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[Meet the Team] Tracey Biela: Crazy About Virtual Agent Technology Since 1999

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Tracey Biela, Senior Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Tracey started in the virtual agent field in 1999 with a company in Hamburg, Germany and fell in love with the technology. After leaving that role in 2005 and then moving away from Hamburg, she feared she would never get to work in the industry again. Thankfully for Creative Virtual, that was not to be the end of Tracey’s virtual agent journey! In 2011 she joined the Creative Virtual team and is now involved with defect management, testing, training and supporting partner implementations. She shared with me why she is crazy about chatbots and virtual agents and how she still looks for a way to slip the company’s Queen’s Awards win into conversations.

How has your early work with virtual agent technology influenced your current role with Creative Virtual?

That was when I first started to love virtual agents. I’m crazy about the technology! I started working with virtual agents when I lived in Hamburg. It was at that company where I first met and worked with Chris [Ezekiel] before he founded Creative Virtual, and also worked with several others who would eventually be a part of the Creative Virtual team. I was interviewed for that first job by Olaf Voβ [Lead Application Designer] and trained by Björn Gülsdorff [Chief Business Development Officer]. I also worked with Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] and Katrin Zieren [Business Development Consultant].

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualAfter having my kids and relocating again, I thought to myself, “What have I done?!” I thought I would never get to work in the business again. It was only after I reconnected with Chris and Rachel that I realised there might be a possibility of joining Creative Virtual. I’m so happy to be back again and working for Chris. We share a similar philosophy on things, so I knew it would be good to work for him.

The very first VA [virtual agent] I worked on was named Mark and was built to sell virtual reality glasses and talk about science fiction in German and English. I worked on the English version and Björn did the German. At that time I never thought that eighteen years later I’d find myself working on virtual agents that are helping large organisations deal successfully with a very high amount of traffic.

During my time at my first virtual agent job, I was involved with developing the basic knowledgebase and still see some of that early work reflected the VAs I work on today.  I also had the opportunity to be involved with the servers, UI [user interface] and backend aspects of the technology which has been an advantage when supporting partners in my current role.

What makes Creative Virtual stand out in the virtual agent industry?

V-Portal™ is the fifth system I’ve used during my career for building virtual agents, and it is by far the best. V-Portal is amazing! Our clients really appreciate that we provide a suite of products. In particular, that V-Portal works hand-in-hand with our Live Chat and virtual agents. No one else does that.

I have a background in linguistics, with a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics, so the language aspect of VAs is something else I love. Creative Virtual has built our technology to work with any language which is incredibly important. V-Portal’s multi-lingual capabilities allow our VAs to maintain accuracy across all languages.

Creative Virtual’s hybrid approach of human input and self-learning also makes our solution the best out there. The world has seen what happens when you let users completely train your chatbot, and that doesn’t work.

What do you enjoy most about your role and being a part of the Creative Virtual team?

I always feel like I am part of such an excellent team! The company is really flexible and understanding of family obligations, which also takes up a lot my day. In between juggling family life and work, I love it when I get to train clients or colleagues, especially when I’m working with a really engaged group. I enjoy meeting different people and learning as much from our customers and partners as they are learning from me.

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualMy current role really brings together my skills and interests. My linguistics background and interest in languages has been really helpful when working with VAs in Turkish, Swedish, Danish and other languages. This is a fascinating way to play with languages and be able to help our clients to help their customers. I sometimes see myself in a communicator role, helping to translate from technical terms and jargon into ‘normal’ language to explain things to clients and partners in a way they can easily understand. I also find myself really enjoying the part of my job that involves testing and replicating defects. I love being able to bite into a defect until I figure it out.

This work can be really stressful and busy at times, and it’s not for everyone. I tend to be a workaholic, so I need to make sure I’m taking some time off. As a company we seem to have a reputation of being hard workers but really knowing how to celebrate when we get together! I’m not sure how that started, but it came up again after one of the clients I work with was at our Queen’s Awards celebration and commented on how fun it was to celebrate with us.

RSPCA Creative VirtualIn addition to celebrating, the team also gets together to do good for the community. This will be my fourth time doing the 10k for the RSPCA, and I’m really looking forward to it this year. The first time I didn’t think I could do it. This year I started training earlier and am hoping to get a new personal best.

