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The Platform at the Heart of a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

There’s such a buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots today, and it’s certainly a space that has changed a lot since I founded Creative Virtual 15 years ago. The learnings we have gained over the years are an important differentiator for our company and positively influence how we develop and implement our technology. During a recent webinar with Engage Customer, I shared some of those learnings and took attendees through current industry trends and best practices as well as sharing some new innovations. My goal was to show how organisations can orchestrate a seamless and efficient customer experience (CX) across contact channels with chatbots, virtual agents and AI to improve the experience whilst also saving costs.

The virtual agent, chatbot and live chat market is very crowded today with new vendors popping up all the time, and it’s confusing with all the buzz and mixed messages about AI. One of my key tips for any organisation looking at these solutions is that, whether you’re talking about the technology itself or the way chatbots and live chat are implemented and maintained, it’s the people element that’s absolutely crucial. It’s just as much about working with a vendor that can provide consulting expertise as the actual technology. The two need to come together hand-in-hand for a successful project, and that’s something we are very proud to offer at Creative Virtual.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to anyone reading this that over the past several years, customers consistently identify the same factors as being most important when it comes to customer experience and service: efficient, reliable, effortless, flexible. The good news for organisations is that machines, combined with humans, can help them deliver on all these expectations. Another of my key tips is to implement an orchestration platform that can bring together all of your content sources, manage the intents and keep the conversations flowing across all customer touchpoints completely seamlessly in a personalised way and at large scale. The V-Portal™ platform that powers our chatbots, virtual agents and live chat does this while also allowing you to learn from all those conversations going on in real time in such a way that a human, the content owner, works alongside the machine learning component to provide the best possible CX. It’s the machine learning and human curation parts coming together in a hybrid model that makes all of this possible. The orchestration platform is at the heart of creating a seamless and efficient experience.

The best way to understand this is to see real examples, so be sure to watch the webinar recording to see the live demonstrations I shared. You’ll also want to check out the eight recommendations I gave for organisations who are looking to implement chatbots, virtual agents and live chat or want to improve any of those tools they already have in place.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar and to all the attendees for their great questions and feedback. You can watch the full recording of Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience on-demand here.

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.

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.

Chatbots in Action – Creative Virtual at CCW 2018

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

The end of February is Call Center World time, Europe’s biggest “international conference and trade show for innovative customer dialogue”, now in its 20th year. (Congratulations!)

Whilst chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) made it to the stage last year already, they have now become one of the major topics of the show and I am excited to have three speaking slots with our partner sogedes.

Excited and a little bit nervous: Since last year, the AI hype cycle is said to be past the “peak of inflated expectations” and having started the descent into the “trough of disillusionment”. Looking at what some people did promise and how they boasted about the “intelligence” of their solutions, that is a well-deserved set-back, but there is always the risk of an overreactions and buyers turning their back on technology altogether, just because of too high expectations. I will learn it the hard way, I guess, whether they have embraced the pragmatic (and working) hybrid approach already or not. My recent speeches in places as diverse as the Financial Forum in Hong Kong and the Service Desk Forum in Mainz, Germany give me hope, but you never know.

I am also looking forward to CCW 2018 because the world of call centres is comprehensively covered. It is the perfect place to see how virtual agents do (and must) fit into a customer communication strategy, how they can support agents best – “collaborate”, I should say – and which backend systems to integrate with. I’m also interested to hear where newer channels like messenger platforms (such as Facebook Messenger) are fitting into contact centre strategies. Could they be replacing AI as the most hyped topic?

In any case, it will be three challenging and inspiring days (from February 27 to March 1, since you ask) at the booth with sogedes and my colleague Katrin Zieren (Hall 3, Booth E8-E10). I am looking forward to that.

If you’re attending, be sure to catch our “Chatbots in action” presentation on Tuesday, February 27 at 11:30 in Hall 3 – International Plaza. We’ll also be showcasing chatbot solutions on Wednesday at 15:10 and Thursday at 13:00 in Hall 1 – TeleTalk-Demoforum. There’s more information and the full agenda on the CCW 2018 website.

