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Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

We are currently living in unprecedented times as countries and communities around the world deal with quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. Businesses and brands of all sizes and across industries face new challenges as offices and physical locations close. For some, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how, and if, they emerge on the other side.

Organisations are now under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This includes the need to answer coronavirus-related questions as well as the usual queries about products, services, policies and procedures. Many are looking to fast-track projects that are already in progress or are re-evaluating strategies to add new projects that can be actioned quickly.

Advancements over the past several years in conversational AI technologies, including chatbots and virtual agents, have made them a go-to solution for providing cost-effective and easy-to-use support on digital channels. They also give organisations the opportunity to get self-service projects both deployed and performing well quickly. By working with an industry vendor that provides a combination of technology and implementation expertise and support, companies don’t need to worry about having that knowledge internally to get started.

When talking about self-service virtual agents, the first use case that usually comes to mind is customer service. That’s the capacity in which these solutions first got their start, but companies shouldn’t overlook the benefits of using this technology within the contact centre to support agents as well as to provide self-service for employees in areas such as HR and IT support. As many companies deal with the sudden switch to supporting a remote workforce, exploring these internal-facing solutions is more important than ever.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll take a closer look at using AI-enhanced virtual agents to support contact centre agents and your employees.

First, let’s explore some benefits of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide self-service for your customers. There are lots of published statistics and success stories that prove the business value of this technology. Here are a few immediate advantages organisations will gain from deploying an AI-enhanced chatbot or virtual agent to support customers in the current uncertain situation:

  • Available 24/7 – For much of the population, the usual daily routine has flown out the window as we transition to working remotely, home schooling our children and supporting more vulnerable members of our family and neighbourhoods. Having to keep track of your company’s contact centre hours is one of the last things your customers want to have to do. A virtual agent gives them instant access to the information and support they need at any time of the day or night, and without the need to find a quiet place to have a phone conversation with a real person.
  • Up-to-date information – Things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world as governments issue new instructions for businesses and leadership teams adjust policies and procedures to keep customers and employees safe. Quality virtual agent solutions enable a quick update of the tool’s content so customers can access the most up-to-date information available. The technology can also enable you to deliver customised information based on factors such as location to provide tailored answers to customers.
  • Relieve pressure from live agents – Contact centres are being overwhelmed with calls, live chats, emails and social posts from customers as COVID-19 related questions are added to the usual mix of regular queries. By adding a conversational self-service solution, companies can relieve some of that pressure from contact centre agents by giving customers another option. A virtual agent can successfully engage with an unlimited number of users at the same time and frees up live agents to assist customers with more complex issues or who want to talk with an agent.

For organisations new to the idea of deploying a virtual agent or those who are unsure how to take the first step, destinationCRM’s Best Practices Series on How to Select a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for Your Self-Service Project is a great place to start. It outlines actionable tips on selecting a solution that will positively impact your customer care.

Coming up in Part 2 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a deeper dive into using a virtual agent as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents. And in Part 3, we’ll take a look at how the technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce by giving employees reliable self-service options. 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 self-service project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.

A Partnership for Industry-Leading Voicebot Solutions

By Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy UK and Ireland, Spitch

When Mandy Reed invited me to do a guest blog, I was quite honoured and of course jumped at the chance, so Thank You once again Mandy. The significance of this post is that it coincides with the announcement of a partnership between Creative Virtual and Spitch, something that I am very proud of to say the least.

…but just who on earth are Spitch I hear you say …

So, for those of you, like me, who hate overblown corporate presentations, here is the miniaturised version:

  • 6 years old, HQ in Zurich with offices in Milan, London, Madrid and Moscow
  • Technology – Speech Recognition, A.I., NLP/ NLU, Voice Analytics, Voice Biometrics
  • Solution areas – Omnichannel, self-service, IVR call steering, compliance monitoring, voice identification and much much more
  • Cloud-based OR on-premise (Spitch OR partner hosted)
  • High level, easy-to-use full suite of development tools
  • Multi-language support

That’s just a flavour, but I hope you’ve taken it all in as I will be asking questions later! 🙂

Of course, a glance through the above resume will show that we are a business focused on delivering solutions based upon speech recognition technology and although the word ‘synergy’ is overused in this day and age, it exists in abundance between our two companies. Both are strong innovators who constantly drive their businesses to provide solutions which are simple to use but packing a punch in terms of ability to solve real world business problems whilst delighting the end users – that magical CX factor that so many companies drone on about but few manage to harness with their offerings.

