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Fifteen Years & Counting: Navigating the chatbot, virtual agent and AI revolution

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

As we celebrate our fifteen year anniversary, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on founding and running Creative Virtual.

In those early days, we were focused on winning deals as the plan from the outset was to grow the company organically; although the objective was always to create a global company; so many companies fail or are sold before getting to that point; and it’s a testament to our amazing team, that we have become a global leader. It’s an honour to lead such a great team!

People come and go within organisations of course, and that’s healthy for both the company and the people. However, there becomes a core backbone of people that make up the fabric – the culture – of what Creative Virtual stands for: passion, innovation and quirkiness are at the heart of everything we do. And the people become the DNA and vice-versa.

There’s also ups and downs of course; growing any business isn’t linear! We’ve certainly had our bumps along the way. People often ask me how I make the tough decisions and how I relax. We all have our own ways – for me it’s a recipe of: spending time with friends and loved ones, running, watching West Ham, physics, snowboarding, photography and art.

I took up running about five years ago, and really enjoy the energy it gives me; I find that being in good shape physically makes a big difference mentally. It also allows me to contemplate and to think about things differently. I find doing completely different things – like painting, which I’m absolutely useless at! – really helps one to switch-off from business. And speaking of DNA…West Ham is in my DNA…so there’s no escape from that as any football supporter will know! It’s another great way, for 90+ minutes, to switch-off from everything else! Spending time with friends and loved ones helps me to put things into perspective – as does my love of physics! Snowboarding gives me my adrenalin rush!

I also love travelling around the world and spending time with our people, customers and partners. It’s an absolute joy working with our great people and some of the world’s leading organisations.

We have been fortunate over the years to win many awards, and it’s so delightful when our customers win awards too. Our customer, Transport for New South Wales, won an impressive three awards for their RITA chatbot during 2018! In 2017 we were honoured with The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation. I couldn’t be more proud of what our team has achieved, and it was beyond what I had dreamt for Creative Virtual. Going to the Palace and meeting the Queen, Prince Philip and other members of the Royal Family was incredible. And being a five-year award, we celebrate our fifteen year anniversary in its continuing glow.

Having been a leading company in the establishment of the virtual agent market – and developing best practices in terms how virtual agents, live chat, artificial intelligence (AI) and knowledge management work together to create world-class customer experiences – there is still much more to do as organisations transition from the centralised contact centre model to one where the customer is at the centre of the universe. Helping organisations navigate through this has as much to do with the expertise of our people as the actual technology; and with such an experienced and dedicated team I know we are on the right path to remain at the forefront of the chatbot/AI/contact centre revolution!

Being an optimist by nature, my way of keeping my feet on the ground is to keep in mind the words of the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Here’s to the next fifteen years and the new challenges that lie ahead!

Employee Engagement Remains a Top Priority Alongside Customer Engagement for 2019

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Welcoming a new year often goes along with an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mindset, but two things that are staying hot on companies’ 2019 agendas are customer engagement and employee engagement. This was glaringly obvious at the recent AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum: AI Enhancing Customer & Employee Engagement. From the delicious smoked salmon and cheese bagels served for breakfast to the final moments of the drinks reception at the end of the day, the event highlighted companies’ increased focus on improving engagement across the board.

Customer experience and engagement has been a top priority for most organisations for years, but improving employee engagement is a more recent addition to agendas. Organisations are coming to understand the benefits of providing better and easier support for employees. They are also coming to understand that many of the same digital tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, that they are utilising to improve their customer experience can also be leveraged to improve their employee experience.

The event agenda featured presentations and panel discussions focused around practical uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer and employee engagement spaces. I was joined at the event by Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, who presented a morning session titled ‘Taking Engagement to the Next Level: Conversational AI for customers & employees’. He shared some insights into the expectations of customers and employees and then took an in-depth look at how organisations can bring everything together to centrally control a consistent, convenient and efficient experience for both customers and employees.

Using a single orchestration platform enables you to deliver consistent information and support across touchpoints and allows you to more easily engage users on the devices, channels and apps they are already using in their everyday lives through chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. For conversational AI to be effective, it must use a hybrid approach of machine learning and human input. The orchestration platform you put in place must allow you to manage that combination of humans and AI so you can deliver the best experience to users and maximise on your investments.

During his session, Chris shared a few live demonstrations to illustrate industry best practices. The best way to really understand how this all comes together is to see it in action, so if you weren’t at the event I encourage you to request a demo. Our team is always happy to arrange a time that works with your schedule so you can experience the ways conversational AI can help you improve your customer and employee engagement.

Our thanks to the AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to take part in your last event of the year!

The Numbers Don’t Lie: An interesting evening with the Tech Track 100

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

Creative Virtual has been receiving a lot of accolades in the past few years and the challenge for a blog post is what to say to make each new title or award stand alone and special. We never want to be complacent, but our readers may be a little tired of hearing all the good news – or not?!