Having a career in the virtual agent industry does have a downside, though. My kids have an Amazon Alexa and are always asking her things. At first, they sounded a lot like the inputs we often get on a brand-new VA – cuss words and childish questions like “can you fart?” – when people are testing it out, which made me laugh. Now when Alexa misses a question or doesn’t have the answer, I find myself saying to my kids that she “hit the safety net” or “must not have those keywords”, and then suggesting another way they can ask. I can’t just enjoy Alexa like everyone else – I’m always analysing her knowledgebase! Although, I guess that’s a small price to pay for having my dream job.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Winning the Queen’s Awards is absolutely fantastic! I’m still excited! It’s such a prestigious award and not one that many companies can say that they won. I think I told everyone I know about Creative Virtual’s win, and I still look for a reason to slip it into conversation any time I can. I’ve told all of my family in the USA and all of my friends know. Some clients’ names are not always recognisable, but when you mention the Queen they always know the award is a big deal!

A friend once told me many years ago that when you find a job you get co-workers that you like or work that you like or you will like the pay. Working for Creative Virtual has been my dream job – I got all three! I mention this in every year in my annual review, and I feel grateful to work with such a great team and a great company.

C3 London 2018: Redefining customer care with conversational commerce

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On 8-9 May Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to London. Replacing the Intelligent Assistants Conference held the previous two years, this new event will explore conversational platforms and how organisations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features interactive panel discussions, industry case studies and networking opportunities.

Coined by Opus Research years ago, the term ‘conversational commerce’ has never been more important in the customer experience space than it is in 2018. Organisations are tackling the challenge of creating conversational engagement with digital customers across a wide range of contact channels. Advancements in chatbots and virtual agents have opened up powerful opportunities for using these tools to create conversations with customers.

Creative Virtual is sponsoring C3 London and lending our expertise in delivering intelligent conversational systems to the conference agenda. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, will be an expert speaker on the Demystifying AI – Enterprise Strategies for Digital Self-Service panel on Day 1 of the event. Having first entered the virtual agent and chatbot industry in 2000, Rachel will draw from her extensive experience building and implementing these solutions for organisations to discuss realistic expectations for artificial intelligence in the customer service space.

At the Creative Virtual stand, our team will be on hand to share live demos and success stories of organisations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots and live chat to deliver conversational customer care. Also stop by for insights and tips on building a business case for the technology in your organisation and how to approach implementing these solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 London event website. Be sure to follow conference announcements and updates using #C3London.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to receive £200 off the conference rate.  And if you aren’t able to be at the event in London, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you.

What Goes Around Comes Around: A look at customer sentiment and intent

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

I’m delighted that one of the main reasons why I started working in this industry 18 years ago (eegad!) has re-surfaced as a credible and viable objective to move ahead with conversational flows that also provide a profitable punch: customer sentiment.

During the first wave of all things cool and nifty on the web – when website stickiness and brand promotion online was first and foremost – a virtual assistant was often deployed to assist a marketing campaign and answer “silly” questions about random topics that might have little to do with the brand. So long as the virtual assistant (always with an avatar) was presented in a branded UI, then the key was to keep a customer on the page and enable the engagement to be about whatever the user wanted.

Of course, the problem with that approach at its most extreme was that it lost its financial credibility since, without promotion or discussion about the products/ services, there was little to no ROI on the tool. The virtual assistant was demoted as a bit of expensive frivolity that was often axed once the first tech bubble burst and focus moved from bling to bottom line.

That was when I lost my job creating such novelties as VC money was running out and there was little to no appetite to fund such projects and focus on user sentiment and fun smalltalk, like whether the virtual assistant enjoyed pizza on a Saturday night or playing chess with fellow 24/7 assistants.

Creative Virtual evolved after that burst as it saw an opportunity at that time to take this technology and move it away from sentiment and emotions and casual smalltalk to focus on the business proposition of enabling a client’s customers to find and self-serve answers to relevant FAQs.