“Sweet Sixteen” was how Chris Ezekiel recently referred to Creative Virtual’s latest anniversary and what a sweet sixteen it has turned out to be with significant numbers of high-profile customers and accolades to match along its path to success. Spitch is young by comparison but already punching way above its weight with some customer profiles that even our largest competitors would be more than proud to showcase. What we lack in years of existence as a company we can more than compensate for – sadly – in age. Joking aside, many of the team having racked up half a lifetime of experience in aspects of speech technology including business, support, development and R&D.

Hopefully by now you’ve got the gist of my tone that I am very excited about this partnership and looking forward to working with Chris, Liam, Mandy and the wider team.  The same is echoed from the Spitch side who are very keen to get fully engaged on the opportunities that have already started to emerge.  Watch this space…

Check out our V-Person™ and Spitch integration overview to learn more about how we’re bringing our technologies together to deliver industry-leading voicebot solutions.

Hindsight May Be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

They say hindsight is 20/20, but companies can’t afford to rely solely on hindsight when it comes to their customer experience (CX). They should, of course, learn from past successes and failures and pay attention to the feedback from both customers and employees. However, that’s not enough to attract new business and build a loyal customer base. Companies also need to have a 20/20 CX vision.

Recently customer service and experience expert Shep Hyken tweeted his thoughts on customer service, pointing out the fact that “customers are getting smarter and expecting more”:

That “expecting more” includes effective service across touchpoints. For organisations, that means offering end-to-end engagement that blends self-service and human assisted support options. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.

Frost & Sullivan has identified 2020 as the year CX will overtake product and price as the number one way by which companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. There’s no avoiding the reality that it’s more important than ever to effectively serve and engage customers across touchpoints. It’s key that organisations work with a vendor that has the right tools and expertise to help them create and implement a chatbot, virtual agent and live chat vision that is unique to them and their customers.

To help get you started, the expert team at Creative Virtual has put together a new guide: Creating a 20/20 Vision for Your Chatbot, Virtual Agent & Live Chat Strategy. The guide includes:

  • Three steps for creating a successful chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy
  • A checklist for selecting and partnering with the right vendor
  • Tips for using existing chatbot projects and live chat transcripts to jumpstart your vision

The new year is all about looking forward, so learn from your 2019 CX hits and misses but also take the time to map out an updated vision for 2020. Make it your resolution to be one of those “great companies” Shep Hyken referenced in his tweet this year. Download this guide for creating a 20/20 vision to get the inspirational juices flowing with our actionable steps, tips and vendor checklist.

Setting Realistic Expectations for AI-Enhanced CX Technologies

By Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer

On 31 October I joined my colleague Liam Ryan at the 2019 CXtech Conference & Technology Showcase, which was co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, in London.  Even though it was the fourth year Creative Virtual sponsored the joint events, it was my first opportunity to represent the company, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Liam and I chatted about what the day held in store while attendees started to arrive. The day was packed with presentations from experts in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, aimed at advising participants who were looking to find out more about this ever-growing technology. Liam was due to present at 10 am on the “Evolution of Customer Experience”. I could tell how much he was looking forward to it!

I was manning the Creative Virtual stand for most of the time so didn’t get to see many of the presentations, but I did join the audience for Liam’s presentation.

He reminisced for a short time about the olden days when phones were smart if you could send a text and computers couldn’t be popped in a bag to take to work, before talking about the high expectations of customers of today. He outlined Creative Virtual’s top tips for implementing chatbot, virtual agent and live chat technology. He went on to talk about how Creative Virtual are combining the technological advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence with the human touch to create customer experience solutions that deliver on the promises made.

After Liam’s presentation came a Q&A session and I was happily sitting as an anonymous participant, when Liam kindly put me on the spot to answer a question about how the deep learning works. That moment seems like a bit of a blur now, and I hope my reply was coherent! I explained how the deep learning, (based on a rather complicated algorithm!), works alongside customer intent, which is ultimately being overseen by a human to ensure a controlled evolution.

