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CX in 2018: Digital Transformation Means Combining Humans and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For years there was much more talk about digital transformation than any actual changes for many organisations, but that’s starting to change. More and more digital transformation projects are getting off the ground, and 2018 will be an important year for understanding the reality of the changes needed and putting plans into action.

During a recent roundtable event Econsultancy found that for many, digital transformation programmes are all about survival. Organisations are ‘trying to disrupt ourselves before being disrupted by others’. There is a fear of being made obsolete and digital transformation is a way to head off bankruptcy, particularly for those already struggling or less profitable than their competitors.

Yet well-established and profitable organisations are also moving forward with these types of programmes, particularly when it comes to customer experience. In Hong Kong, some of the biggest banks are launching smart chatbots as a way to serve tech-savvy customers as part of their digital transformations. The corporate banking unit of HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank by assets, launched the very first chatbot of its kind in the city. Chatbot Amy is an important part of their innovative digital banking experience and allows customers to get answers quickly and easily.

I recently read an article predicting that 2018 will see AI-enable chatbots providing a better customer experience than human-to-human chat exchanges. I would argue that in some cases they already are. While I disagree with the authors on that point, I wholeheartedly agree on their insistence that customer service chatbots should have human ‘escape hatches’ which seamlessly pass users over to a human.

When it comes to customer service and engagement, digital transformation means combining humans and machines. Organisations that ignore the importance of the human element or try to rely on pure artificial intelligence (AI) are going to see their initiatives crash and burn. Chatbots can be brilliant additions to digital engagement strategies but they need to be implemented in the right way and with the right expectations, like HSBC Hong Kong’s Amy.

One thing that has held back digital transformation efforts is coming to grips with the reality of implementing plans, which is often very different than expected. It’s important to work with an experienced, expert team – particularly when it comes to customer service chatbots. Don’t rush to deploy any old chatbot just to be able to say you have one. Be strategic about it as part of your overall digital customer experience transformation. Know how it can best serve your customers and how you want to integrate it with other support options such as live chat. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! gives some key features to look for when selecting a chatbot for customer support:

  • Personalisation – Can the chatbot be integrated with personalised account information?
  • Consistency and Accuracy – How will the chatbot help me keep my customer experience consistent and accurate?
  • Seamless Experience – Can I integrate the chatbot with other channels and support options?
  • End-to-End Support Journey – Can the tool bring together virtual and human support channels?

As you embark on new digital transformation initiatives to improve your customer experience this year, ensure that you examine them in context of your overall strategy and customer needs. And don’t overlook the importance of combining humans and machines, live agents and chatbots to best serve your customers and reach your CX goals.

Chatbots are Transforming the Way Mobile Apps are Built and Used

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“By 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development.”

As one of Gartner’s top strategic predictions for 2018 and beyond, this projection really drives home the fact that chatbots are more than just a passing fad. Gartner explains that chatbots are becoming the face of artificial intelligence (AI) and transforming the way apps are built. Forward-thinking organisations are staying a step ahead of their competitors by examining their digital strategies and finding ways to incorporate chatbot technology into their customer engagement plans.

Some companies have already made their chatbot available in their customer app. One example is Time Warner Cable who offer customers the option to get instant help from their virtual agent, and even escalate to a live agent when needed, in the MY TWC app – check out the video below to see it in action.

Other organisations are taking advantage of the growing popularity of messaging platforms by deploying their chatbot on apps such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. These platforms have become key communication channels, and chatbots offer a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support to customers already using these apps to connect with family and friends. For example, Transport for NSW in Australia uses RITA (Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant), their Transport Bot, to provide bus, train, ferry and light rail service information on Facebook Messenger.