Making it onto The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 list at 72 was an honour simply because the numbers don’t lie and there is no judging panel doing the placements. The league table ranks Britain’s 100 private technology companies with the fastest-growing sales over their latest three years.

The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100The 2018 Tech Track list was published in September – read our official announcement here – but attending the awards ceremony was an added wow factor. The event was hosted at The Brewery in London on 6th November and had 294 guests in attendance from the 100 featured companies and sponsors.

Myself, Chris Ezekiel (Founder & CEO) and Peter Behrend (CTO) were in attendance together, but once the canapes were scoffed and a group photo of us taken, we were seated at separate tables with the objective to get all attendees to mingle and learn more about the 100 companies on the list by sitting and speaking to different representatives.

People at my table represented various sectors including trucking, AI (that would be us!), HR incentive packages, insurance, bill paying and venture capitalists. The mood at the event was tingling with drive and achievement and it was a buzz to sit amongst such a varied group of companies – ranging from the altruistic helping people with diabetes to devising ways to make hair removal simpler!

The speakers were interesting and luckily didn’t drag on; the food was noticeably absent of rubber chicken which meant that dinner was quite tasty. Advice from the speakers was offered including: always listen to your customer, ask probing questions, put in the hard graft, don’t give up on your idea and be prepared for the unexpected. The Founder of Candy Crush (a former Tech Track list member before going public) was amongst the speakers, and I found it interesting to hear how unprepared they were for the success that came to them after several years of being on the brink of closure.

Had there been time to sit amongst all 32 tables in the room, I’ve no doubt there would be a cartful of stories and advice and impressive tales of success. The time that we did have was fruitful and dare I say a bit fun if not definitively interesting. It’s a recognition that differs from the others in that the numbers put us on the list and we are then given the opportunity to shine and explain our story… our story is also a great one and whilst three of us were there at the event, we were representing the strong team behind us across the globe.

Jumping on the Bandwagon isn’t the Same as Following Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Every industry has best practices – guidelines, methods or techniques accepted as the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a desired result. Sometimes when something new comes along or starts to get industry attention, the hype can make it easy to confuse jumping on the bandwagon with following proven best practice. This is particularly true when it comes to technologies that are thrust in the spotlight through mainstream media buzz.

The explosion of media hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots over the past few years – and the subsequent confusion in the customer experience (CX) space – is one of topics Creative Virtual discusses in our article for The Parliamentary Review. The Parliamentary Review is a series of independent British publications which aims to share best practice among policy makers and business leaders. They combine commentaries from award-winning journalists with innovative thinking from industry experts. Creative Virtual was invited to contribute this year as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector.

Partially spurred by Facebook’s introduction of bots for their Messenger Platform, the media buzz around AI and chatbots has created a renewed interest in the technology over the past couple of years. While this had a positive effect in garnering more attention for using chatbots and virtual agents to deliver automated self-service, it also played a role in creating industry confusion. Some vendors tried to jump on the AI bandwagon, but ended up overpromising and creating unrealistic expectations for AI chatbots.

Based on our experience, we at Creative Virtual knew that pure AI was not the right option for automated customer service, and so we continued to present our hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content as industry best practice. This involved us working to educate the marketplace about the realities of the technology and using chatbots to provide a predictable and reliable self-service option, instead of jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Now the initial hype has died down and those unrealistic promises have turned into chatbot pilots that are failing or never got off the ground at all. The decision to stand firm in our hybrid approach to implementing our chatbots and virtual agents in spite of the buzz has strengthened our position as thought leaders and trusted consultants in the industry. It has also allowed the organisations we work with to take advantage of recent AI advancements while also continuing to provide quality self-service experiences for their customers and employees in line with industry best practice.

Be sure to check out our full three-page article in the 2018 Technology Review to learn more about Creative Virtual’s story, how we created a company culture of innovation, teamwork and ownership, and why our future looks bright.

Creating Intimacy with APAC Customers Through Artificial Intelligence

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

It’s more important than ever for organisations in Asia Pacific to connect with digital customers and create a convenient, efficient and seamless customer experience. When implemented properly, chatbots are a powerful tool to bring together the contact centre with self-service channels and navigate language and culture barriers to create conversational engagement with customers.

I’m looking forward to sharing how to join up the contact centre with digital channels through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human input at the upcoming Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) Symposium taking place on 25 October at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Creative Virtual will once again be supporting our partner company Continuous Technologies at the annual conference. This will be my fourth year presenting on the symposium theme, which this year is ‘Customer Intimacy Through Artificial Intelligence’.