This was quite apt as it’s apparent that many companies are being given unrealistic expectations about what AI can achieve for them. In fact, we are finding that many companies either have struggled or are currently struggling with unsuccessful, and often very expensive, chatbot projects – some which have gone live, only to disappoint and others that never got off the ground. (Did you know that Creative Virtual is offering a free workshop to help companies who find themselves in this position?)

I spent the remainder my time at the conference talking to people who had been impressed with Liam’s presentation, and who’d come to find out more about what we do at Creative Virtual. It was interesting to see the varied reasons people were exploring the world of AI and what questions they had. These discussions made it obvious that companies are approaching chatbot and virtual agent technology as a must-have for their customer experience and employee engagement strategies. However, often they are being cautious because there are so many options in the marketplace that can’t deliver positive results.

The day made me feel quite privileged to work in such a fast-moving and exciting arena. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our stand to learn more and to the event organisers for putting together an insight day for both the sponsors and attendees.

If you missed the event or Liam’s keynote session, be sure to download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent.

CXtech

Delivering the Right Information on the Right Channel at the Right Time for APAC Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics are two components of customer experience (CX) plans that have the potential to either create noteworthy improvements to customer engagement or undermine efforts to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. It’s essential that companies take advantage of the recent developments in these areas but do so in a thoughtful and strategic way.

The upcoming Hong Kong Contact Centre Association (HKCCA) Symposium is exploring that topic through this year’s event theme of ‘Customer Autonomy’. Creative Virtual will be joining our partner Continuous Technologies at the symposium, which will be held at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort on 31 October 2019. I’m excited to be invited back to speak at the event for a fifth year.

My session, titled Smart Self-Help for a Seamless, Omnichannel Customer Experience, will take a look at the top trends impacting APAC CX practitioners and the challenge of delivering the right information on the right channel at the right time for customers. I’ll discuss ways companies can leverage recent developments in AI to improve their customer support and show live demonstrations of how companies are doing this today. I’ll also share my top tips for incorporating these technologies into CX strategies for long-term success.

It’s always a pleasure to exhibit at the symposium with Continuous Technologies, and members from both our teams will be there showcasing how our chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions can help companies deliver the right information on the right channel at the right time to customers in their native language. Symposium delegates will be able to see demos of self-service tools in multiple languages, including Cantonese, Simplified Chinese and English, as well as talk to us about building a business case for this type of technology within their own organisations. I also encourage anyone struggling with a failing or poor performing chatbot project to stop by the stand and ask about our free consultation workshop.

The HKCCA always hosts insightful events, and this year’s symposium promises to be no different. I’m looking forward to participating for a fifth year and meeting everyone attending. Hope to see you there!

If you won’t be at the event, our team would love to arrange an individual demo to show you this technology in action. You can also check out our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for recommendations on taking the next step on your journey to implementing a successful chatbot or virtual agent.

CXtech: Showcasing the Technology Transforming Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Technology is changing many aspects of our lives, and customer experience is no exception. The CXtech Conference and Showcase, returning to London for a second year, will explore the technologies changing today’s customer experience (CX) landscape, from design to delivery to analysis. Creative Virtual is pleased to again be a sponsor of the event, co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, on 31st October.

Together the two conferences will offer six streams of sessions and three keynote presentations. One of the keynote speakers is Liam Ryan, Sales Director at Creative Virtual. His session, From FAQ Systems to Conversational Chatbots: The Evolution of Customer Experience, will delve into the ways in which changing technologies have created a shift in customer expectations and how companies approach customer engagement. In particular, Liam will discuss how chatbot and virtual agent technology is now being used in a much more sophisticated way to create conversations with customers and deliver personalised service experiences. His session will include live demonstrations and actionable tips for selecting and implementing conversational self-service.

The Creative Virtual team will also be on hand throughout the day to provide demonstrations of our award-winning chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions as part of the Technology Showcase. Be sure to stop by for a behind the scenes look at how our solutions bring together artificial intelligence (AI) and humans and offer organisations control over how their chatbots and virtual agents self-learn. Conference attendees can also arrange an individual workshop with our team to build a business case for this technology within their own organisation or to consult on an existing chatbot project that is performing poorly.

For more information and to register, visit the CXtech Conference website.

