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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.

Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

We live in an always-on world with instant access to information and news and trending hashtags always at our fingertips. There have been numerous studies done about the effects of digital devices and the growing need to always feel connected. As I’m writing this, I have no electricity or internet access thanks to the power of mother nature which, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, is giving me a good bit of anxiety about the percentage of battery left on my smartphone – my one connection to knowing what’s going on in the world without actually having to leave my house!

It’s certainly no secret that this new normal of constant digital connection and instant access to information in our personal lives has also changed our expectations for our engagement with businesses and brands. Organisations are facing the challenge of delivering a quality support experience over a growing number of contact channels. Messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, have been added to existing touchpoints, like the phone, website and social media, instead of replacing them. On top of that, many organisations are struggling with lots of disconnected information sources making it difficult to keep content updated and deliver the right information to customers on all channels. So how can organisations bring this all together to create a consistent, convenient and efficient customer experience?

Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Engage Customer on Tuesday, 27 November for a webinar to address this question, Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. Through a series of live demonstrations and practical tips, attendees will learn:

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

Register now for the webinar Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. Can’t attend the live event? Don’t worry, a recording will be sent to all registrants after the webinar.

You can also request a personalised demo to see how our technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent support and increase customer satisfaction scores.

Integrating the Right Customer Experience Technologies

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

It’s impossible to talk about customer experience without also talking about technology. Companies and brands are looking to provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move, deliver quality service and support to digitally-savvy customers and remain competitive as a growing number of contact channels gain popularity among consumers. All of those goals involve not only implementing, but also integrating the right customer experience (CX) technologies.

Earlier this month I attended CXtech, a new technology conference and showcase focused on what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming next in CX technologies. One major theme that came up repeatedly during presentations and my discussions with other attendees was that the truth about artificial intelligence (AI) is now been revealed after all the hype, myths and unrealistic claims. The CX industry is coming together in agreement that a hybrid approach is best – using a combination of AI and humans to deliver the best experience for customers. This is the approach we’ve always taken at Creative Virtual, and one that we’ve seen industry analysts and experts talking about more and more recently.

CXtech Chris EzekielChris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, joined me at the event and presented as part of the ‘Digital Automation, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants’ stream. His session, Digital CX & the contact centre: AI, chatbots, live chat & knowledge management, was well-received by attendees. He talked about the essential components of AI-driven digital transformation in the contact centre and then showed them how organisations are already using our CX technologies through a series of live demonstrations, including one of our customer chatbots working on Amazon Alexa. It’s one thing to listen to someone talking about the possibilities of the technology; it’s another to actually see and experience the solutions working and delivering on those promises.

We had a mix of people from different areas of organisations – the contact centre, digital CX, marketing, etc. – stop by the Creative Virtual stand throughout the day, some expressing that Chris’ presentation showcased ‘exactly what we are looking for’. There was lots of interest in discussing how to support customers on social media and messenger apps like Facebook Messenger. I also spoke with attendees from organisations that aren’t part of the industries we typically see at these types of events, such as public and emergency services. This reflects the change we’re seeing in the CX market as a wider range of industries are feeling the pressures of cultural and digital changes.

Our thanks to the CXtech organisers for putting together a successful event. It was a day of great presentations and insightful discussions, and I especially enjoyed the salmon at lunch!

If you’re interested in learning more about AI-driven transformation in the contact centre, download our latest whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre.

And if you’d like to see our chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions in action, be sure to request a live demo to arrange a personalised demonstration.

CXtech: Exploring Technologies that are Transforming Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

CXtech, a new technology conference and showcase, is coming to London on 12 October. Co-located with AI & Robotics: The Main Event, CXtech will explore what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming next in customer experience (CX) technologies as companies are connecting with customers like never before. Previously a sponsor of the AI & Robotics event, Creative Virtual is pleased to be a partner for CXtech this year.

The event brings together thought leadership, innovation and current case studies covering a wide range of CX technologies. In addition to presentations from expert speakers, attendees will also have opportunities to take part in networking sessions and visit the Solutions Showcase to see demonstrations of CX solutions.

Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, is one of the expert speaker at the event, presenting as part of the ‘Digital Automation, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants’ stream. His session, Digital CX & the contact centre: AI, chatbots, live chat & knowledge management, will address the essential components of AI-driven digital transformation in the contact centre. Chris will share live demonstrations of chatbot and live chat implementations and discuss industry best practices for implementing successful digital CX initiatives.

The Creative Virtual team will also take part in the Solutions Showcase, providing live demonstrations of our award-winning chatbot, virtual agent, live chat and knowledge management solutions. Be sure to stop by to see some of our current implementations in action and learn how we are helping brands implement these solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement. We’ll also be sharing tips to help you build a business case for these CX technologies in your organisation.

You can find more information about CXtech and the full conference programme on the CXtech website. If you haven’t registered yet, be sure to use our promotional code CV295 to receive a £300 discount off the price of a single ticket.

If you aren’t able to attend the event in London but want to learn more, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you.

