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Supporting Customers and Employees in the Digital Age

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Every organisation is going through a digital transformation, particularly in regard to their customer and employee experiences. Virtual agents and chatbots are ideal for supporting both digital customers and employees with a reliable and consistent self-service option that also helps reduce support costs and improve efficiency.

At Creative Virtual self-service solutions are our specialty, and we’re honoured to be named ‘Best Self-Service Solutions Provider 2017’ by Corporate Vision Magazine’s UK Corporate Excellence Awards 2017. For over 14 years we’ve delivered bespoke virtual agents and chatbots designed to provide a quick, easy way for users to get information and troubleshoot issues.

Once viewed as a novelty or ‘cool’ thing to have, virtual agents are now a key component of many customer engagement strategies. Smartphones, social media and a variety of other technological advancements have changed how we communicate with each other and how we want to communicate with brands. The traditional ways of providing customer service are no longer meeting the expectations of digital customers. As a society, we’re more inclined to seek out self-help options and are becoming increasingly more comfortable with using chatbots and virtual agents.

Despite most organisations being focused on improving their customer experience for a while now, an emphasis on improving the employee experience is relatively new for many. Yet organisations are starting to feel more pressure to make internal changes to better engage a digital workforce and lower costs. Virtual agents are proving to be a great fit for internal service desk and HR departments, giving employees an easy way to self-serve in a variety of situations. By giving employees the tools to troubleshoot and solve common problems anytime, anywhere on their preferred device, organisations can reduce costs and improve productivity.

Check out this recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth, now available to watch on-demand, for a look at how organisations are already using virtual agents and chatbots to improve engagement with digital customers and employees.

Our thanks to Corporate Vision Magazine and the UK Corporate Excellence Awards for this honour!

Navigating the Chatbot Confusion in 2018

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The new year is here, and with it has come much of the confusion from last year about chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) and how it all fits with your organisation’s business goals. It’s easy to get swept up in the media hype. For some that means approaching chatbot and virtual agent projects with inflated expectations, and for others that leads to a scepticism about it all being a passing fad.

At Creative Virtual, we’ve always taken pride in the relationships we’ve built with our customers, guiding them through best practices for implementing this technology and keeping their solutions successful year after year. Recently we’ve seen our ability to act as expert consultants become more important than ever.

I’m proud to share that our industry expertise has won us two awards as part of Corporate Vision Magazine’s 2017 Consultancy & Advisory Awards: Best Self-Service Solutions Advisory Firm 2017 and Digital Marketing Consultant of the Year 2017 – UK. Congratulations to the whole Creative Virtual team!

There are several different aspects to our consultancy role in the industry. One part is general education about the technology to help dispel the confusion created from the media hype and overpromising of some industry vendors. This involves speaking at industry events around the world, presenting on webinars and publishing educational materials. A few resources I recommend you check out:

  • AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth – In this webinar, which is now available to watch on-demand, I dive into the confusion, false claims and inflated expectations to separate the truth from the myth. I share a realistic look at machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space and present a series of live demonstrations of the technology.
  • Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! – This educational whitepaper walks readers through the various names and terminology being used in the industry, tips for selecting a system to meet your objectives and current use cases for conversational self-service.
  • AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre – In this whitepaper, readers will get a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer experience space and how this technology is impacting the contact centre. It also covers ways you can leverage chatbots and virtual agents to prepare your contact centre for the future.

Our team also provides one-on-one advice and guidance for organisations. We’re passionate about helping businesses select the right solutions, guiding them step-by-step through the implementation process and then ensuring their deployments continue to meet the changing needs of users. We also continuously look for new and innovative ways our technology can be used to meet business needs. For example, we were helping organisations deploy virtual agents for employee self-service long before industry analysts were talking about that as a potential use case.

I firmly believe that just as important as choosing the right technology is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions. Contact us to learn more about how the expert Creative Virtual team can help you navigate the chatbot confusion as you look to implement your 2018 support strategies.

Creating the Best Conversations with Digital Customers

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many company executives looking for ways to improve their customer service and support. As more and more emphasis has been placed on the customer experience as a competitive differentiator, it’s become increasingly important to organisations to provide quick and easy support options for digital customers. Companies are looking for the best way to manage customer engagement and create positive experiences.