The company was built by actively addressing the public’s requirements. These requirements have changed over the years from quick and efficient delivery of answers, limited smalltalk and some avatars to moving away from avatars and focusing on back-end integration with APIs ranging from currency trackers to train delays. Then there was a major focus on user journey and intent – what does the customer need and what is the quickest and smoothest way to get him/ her there? Organisations were keen to link their virtual assistants to live chat and use decision trees or conversation flows. We saw the removal of the avatar in many situations and flat web designs for simplicity.

Now in 2018, we’re in the age of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and conversations – sometimes even via voice. User intent is assumed based on channels and the context of when the customer starts a conversation. Now it is time to get back to assessing if the user is happy or frustrated and work out which channel and journey the user needs to take to feel special (personalisation) and guided (customer service) after a fulfilled mission of getting what was required (positive user experience). True conversations need to happen and no longer just a session with Q&A pairs. The “silly” questions and random topics have a place if it helps hand hold the user to an endpoint – and the circle the virtual assistant industry (myself included!) started to draw in 2000 can now be closed!

The whole aspect of AI and NLP (natural language processing) combined with human curation requires more blog posts – but suffice to say that for the purposes of this post –  the “science of conversation” is truly back on the map for self-service tools. And we at Creative Virtual will be leading the pack as we were (a number of us working at other companies first) at the beginning when sentiment was more important than intent. Now we know how to join them both up in the same conversation – and the future of the industry is looking bright!

Want to learn more? The best way to understand The science of conversation™ is to see our technology in action with a personalised demo.

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!

[Meet the Team] Maria Ward: From Virtual Agent Customer to Partner to Expert Member of the Creative Virtual Team

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Maria Ward, Account Manager/ Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Maria brings a unique perspective to her work managing, creating and implementing virtual agents, having first encountered the technology as a Creative Virtual customer, then working for a partner company for nine years before officially joining the Creative Virtual team in December 2015. Today she uses her expertise to support both new and long-standing clients with their virtual agents and chatbots, assisting them with the initial deployment as well as on-going development and enhancements. She shared with me the key factors in keeping virtual agent installs successful year-after-year and why saying The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is amazing just doesn’t do it justice.

What was your first experience working with virtual agent solutions and how has the industry evolved since then?

My very first experience with a virtual agent was when I worked at One Railway and oversaw the project to implement a virtual agent, which was a solution from Creative Virtual! Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] built it for Creative Virtual, and I was fascinated by the technology. It was such a fun and exciting project and I was really keen to try out some NLP [natural language processing]. I managed to convince my contacts at Creative Virtual to let me do a little bit of the NLP work, which I ended up loving. I was disappointed when my higher-ups decided to end the project.

Women in IT Excellence AwardsAfter a franchise change and some internal restructuring, I left that position and joined the Virtual Zone in October 2006. The Virtual Zone was partnering with Creative Virtual and I was excited to hear when I took the job that there was a chance I’d get to work on a new virtual agent. I remember going into my first meeting with NRE [National Rail Enquiries] in January 2007 and being extremely nervous. I believe Chris Ezekiel [Founder & CEO] was there, and I felt a little bit like an imposter talking about virtual agent technology when I felt like I still knew so little. Building the virtual agent for NRE was hard work – they had a huge amount of information and I was still new and learning as I went. I remember putting in long hours and questioning if I was up to the task. While it was pretty stressful, I also found it to be incredibly fulfilling.

The technology has really changed since my first experience with virtual agents. The virtual agent for One Railway was a basic implementation and wasn’t developed further after the initial build, but that’s not the case for solutions we’re delivering today. The ability to integrate with customer databases to provide personalised information directly through the VA [virtual agent] gives huge usability improvements and so does handing over to live chat based on rules decided by the customer. In addition, knowledge management with V-Portal™ was a big step forward for the technology. And now we’re also seeing improvements with things like semantic matching and deep learning. The NLP techniques I use today are very different from the early days. We’re able to take advantage of these changes to be more confident that the virtual agent is giving customers a good experience.

The industry has also seen a big change in the channels customers are using virtual agents on. It used to just be desktop, but now it’s much more mobile. In fact, Siri has made virtual agent technology more popular. It used to be that when I told people what I did for a living, they had no idea what I was talking about. Now they do … mostly!