Automation Shouldn’t Force Customers to do the Work Themselves

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Customer Service Week was celebrated this week along with Customer Experience Day (CX Day) on 2nd October. These annual events got me contemplating on the future of customer service. Whilst I’m all for automation – as you would expect from someone leading a company that develops chatbot technology to automate customer service! – I wonder about removing the human element completely, especially when it involves the customer doing the work themselves.

This is why I’m not keen on supermarket self-checkouts. After a busy day, I want to switch off and walk around the supermarket with my head in the clouds – not have to scan, weigh, search for butternut squash on the supermarket’s database! And then it often goes wrong, and you have to ask for assistance anyway. It’s just such a bad experience for so many customers. The same with self-check-in at airports. Peeling off luggage labels and making sure they’re attached correctly isn’t my idea of fun.

Getting instant answers to questions instead of having to call or email a company is a great example of where technology does make for a better customer experience, as long as the system can quickly and seamlessly escalate to a human when it doesn’t have an answer. Deploying technology to automate tasks needs to be a win-win for the organisation and the customer: reducing customer service costs whilst improving the customer experience at the same time.

I also wonder about what effect removing the human element altogether could have on our society – who will us Brits have to moan to about the weather?! Luckily customer service chatbots can have a personality and engage in small talk – anything from talking about the weather to politely declining a date.

Yet, it’s not uncommon – or unreasonable – for organisations to worry about losing the opportunity to build human connections with customers as more and more of the experience becomes automated. They need to understand their customer journey and be smart about how they implement automation. In some situations, there is no substitute for engaging with a real human.

As Customer Service Week comes to a close, the challenges of delivering positive customer service experiences will stay top of mind for organisations. There’s no doubt that automation has an essential role in meeting those challenges in our digital, always-on society, but it should be in conjunction with the human element.

If you want to learn more, be sure to check out our newest whitepaper, A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre, and my most recent webinar presentation, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple.

Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

Chatbot technologies are becoming more and more common in the business world, but I think most companies have not realized yet how interdisciplinary these artificial intelligence (AI) tools can be. When talking about the obvious benefits of implementing a virtual assistant, organisations look on the short-term and middle-term goals, but long-term objectives can often be overlooked. Some of the quick advantages are taking the pressure of customer call centres and live chat agents, thus reducing operational costs; FAQs and other guidance content are instantly accessible for the customers, in an engaging, interactive way.

But what about the long-term pros of having a chatbot? As your chatbot matures, so does its “knowledge” and content, and the ability to recognize and analyse user inputs will be paired by a higher rate of accuracy, making it possible to keep your customers in the loop of the conversation. Once a virtual assistant reaches this level (the more work both provider and client put on it- the sooner it happens), it can be used as a strong marketing and even sales tool reaching customers within minutes. Plus, it will be providing up-to-date data, collected straight away from users.

Promotional offers, new products and services can be added to chatbots in a centralised place such as a related FAQ section, where they are automatically shown to customers in their very personal environment – while they are in front of their PC or even on their mobile phone.

A couple of weeks ago I had to book an appointment in my local bank branch. When I got to talk to the advisor, she looked into my data and explained to me that based on my balance and banking activity, I qualified to an account upgrade. Wow! – good to know I thought. My original query was something totally different. That made me think – for how long would I have been able to upgrade my account?

What if I could have just logged onto my personal banking online and while having a basic conversation with the chatbot, it would have suggested to me the same upgrade right at the time when I got qualified? No hassle of booking an appointment, travelling to my local branch, waiting for the queue and spending a good amount of time during my busy day? I guess this could have been an outstanding customer experience. When using logged in versions of chatbots, this can be reality, besides making transactions, balance queries and a bunch of other banking features.

Long-term benefits go beyond that. Interacting with users through a virtual assistant is a 2-directional flow – as organisations provide latest information to their customers, their customers provide feedback to the company. Customer surveys, trends, and analysis are important in today’s competitive world – but why totally outsource these tasks to an outside provider, when you can listen to the voice of your customers in real time?

Imagine having 50,000 conversations monthly available at any time, coming straight from your customers; imagine you can learn what they asked the most times and even see what they asked word by word; imagine knowing what your customers are after at this very moment. Sure, call centres and live chat agents keep records, but it’s time and cost consuming analysing conversations, and it’s hard to systemize raw data. Therefore, it can take a long time to answer to the demand of your customers, and it might take you even longer than your competitors.

Not long ago, a digital marketing manager from a financial organisation that is a Creative Virtual client, got in touch with me asking about all the questions asked to their chatbot having “abroad” or “holiday” in and the answers delivered to those questions. It took me approximately 4 hours to create a standardized, systematized report containing all of the user entries with those above 2 words and the corresponding answers. The report had about 3,000 word-by-word customer queries – providing a real insight to customer intentions, in a form of instantly accessible, completely free of charge, organized, systematic data.