I’m proud to say that Creative Virtual’s technology has once again been recognised as the being the best in these areas. We’ve been named ‘Best for Self-Service Customer Experience Management Solutions 2017’ and ‘Best Natural Language & Knowledge Management Technology: V-Person Mobile™’ by the 2017 UK Enterprise Awards!

There’s no denying that we’re living in a mobile-first world with digital customers who prefer quick, easy self-service options. It’s become essential for companies to provide seamless and effortless support to customers on their preferred devices, or risk losing customers to competitors that do. With Creative Virtual’s V-Person virtual agents, organisations can engage customers in natural language conversations and provide the digital self-service customers want. By maintaining content for all self-service channels, as well as human-assisted channels, in a central knowledgebase, companies can easily manage the customer experience and ensure that they are providing consistent and reliable information no matter how customers engage.

Liam Ryan, APSIRecently I was invited to speak about chatbots and virtual agents at an event in Luxembourg focused on software robotics and artificial intelligence. There’s been lots of buzz around AI and chatbots lately, but it’s important to look past all the hype to be realistic about these solutions. At Creative Virtual, we know that customer service is not the place for pure AI and so we use an industry-defining combination of self-learning and human curation of content for our chatbots and virtual agents. I explained during my presentation how this hybrid approach enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of virtual agent responses.

It is this approach to self-learning combined with the backing of V-Portal™, our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform, that makes our natural language self-service solutions stand out in the marketplace. Our virtual agents are answering over 50 million questions a year, and that number is constantly growing.

Request your own live demo to see how you can create the best conversations with your digital customers.

My thanks to the UK Enterprise Awards for recognising Creative Virtual with these two awards. You can read our official award announcement here.

CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service

customer experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For many the end of 2016 couldn’t come soon enough, with the dawn of the New Year bringing a fresh start and a clean slate. Yet, according to Forrester, companies are starting 2017 under attack. While traditionally we would think of this pressure as coming from competitors, today’s organisations are under attack from their customers. Forrester Analyst and Vice President Dane Anderson explains:

“Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers who now decide winners and losers.”

For example, Forrester identifies consumers in Asia Pacific as changing along five key dimensions:

  • Increasingly willing to experiment
  • Reliant on technology
  • Inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences
  • Able to handle large volumes of information
  • Determined to create the best experiences for themselves

Forrester has found these key points to explain evolving customer trends and increased customer empowerment. With highly empowered customers willing to take their business elsewhere for a new, exciting experience, organisations need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating in order to remain competitive.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to consumers in Asia Pacific. Digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers around the world are placing these expectations on organisations in all industries. Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report found that an average of 90% of consumers surveyed in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA expect brands to have an online customer self-service portal. 97% of global consumers answered that customer service was either somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand, and 60% reported having stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.

2016 customer service

The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences. In their report Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, they observe that AI is finding rapid uptake as a tool to provide better customer service and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (VCAs), also called virtual agents or chatbots, will increase by 1,000%. They also discuss how changing customer preferences will lead to an increased automation of customer service needs and a growing market for chatbots able to provide customer engagement over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Gartner foresees VCAs and chatbots becoming a necessity for business-to-consumer organisations in order to deal with the demand for 24/7 support and the increased volume of customer interactions.

The panel of industry experts interviewed for Call Centre Helper’s annual Contact Centre Technology Predictions shared similar thoughts on the increase of self-service and the changing role of contact centres in 2017. One contributor predicted the replacement of FAQs with conversational systems that allow for dynamic two-way conversations. Another expert felt 2017 may be the year in which chatbots or virtual agents become widely used in call centres to alleviate workloads and help live agents focus more on important calls. Others echoed these insights through predictions that the investment in customer self-service will gather pace in 2017 and organisations will focus on engaging customers through conversational commerce.

It’s clear that organisations need to take action in 2017 in order to avoid being declared a loser by empowered customers, and digital self-service options will be key to successful customer engagement. This certainly isn’t a surprise to those in the industry. In fact, both Personal Assistants/Intelligent Agents and Artificial Intelligence were in the top four marketing-related searches of 2016 in the UK according to Microsoft’s Bing Ads.

But knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer engagement plan are two very different things. The best way to begin this journey is to educate yourself about digital engagement solutions, the advancements in and limitations of AI and customer expectations of self-service tools such as chatbots. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! is a great resource to get you started on your path to creating a tale of customer experience success in 2017.