And, of course, there’s lots of hype about AI [artificial intelligence] in the press these days. It’s a hugely popular topic, and lots of people are panicking about robots. I find it fascinating but realistically know we’re a long way off from AI robots taking over the world. I’m looking forward to continuing to work in the industry and seeing what kind of eye-opening projects I might get to take on in the future.

What are the key factors in keeping virtual agent and chatbot deployments successful over many years?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on both new installs and virtual agents that have been online for many years. The absolute key to a long-standing virtual agent is the relationship we build with the client. They need to be positive and excited about the virtual agent. It’s important that we, as the virtual agent experts, help our customers understand the worth of their solutions and see the potential the technology has to benefit their company and customers – that is a huge factor.

The virtual agents that have been successful for many years are the ones that are treated by our clients as an important part of their customer service strategy. They are kept as up-to-date as the website and viewed as providing important information to customers. They are also strategically used in a way that helps increase engagement.

Continuing to develop the virtual agent is also important. Adding functionality such as seamless handover to live chat and account-specific information that may not have been possible when the virtual agent was first launched help keep it delivering the experience expected by current customers. Creative Virtual’s Tech Team are amazing at helping our clients deliver these types of improvements.

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

10k for the RSPCAI’ve worked a long time with the Creative Virtual team! As a client, I really became fascinated with the technology and got a chance to try my hand at some NLP work. The virtual agent was a fun, exciting project to work on. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to develop that interest further when I joined the Virtual Zone. One of the biggest highlights of my time working with Creative Virtual as a partner was attending the Global Partner Meeting in London. I thoroughly enjoyed it and went away enthused about the technology. It was a really good way to rediscover the excitement I had when I worked on my first virtual agent.

I joined Creative Virtual in December 2015, and I love being a part of the team. Each person is such a character – and I mean that in a good way! Everybody is so friendly and supportive, and I like feeling more joined up with the team than I did as a partner. I love our quarterly company calls and having a chance to hear what is going on everywhere around the world, all the new developments and future plans. It was great to have the opportunity to travel to Australia and help the team there. And I also appreciate that I can work from home and still make regular trips to the Canary Wharf office to work in person with the London team. It’s a perfect combination for me.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

The Queen's Awards for EnterpriseIt’s such an amazing achievement! I haven’t got the words to properly describe it. I felt so proud to have been a part of the Creative Virtual team at the time we won. I told all my family and friends and shared it all over Facebook. Seeing Chris’ [Ezekiel] face and hearing him talk about it, you can just tell how chuffed he is – and rightly so! The Queen’s Award is a BIG DEAL, a big deal for five years. You don’t win an award like this for nothing. The whole team pulls together to bring projects to fruition – it’s a real credit to everyone and the fact that we have so many long-standing customers really says a lot about the team.

Our company celebration was such an amazing night. The atmosphere was wonderful and everyone looked so happy. It was great to see everyone come together and getting to meet Chris’ family was lovely. It was really an uplifting experience.

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.

It’s Time to be Realistic about AI, Chatbots and Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I had the opportunity to present a webinar with Engage Customer titled ‘AI, Chatbots and Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth’. I’m sure we can all agree how hot the market is for all things artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and live chat at the moment. It really is exploding out there! We’re also seeing a lot of confusion, false claims and inflated expectations. My goal during this webinar was to separate the truth from the myth by showing some real-world customer examples and, through a series of live demonstrations, share best practices in deploying chatbots and human assistance for customer support.

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of when AI goes wrong, such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which became sexist and racist because it learned from the way people were interacting with it. This is the simple reason why artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service, so you need to be very careful there. Companies need to be realistic about chatbots and virtual agents, but also make sure they select a system that fits with their roadmap for implementing this technology. And, just as important as the technology, is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions.

Right now we’re in a digital and artificial intelligence revolution, and there’s no doubt that the contact centre in its current form is finished. Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation initiatives and, of course, the contact centre needs to be a key part of that. All too often the contact centre is still siloed and we’re seeing them being left out of those discussions, though. In the future, there will be a paradigm shift and the contact centre will go from dealing with repetitive inquires to being the centre of excellence for knowledge and playing an important role in keeping self-service chatbots up-to-date.

