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Wishing you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

As we approach the end of 2020, the whole Creative Virtual team around the world want to say thank you to all our blog readers, customers and partners for joining us on this roller coaster of a year!

We started the year celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen and are ending it with a wealth of new expertise gained from supporting our customers, our partners and each other through many unexpected challenges. One of our goals this year became sharing our deep knowledge and extensive experience with virtual agent, chatbot and live chat solutions with you so that you could also meet the challenges you faced supporting employees and customers. We are very proud of our newest whitepaper, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience, which features ten of our own industry experts with over 83 years of combined experience in this space. Be sure to download it if you haven’t already! Then check out our 2020 in Review blog post for more highlights and educational resources.

On behalf of all of us at Creative Virtual, wishes for health and happiness during this holiday season and the coming year!

Being Grateful in a Year of Challenges

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As we say goodbye to this year, we can all agree that 2020 has brought us a wide range of unexpected situations and challenges, affecting both personal and business life. This period of the year is a great time to reflect and, even though this year seems to be gloomy and simultaneously flying by and lasting forever, we still need to find reasons to stay positive and be grateful.

Many, if not all, self-improvement books, practises and lectures emphasize the importance of expressing gratitude and looking for the silver lining in whatever challenges we might face. According to Dr David Hamilton, some of the many benefits of gratitude are –

  • Good for mental health – People who were asked to list blessings were around 25% happier, compared to people who were asked to list hassles and annoyances.
  • Helps counter stress – Gratitude switches our focus and helps us notice more of the good things in life. This effect also comes in handy when we can’t get to sleep, as counting blessings (not sheep!) helps relax us.
  • Makes us feel less lonely and more connected – During these times of lockdown and self-isolation, practising gratitude can make us feel more connected and part of life as a whole. It also increases our sense of belonging in the world.

Sadly, furlough, reduced hours and redundancy have become a part of our everyday vocabulary in 2020, which can make it hard for us to stay positive. Yet, there are things to be grateful for. At Creative Virtual, our sense of community is more important than ever, hence we made a small survey to see what we are grateful for as a team:

1. We are grateful for our customers and the ability to be able to help them.

Many of us expressed a sense of purpose at work. With our reports and client feedback, we can clearly see how our tools can improve the customer experience, save calls and direct users to the best sources to self-serve. We have long term personal relationships with our customers which really makes a difference.

‘I am grateful that our jobs have always been able to help other companies help their clients at a really difficult time.’

‘I’m grateful for the messages of thanks we’ve received from our customers this year expressing their gratitude for the ways Creative Virtual team members made their jobs easier when so much else was harder than usual.’

 

2. We are grateful for our creative work.

Due to our close relationships with our clients and solutions, our approach is very responsive to sudden changes from the real world of customer inputs and there is a great deal of collaboration with our key contact people, often on a daily basis. Ad-hoc reporting requests, queries, urgent updates, new templates and functionalities are all part of our days, making the day-to-day work dynamic and variable.

‘I am grateful for the fun of never knowing what updates or emails I will get – days are colourful and not repetitive.’

 ‘I am grateful for working in an area that is technical, creative and challenging. Every day at work is a joy.’

 

3. We are grateful for our local and global team.

We are a good bunch of quirky people, and no one feels to be left alone with a task, because we know we can always rely on each other. We had loads of Creative Virtual live streams during the spring involving our global team, when we could learn more about each other in an interactive way. Our team is truly multinational and across the globe. I love to be Slacking with my colleagues who are based in the US, Australia, India or in a different country in Europe!

‘I’m grateful to have such a lovely bunch of supportive colleagues and managers.  Everyone’s willing to share their knowledge and help out when needed. Teamwork really does make the dream work!!’

‘I am grateful to be working for and with such an awesome team. Everyone has a lot of experience and know-how. I truly enjoy working with them.’

 

This was our quick ‘what we are grateful for list’ at Creative Virtual, with final thoughts from our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel:

As we enter the Christmas season, it’s always a good time to reflect. We all look forward to a New Year and hopefully a way out of this awful pandemic. It’s been amazing to see our Creative Virtual team working hard to support our customers and partners during these difficult times. Teamwork is our strength and has brought us through 2020. I’m very proud to be leading such a wonderful team and look forward to raising a virtual glass and having some fun with them all during this festive season!

 

Here’s to a new habit of practising gratitude on a daily basis for a more positive new year!