Your customers may not be giving you a fresh start when it comes to their opinion of your customer experience just because the new year is here, but there’s no time like the present to take a hard look at your CX strategy and identify where you can make improvements. Make 2017 the year digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers declare your company a winner!

Technology That Saves Time, the Most Important Resource of All

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

As we quickly approach the end of 2016, I’m excited to share the news that Creative Virtual has been recognised with two 2016 Softech Business Awards: ‘Best Self-Service CX Technology Company 2016’ and ‘Most Innovative Enterprise CX Management Solution: V-Person™’! Softech Intl Magazine’s 2016 Business Awards is a new awards programme designed to commend industry leaders who are dedicated to changing their field and fundamentally saving time, the most important resource of all.

For nearly 13 years the team at Creative Virtual has worked to develop, implement and constantly improve our self-service technology. It’s an honour to be called the best and to be recognised for our dedication to innovation. As a company, we have seen our industry rapidly evolve over those years and are proud of the role we have played in advancing virtual agent technology.

One of the changes we’ve seen is the growing emphasis placed on saving time, both by customers and organisations. In a Forrester Research survey, 73% of customers said:

“Valuing my time is the most important thing a company can do to provide good customer service.”

Our natural language virtual agent technology V-Person enables enterprises to meet that demand by giving customers a way to ask questions and find information anytime, anywhere. Offering high quality self-service options is key to providing a positive customer experience. Customers are increasingly opting to use virtual agents, also known as chatbots and virtual customer assistants, because they make getting answers quick and easy.

V-Person technology is also designed to be used in the contact centre in order to improve contact centre performance and customer satisfaction. By instantly providing agents with the information they need, average call handling times are reduced by up to 40% and you see increased first contact resolution. This saves time for both customers and agents. V-Person Contact Centre™ can also be used as a training tool and has been proven to drastically reduce training times for live agents, saving everyone even more time.

Earlier this year we officially launched V-Person Service Desk™, a virtual agent solution designed to reduce service desk support costs and improve employee productivity with personalised self-service. V-Person can be used for all types of employee support, saving company time and resources. I think our new video sums this up perfectly:

My thanks to Softech Intl Magazine for these two recognitions and to the Creative Virtual team, our customers and our global partner network for helping us to be the best this year. You can read our official award announcement here.

Customer Demands Driving Push for Self-Service in APAC

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Customer experience is a hot topic for organisations around the world, and that’s certainly no different for those in the APAC region. Customers are demanding anytime, anywhere support, and companies are looking for effective ways to meet those demands. This was reflected in our busy industry event schedule here in Hong Kong during November.

At the beginning of the month, Creative Virtual sponsored the Asia Pacific Contact Centre Association Leaders (APCCAL) Expo for a second year alongside our partner Continuous Technologies. Hosted by the Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, this year’s event theme of ‘Omnichannel Customer Experience’ really resonated with the APAC contact centre professionals in attendance. Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, was a featured speaker and shared insights from his many years of experience in the industry during his presentation titled ‘Omnichannel Customer Engagement with Virtual and Real Customer Assistants’.

Later in the month, we teamed up with Fuji Xerox Hong Kong (FXHK), another of our partners, to take part in their SPARK Innovation Expo. This event showcased a range of smart innovations, technologies and next generation solutions designed to transform business. At the Creative Virtual booth, we shared our omnichannel Smart Help solutions and demonstrated how they automate companies’ support process to deliver fast and accurate responses to customers.

That same day Björn Gülsdorff, Creative Virtual’s Head of Business Development, joined our team in Hong Kong for a Roundtable organised by Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium (APCSC). The event theme of ‘International Customer Experience Innovation and Engagement with Leadership Effectiveness’ inspired some great discussions, as did Björn’s presentation on best practices for virtual agents and real agents working together.

An important point that was apparent at all of these events is that the market for self-service in APAC is being driven not by cost savings, but rather by demands from end customers. Customers want:

  • Anytime, anywhere self-service on any device
  • Seamless, effortless engagement
  • Native language support
  • Personalised experiences

We are seeing a surge of interest in our omnichannel Smart Help solutions in APAC because our suite of tools enables organisations to effectively meet these demands. From virtual agents on websites to chatbots on messaging apps to tight integration with live chat, we have proven solutions that give customers a convenient, personalised and seamless experience. In the short time since coming to the region, we’ve demonstrated our multi-lingual capability by officially introducing three additional local languages. The feedback mechanism of our virtual agents gives organisations unique insights into the Voice of the Customer (VOC) to help them further improve customer engagement. And, in addition to enabling companies to meet the engagement expectations of their customers, our solutions also help reduce customer support costs and increase sales.

