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A Look Back: 2019 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is just around the corner, which means it is once again time for our annual look back over the past 12 months. 2019 was another busy and exciting year for Creative Virtual and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry. It’s always difficult to condense a whole year into one blog post, so here are just a few of the highlights.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 as we also celebrated the 15th anniversary of Creative Virtual. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, took a look back at the changes in the company and the industry since he started Creative Virtual in London’s East End in his blog post, Fifteen Years & Counting: Navigating the chatbot, virtual agent and AI revolution. During the year Chris also participated in industry interviews, including one with the AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative and one for the Executive Interviews website, where he shared more insights into the myths and realities of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI).

This year we have also been celebrating another impressive recognition for the company: Frost & Sullivan’s 2019 AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leadership Award! In selecting us for this award, the analysts at Frost & Sullivan evaluated chatbot and virtual agent vendors across two key factors, each with five benchmarking criteria. Creative Virtual was rated as ‘Excellent’ across these categories. You can download a copy of their full independent report here. I had the honour of joining Andy Madge (Head of Technical Services) and Liam Ryan (Sales Director) at the Awards Dinner in London to accept our plaque and meet other Best Practice Award winners from all over Europe.

Special congratulations also go out to Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer, for being shortlisted for the 2019 Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Role Model of the Year (SME) – Tech Industry’! You can read more about Maria’s journey from Creative Virtual customer to partner to team member in her Meet the Team interview. Maria was also one of our Team Animal runners in our charity runs for the RSPCA this year, joined by Laura Ludmany, Rachel Freeman, Björn Gülsdorff and Chris Ezekiel. Instead of all meeting up to run a group race together, each runner registered for a local race instead and took part in runs in Hamburg, London, Ipswich and Dublin. This was the fifth year we fundraised for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a cause we feel passionately about as a company of animal lovers.

The team was also involved with our annual blog celebration of CX Day (1 October) and Customer Service Week (7-11 October), making this year the best one yet. Authors based in four different countries covered topics ranging from customer expectations to chatbot creation to managing stress for better customer relationships. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

We were also excited to be featured in the Wharf Life Newspaper during Customer Service Week. You can read the full article here.

While 2019 saw an increase in the adoption of chatbot and virtual agent technology, we also saw more companies struggling with poor performing tools or projects that never came to fruition. Founder & CEO Chris explored some reasons for this in an article for the AI Time Journal, “Virtual Moron-Idiot!”: Why Chatbots Fail and the #ChatbotRescue Mission Saving Them. As a successful pioneer in the chatbot and virtual agent space, Creative Virtual is in a unique position to help these companies save their investments. That’s why we launched our Chatbot Rescue Mission, offering organisations a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to get their projects back on track.

This year we sponsored, attended and joined our partners at a variety of industry events around the world, including ones in the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, India, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Thailand. Team members presented, participated in panels and gave demos at many of these events, including several keynote addresses. We also welcomed some new organisations to our growing Global Partner Network and expanded our V-Person™ Family with new deployments around the world.

Our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel continued his monthly Virtual Viewpoint column for the Wharf Life Newspaper this year. You can find all of his past columns here. He also saw his name in print in the 6 October edition of The Sunday Times where he was quoted in an article about British entrepreneurs and their tech giant competitors. Subscribers to The Times can read the article online here – and we also have a copy available here.

As we head into 2020, Creative Virtual is preparing to celebrate the company’s Sweet Sixteen – 16 years of helping enterprises deliver better customer and employee support and of bringing new innovations to the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat market. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring!

Be sure to check out our 2019 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. As we do every year, we’ve compiled photos from industry events, company celebrations, fundraising runs and group activities. There will be more photos added over the next couple of weeks, so make sure you’re following us so you don’t miss any.

#CXDay: Serving Your Customers a Custom Support Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy CX Day! Today is the annual global celebration of the professionals and companies that make great customer experiences happen. In a world of growing expectations for on-demand service and highly connected, always-on customers, creating and delivering a great customer experience (CX) is no easy task.