A Look Back: 2020 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Around this time every December, I put cursor to page and fingers to keyboard to take a look back over the last 12 months and reflect on some of the highlights of the year for Creative Virtual. This is the seventh time I’ve done this annual year in review blog post, but never have I had to review a year that was like 2020. I don’t need to tell you that not everything went as planned, but there were still some bright spots for us and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry.

Creative Virtual started 2020 celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel shared his pride in ‘building a successful, world-leading company over a sustained period of time with an amazing group of people’ in our first blog post of the year. As an organisation that has been in the industry since the infancy of virtual agents and chatbots, we really understand the past, present and future of these solutions and bring a wealth of experience and expertise alongside our technology.

It is that experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team that took centre stage this year. As physical offices and business locations were closed to comply with lockdown and stay-at-home orders around the world, our customers were faced with a surge of incoming queries from their customers and new challenges in supporting their employees while also dealing with rapidly changing information and guidance. They turned to our team for advice and assistance in keeping their virtual agent and chatbot solutions updated and proactively relieving pressure from their contact centres. Laura Ludmany, one of our experienced Knowledgebase Engineers, wrote a two-part blog series about helping some of our financial customers with their 24/7 customer support tools during this time. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Several months later, AI Time Journal approached us for a contribution to their upcoming ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic’. We were happy to share the experiences of one of our international financial services group customers using our V-Person™ virtual agent to provide customer support. You can read more here and download the full ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, here. For this organisation, their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid content changes and deliver accurate information to customers. With the support of our team, they were able to successfully push their virtual agent to the forefront of their CX strategy.

Neutrino release of V-PersonThe consultation and guidance that we provide is also key to the Neutrino release of V-Person which we introduced to the market in June. The localised support, international insights and best practice expertise of our team are combined with our virtual agent/ chatbot technology (V-Person) and orchestration platform (V-Portal™) for the conversational AI industry’s smartest solution yet. With Neutrino, organisations can leverage their existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

2020 was a record-breaking year for use of our virtual agent and chatbot implementations. With the help of Creative Virtual Analyst, Lester Lane, we took a look at the usage spikes and trends across different regions and sectors in two blog posts. Our initial look in April showed a spike starting at the end of February and beginning of March that surpassed anything we had seen in the 16+ years of the company’s history. When we reached the halfway point of the year, we again crunched the numbers and discovered that those virtual agents had already recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from the previous year.

This explosion in usage of virtual agents and chatbots wasn’t surprising given the closure of physical locations and long call centre wait times that many businesses experienced. However, offering these digital self-service tools delivers no benefits to customers or companies if they don’t provide a consistently positive and accurate experience for users. That is what inspired us to publish a new whitepaper this year titled, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience.

virtual agent & chatbot guideOn the surface, it may sound like something else crazy happening in 2020 – a technology company saying to forget about the technology! The reality is that it doesn’t matter how great the technology is if you don’t have the skill and know-how to implement it in a way to achieve success. In this whitepaper, Creative Virtual team members once again put our knowledge and expertise in the spotlight, explaining the six essential areas of experience your virtual agent vendor should have and why each is important to the success of your solution. We highlight expert tips from ten members of the team – Rachel F Freeman, Laura Ludmany, Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and myself – who combined have over 83 years of experience specifically in the virtual agent and chatbot field.

With travel and in-person events unsafe for much of this year, we couldn’t attend and join our partners at industry conferences as we normally do. Instead, after attending CCW 2020 in Berlin with our partner Sogedes in March, we focused on producing content that could be shared, read and watched virtually over digital channels. We held a webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, which can now be viewed on-demand. Mugdha Desai, Head of Operations for Creative Virtual India, and Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director of Creative Virtual India, each presented in virtual AI and chatbot events. Founder & CEO, Chris spoke for a sixth time at the Hong Kong Customer Contact Association (HKCCA) Symposium at the invitation of our partner Continuous Technologies, but this time virtually. We are sponsoring one more webinar this year with Customer Contact Central on 17 December, The Future of Contact Centers: A New Paradigm for Superior Customer Experience.