If you’re unable to attend but want to learn more, you can request a personalised demo and sign up for a consultation workshop with the Creative Virtual team.

For a Better CX, Get Out of Your Customer’s Way

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

It is Customer Service Week, time to give customer service and customer experience (CX) some thought. Wait a minute – even more thought? Isn’t it all about CX these days?

It is, albeit lip service most of it. Also, we know we have gone too far when you are being asked about your “shopping experience” in a supermarket. Or, as happened to me the other day, how to improve my airport experience. Seriously? Well, get the “airport experience” out of the way. Whatever you plan, the money is better spent on quicker security and boarding, minimizing my time at the airport.

I admit I am ranting a bit based on some recent unpleasant travel “experiences”, but there is a relation with CX. It was all well when it meant to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and be less product or project centric. But we lost it at some point when we still said ‘experience’ but started thinking ‘sensation’.

Instead, if you want to deliver good CX, get out of the way! Do not get between the customers and their goals. Integrate your various tools seamlessly. Don’t just be multi-channel (or omnichannel), go beyond channels and blend the different touchpoints as you blend different information sources.

Provide a one-stop shop for information and self-service, powered by natural language conversations. Make it as easy as possible for the customer – great CX is when they don’t notice.

My current travels have taken me to GITEX Technology Week with our partner ixtel. GITEX is the biggest tech show in the Middle East and has all the global players plus a lot of “local” ones which just happen to serve millions of people. They all have some cool stuff in the pipeline. All of which need NLP (natural language processing) power, of course. 😉

Scanning Twitter for some inspiration on where to look next I came across https://t.co/8zmViTW5r9, which I liked a lot and which is definitely far on the sensational side. So, I considered deleting my half-finished blog post. But then I did not, because all of this is certainly cool, but it will only be a great experience if it helps me do what I want. When it helps me to get my shopping done, not when it interferes with it. So, while I cherish all the nice visuals, I cling to my claim: A great experience is when it it easy, seamless and smooth.

Check out our annual Customer Service Week blog post roundup for some trends, tips and statistics to help you deliver an easy, seamless experience for your customers.

The Cycle of a Successful and Harmonious Customer Service Experience

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

It’s 2019 and time again to celebrate Customer Service Week. It’s Autumn and leaves are falling in the Northern Hemisphere – a testament to the changing seasons of a cyclical and (hopefully) never-ending cycle. The cyclical concept seems apt this week as we mark this week-long celebration again this year (although we should be thinking about customer service every week of course!) and seasons are changing.

So many aspects found in our lives are cyclical. On a personal level we have the cycle of life. One of my personal favourites is the circle of fifths which, on the most basic of levels, can be defined loosely as a musical concept involving the relationship of various tones found in major and minor keys which can explain why certain things might sound sharp or flat or in perfect harmony. Stay tuned for more on this later.

Moving into business we can look at software development, with stages including planning through to maintenance with the objective to move back to planning for more improvements based on feedback. Similarly, we can look at the product cycle where there is a season for production after research and development, and then an ultimate season of decline which feeds right back into R&D to work out what can be improved for the next version.

Closer to home, I consider how Creative Virtual’s suite of customer and employee engagement tools fulfil a tidy cycle which feeds upon itself to deliver a successful and harmonious customer experience. Like the circle of fifths, there is no end point. The relationships of tones and questions and points of contact exist in a wheel and the feedback loop – whether musical or user generated – provides enough information to confirm either perfect harmony or an experience needing more tuning.

customer serviceTo explain further – picture a user needing information about an upgrade to a banking service that may affect his/her account. The user asks a question via the self-help portal and gets a response that delivers an accurate explanation, but it is not specific enough for his/her unique situation. So, the user decides to escalate to live chat. The virtual agent passes the user over to the live chat advisor along with the transcript of the conversation so the agent can respond to the latest query and not start over at the beginning. The live agent “speaks” to the user who then asks another question about the bank policy on “xyz”. The agent, not knowing all of the policies, seeks advice on the internal advisor-facing self-help portal (serviced by Creative Virtual from same knowledgebase), finds the reference on policy number and feeds back the info to the user quickly.

The “journey” went full circle: user finding information on the self-help tool – self-help tool escalating the user to a live agent – live agent finding information on the internal self-help tool – a combination of humans and technology delivering exactly what the user needed to know. Possibly not a symphony but I’d call that a most successful and enjoyable customer prelude.