If you can’t attend but want to learn more, request a live demo to see our chatbots in action.

Don’t Worry, the Customer Only Wants You to Be Perfect

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, USA

So…. I have this diploma and now have no idea what to do! Anyone else been there after graduation? Being from Delaware, I thought I would try my hand at one of the many financial service companies that call the First State home. My interview seemed to go well and as it was concluding the hiring manager asked me to sit with one of her agents for 30 minutes so that I would have a better understanding of what I would be doing in this role. I sat down and listened to “Steve” take his first call. The caller was a very polite woman who I assume had lived a long, enjoyable life. She was calling to cancel her credit card. I can’t recall all of the dialogue but when she hung up the phone not only was the card not cancelled but she now was the proud owner of the “World Traveler Card.” How did that happen? At that moment, I realized this was not the job for me! What an incredibly difficult position for an agent. How do you show empathy for your customers while at the same time complying with the push to meet goals the company has outlined?

Fast forward a dozen or so years and now I am a seasoned member of the working class that at times requires support from brands I purchase from. My expectations when speaking with an agent are that they will handle every situation the way I would handle it if I was on the other end. Imagine asking an agent to meet each caller’s personal expectations. I really dislike the word “fair”, and don’t allow my children to use it, but my goodness, that is an unfair expectation.

So, what is the answer? For me, it’s automation. When I take inventory of all the reasons I pick up the phone or live chat with a brand, most of those things could be answered in some type of automated fashion or by a chatbot. Whether I need information about my account or steps to troubleshoot a process, I shouldn’t need another person to take the time to help me. Chatbots have evolved in 2017 to be intelligent, easy to access and conversational. They should be used in everyday transactions and leave the “high-touch” scenarios for the agents. Companies should strive to create an environment where customers are able to get immediate support for everyday issues, while at the same time having agents available for consultative help. Companies will not only create a superior customer experience but also help bring sanity back to their agents. Allow the agent to spend their day consulting with customers on new products and offering advice where necessary. Let the chatbot handle the password reset, account balance, and “I need to reset my router” questions.

Contact us to learn more about our chatbot experts and solutions.

#CXDay: Listening to Voice of Employee to Drive Better Customer Experiences

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Happy CX Day! Today marks the annual global celebration of the companies and professionals that create great experiences for their customers. The impact customer experience has on building and retaining your customer base can’t be ignored, especially in today’s world of digitally-savvy, technology-empowered consumers.

Developing and implementing Voice of Customer (VoC) initiatives has helped many organisations improve their customer experience over the years by capturing valuable feedback and actionable insights. More recently though, smart companies are coming to realise that Voice of Employee (VoE) can also have a powerful impact on their customer experience strategy. In fact, Gartner predicts:

“By 2022, 35% of organisations with more than 5,000 employees will augment their annual employee engagement surveys with pulse, indirect and inferred feedback to build a more complete view of the employee experience.”

Organisations are struggling to respond to the rapid pace of both external and internal changes and the ways these changes are affecting their employees. This includes tackling constantly evolving customer experience needs. While it seems like a no-brainer to get input from customers to drive CX decisions, organisations can’t afford to overlook the importance of employee feedback as well. Employees play a key role in the overall experience consumers have with your company and brand. They can provide valuable insights into their interactions with customers as well as internal tools and processes.

While implementing a robust VoE initiative isn’t something that will happen overnight, a great place to start when it comes to customer experience is getting feedback from contact centre agents. Organisations are putting a great deal of focus and energy into digital transformation programmes in order to improve CX, and contact centres should be instrumental in driving that progress. Your agents are the ones providing support to customers – whether that be by phone, email, live chat or social channels – and the ones who deal with internal tools and processes day in and day out. They know what customers are repeatedly identifying as pain points and what their own pain points are when trying to deliver a quality support experience.

