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Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – Confusing or What!

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone involved with customer service, marketing, customer engagement or sales who hasn’t heard something about chatbots this year. Along with all the attention and media buzz has come a wave of confusion for the marketplace. What’s the difference between a chatbot and a virtual agent? Should I be jumping on the bandwagon and offering a chatbot on Facebook Messenger? What do my customers actually want from a self-service virtual agent? Are bots just a passing fad for engaging my customers?

If any (or all!) of these questions left you scratching your head, don’t worry.  You’re certainly not alone. Even industry analysts and experts have taken a second look at how they view and talk about this technology. A new whitepaper, aptly titled Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what!, acknowledges this confusion and sets out to demystify the names, uses and future of digital customer engagement tools. As we approach the end of 2016 and begin to look at what 2017 will bring for the customer experience and service space, this comprehensive whitepaper is a great resource for understanding automated conversational systems and how they fit into your overall customer engagement plan.  It walks readers through:

  • The names and terminology being used for these systems in the customer engagement space: Virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant, chatterbot – there have been lots of different names used over the years which has added to the confusion in the marketplace. The whitepaper looks at the different terminology being used and what customers expect you to call your self-service.
  • The technology and AI behind chatbots and virtual agents: “A chatbot called by any other name is still only as good as the technology powering it.” This whitepaper discusses the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in relation to self-learning chatbots. It also addresses the types of features, functionality and integrations you should look for when exploring this technology for customer support.
  • Selecting a tool that’s right for your company and your customers: Step one is to determine how the solution will fit into your overall digital customer engagement plan. The series of questions presented in this whitepaper will help you choose a chatbot or virtual agent that fits with that plan and meets the very high expectations of today’s customers for 24/7 access to personalised, consistent and accurate information.
  • Current use cases for conversational self-service: Facebook Messenger’s introduction of chatbots was certainly a big announcement this year, but this technology has also been proven successful for providing self-service on other customer engagement channels as well. This whitepaper also goes beyond customer support to explore a compelling use case for using these tools for employee self-service, too.
  • Preparing for the future of digital customer engagement: Will chatbots play a role in the future of digital customer engagement or are they just a passing fad? With so many organisations working with tight budgets and limited resources, this is an important question to explore before investing in any new technology. Backed by industry statistics and analyst predictions, you’ll get a peek into the future of the contact centre and digital engagement.

Ready to leave your chatbot confusion behind? Download a full copy of this whitepaper to help you explore the possibility of chatbots being a win-win for your organisation and your customers.

3 Examples of How Automated Chat Agents Create an Effortless Customer Journey

By Christina Wilson, Director, Customer Success, Creative Virtual USA

Some organizations still view their customer communications in a linear fashion, with a definitive start and end point. But as thought leaders like McKinsey and others have pointed out, customers today often have a much more dynamic journey while researching a sales decision or requesting support. There are several reasons automated chat agents are the perfect complement for these complex customer pursuits.

  1. Automated chat agents are unstructured

Automated virtual agents don’t require customers to read a menu and try to decide which category their problem fits into. Customers don’t have to listen to a phone recording to select the proper department or option. With an automated agent, customers can begin their exchanges exactly where they are having issues and proceed to a resolution from there, instead of jumping through hoops just to get to the point where they can explain their issue or question.

  1. AI virtual assistants provide instant, scalable service

When customers are interacting with an automated agent, there’s no need for them to wait for phone lines to clear up, business hours to begin, a rep to answer their email, and so on. It doesn’t matter how busy things are with your organization, how many other people are trying to reach you, or what time of day or night it is – the virtual agent is always instantly accessible.

The Pew Research Center reported that those who are used to the instant gratification of the internet age become frustrated if they don’t get what they need immediately. The top organizations are already looking to make their delivery of services, products, and customer support instantaneous.

  1. Automated virtual agents can serve customers anywhere

Top-quality virtual assistants are channel agnostic. They can be accessed with mobile apps, desktop browsers, voice prompts, SMS, social media platforms, and more. Virtual agents also have the ability to move between different channels – if a customer begins an inquiry or asks a question on their mobile device and then needs to see it on their desktop, the best AI virtual assistants can shift seamlessly and still provide the information the customer was looking for.

Gartner reports that nearly 9 out of every 10 companies believe they will compete on customer experience by the end of 2016. Automated chat agents can help you enhance your customer experience by meeting your customers where they are, on their terms.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

6 Foolproof Customer Engagement Strategies Using Chatbots

By Frank Schneider, VP of Sales, North America

Since the rise of AI applications in the business world, chatbots’ influence on customer engagement has been a hot topic. Enterprises using or considering AI virtual assistants must have an effective plan for improving customer engagement.

Below are a few tips to help your virtual agents create a first-class customer experience.

  1. Start with mobile

Many large, older organizations make the mistake of believing that their virtual assistants should be configured first and foremost for desktop use. However, Google announced in 2015 that mobile had surpassed desktop in search traffic in several large countries. Research from April 2016 shows that in the U.S., 65% of digital media time is spent on mobile, compared to just 35% on desktop. You should be planning customer engagement strategies for mobile channels first, and then ensuring they work everywhere else.

  1. Don’t get locked into a platform-based solution

Many customer engagement providers are touting solutions for a specific social media platform or communication channel. While it’s great to have a way to engage with customers where they are, there are risks to hitching your wagon to a single-platform solution that isn’t specifically fitted to each channel. Leave your organization some flexibility when it comes to how you reach customers with your digital engagement solutions.

