quarantines. Students and teachers will return to classrooms with a new set of technology skills. Employees and employers will re-evaluate the need for physical office space based on the successes and failures of remote working. Customers will approach buying decisions with new access to and experiences with digital and online options.

This observation isn’t ground-breaking. Any significant life event we experience creates a change in who we are and how we view ourselves and the world – the birth of a child, a life-threatening illness, a major career change, living or studying abroad, a natural disaster. The difference with the experience of COVID-19 is that it has happened to the world. And while each of us has still had an individual experience and been impacted in our own unique way, it has also been a global event that is leaving lasting, substantial effects on communities and companies everywhere.

Keeping this in mind will be essential as your company moves forward into the new year and beyond. Your business plans and strategies must take into account the impacts – both good and bad – the current public health crisis has had on your employees and customers. At the end of the day, your organisation’s success depends on the people and the experiences you deliver internally and externally. If you don’t adjust those experiences based on the new skills and knowledge and the changed expectations and views of employees and customers, you can’t be successful in a post-pandemic world.

That might be pushing ahead plans to add or scale up customer self-service. That might be giving more opportunities and support to employees wanting to work remotely. That might be continuing to utilise digital options for client meetings when possible to decrease your team’s carbon footprint. That might be providing trainings and workshops for employees to improve their stress management and emotional intelligence.

We are collectively past the point of no return. We have experienced too much uncertainty, overcome too many unexpected challenges, developed too many new digital skills and created too many new expectations to be the same as we were prior to this global pandemic. Your organisation needs to acknowledge these changes and leverage them to become a better company.

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Finding a Clear Path Forward for Digital Customer Experience Priorities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A question that should be easier for companies to answer – and one that has become increasingly important this year: If your customers expect support on digital channels and you aren’t there to provide it, do you lose those customers to competitors who are?

A new survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week with marketers around the world found that, among customer-facing organisations with £50 million or more in annual revenue, 63% of respondents said they observed a “strong trend” of consumers adopting digital features more quickly as a result of COVID-19. An additional 33% saw “some trend’ of this happening.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots certainly experienced this trend, setting a record-breaking spike in usage during the first half of 2020. Using these digital self-service tools gave customers an easy way to find the most up-to-date information quickly during a time when contact centres were struggling with long hold and response times, reduced staffing and rapidly changing situations.

Often this trend towards using digital channels has been linked to Millennials and younger generations. However, the Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey found 40% of participants had observed a “strong trend” and 55% had observed “some trend” towards digital adoption among older consumers. This further highlights the importance of, and makes a stronger case for, digital transformation within organisations.

Regardless of whether this move to digital options is due to customer preference or out of necessity – physical locations closed, contact centres inundated, etc. – smart organisations know they need to pay attention and take action to support customers where they are. Digital customer experience (CX) projects can feel overwhelming – a massive undertaking without a clear path forward – during this time when so much seems overwhelming and uncertain.

Forrester analyst Judy Weader talks about CX prioritisation in a recent blog post as an important way for companies to make sound decisions. Not having a structured, consistent approach to prioritisation can lead to making poor choices on where to apply budget and staff, wasting critical time and under-delivering for customers. To help focus efforts and keep from being overwhelmed, Judy recommends prioritisation of CX improvement projects should be a conscious action, based on fact, and grounded in what matters most.

Some organisations may have actioned decisions quickly as a result of COVID-19, moving forward with digital projects initially thought to be temporary solutions to a temporary situation. Those projects should be re-examined and potentially prioritised as more permanent initiatives. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of digital tools and features, your CX might need more of a digital focus to give them the options and support expected on those channels.

If you are considering adding a chatbot or virtual agent to your list of CX priorities, the on-demand webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents is a useful resource. The webinar covers questions to ask when adding a self-service solution to your digital CX strategy, tips for selecting the right technology and a series of demonstrations showcasing live implementations across a variety of customer touchpoints.