When it comes to using artificial intelligence for customer service chatbots, a blended approach – not pure AI – is best. Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology uses a hybrid approach that allows organisations to tune how much machine learning and how much human curation of content they want to provide for the solution. Companies already know their top call drivers and machine learning isn’t needed to determine that. In fact, it gets in the way and gives a bad experience if it doesn’t take into account the learnings that the organisation already has. A hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of chatbot responses.

I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to get a better understanding of this topic and to see the live demonstrations I shared of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used around the world.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar.

AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Industry analysts are predicting a huge increase in the number of customer interactions that will involve technologies such as machine learning applications and chatbots over the next five years. Smart organisations are already setting themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating chatbots and virtual agents into their customer support strategies to meet the expectations of digital customers.”

-Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another article pushing artificial intelligence (AI) or another analyst forecasting an increase in machine learning to improve customer experience and engagement. But, if you feel like the hype doesn’t always match up to the reality, you aren’t alone.

On Tuesday, 5th December 2017 at noon (UK time), Engage Customer will host a live webinar titled AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth. This webinar will challenge the myths perpetuated by media hype and overpromising to walk attendees through a realistic explanation of machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space. It will be presented by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel and Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media.

In addition to giving insights on how to realistically incorporate AI, chatbots, virtual agents and live chat into your customer support strategy, Chris will share a series of live demonstrations showing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve customer engagement and build brand loyalty. The webinar will also cover:

  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

As customers increasingly seek out digital and self-service options, organisations are facing an evolving customer service landscape filled with changing engagement preferences. AI, chatbots and live chat can help organisations meet the expectations of digital customers, but they need to be implemented correctly. Join Engage Customer and Creative Virtual as we help you separate the truth from the myth.

This webinar is free, but advance registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be provided for registrants unable to attend the live event.

[Meet the Team] Rebekah Needham: Deploying Virtual Agents and Chatbots Around the World

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Rebekah Needham, Senior Knowledgebase Engineer. Rebekah has been a part of the virtual agent industry since the Summer of 2008 when she first worked on a Spanish proof-of-concept for Creative Virtual. She officially joined the London-based team in 2009 and over the years has been involved with virtual agent projects around the world. She’s built chatbots in the UK, trained new hires in the US and supported customers and partners in Asia Pacific. She shared with me her insights on how culture is driving virtual agent implementation in different parts of the world and why she wasn’t surprised to hear Creative Virtual was being recognised for innovation by the Queen.

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

Reading through Jeff’s interview [read the interview with Jeff Clifford here] made me chuckle and think back to being trained by Jeff myself. At the time, I was living in the US and he was in the London office. I had a two-hour NLP [natural language processing] training session and was expected to start working on a Spanish proof-of-concept. I remember thinking, “What have I got myself into?!” Later Jeff told me he was impressed that I “got it”; I had to laugh and tell him I was glad he thought I “got it”!

Obviously, I had more thorough training when I officially joined the team and now I’m the one training new people. I’ve trained some of the guys in the US office and am now training in Asia Pacific, sometimes in languages I don’t speak. I find it’s a good test of my knowledge as I need to explain things in a way that the person I’m training can take information and apply it in another language. I also need to ensure a trainee understands well enough to train other people on his or her team.

Creative Virtual teamHaving opportunities to rise to a challenge is one of the things I enjoy most about being part of the Creative Virtual team. Taking on challenges is something we do regularly as a company; we’re always pushing ourselves to do more and be better. Whatever country you’re in or projects you’re working on, the whole team works together to find solutions and help our customers.

I find myself travelling a lot, but I know I always have access to the teams in the UK, US, India, Europe, and Asia Pacific no matter where I may be. We reach out to each other for support, and people don’t hesitate to have calls or help troubleshoot something important at odd hours to accommodate different time zones. Despite the challenges, we can always talk, laugh and have a good time together. I’ve been friends with several people on the team for a long time, and I appreciate having a company culture that encourages us to build those strong relationships.

What differences do you see in the way virtual agents and chatbots are used in different parts of the world?

It’s interesting to look at the ways virtual agent implementations are driven by demands for technology in different countries. In the US, for example, we typically see large enterprises deploying focused solutions that have a very streamlined template. Whereas in Asia Pacific, we are often working with smaller organisations who are looking for a conversational style virtual agent utilising templates that feature an avatar and FAQs. The virtual agents really are a reflection of what’s going on in that part of the world, both culturally and technologically.