To sum it up – AI technologies cannot only be used in reactive ways, but they can and should be used in a proactive way as well: to inform, advertise, and promote and to analyse customer trends and demands. Many organisations are still in a phase where they are deciding to deploy a chatbot as a response to common market practices and as a solution to take the pressure off live chat agents and call centres. But you can get so much more out of your AI solution, if you realize how powerful of a tool you have in your hands, you are able to detect issues and, most importantly, prevent them before they would even occur – what’s a better customer experience than this in the long-term?

I’ll leave that with you to ponder as we celebrate Customer Service Week. I also recommend watching our Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple webinar on-demand to see how organisations are already leveraging their chatbots for long-term success.

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.

A Complete Omnichannel Experience for Those at a Desk and on the Move

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

In my nearly 11 years with Creative Virtual, I’ve worked with organisations across all sectors looking to implement successful virtual agent solutions and have seen the industry and the technology change massively. As the number of communication channels have grown and customers have become more digitally savvy, virtual agent technology has also become more advanced and sophisticated. Today companies are using these solutions to increase engagement through natural language conversations and are seeing all the usual benefits that you’ve heard associated with chatbots and virtual agents for years – an enhanced user experience, improvement in CSAT scores, reductions in calls to the contact centre and lower customer service costs.

Yet, as I explain in my recent Executive Interview with CRMXchange, the benefits go beyond that with today’s solutions. Chatbots and virtual agents can now provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move. By being able to linkup channels – web, mobile, Facebook, messenger apps (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), voice assistants (like Google Home and Amazon Alexa), etc. – companies are benefiting from delivering a consistent, accurate and seamless experience that’s available to customers 24/7.

It’s important that companies looking to implement a virtual agent fully explore the benefits of deploying the solution across multiple contact channels using a single knowledgebase. This then needs to be a central consideration during their selection process. Many virtual agent and chatbot solutions on the market today don’t have this capability which means you end up with a stand-alone tool on a single communication channel and an even more disjointed customer experience.

In my interview I also talk about the benefits of using self-service virtual agents for employee support, particularly for internal service desk and HR support, and how working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual can help an organisation get the most from their virtual agent. I discuss why human moderation of the machine learning component of chatbots is essential and the effect the explosion of media hype and buzz around artificial intelligence and chatbots has had on the industry.

Read my full interview for more and request a live demo to see Creative Virtual’s technology in action. My thanks to CRMXchange for the opportunity to participate in their Executive Interview series!

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

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CX in 2018: Digital Transformation Means Combining Humans and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For years there was much more talk about digital transformation than any actual changes for many organisations, but that’s starting to change. More and more digital transformation projects are getting off the ground, and 2018 will be an important year for understanding the reality of the changes needed and putting plans into action.

During a recent roundtable event Econsultancy found that for many, digital transformation programmes are all about survival. Organisations are ‘trying to disrupt ourselves before being disrupted by others’. There is a fear of being made obsolete and digital transformation is a way to head off bankruptcy, particularly for those already struggling or less profitable than their competitors.

Yet well-established and profitable organisations are also moving forward with these types of programmes, particularly when it comes to customer experience. In Hong Kong, some of the biggest banks are launching smart chatbots as a way to serve tech-savvy customers as part of their digital transformations. The corporate banking unit of HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank by assets, launched the very first chatbot of its kind in the city. Chatbot Amy is an important part of their innovative digital banking experience and allows customers to get answers quickly and easily.

I recently read an article predicting that 2018 will see AI-enable chatbots providing a better customer experience than human-to-human chat exchanges. I would argue that in some cases they already are. While I disagree with the authors on that point, I wholeheartedly agree on their insistence that customer service chatbots should have human ‘escape hatches’ which seamlessly pass users over to a human.

When it comes to customer service and engagement, digital transformation means combining humans and machines. Organisations that ignore the importance of the human element or try to rely on pure artificial intelligence (AI) are going to see their initiatives crash and burn. Chatbots can be brilliant additions to digital engagement strategies but they need to be implemented in the right way and with the right expectations, like HSBC Hong Kong’s Amy.

One thing that has held back digital transformation efforts is coming to grips with the reality of implementing plans, which is often very different than expected. It’s important to work with an experienced, expert team – particularly when it comes to customer service chatbots. Don’t rush to deploy any old chatbot just to be able to say you have one. Be strategic about it as part of your overall digital customer experience transformation. Know how it can best serve your customers and how you want to integrate it with other support options such as live chat. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! gives some key features to look for when selecting a chatbot for customer support:

  • Personalisation – Can the chatbot be integrated with personalised account information?
  • Consistency and Accuracy – How will the chatbot help me keep my customer experience consistent and accurate?
  • Seamless Experience – Can I integrate the chatbot with other channels and support options?
  • End-to-End Support Journey – Can the tool bring together virtual and human support channels?

As you embark on new digital transformation initiatives to improve your customer experience this year, ensure that you examine them in context of your overall strategy and customer needs. And don’t overlook the importance of combining humans and machines, live agents and chatbots to best serve your customers and reach your CX goals.