As digital adoption among consumers across all age groups continues to trend upwards, you must take the proper steps to prioritise and focus your efforts to find the best way forward for your company and your customers. If you aren’t providing the digital tools and support customers expect and need, chances are they will leave you for a competitor that does.

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.

Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There have been lots of discussions, articles and analyst deep dives into companies’ digital transformations being driven or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated shutdowns and mitigation efforts. Many individuals have also undergone a digital transformation of sorts in their own lives, relying more on options such as FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and increasing time spent on social media and mobile messaging apps. These digital changes in behaviour have, as you’d expect, also impacted the interactions individuals are having with businesses.

Back in April I took a look at the impressive spike in virtual agent traffic starting in late February and early March that surpassed anything Creative Virtual had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By 12 April 2020, those virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they had recorded for all of 2019 despite being only about a quarter of the way through the year.

Now that we have reached the halfway point of the year, I was curious to take another look at our virtual agent traffic and once again enlisted the help of my colleague and analyst guru, Lester Lane. When we crunched the numbers, we discovered that those virtual agents have now recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from last year and are well on their way to a record-breaking 2020. This is mostly due to a sustained increase of traffic through the rest of April and much of May. Towards the end of May, we started to see a drop-off to more average traffic levels as you can see from the usage of the self-service virtual agents included in the graph below.

virtual agent usage

Looking at overall traffic figures gives insights into general trends, but it’s also interesting to dive a bit deeper into individual industry sectors. At Creative Virtual, financial services is one of our biggest industries and one that our team has extensive expertise in collaborating with on virtual agent solutions. In fact, our very first enterprise customer was a large financial services group – and they are still a customer today! (Side note: My colleague Laura Ludmany wrote a great two-part blog series about helping financial organisations deliver customer support during the coronavirus crisis – check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here if you haven’t already.)

When we break down the total traffic figures into a handful of sectors, we see that they all experienced a spike in March and April before most levelled off a bit. However, the Banking sector has continued to see increased usage throughout May, June and the first week of July compared with the first two months of 2020.

virtual agent usage

This sustained increase for the Banking industry isn’t a surprise given the essential nature of many banking activities combined with the temporary closure of branches and people staying home. More people were forced to do their banking online – perhaps for the first time – and took advantage of the instant self-help offered by virtual agent tools on websites and in banking apps. Plus, there was the added support needed for various government schemes and programmes. One of our banking customers’ virtual agent set a new record for highest number of saved calls in April and then doubled April’s total usage in May.

I’m curious to continue to watch how virtual agent traffic fluctuates as coronavirus-related restrictions change. Banks tend to be early indicators of upcoming general trends, so it may be worth noting the spike of activity at the beginning of July. Will there be another surge as companies and their customers experience further digital transformations? Only time will tell.

If your company is looking to add an AI chatbot or virtual agent to your customer service strategy or is struggling with a self-service tool that can’t meet increased demand from users, you’ll want to take a look at the Neutrino release of V-Person™. Introduced to the market in June, Neutrino provides the right tools and guidance to deploy conversational self-service quickly, easily and at large scale.

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

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

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

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

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

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

virtual agent traffic

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

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

virtual agent usage

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

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

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 2

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As described in my previous post, financial organisations find themselves under immense pressure due to the unfolding coronavirus crisis; they have to respond quickly to rapid changes. Delivering excellent customer service is more important than ever, as it can be a real ‘make it or break it’ experience for customers looking for quick answers in these uncertain times. I’m going to describe a retail bank’s response to this demand.

In this project, we have built a successful collaboration with the product owners: the client is involved in the content curation process, adding new and amending existing questions and answers, while Creative Virtual deals with the AI related and more complicated tasks, such as NLP (natural language processing), semantics and approvals. However, this workflow can be easily altered at any time, and we can step in to manage and take care of the content completely if this is required.