One way to empower contact centre agents to share their voice is to set up a feedback loop that allows them to provide real-time suggestions and comments on content. Agents can then easily flag information that is inaccurate or out-of-date and identify content that is incomplete or simply not helpful when they are engaging with customers. They can also submit comments that can help identify or explain issues with other parts of your customer experience. For example, if agents are repeatedly answering the same question over and over they can help pinpoint the issue based on their interactions with customers. Perhaps customers can’t find the information they need on the website or a feature in the mobile app isn’t working as intended – agents can share this valuable insight quickly so the appropriate steps can be actioned to correct and improve the customer experience. Agent feedback can also be used to enhance the employee experience for your agents, which in turn creates happier, more engaged agents providing better support for your customers.

You can learn more about implementing an industry-defining feedback loop in this recent Innovation Showcase webinar. Listening to the voices of your employees can go a long way in taking your CX from good to great.

Nobody Puts the Customer in the Corner

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Happy Customer Service Week! Each year the first full week of October brings the week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service and the people who operate by the motto ‘Nobody puts the customer in the corner’ by providing great customer service every day of the year. From those who provide face-to-face service to those working in contact centres to those responsible for supporting self-service channels, delivering quality customer service is a team effort, and we salute you all.

As we shine the spotlight on customer service professionals this week, let’s take a look back at some of the trends, tips and statistics we’ve shared on customer support and the contact centre over the past year with our annual blog post roundup:

  • The Future of the Contact Centre – Technology is altering the way customers engage with brands and increasing their demands for instant 24/7 customer service. The traditional model for call centres and contact centres is no longer providing the experience customers have begun to demand. As organisations look to meet the expectations of digitally-savvy customers, changes in the contact centre and the job descriptions of customer service agents are going to be key to digital transitions.
  • Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony – In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. However, now the either-or debate is changing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Organisations that continue to view them as stand-alone tools instead of complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.
  • CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service – According to Forrester, companies are under attack from their customers with technology-empowered customers deciding the winners and losers. The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (also called virtual agents or chatbots) for providing better customer service will increase by 1,000%. Knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer service plan are two very different things, though. The best way to start is by educating yourself about digital engagement solutions and customer expectations.
  • Conversational Commerce for Demanding APAC Customers – The Asia Pacific region had been seeing the change to self-service happening separately from the contact centre which then created new challenges for companies. Now contact centre professionals are coming to understand that virtual agents and chatbots can work together with contact centre agents and are seeing the benefits of including these conversational systems as part of their overall customer service plans.
  • Is the Contact Centre Part of Your Digital Transformation Programme? – Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation programmes and the contact centre needs to be a key part of that, although that’s not always the case today. In the future, the contact centre will be the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels and organisations need to put the necessary tools in place to facilitate that change.
  • Infographic: Are Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre? – Some academics and experts are warning about the dangers of AI, predicting everything from a huge loss of jobs to the end of the human race. At the same time, industry analysts are predicting significant increases in chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space. This infographic gives a realistic overview of the impact of AI, chatbots and virtual agents are having on the contact centre.

 

Is the Contact Centre Part of Your Digital Transformation Programme?

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I say this every year, but the Technology Innovation Showcase webinar Creative Virtual does with CRMXchange is one of my favourite webinars to present. This was the fifth year running that we’ve participated in the webcast series, and it was our most popular one yet with a record-breaking number of registrations. I love this webinar because it gives me a chance to share more live demonstrations than slides, and I know the best way to understand how our technology works and what it can do for customers and organisations is to see it in action.

For this year’s Showcase, I focused on the theme of ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’. There’s so much buzz and hype, as well as unrealistic expectations and disappointments, around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots that it can be difficult to know how best to deliver, implement and support these types of solutions. My goal during the webinar was to showcase best practices in deploying chatbots in conjunction with human assistance for customer support and sales. I selected my demonstrations specifically to show how the virtual and real can work in perfect harmony to meet business objectives.