The team also produced our annual blog celebration of Customer Service Week (5-9 October) and CX Day (6 October) with insightful tips and recommendations that reflected the new customer service challenges that 2020 brought to businesses. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

Founder & CEO, Chris may not have been able to do his usual travelling around the world to spend time with our team, partners and customers throughout the year, but he did take part in a podcast and two online interviews. In February, Chris participated in the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s podcast alongside one of his heroes, Sir Geoff Hurst, to discuss leadership. In AI Time Journal’s interview series AI vs COVID-19: Sharing Sessions with People in AI, he talked about turning the remote work challenge into an opportunity to learn more about each employee, how technology may impact our need for in-person interactions and the difference AI is making in combating the virus. Chris also took part in Startup.info’s Innovators vs COVID-19 interview series where he discussed Creative Virtual’s approach to innovation and the pandemic’s effect on the conversational AI industry.

100 SmartTech Innovators 2020This year we celebrated being named to the Top 100 SmartTech Innovators List. We continued the five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017, and Chris continued to tell everyone about going to Buckingham Palace with our CTO, Peter Behrend, to meet the Queen – see the photographic evidence here! We grew our Global Partner Network and added new technology integration partnerships, including those we announced this year with Spitch and Semafone’s Cardprotect Relay+.

Unlike other years, we don’t have a 2020 in Review photo album to share with you since we weren’t able to gather much in-person for group activities or events – and no one wants to look at a whole album of grainy screenshots of video conferences! Be sure to check out the Creative Virtual Facebook page though for a few photos and virtual company celebrations.

And now we head into 2021 with a year of overcoming professional and personal challenges under our belts and a deep sense of pride in knowing that the experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team helped our customers and partners survive their challenges, too. It’s impossible to know what next year will bring, but we’re looking forward to finding out!

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.

Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There have been lots of discussions, articles and analyst deep dives into companies’ digital transformations being driven or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated shutdowns and mitigation efforts. Many individuals have also undergone a digital transformation of sorts in their own lives, relying more on options such as FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and increasing time spent on social media and mobile messaging apps. These digital changes in behaviour have, as you’d expect, also impacted the interactions individuals are having with businesses.

Back in April I took a look at the impressive spike in virtual agent traffic starting in late February and early March that surpassed anything Creative Virtual had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By 12 April 2020, those virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they had recorded for all of 2019 despite being only about a quarter of the way through the year.

Now that we have reached the halfway point of the year, I was curious to take another look at our virtual agent traffic and once again enlisted the help of my colleague and analyst guru, Lester Lane. When we crunched the numbers, we discovered that those virtual agents have now recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from last year and are well on their way to a record-breaking 2020. This is mostly due to a sustained increase of traffic through the rest of April and much of May. Towards the end of May, we started to see a drop-off to more average traffic levels as you can see from the usage of the self-service virtual agents included in the graph below.

virtual agent usage

Looking at overall traffic figures gives insights into general trends, but it’s also interesting to dive a bit deeper into individual industry sectors. At Creative Virtual, financial services is one of our biggest industries and one that our team has extensive expertise in collaborating with on virtual agent solutions. In fact, our very first enterprise customer was a large financial services group – and they are still a customer today! (Side note: My colleague Laura Ludmany wrote a great two-part blog series about helping financial organisations deliver customer support during the coronavirus crisis – check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here if you haven’t already.)

When we break down the total traffic figures into a handful of sectors, we see that they all experienced a spike in March and April before most levelled off a bit. However, the Banking sector has continued to see increased usage throughout May, June and the first week of July compared with the first two months of 2020.

virtual agent usage

This sustained increase for the Banking industry isn’t a surprise given the essential nature of many banking activities combined with the temporary closure of branches and people staying home. More people were forced to do their banking online – perhaps for the first time – and took advantage of the instant self-help offered by virtual agent tools on websites and in banking apps. Plus, there was the added support needed for various government schemes and programmes. One of our banking customers’ virtual agent set a new record for highest number of saved calls in April and then doubled April’s total usage in May.

I’m curious to continue to watch how virtual agent traffic fluctuates as coronavirus-related restrictions change. Banks tend to be early indicators of upcoming general trends, so it may be worth noting the spike of activity at the beginning of July. Will there be another surge as companies and their customers experience further digital transformations? Only time will tell.

If your company is looking to add an AI chatbot or virtual agent to your customer service strategy or is struggling with a self-service tool that can’t meet increased demand from users, you’ll want to take a look at the Neutrino release of V-Person™. Introduced to the market in June, Neutrino provides the right tools and guidance to deploy conversational self-service quickly, easily and at large scale.

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.