The product owner of the virtual agent also works closely with their live chat department, enabling the bank to fully optimise their virtual agent content based on their live chat agents’ feedback. This is an extremely beneficial symbiosis – by this continuous cooperation, the virtual agent takes the pressure off the live chat centre and the live chat agents can improve the performance of the chatbot. In early March, after having sent the initial quick review of coronavirus user inputs, there was a very speedy and effective response from the bank. Based on the analysis provided by Creative Virtual, plus their call centre and live chat feedback, they were able to identify the most frequent (and pressing) queries and produce new FAQs for the virtual agent to cover these. This content was placed under a dedicated new FAQ category and also displayed as start content, to make it fully visible and accessible for users.

In this way, the retail bank was really successful in promoting their active ownership of the situation at an early stage. These times can be a dividing line for the marketplace, as reactivity and speed of solution delivery can really win customers’ trust; and a vague general information or a Contact us page won’t help, as each user is looking for a precise answer matching their individual needs. In these unprecedented times, I have found myself reaching out for specific information, often at odd times of the day, and even well-established companies are failing to fulfil the demand to provide effective customer self-service tools. With everything being up in the air, customers are simply not in a mindset to browse through the Help pages, which seem like a maze when searching for that tiny bit of crucial information they need.

As events unfolded, our product owner at this bank was extremely strained due to the high number of customer queries coming through their call centre and live chat departments, thus asked us to take over. This is one of the benefits of our orchestration platform and AI solutions – our clients can look after their own virtual agent, but it doesn’t have to be forgotten and left alone if they suddenly need to put their internal focus elsewhere. The Creative Virtual team can always step in and provide full-service support in these situations to keep the virtual agent regularly updated at especially critical times.

One of the other benefits of our flexible workflows, strong collaborations and close relations with our clients is that we can reduce our turn-around times significantly. As Knowledgebase Engineers work on different projects, we can bring over discoveries to other projects and work on targeted content updates very effectively. I love looking after several projects, as I always get fresh ideas and it’s never a dull day. During this pandemic period, we have created special coronavirus related knowledge packs which are quite easy to implement in multiple projects, so our completion time of required updates became very low. By being involved in and managing these different datasets, we see a more holistic view of user behaviour patterns and can suggest ways to improve customer experience accordingly.

This is a fast-paced period – as things develop, more and more content needs to be amended so the virtual agent is being optimised continuously. However, this client uses a smart approach to deal with rapid changes to sustain the high level of quality answers. In cases when certain FAQs might need to be updated weekly (or even daily), there has been a switch to use reassuring and supportive language, describing the nature of uncertainty of the topic and inserting a link to the appropriate websites (both bank and government sides), where customers can keep an eye on regular updates. Our stats show a high customer satisfaction on these virtual agent answers. Being able to understand the question and deliver an appropriate link to the right section of the website is already enough to give users peace of mind.

Based on this observation, another way this retail bank is maximising their virtual agent has been using it to promote other self-service options on their website to customers. Whenever they have options such as online application platforms, downloadable dispute and refund forms and so forth, the virtual agent will deliver an answer that proactively guides customers to these sections. By updating and adding FAQs to handle these queries too, they have been able to take more pressure off their overly busy contact centres.

With these steps and high level of responsiveness, this retail bank continues to provide immediate support to their customers through their Creative Virtual powered chatbot. Available 24/7 and able to handle thousands of real time user queries simultaneously, the AI-enhanced tool is giving some comfort and peace of mind to customers in these uncertain times.

If your organisation could benefit from offering your own virtual agent, check out this Best Practices Whitepaper from destinationCRM on selecting a virtual agent for your self-service project. You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s solutions can fit with your internal workflows to improve the self-service you offer.

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

We are experiencing unprecedented times and the world is rapidly transforming with loads of uncertainty arising day by day. Our normal routine has changed, and we need to get used to dealing with coronavirus related situations and disruptions. Naturally, we are all seeking reassurance, guidance, help and support.

At Creative Virtual, we monitor our deployments continuously, and our tools are very sensitive to quick changes. We can always clearly see social patterns and trends being reflected in the usage of our virtual agents. During crisis times, no matter how big or small, the usage stats always jump up and the vast majority of the increase can often be attributed to those recent events or announcements.