A few key takeaways from my presentation:

  • 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. Chatbots and virtual agents should blend human curation of content with machine learning. This hybrid approach enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of responses.
  • Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation programmes and the contact centre needs to be a key part of that, although that’s not always the case today. In the future, the contact centre will be the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels and organisations need to put the necessary tools in place to facilitate that change. By including the contact centre as part of this transformation instead of allowing it to become a siloed and outdated entity, it benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.
  • Customers are starting to specifically demand chatbots for digital self-service, with research showing that many would choose to interact with a chatbot before a human to get instant answers. To meet the demands of customers, organisations need more than just chatbots and virtual agents that are available 24/7 though. Over the past several years providing an effortless way to interact with your company has become more and more important. Instead of offering a wide range of support options for customers to choose from, you need to offer one place for customers to ask a question and for that system to be the intent matcher. Then, once you understand the intent, immediately provide the most appropriate method for assistance. You also need to provide a seamless experience that’s available on any device, can easily switch between languages and provides personalised responses.

I invite you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to understand more about these three points and to see the live demonstrations of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used by some of our customers around the world.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another successful Technology Innovation Showcase for us. I’m already looking forward to presenting again next year.

Innovation Showcase: Preparing Your Contact Centre for the Future with AI and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The contact centre is integral to the customer support and engagement strategies of many organisations, but its role has been changing recently as a growing number of customers seek out digital and self-service options. While chatbots and virtual agents have gotten a reputation as being threats to the contact centre, the reality is that they can have a positive effect on the contact centre and a company’s overall customer experience.

Learn more on Thursday, 7th September at 4:00 pm UK time/ 11:00 am ET as Creative Virtual takes part in CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series for a fifth consecutive year. This year’s live webinar, presented by Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will take a realistic look at artificial intelligence (AI), virtual agents and chatbots in the customer experience space. Chris will also share a series of live demos showcasing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve the customer experience, increase sales, build brand loyalty and reduce support costs. Attendees will get an inside look at:

  • The impact chatbots and virtual agents can have on the contact centre, including lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents
  • 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

Register now for ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’ for an inside look at how to incorporate chatbots and virtual agents into your customer support strategy and help your contact centre meet the expectations of digital customers. A recording of the Technology Innovation Showcase will be provided for registrations unable to attend the live webinar.

What’s the Point of Contact Deflection?

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

Contact Deflection – is there a reason why so many companies have this as an objective? Well, our clients tell us what their goals and pain points are, but I can’t help thinking that treating one’s contact centre as a cost centre is past its prime. Also, if you want to make money, contact with your customers is a good thing. At least, that was my theory.

I was therefore quite happy to be able to speak in front of the Call Center Verband (Call Centre Association) in Halle, Germany, as well as meet the European customer service directors of the Deutsche Telekom AG at their gathering in Budapest. An opportunity to talk to people from the field and test my thinking. I expected at least some consensus, though: DTAG gave me 90 minutes of airtime for a speech on “Growth Through Customer Service” (funnily enough the title of one of our blogs from 2015), so I could tell I was on the same page with the organisers at least.

As the Budapest event was with the service directors while the one in Halle was with those who actually run the call centres, the two meetings represented two different points of view on the same topic. Still there was a lot of agreement: Customer service has become a differentiator for companies and a driver of revenue. People expect immediate, seamless service and their user journey starts on a (mobile) device. If you make them call, you can forget about first time resolution, channel containment and similar metrics, because it is too late. When people call or email, they have tried to get help through other channels before – and failed. Another thing came up: In this new scheme, agents need new skills. It was never fair to look at them as FAQ answering machines, but the demand for social and selling skills has grown a lot. It is now all the more important to support them in their work, serve them facts, help with procedures and let them focus on the relationship with the customer.

Not everything received such unanimous consent, however. The pace of such changes, the differences between industries and the rise of voice messages as a new channel left more than enough room for debate. Quite enjoyable, because nothing beats the voice of the customer – ours and theirs!

Check out this contact centre guide to learn more about the changes contact centres are facing and the transitioning role of agents.