As we prepare for 2017, the marketplace looks exciting for us in Hong Kong and the rest of APAC. We’re looking forward to continuing our partnerships with Continuous Technologies and FXHK, and to bringing our expertise and experience in customer engagement to even more collaborations with customer organisations.

You can learn more about using virtual agents and chatbots for customer self-service in the new whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what!

Be sure to schedule your own personalised demo to see how our omnichannel solutions can help you meet your growing customer demands.

APCSC Roundtable

 

Attention Marketers: You Could Learn Something from Your Customer Support Colleagues

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“The data is clear: B2B buyers prefer do-it-yourself options for researching products and services prior to purchase. By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate rather than talk to sales representatives to learn about your offerings. The vast majority of B2B buyers will eventually connect with sales when necessary – they just want to be left alone while they do their research.” *

It’s certainly no secret that today’s customers are increasingly turning to low-friction, low-effort self-service options for information and support. But what about B2B buyers? In their recent report How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing, Forrester Research points out that the self-service behaviours we’ve learned as digital consumers are translating over to the approach B2B buyers are taking to make their purchasing decisions. When surveyed, 59% of B2B buyers agreed that they prefer their primary source of information to be their own online research rather than interacting with a sales representative.

For marketers who have been religiously creating and sharing educational content for marketing and advertising campaigns, this may not entirely come as a surprise. Yet simply having published this content doesn’t necessarily mean B2B buyers can find the information they need to move them towards a purchasing decision. This is where Forrester suggests that marketers can learn something from their customer support colleagues. As they point out in this report, customer support professionals have been ‘enabling self-service for years and are committed to facilitating knowledge transfer by removing every source of friction from the customer journey.’ B2B marketers must do the same for their buyers.

Forrester highlights three categories of self-service customer support tools that can be directly applied to B2B self-service research: organic search, contextual help/FAQs and virtual assistants. When implemented properly, these self-service solutions can benefit B2B marketers by helping them to retain more prospects, create self-qualified leads and gain a meaningful advantage over their competitors.

As a virtual assistant and contextual help/FAQs vendor mentioned in this report, we at Creative Virtual see huge potential for smart self-service solutions in both B2B and B2C marketing. Virtual agents not only help buyers find the relevant content and information they seek, but also engage them in a natural language conversation and can guide them through their research step-by-step. Our V-Person™ virtual agent solution is designed to be complementary to the systems and processes already in place, sit on top of existing infrastructure and integrate with other software and tools such as databases, site search and live chat. This means B2B marketers can quickly deploy a self-service research solution without lengthy or expensive development projects.

Forrester’s How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing is available to download from Creative Virtual for a limited time, so be sure to request your copy of the full report.

After reading the report, be sure to check out our educational resources and chat with Creative Virtual’s virtual assistant, Quark.

 

* How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing, Forrester Research, Inc., 13 May 2016

Why Self-Service Has Become an Imperative Despite the Obstacles That Block It

By Karen McFarlane, Marketing, Americas

On April 6th, Creative Virtual USA joined over 150 customer care executives at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum in New York City to discuss how the challenges of the current economic landscape are forcing organizations to examine and reduce costs and why the need for a customer-first approach is more important than ever. A core part of this discussion revolved around the growth of self-service channels, which is supported by analyst research predicting that by 2017, over 2/3 of all customer service interaction will no longer require the support of a human.

With customers practically begging for self-service, we wanted to see what other executives thought about implementing self-service channels and the biggest obstacles they are facing. So we took the opportunity to ask them at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum and polled all 150 attendees. 81% of them said knowledge management and gaining organizational support were the key obstacles to successful self-service deployment. You can download the full results of that report here.