A couple of weeks ago I was at an alpaca farm, a stop on my local annual County Farm Tour, with my niece. She was excited to get a chance to feed and pet the alpacas but, having already endured a few hours of attention from random strangers, the animals were not so interested in what the afternoon visitors were offering. I chuckled to myself as I watched the children – and a few adults – follow the alpacas around with outstretched hands offering them a bite to eat as they ran up and down the fenced in area. As we followed some into the barn, my niece noticed that a couple alpacas that had refused to eat from her hand were eating from the feed trough instead. She wondered aloud why, if the alpaca was hungry, it hadn’t just eaten what she offered.

Digital customers, like those alpacas, aren’t always interested in engaging in a one-on-one human interaction – even though companies often feel that is the best way for them to build connections and loyalty. In fact, analyst firm Gartner reports that millennials are four times less likely to pick up the phone to resolve issues than older generations, opting instead to try to self-serve first. When companies don’t offer a way for customers to do that on their website or mobile app, those customers will end up looking, and possibly failing, on non-company channels. Organisations that want to empower customers to self-serve, and ensure they have a positive experience while doing so, need to offer those tools to customers themselves.

While self-service is increasingly imperative to a customer’s experience, that doesn’t mean that the one-on-one human interaction is no longer important. After watching numerous alpacas eat from the feed trough, my niece was ecstatic when one showed interest in the food she was offering and suddenly her hand was empty. The same is true with customers – not every customer wants to self-serve and not every customer issue or question is best resolved with self-service. A successful digital customer experience strategy never leaves out the human touch completely.

Here are a few CX Day tips to help you deliver a custom support experience for your customers:

  • Get to know your customers – It’s great to offer customers options for getting the information and support they need, but make sure they are the right options for your customer base otherwise you’re wasting time and money. For example, Rest knows that nearly 75% of their customer base is under 40 and most start their experience on the company website. In order to improve engagement with their growing customer base of digital natives, they now offer 24/7 support with virtual agent Roger on their website as well as other channels, such as Google Home.
  • Integrate self-service and human-assisted channels – As mentioned, self-service is not always the preferred method or the best way to answer customer questions. Other times customers will want to self-serve but then reach a point where they need or want to escalate to a human. This is why your self-service options can’t be standalone tools. Chatbots and virtual agents should be integrated with human-assisted channels such as live chat or call back to provide customers with a seamless experience. When customers are escalated from virtual agent to human agent, a full history of their conversation should be passed over as well. Internally, if you are using a virtual agent to assist contact centre agents, make sure you have feedback loops in place so your live agents can help keep the virtual agent’s content accurate and up-to-date.
  • Start small with a plan to grow – As with most things in life, trying to tackle a huge digital CX transformation project all at once just won’t work. Start small and then use what you learn from the first stages of your plan to make improvements as you scale your solutions and work through later phases. Transport for NSW started with their chatbot RITA on Facebook Messenger, a popular channel with their customers, and then grew their solution to be deployed across other channels, including their website and Amazon’s Alexa. This step-by-step approach has improved their customer experience and has won them numerous awards.
  • Work with vendors that have both the technology and expertise – Designing and delivering a customised support experience for digital customers requires a significant investment from companies and their employees. Selecting the best technologies for your goals is very important, but it shouldn’t be the only focus of your strategy. The customer support landscape is littered with failed and frustrating solutions, and the best way to avoid becoming one of those statistics is to work with an expert team that can provide consultation experience along with the technology. You want to work with a vendor that will collaborate closely with you and can provide guidance on both general industry and sector-specific best practices. Just as the service you offer customers needs to be a combination of self-service solutions and human support, your digital customer experience strategy needs to bring together the right blend of technology and human expertise.

Frost & Sullivan predict that the year 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. Are you serving your customers a custom support experience that makes your company stand out?