A survey published earlier this year found that 71% of millennials (ages 18-34) surveyed were interested in trying chatbots from consumer brands. According to that same survey, 67% said they were likely to buy items and services from brands via chatbots. Based on those results, it’s no wonder that enterprises are starting to seriously invest in chatbots to engage with customers. Some may even look to completely replace their traditional mobile app with a chatbot.

branded chatbot survey

It’s not enough for companies to invest in any chatbot, though – they need to invest in the solution that’s right for their needs. There are new vendors popping up every day claiming to provide chatbots and virtual agents for customer support, but smart organisations know it’s essential to work with an experienced provider offering a proven solution. Smart organisations also know that chatbots need to be implemented as an integrated part of their overall customer engagement strategy, not as a stand-alone tool or app. Here are a few resources to get you started:

The Most Innovative Customer Support Tool

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At Creative Virtual our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. We saw this vision come to fruition last year when we officially added V-Person Live Chat™ to our suite of Smart Help solutions. Since then, our roadmap has continued to be all about providing a world leading enterprise level end-to-end customer engagement platform.

It is an honour to have this vision and hard work recognised for a third straight year by the Technology Innovator Awards. This year I’m proud to share that we’ve been awarded ‘Best Global Customer Engagement Software Provider 2017’ and ‘Most Innovative Customer Support Tool: V-Person Live Chat’! These awards are a testament to the Creative Virtual team’s dedication to providing enterprises with innovative customer support solutions.

Our technology is designed to assist organisations in aligning their contact centre directly with the digital function to meet the growing expectations of customers for 24/7 access to accurate information and support. We are defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents and a unique feedback loop that allows live agents to help keep content accurate across self-service channels and human-assisted channels just by doing their normal jobs.

At the heart of our suite of products is our V-Person virtual agent technology which is utilised by organisations around the world to improve their customer support experience, reduce costs, increase sales and build brand loyalty. Our multi-lingual chatbots and virtual agents are currently answering over 50 million questions a year – and that number is always growing! We’ve had a number of exciting additions to our V-Person family over the past several months including Helen, the new chatbot communicating with Octopus users in Hong Kong Cantonese which was implemented with our partner Continuous Technologies. Forward-thinking companies like Octopus recognise that customers are increasingly turning to digital channels and self-service first and are leveraging conversational chatbots to improve their digital engagement.

My thanks to the Technology Innovator Awards for recognising Creative Virtual and our innovative software and solutions for a third year. You can read our official award announcement here.

Check out the video below to learn more about our innovative integration of virtual and real support and request your own personalised demo to see our technology in action.

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Download a copy of the V-Person Live Chat™ Overview and then request a demo to see the industry-defining integration for yourself.

6 Foolproof Customer Engagement Strategies Using Chatbots

By Frank Schneider, VP of Sales, North America

Since the rise of AI applications in the business world, chatbots’ influence on customer engagement has been a hot topic. Enterprises using or considering AI virtual assistants must have an effective plan for improving customer engagement.

Below are a few tips to help your virtual agents create a first-class customer experience.

  1. Start with mobile

Many large, older organizations make the mistake of believing that their virtual assistants should be configured first and foremost for desktop use. However, Google announced in 2015 that mobile had surpassed desktop in search traffic in several large countries. Research from April 2016 shows that in the U.S., 65% of digital media time is spent on mobile, compared to just 35% on desktop. You should be planning customer engagement strategies for mobile channels first, and then ensuring they work everywhere else.

  1. Don’t get locked into a platform-based solution

Many customer engagement providers are touting solutions for a specific social media platform or communication channel. While it’s great to have a way to engage with customers where they are, there are risks to hitching your wagon to a single-platform solution that isn’t specifically fitted to each channel. Leave your organization some flexibility when it comes to how you reach customers with your digital engagement solutions.

  1. Use personalized recommendations

Personalization of content is a primary focus in the commercial world, especially in B2C applications. Think about the apps, websites and social media profiles set up to customize a person’s experience with a brand. Chatbots can and should be one of these tools. By checking someone’s purchase history, account status, and previous interactions with the company, your virtual agent provides tailored recommendations that not only please customers, but help improve revenues through cross-selling and upselling.

  1. Leverage a proven chatbot solution

There are many new and experimental virtual agents in today’s market. Since Facebook opened up its Messenger application to chatbots in spring 2016, over 11,000 bots have joined the platform. If you’re trying to choose a chatbot solution for your company, don’t pick one solely based on its features or the way it’s presented to you: find one with a verifiable track record of helping large enterprise clients deliver these solutions at scale.

  1. Take advantage of old chat logs and phone transcripts

The best virtual agent solutions learn from your previous conversations across other channels. You should have an AI virtual assistant analyze logs from customer interactions with live agents – both phone and chat – so it can learn about common issues and understand how to resolve them before having a single conversation.