  1. Use personalized recommendations

Personalization of content is a primary focus in the commercial world, especially in B2C applications. Think about the apps, websites and social media profiles set up to customize a person’s experience with a brand. Chatbots can and should be one of these tools. By checking someone’s purchase history, account status, and previous interactions with the company, your virtual agent provides tailored recommendations that not only please customers, but help improve revenues through cross-selling and upselling.

  1. Leverage a proven chatbot solution

There are many new and experimental virtual agents in today’s market. Since Facebook opened up its Messenger application to chatbots in spring 2016, over 11,000 bots have joined the platform. If you’re trying to choose a chatbot solution for your company, don’t pick one solely based on its features or the way it’s presented to you: find one with a verifiable track record of helping large enterprise clients deliver these solutions at scale.

  1. Take advantage of old chat logs and phone transcripts

The best virtual agent solutions learn from your previous conversations across other channels. You should have an AI virtual assistant analyze logs from customer interactions with live agents – both phone and chat – so it can learn about common issues and understand how to resolve them before having a single conversation.

  1. Don’t wait for customers to initiate the interaction

To reach the next level of engagement, you can’t wait for customers to contact you with problems they are experiencing. You must attempt to get ahead of their issues by prompting them to talk about their use of your product or service. A quality chatbot can be set up to initiate an interaction through SMS, mobile, and/or desktop with customers about topics important to your business.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

5 Overlooked Benefits of Personalized Virtual Agent Software

By Mike Murphy, VP of Customer Success, Creative Virtual USA

Everyone knows that virtual agents are an excellent customer service resource. A top-notch AI virtual assistant can reduce the load on your support staff, keep your branding consistent, and help prevent tickets from getting escalated to higher levels.

Yet there are some benefits of a virtual agent chatbot that aren’t as obvious. These lesser-known benefits can bring greater success and higher performance to several facets of your business.

  1. Speed of resolution improves

Over the years, the abilities of AI virtual assistants have gotten closer to the intelligence of live agents. It’s much easier for chatbots to resolve a larger scope of issues, which historically would otherwise have to escalate to a human agent. A key difference in the customer experience between the virtual and human agent is time. A virtual agent is much faster at providing the right answer, which means greater customer satisfaction and less stress on your support staff.

  1. Support answers become more accurate

With a virtual agent chatbot, there’s no need to worry about a customer getting the wrong answer to a question because an agent was tired and at the end of his shift, just had an argument with someone, or isn’t feeling their best. Your organization decides on the “voice” of your virtual assistant and controls how customers receive help. This enhances your brand consistency and customer satisfaction levels, while controlling costs.

  1. New sales revenue is created

You might think of your virtual assistant primarily as a tool to deal with existing customers that have issues with a product or service, but a good virtual agent also contributes new revenue. By accessing your billing and sales databases, a chatbot can perform account queries, see when a customer last bought something, and suggest complementary products and services based on their purchase history. This means more sales opportunities in every customer interaction.

  1. Service reps become more skilled

When you have an AI virtual assistant handling a wider scope of issues like technical malfunctions, lost passwords and email and contact info updates, it frees up your human agents for more sensitive discussions and escalations. This means you can hire a more capable, sophisticated support team that will be more engaged with their work, since they aren’t devoting tons of time to answering basic questions about their company or its product.

  1. Public relations emergencies and unexpected events are easier to handle

Even if your organization hasn’t experienced it, you’ve heard the stories: that dreaded moment when your business accidentally publishes sensitive material, someone tweets the wrong thing, or a customer levels a serious accusation. These PR nightmares can cause a flood of new support complaints from people asking about the same topic. Instead of having your support staff bogged down by an enlarged volume of inquiries because of a one-off event, you can leverage your virtual agent to have consistent, timely, and infinitely scalable conversations with your customers.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

Is Your Organization Mature Enough to Implement Chatbots for Customer Service?

By the Creative Virtual Team

The recent development of AI platforms has brought with it lots of uncertainty. Many companies believe that artificial intelligence tools could help their business, but are unsure if their organization is sophisticated enough to implement such a solution.

While there are some prerequisites for implementing an AI-based virtual assistant in your organization, the barrier to entry is much lower than many believe. As technological developments make AI more advanced, they also make solutions like V-Person™ more accessible to businesses in every industry.

Artificial intelligence for self-service support: past vs. present

When artificial intelligence virtual assistants were in their earliest stages, they required a significant investment of time and capital. Companies might have had to hire one or more specialists trained specifically in how to manage an AI platform. A simple artificial intelligence chat solution might require an exhaustive long-term plan with a hefty budget to match.

Things have changed. Today, a company can set up and begin using an AI virtual assistant with an average, up-to-date machine. Creative Virtual’s V-Person solution can be easily installed on any normal computer running Windows or Linux and requires just 30 MB of disk space. There is no need to purchase high-end servers or invest in a massive infrastructure upgrade just to implement an AI solution.

Further, V-Person doesn’t require any ramp-up time once it is installed. As soon as the preliminary setups are complete, it can handle as many as one million conversations per year and will continue to learn and improve upon its customer support answers. And while we recommend providing ample time for setup and testing, Creative Virtual has designed and deployed V-Person chat solutions for complex, enterprise-level organizations in less than 30 days.

Don’t wait for the “perfect” time to implement virtual agent software

While AI customer service technology is still developing, all signs point to it being the next big frontier in technology. A June 2016 report published by market research company TechSci predicts that the U.S. artificial intelligence market will grow at an astounding 75% CAGR until the year 2021.

If you think your organization could benefit from an AI virtual assistant but don’t feel completely ready to implement one, you should work with an experienced, capable provider who can help you get started painlessly. Check out our resource page to learn more about how Creative Virtual has helped all types of companies start enjoying the benefits of V-Person for customer service and brand consistency.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.