My presentation, titled ‘Artificial Intelligence, Customer Experience & the Contact Centre’, will provide practical advice and best practices for integrating chatbots, virtual agents and live chat with the contact centre to create successful digital transformation strategies. I’ll also be sharing insights from recent industry research along with a series of live demonstrations showcasing how organisations in APAC and around the world are already using AI technologies to improve their customer experience.

It’s a pleasure to be invited back to present at the HKCCA Symposium and great to be taking part with Continuous Technologies. We’ve partnered with them since 2014 and currently collaborate on projects such as Octopus Cards Limited’s virtual assistant Helen. The HKCCA always hosts insightful events, and this year’s theme is especially relevant as the customer experience industry continues to debate AI and organisations struggle with the best way to implement AI technologies.

If you are attending the 2018 HKCCA Symposium, be sure to join me at 14:00 for my presentation and stop by our booth to meet the team and learn more. I look forward to seeing you there!

If you won’t be at the event, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo to show you how your organisation’s customer engagement strategy can benefit from a combination of AI and humans.

I also recommend downloading the new buyer’s guide A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre for tips on using chatbots and virtual agents to align your contact centre with digital channels for seamless customer support.

Aligning Artificial Intelligence with Human Talent to Transform Customer Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I recently presented on the CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase, a webinar we‘ve done for the last six years. Presenting on a webinar for an hour with about a hundred company executives listening from all parts of the world, with potentially hundreds of people listening to the recording later, and without any friendly faces to look at in the audience, or in fact without any feedback whatsoever, doesn’t sound like much fun! But I love it.

The reason I love presenting on a webinar of this nature is that it gives me the opportunity to present the best of what our employees, customers and partners have produced over the past twelve months. I’m fortunate enough to run an organisation that is at the forefront of helping organisations deliver superior customer experience in the modern world. Using technologies like natural language processing and machine learning, combined with the amazing talent within our company, is like a dream come true for me.

Don’t get me wrong, running a company in a highly competitive market is not always a bed of roses, but the joys far outweigh the negatives, and it’s preparing for a webinar like this that gives me the opportunity to reflect on all the great stuff our company does, and at the same time it helps me to contemplate the next generation of our products and services. We have some fantastic research and development projects going on that promise to transform customer experience even further.

The key to our success, though, is not to get too carried away with the latest and greatest shiny stuff, but to align our passion for innovation and technology with the needs of our customers. Timing is crucial for a company to be successful. And judging by the great feedback I received following this latest webinar (thank you!), I’m confident that Creative Virtual remains exactly on the right track.

I would like to say a big thank you to our Creative Virtual team for all their hard work and dedication, and to our customers and partners for all their great support. Thank you all for attending or taking the time to watch the recording, and to Sheri and CRMXchange for hosting the webcast. There’s still an opportunity to view the webinar, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple, on-demand here.

Showcasing the Perfect CX Power Couple: Humans & AI

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Move over Beyoncé and Jay-Z, George and Amal, Will and Jada. There’s a new power couple in town: Humans and Artificial Intelligence. While you’re not going to see them on the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine or walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere, the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and humans is already making a mark on the world of customer experience (CX).

With the growing emphasis customers are placing on CX when making purchasing decisions and the growing challenge companies are facing when delivering service and support on more contact channels than ever before, this powerful new approach has arrived on the scene at just the right time. Humans and AI make the perfect power couple for meeting CX expectations – they both bring something to the table, learn from each other, support one another and build together.

On Thursday, 6 September Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, will feature the combination of AI and human input during the company’s sixth annual CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase webinar. He’ll give an inside look at bringing together humans and AI to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance, and increase customer satisfaction scores. Through a series of live demonstrations, attendees will learn:

  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents, and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of machine learning and human curation of content to reduce support costs while improving conversational engagement

Register now for Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple to see how organisations around the globe are already using the combination of humans and AI to provide successful customer service and how your organisation can leverage this new power couple to deliver a positive CX. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Tech Showcase will be sent to all registrants after the event.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Build Better Relationships with Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The buzz and hype around all things artificial intelligence (AI) is pretty amazing as I’m sure you’ll all agree. It’s important for organisations to go beyond that buzz and really understand how AI can help them reach their business goals. CRMXchange’s recent Tech Tank roundtable webinar, Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center, dug into this topic with industry research and live demonstrations. I was pleased to be able to join the expert panel and share insights into this topic.

During my presentation I shared how chatbots, people and AI are being used across organisations to create a seamless customer experience. The contact centre needs to be at the heart of these digital transformation projects. We’re in a world where knowledge management and how we learn from the way people interact with that knowledge is absolutely key. It’s a world where humans and machines work together, creating a hybrid of human curation and machine learning to support customers. This approach is being seen as best practice by industry analysts and consultants.