Creative Virtual teamI feel that Creative Virtual’s global expansion has really helped drive our innovation forward. Each new region has their own set of demands and requirements for our virtual agents to be successful. As a company, we are perceptive to these challenges and flexible enough to deliver quickly for our customers – a definite advantage we have over larger competitors. Rich [Mason] is a magical being! As our Head of Innovations, he has been key in helping us address regional differences. The entire company then benefits from these developments regardless of the region that first inspired them.

What are some challenges that organisations face when implementing a chatbot in multiple languages?

When it comes to implementing virtual agents in different languages, NLP works relatively the same way but we’re conscious of the fact that languages are written in different ways – whether that be Chinese which uses symbols instead of letters or Thai which doesn’t use spaces between words, for example. The engine needs to be able to parse each language correctly, and this is a challenge that Creative Virtual has overcome beautifully.

I find that we often act as consultants for organisations looking to deploy virtual agents in multiple languages, guiding them on how to best deliver these solutions. They appreciate how exceptionally flexible we are, both as a company and in the ways our technology can be implemented. At the moment, we have some virtual agents with 5 or 6 different languages in one knowledgebase while others are set up with a separate knowledgebase for each language. As we continue to innovate in this area, there will be an evolution of how multiple languages are managed and how we implement best practices.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Creative Virtual teamWhen I heard the news that we won a Queen’s Award, my initial reaction was “Wow, that is so cool!” And then I thought, “Of course we won.” I take great pride in the work we do at Creative Virtual and know we are doing a great job, so I wasn’t surprised that we won such a prestigious award. It really is confirmation that we are at the forefront of the virtual agent field. Both as a group and individually, we are always driving towards excellence, and the award reaffirms for us that we are delivering a high level of expertise and quality to our customers and partners every day.

Resisting Change Can Spell CX Disaster

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Over the summer, one of my Netflix obsessions was ‘Call the Midwife’, a TV drama that follows a group of midwives working in London’s East End during the 1950s and 60s. There often seemed to be a conflict between the traditional customs or ways of thinking and modern ideas that drove the storyline of the episodes. For example, patients resisting new medical practices such as giving birth in a maternity home instead of at home or the older generation of midwives dismissing the younger nurses’ ideas on topics like allowing husbands to be present for the birth. Often the arguments came in the form of “If it was good enough for my mum, it’s good enough for me!” or “We’ve always done it that way!”

Humans – and companies – are creatures of habit and often resistant to change. While the ‘but it’s always been done that way’ reasoning makes for a relatable and compelling TV show, it can spell disaster for organisations when they resist recognising changes in customer behaviours and preferences. Blockbuster has become a posterchild for missed opportunity, passing on the chance to purchase Netflix and then trying to get into the streaming trend too late, which ultimately led to the company’s demise.

When it comes to customer experience, organisations can’t afford to ignore the impact technology is having on the way we communicate with each other and with brands. Today’s highly connected digital customers are looking for 24/7 access to information and support across multiple channels and devices. They want a seamless experience that is personalised, consistent and easy. Companies like Amazon are often applauded for their superior customer experience, and customers are now expecting that same level of service from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry.

As consumers increasingly turn to self-service and digital channels, organisations need to analyse the changing preferences of their customer base and look to incorporate new channels and technologies into their customer support strategy. The change to self-service needs to happen in conjunction with an evolution of the contact centre. Current capabilities of AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents put these solutions in the perfect position to be complementary with the contact centre and live agents.

While some sceptics talk about chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space as a passing fad, the reality is that they are a tried and tested tool for providing digital self-service and are helping to define the future of customer engagement. Since the days of the early chatbots, these tools have improved greatly in their conversational abilities thanks to advances in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). The evolution of customer expectations has also driven massive amounts of innovation in the technology to allow for flexible back-end integration, easier maintenance and a reliable hybrid approach to self-learning.

Take the first step toward meeting the expectations of digital customers with chatbots by requesting a demo to see this technology in action. Change can be hard, but smart organisations (and midwives!) know it is the way forward.