Happy Customer Service Week!

Conversational AI for Financial Services

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Traditional banks and financial institutions can no longer count on lifelong loyalty from their customers. Gone are the days of people selecting and staying with a bank simply because their family has been banking with that institution for generations. Fintechs and digital start-ups are disrupting the space, and customers are increasingly willing to take their business to a financial brand that offers them a personalised, easy experience that fits with their lifestyle.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics can help financial brands keep pace with customer expectations, but these types of digital transformation projects aren’t always easy to get off the ground. At the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum at the end of June, the expert speakers and panellists addressed some of the customer experience (CX) challenges the industry is facing.

Our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel’s opening keynote – Taking Your CX into the Future with Conversational AI – got the day started with a look at AI-enhanced chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. Chris gave insights into what is possible with conversational AI technology and then backed that up with real examples through a series of live demos. He emphasised the need for the contact centre to be a part of digital transformation initiatives, which had many in attendance nodding their heads in agreement.

One theme that ran through the various presentations and panel debates was the great opportunity the financial services industry has to make life easier for customers and employees with new AI solutions. Whether it be giving customers easy, 24/7 access to smart self-service or helping compliance teams stay on top of changing regulations, AI technologies should be approached as positive additions to transformation strategies. However, internal education about the real benefits and limitations of the technologies and getting executive buy-in continue to be major challenges in many organisations.

During the networking breaks, there continued to be insightful discussions about AI and machine learning, including lessons learned through both successful and unsuccessful projects and ideas on how to overcome anti-AI sentiment based on misunderstandings of the technologies. We had a number of attendees stop by the Creative Virtual table to see more live examples of chatbots and virtual agents. They were excited to see how financial brands are using the technology today to provide customer self-service, assist agents in the contact centre and provide internal HR and service desk support. We even had one attendee say she had specifically come to the event to hear Chris’ presentation because his live demos always provide her with great use cases to share in her consulting work.

If you’re thinking about adding a chatbot to your digital strategy, or have a failing chatbot project you’re ready to abandon, download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019. Our team would also love to show you our AI-enhanced self-service solutions in action, so I encourage you to request a live demo.

Our thanks to the Informed.AI team for putting together an insightful forum agenda and a delicious lunchtime spread. We’re looking forward to joining you again for the CXtech Conference & Showcase in October.

AI & CX in Financial Services

AI, Customer Experience and the Financial Services Industry

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

When I founded Creative Virtual over 15 years ago, our very first customer was a financial organisation. Not only are they still a customer today, but they also became the first on a long list of brands our team would work with in the financial services industry. Over the years, we’ve developed an expertise in creating, implementing and maintaining chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for major financial organisations. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those insights with you in my opening keynote at the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum.

This one-day interactive event will be held on Thursday, 27 June at The Shard in London. The agenda features a combination of presentations, case studies and panel debates designed for attendees to gather insights and advice from leading experts and practitioners in the financial services space.

In my keynote, Taking Your CX into the Future with Conversational AI, I’ll explore the growing role customer experience (CX) is playing in customer acquisition and retention and address the specific challenges financial brands are facing as they look to incorporate new CX technologies with legacy systems while still maintaining compliance with strict industry regulations. Through a series of live demonstrations, I’ll show best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. I’ll also explain why a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human input is necessary for successful and reliable CX solutions.

In today’s highly connected digital world, customers expect the same level of personalised, easy-to-access service and support from their financial institutions as they receive from companies across all other industries. It’s important for financial brands to work with an experienced team that provides best practice expertise – both specifically in the financial services industry and more generally in current and developing customer service trends – alongside innovative technology to deliver conversational AI solutions that are reliable, compliant and futureproof.

I’m also looking forward to being on a panel debate hosted by Martin Hill-Wilson, an expert in customer engagement strategy and implementation. Creative Virtual is the official sponsor of the Directors’ Forum, and we’ll have members of our team on hand to share more live demos and tips to help attendees build their business case for conversational AI.

There are a limited number of tickets still available for the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum, so reserve your spot today!

You can also learn more by downloading our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 and see our conversational AI platform in action by requesting a personalised demo.