In the last 4 weeks, on average, the traffic of our banking virtual agents has doubled. We could see a huge increase in usage during other crisis periods in the last 6 months (such as the Thomas Cook bankruptcy in September and Brexit related queries). However, this huge spike is unrivalled. As we kept a close eye on incoming stats, I sent a quick review to my clients of user inputs mentioning coronavirus and synonyms at a very early stage.

As the situation developed, organisations had to react quickly to changes and provide instant support and help to their customers. A quick and initial solution was to add a general FAQ for coronavirus, with high priority, meaning that single keyword would pick up any virtual agent inputs containing the word ‘coronavirus’ (even if the question contained other recognisable words, such as ‘loans’). In these times, a proactive approach by financial organisations can really make a difference to customers, as everyone wants to feel reassured instantly and see how their bank copes with the crisis. With this quick coronavirus keyword solution, customers who reached out to their bank through Creative Virtual powered chatbots, could see the responsiveness of their bank and could be guided to the general ‘Coronavirus Hub’ FAQs.

The next question organisations had to figure out was what customers were really asking for, in regard to the pandemic, to be able to provide self-service options (both through their virtual agent and other website updates). Within a few days, one of the banking virtual agents I look after had more than 3,000 recorded user queries around the crisis. All of these user queries were recognised by our high prioritised keyword and allowed me to start our analysis and content tuning. In these times, when call centres and live chat agents are under immense pressure, having thousands of customer questions being handled by an automated 24/7 service is invaluable.

I find it fascinating to work on these queries and look for patterns. After cleaning the data and removing very general inputs about ‘Coronavirus’, we could identify 9 main topics users are after. Some of these topics were expected, such as credit card and mortgage payment holidays. However, we also identified topics which we initially haven’t thought about, such as travel, holiday and flight cancellations and premium club cinema ticket expiry dates. This analysis and suggested list of FAQs/topics were sent to the client. This insight was extremely helpful and enabled them to act quickly, reaching out to all internal departments of the company in order to update both website and virtual agent content accordingly. Within 48 hours, the company’s virtual agents (deployed across multiple branded websites) were able to provide instant and appropriate guidance and support to all these coronavirus related questions and hopefully give a bit of comfort to users who are looking for answers to their questions in these uncertain times.

The increases in virtual agent traffic our customers are seeing isn’t only coming from coronavirus questions, though. Due to lockdowns, stay-at-home measurements and customer care centres’ increased waiting times, people are more likely to reach out to virtual agents generally – and here comes a personal story!

As I was chatting with my brother last weekend, he was complaining that he couldn’t get to speak with a live chat agent either on the banking app nor the website, and he needed his IBAN urgently (I would say, typical user behaviour – an IBAN is badly needed, 9pm on Saturday!). He happens to be a customer of the very same financial organisation this blog post is about, so this is an insight into a real-life customer. I explained to him, with great care, that live chat agents are very likely to be not working at this time of day, and then I proudly guided him to the virtual agent I’ve been working on for years now. After asking ‘What’s my IBAN’, he was overly impressed as he managed to find it immediately. I have encouraged him to use the virtual agent frequently, without sparing good feedback. Also, this was the first time I could demonstrate my actual work as a Knowledgebase Engineer to my brother!

The recently added Coronavirus FAQs are triggered thousands of times weekly (sometimes daily), but there is also a general trend of people increasingly interacting with our virtual agents for help with a variety of topics, which continues to prove their value. We keep monitoring performance to discover more and more topics, so we are able to better help people as we are all in this together.

For some more information about the benefits of using virtual agents to support customers during this uncertain time, check out Part 1 of this blog series on self-service. You can also request a personalised demo to see first-hand how this technology, and Knowledgebase Engineers like myself, can help your organisation improve your self-service.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 3: Supporting Employees

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

So far in this series we have discussed using chatbots, virtual agents and conversational AI to offer easy-to-use customer self-service (Part 1) and as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents (Part 2). In this third and final instalment, let’s explore how this technology can be used to deliver a positive employee support experience.