  1. Don’t wait for customers to initiate the interaction

To reach the next level of engagement, you can’t wait for customers to contact you with problems they are experiencing. You must attempt to get ahead of their issues by prompting them to talk about their use of your product or service. A quality chatbot can be set up to initiate an interaction through SMS, mobile, and/or desktop with customers about topics important to your business.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

5 Questions to Ask About Digital Customer Service Improvement Plans

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, Creative Virtual USA

Of the many opportunities provided to the business world with so many digitally connected consumers, some of the most exciting are in the realm of customer service. Digital tools allow us to serve customers better than ever before – as long as you choose the right solution and engage the right experts to help deliver on its promise.

If you’re considering implementing a new digital customer service improvement plan, ask a provider the following questions to gain a clearer sense of how they can help you take better care of your customers:

  1. What’s the expected cost per resolution?

It’s important to understand the fully-loaded cost of helping a customer resolve a problem in each of your customer service channels. To quickly estimate cost per resolution, take the cost per contact for the channel and divide it by the expected success rate of resolving issues. You can expect a fairly large variance in costs across your channels, so be sure to take a broad look across digital and offline channels to determine which method is the most effective for your business and your customers.

  1. How long does it take to see ROI?

A transformative digital customer service improvement plan often requires significant upfront investment. While you are planning for this cost, it’s important to have proper expectations for when you’ll see a return. Providers who are confident enough in the effectiveness and fit of their solutions to offer outcome-based pricing are an encouraging sign – Outcome-based pricing allows you to lock in return on elements of your investment, which begin as soon as your solution goes live, improving your bottom line.

  1. Does the solution have a sales component?

While effective customer service is critical for keeping customers, every organization needs sales to grow. The best customer service programs understand that service and sales are hand-in-hand.  Improvement plans should incorporate service elements, new customer sales, cross-selling and upselling components.

  1. What ways can my customers find help using this solution?

This is a critical question for ensuring that you maximize the efficacy of your customer service solution. If your customers are highly active on social media or mobile platforms but the customer service improvement plan you are considering can’t be deployed there, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

Also request job descriptions of the internal resources required to deploy and manage the solution. Will there be significant IT projects required to make it work? Can the customer service solution you are considering be set up to work with your data warehousing or analytics solutions? These are all questions that could affect the time to deploy, cost and value of your solution.

  1. Does the customer service solution self-learn?

In today’s world where artificial intelligence can write poetry and drive your car, it’s important that your customer service solutions are evolving with your business over time. A great customer service solution learns from previous interactions to gain a better understanding of what your customers ask about, what solutions work best, and incorporates that learning to offer better service.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

Upcoming Webinar: Innovations and Trends to Enhance the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Personalised, consistent and accurate engagement anytime, anywhere – customers expect it but many companies struggle to deliver it. With customer experience being a significant driver in customer loyalty and buying decisions, organisations need to find a way to meet these expectations at a cost that makes business sense. In CRMXchange’s upcoming Tech Tank webcast, Innovations and Trends to Enhance the Customer Experience, the roundtable speakers will show how organisations of all sizes are taking advantage of cost-effective innovations and techniques to deliver consistently satisfying customer care.

Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, will join the roundtable to give live demonstrations of how companies are currently using our innovative Smart Help solutions to offer 24/7 easy access to information and support across contact channels. These solutions are designed to be complementary to the systems and processes already in place to help brands quickly create better customer experiences without lengthy or expensive development projects.

The key to the success of Creative Virtual’s customer engagement platform is the unique combination of natural language virtual agents (V-Person™) with the backing of a powerful knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform (V-Portal™). Chris will demonstrate how organisations are improving customer satisfaction, increasing sales and building brand loyalty while also reducing their support costs.

Speakers from Fonolo and TeamSupport will also be joining the roundtable scheduled for Thursday, 16 June. Professionals interested in learning about cutting-edge customer engagement solutions and seeing live demonstrations of the technology in action, should be sure to register for this webcast through the CRMXchange website. For those unable to attend the live webinar, CRMXchange will make a recording available after the event and you can request your own live demo.