Given these findings, the desire to deliver self-service remains strong, but making the business case and finding supportive technology that can galvanize traditionally siloed departments remains a challenge for many organizations. However, some brands have paved the way as early adopters and are having positive experiences iterating as they go.  Frank Schneider, VP of Customer Experience Solutions, joined a panel at the Argyle Forum, “The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations,” where he, along with executives from General Electric, Quest Diagnostics, Panasonic and Confirmit, discussed the strategies, technologies, and tactics they used to support their self-service investments. Below is an excerpt of the 50-minute panel discussion where they shared some of the challenges and achievements. The full recording is available here.

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Q&A Excerpt: The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations

Creating Your Self-Service Strategy

Q: What tactics have you started to use in terms of bringing the tech savvy customer in and starting to learn from what they need and what the experiences are to give them a better, richer experience?

Creative Virtual: Customers want to adopt these technologies and you have to keep it simple… make it conversational and give the customer a chance to tell us what they need…It’s easy to just wrap it in the wrapper of personalization, but if you actually take the time to listen to your customers and say, “OK, well, let’s meet them at this point and help facilitate that, we find that’s key.” Knowing who I am, knowing the type of customer I am, what package I have and leveraging that context to make this tool whatever it is, digital engagement or even an agent to respect me by showing the intelligence that you know me, makes a big difference. We try to enable that with our solution in particular and this is something I think all brands are hungry for.

Formulating a Business Case

Q: This morning we heard a lot about the investment and how do we finance it? Part of any investment, have you started seeing any reduction in cost? You talked about transferring some of the volume of calls to self-serve, have you started seeing that and are you measuring that somehow and how are you going about that?

Quest Diagnostics: One of the key pieces that we do measure is contacts into our call center per 1,000 patient requisition…we’re seeing that contacts per 1,000 requisitions come down and seeing it similarly increase in those digital or those self-service opportunities, which enables us to better manage that team. I think that’s been a really key piece that we’re looking at. Right now, we’re doing a lot of research to understand in the physician offices those who are active adopters and why they love it?… As we move more into a self-service environment, we’re seeing the reduction in that incoming volume, which is allowing us to be more cost effective. It’s improving their satisfaction and their stickiness.

Measuring Effectiveness

Q: How about cognitive analytics? How is that coming into the play in terms of how we’re using the data and how we’re predicting customer behavior?

Panasonic: In my case, because I have different responsibilities, we have metrics for the call center, which are pretty much the standard everybody’s measuring, AHT and things of that nature. We have web-related activity as to how our customers think we’re doing and the kind of activity from a service stand point. We have actually had some cases where we can react to customers and respond to them within a certain time period because we’re getting information and can communicate with the customer. When you can call somebody within a half hour of a problem, that makes a really big difference.

What the Future Holds

Q: How have you seen the customer service changing in particular with all the new technology that we’re trying to drive?

Confirmit: The role is changing in a lot of ways but not necessarily specific to technology. There is an elevation of the role and elevation of customer experience. You’re seeing investments being made with CCO’s and new directors of customer experience. Ten years ago, this did not exist. We’re just seeing a focus on putting dollars and focus and attention on customer experience. I think that the rest of it, the technology the marrying, the journey, all of that follows the focus because we now have a seat at the table to talk about the actual customer experience. I think there’s a huge investment being made in the roles, the people.

Quest Diagnostics: How do you continue to have that interaction, a dialogue? That’s a big piece and I think we found for us, that’s been critical is even changing the nomenclature in the organization to we were talking very clinically… If I’m a Phlebotomist caring for a patient one on one, they want a different feel and they want a different language set. That’s to your point, changing and meeting that customer how they want to be met. I think about investments around and the way we look at it, as an elevation customer care and that element is one piece of it. It’s that whole end to end and how we’re looking at all of those investments linked together.

Creative Virtual: Ultimately, without being too corny, ultimately technology is always supposed to improve our lives. Throughout history any advancement is supposed to improve our lives…. It’s common sense that we need to meet our customers in all these moments of truth and we win their hearts and minds by actually meeting them intelligently and being accessible and instantly available. Getting as much help as we can. When we can actually say, “Hey we can’t right now, here’s how we can.”

Panasonic: It’s more experiential. With all the new tools and stuff, customer reps are going to have to do more, do different things differently. They might have to do phone chat, social, things related that they didn’t have to do before. Selling things, revenue, we’re starting to do revenue as well and it is a different mindset.

To listen to the full recording of the panel discussion, click here.