For some time now, we’ve been learning about how customer experience is a key differentiator in the marketplace. Recent research shows that the customer experience is still growing in importance for consumers when it comes to making their purchasing decisions. Industry experts are predicting a significant increase over the next two years in customer service and support operations integrating virtual agents and chatbots across engagement channels to help improve their customer experience.

With this in mind, where should your contact centre focus? During the webinar, I summarised three key areas:

  • Centralising knowledge managementKnowledge management is very important, and you need to ensure this integrates from a workflow perspective with all of the ways your organisation learns and delivers information. This creates enormous benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy and consistency. Knowledge is always up-to-date with this approach and becomes a single point of truth.
  • Integrating chatbots and live agents – This creates a seamless customer experience, with humans and machines working in harmony. I showed this in action during my live demos.
  • Combining AI and human input – We’ve all seen the potential disaster if AI is left on its own to provide customer service. An infamous case is Microsoft’s chatbot that became sexist and racist as it learned from the way people were interacting with it. It’s important that the system you implement enables human moderation of the machine learning component.

What does all this mean for your contact centre? It allows agents to really concentrate on the more complex issues and move their focus from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with your customers. Your contact centre benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

If you weren’t able to attend the live webcast, I encourage to watch the Tech Tank recording on-demand to see my live demos of chatbots and live chat. The Creative Virtual team would also love to give you a personalised demo to show how this technology can help your organisation improve your contact centre performance and customer experience.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for hosting the webinar and to the other expert presenters from NICE Nexidia and CallMiner.

Live Demonstrations of Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

No longer a thing of fantasy or science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is finding a place in our homes, schools and businesses, helping to automate tasks and make our lives easier. For organisations striving to improve their customer experience (CX), implementing AI has become vital. The contact centre must play a key role in digital transformation initiatives around AI, automation and customer self-service in order to avoid creating silos that will damage CX.

On Thursday, 14 June 2018, Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join the expert panel of speakers for CRMXchange’s Tech Tank Roundtable Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center. The live webcast, scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm UK time/ 2:00 pm ET/ 11:00 am PT, will feature insights on how to use machine learning and natural language solutions to make an immediate and positive impact in the contact centre.

Chris will give an inside look at how Creative Virtual’s intelligent solutions help contact centres build better relationships with customers through centralising knowledge management, integrating chatbots and live agents, and combining AI and human input. He’ll explore recent statistics, discuss industry predictions, and share live demonstrations of current implementations. Chris will also provide some practical tips for implementing natural language virtual agents and chatbots to enable seamless customer engagement and help your contact centre improve through lower costs, reduced staff turnover, and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

Register for the Tech Tank now to learn more and see live demonstrations from Chris and other industry experts from CallMiner and NICE Nexidia. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Roundtable will be sent to all registrants after the event.

Running Towards My Virtual Viewpoint

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At the end of last year I started writing a regular column for The Wharf News, a weekly newspaper distributed in the Canary Wharf area of London. Aptly titled ‘Virtual Viewpoint’, the column gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on technology and science. I’m really enjoying writing these columns and looking at the impact technology and science have on our lives and businesses.

I often use my running time to think about my column and how technology is impacting the world – and I’ve had a lot of time to think lately since I’ve been training for the London Marathon! Sometimes I find myself reminiscing and taking a walk down memory lane; sometimes I find myself contemplating our digital future; sometimes I find myself analysing technology’s impact on businesses. At the end of my runs, I often find that I’ve thought about things in a different way and come up with ideas I know I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I enjoy seeing my column in print every month, but I also wanted a way to share them digitally and have started publishing them on LinkedIn as well. Check out the links below to catch up on the ones already published:

  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 30 November 2017 – I take a look at the current technological revolution and the impact artificial intelligence will have on jobs and quality of life.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 4 January 2018 – I contemplate whether we are reaching a point of having too many gadgets and the issues of privacy and data protection that come with using them.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 1 February 2018 – I think back to a time before instantaneous global communication and reflect on why we all need to find a way to escape the digital world.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 8 March 2018 – I share my annoyance with people failing to communicate properly and how dumping ‘old’ methods of communication diminishes our lives along with companies’ profits.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 5 April 2018 – I know my pro-Brexit view isn’t popular within the business community, but I believe this is a historic opportunity to build a global economy for UK businesses to thrive within.

For those of you who are local, don’t forget to pick up a free copy of The Wharf every Thursday. I’ll also continue to add my new ‘Virtual Viewpoint’ columns on LinkedIn, so be sure to connect with me there. I’m sure I’ll be finishing the marathon on Sunday exhausted but with lots of fresh inspiration for my upcoming columns.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported my London Marathon fundraising efforts for Jewish Care. You can still sponsor me here. Good luck to my fellow Creative Virtual marathon runners – Rachel Freeman who is running for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (sponsor Rachel) and Maria Ward who is running for the Ipswich Hospital Charity (sponsor Maria)! See you at the finish line!