Organisations of all sizes and across all industries are being faced with difficult decisions as they work to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting employees has become more important than ever before and, at the same time, more challenging than ever before. With new regulations and policies around social distancing and quarantines, companies are suddenly faced with entire workforces working from home, reductions to just essential employees and the temporary suspension of in-person interactions.

Luckily there are digital tools organisations can put in place that will help employees navigate this ‘new normal’ and improve productivity and efficiency. AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents empower employees to self-serve when and where they need support. This both improves the experience for employees and reduces the pressure of staffing human-assisted channels, such as internal support desks and helplines, to deal with increased demand.

The flexibility of conversational virtual agent technology lends itself to a wide range of successful employee support use cases. Here are a few that are especially relevant to support employees in the current uncertain situation:

  • IT supporthelp desk requests, system access and password resets, application support – Employees transitioning to working from home will inevitably have questions, especially if they are using technologies with which they are unfamiliar. There are lots of entertaining stories about technical fails circling the internet, like this story of a boss accidently changing herself into a potato during a videoconference. Finding the humour in these very relatable situations brings us together and is important during such a stressful time. What is not funny for employees is when they can’t get the technical support they need to do their jobs. A chatbot or virtual agent gives them 24/7 access to self-service so regardless of when they run into problems, they can find information and step-by-step troubleshooting guides to help resolve their issues.
  • HR support company policies/procedures support, time-off requests, payroll questions, expense report assistance – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have put new policies and procedures in place for employees or made updates to existing ones. With so much new information – combined with new working and family routines – employees can benefit from a way to easily get their questions answered. Virtual agents remove the need for employees to search through an entire policy document for a specific piece of information by instantly pulling out the relevant content for them. The technology can also be set up with a handhold feature to guide employees through the completion of forms and HR-related requests.
  • Staff support documentation support, staff training, product guides, device/machine support – This third category covers a wide range of specialised use cases. Organisations are being faced with the challenge of supporting employees digitally – in some cases for the first time ever – and should explore how an internal-facing virtual agent may be able to help them do that. Everything from training programmes to product guides to documentation assistance lend themselves well to intelligent automated support. With options to integrate with Single Sign-On (SSO), employee profiles, knowledge management platforms and other backend systems, these tools can provide an extremely personalised experience for employees.

Take a look at this Customer Success Story from a large government department that has been reducing their internal service desks costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent for several years.

I mentioned in Part 1 that chatbots and virtual agents are not only cost-effective tools for providing digital self-service, but that they can also be deployed quickly with a high-level of performance. That quick timeline is hugely important for organisations now as they rise to the challenge of delivering quality service and support. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Do your homework – It’s natural during stressful, uncertain times to act on feelings of panic. Unfortunately, that can lead to decisions that aren’t thought out and ultimately compound the problem. Even if you are moving forward with a virtual agent project quickly, still take the time to do your homework. Make sure the solution you are selecting will work for your organisation’s goals and internal structure. A basic or off-the-shelf chatbot may sound good because it’s super fast to deploy, but will it be able to accurately and consistently answer the questions your customers, agents and/or employees are going to ask? A DIY solution may have an attractive price tag, but do you have the internal expertise and time to build a tool that will provide a positive experience for users?
  • Look at the bigger picture – Even if you’re starting with a small, very specific chatbot deployment you still need to consider how it fits into your larger digital strategy. Select a solution that you will be able to expand and can be integrated with other channels and systems (such as live chat, voice technology, personalised account information, ticketing systems, etc.). Even if you aren’t looking to create a scalable and robust tool right now, you want to have the ability to easily do that down the road. Failure to identify the role of a virtual agent in the overall customer or employee experience often leads to organisations wasting time and money on a project that they end up replacing. If you have an existing tool that isn’t performing well in the current situation or doesn’t fit with the new digital reality of your company, now is the time to upgrade it. The good news is, you won’t have to start a new project from scratch. And that brings me to my third tip. . .
  • Use what you already have – The best way to jumpstart the development of a new chatbot or virtual agent is to use data that you already have as initial training data. This may be live chat transcripts, call centre transcripts or existing chatbot projects. When you are selecting a vendor to work with on your project, make sure to ask if and how they can leverage your existing data to fast-track the development process and give the virtual agent a high level of accuracy from day 1.

If you are looking for industry research to help you with your business case or strategy, be sure to download the recently released ContactBabel report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service. It is a long report but provides valuable insights from consumers on their preferences and usage of self-service channels as well as use cases and results from organisations currently offering self-service options.

When you’re ready to get started on your own chatbot or virtual agent project, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the immense pressure organisations are under to deliver quality service and support over digital channels during this period of coronavirus-related quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. We took a look at some of the benefits of using AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents to offer customer self-service. In Part 2, let’s explore how this technology can be deployed as an Agent Assist tool to support your contact centre agents.

No matter where you are in the world or the nature of your business, your contact centre is now dealing with a new reality. For some, this may mean supporting agents working from home. For others, it may be working out the logistics of social distancing and new policies to keep employees safe while in the office. Many organisations are also dealing with an increased number of calls, emails and live chats coming into their contact centres. Despite these disruptions and a bigger workload, agents still must deliver a positive experience to your customers.

Providing contact centre agents with desktop conversational AI as a knowledge source gives them an extra edge in providing customers with quick, competent service. Agents have access to a virtual agent that understands questions asked in natural language. This means agents can type in queries using the same language as the customer they are assisting, instead of having to remember the relevant keywords or phrases to find the information they need. The virtual agent can also be set up to understand internal abbreviations and acronyms commonly used by agents to make it even easier to access the right content quickly. The tool acts a virtual supervisor, giving agents instant access to information and step-by-step guidance through procedures and processes that is current and up to date.

Here are a few benefits of having an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents in the current uncertain situation:

  • Reduce average handing times and improve first contact resolution – Average handling time (AHT) and first contact resolution are always important metrics for contact centres. However, they are more important than ever during high volume periods, and it’s essential that they be addressed hand-in-hand. Reducing AHT but not solving those customers’ issues benefits no one. It leaves customers frustrated and dissatisfied and usually results in them reaching out to your contact centre again. An Agent Assist virtual agent gets your agents to the correct, complete information they need quickly, thus cutting back on length of calls and improving the quality of resolution.
  • Provide agents with alerts and instant access to updated, time-sensitive information – As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world with new government directives and updated company policies being issued all the time. The Agent Assist desktop can be configured to provide agents with real-time alerts about important updates and announcements, so they are always in the loop even if they are working remotely. With the ability to update the virtual agent content quickly, organisations can also ensure agents have consistent access to time-sensitive information and the most recent versions of procedures and policies. This helps you improve consistency and compliance across the contact centre as well as the customer experience.
  • Reduce training time for agents – Some businesses are dealing with the increased pressure on their contact centre by reassigning employees from other areas to field customer questions or taking on new agents. This creates an additional challenge of training those people quickly and efficiently. Using a virtual agent in your contact centre reduces training time because it gives all agents the information they need right at their fingertips. The tool is easy to use, doesn’t require agents to remember specific keywords or abbreviations, and can provide step-by-step guidance through procedures, applications, etc. New agents, and seasoned team members, don’t need to worry about retaining the content because they can easily access it as they are interacting with customers. This enables you to focus training more on the best ways to have those interactions and deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements – which is more important than ever right now.

A great resource for organisations thinking about using conversational AI to support agents is the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. It provides tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform that fits with the needs of your organisation as well as best practices for deploying and maintaining an Agent Assist tool. Also included are contact centre specific questions to ask when evaluating different virtual agent offerings.

Coming up in Part 3 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a look at how virtual agent and chatbot technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce. I will also share my top recommendations for getting new virtual agent projects deployed quickly and upgrading existing tools that aren’t performing well.

Ready to get started on your Agent Assist project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your contact centre goals – request a personalised demo here.