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A Look Back: 2017 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The end of 2017 is quickly approaching and so, as has become our tradition, it’s time to take a look back at Creative Virtual’s year. To say this has been an exciting and busy year for us, our customers and our partners would be an understatement! 2017 will go down as one of the most important years in Creative Virtual’s history, so let’s take a look at some of the year’s highlights.

Queens Awards for EnterpriseBy far our biggest company announcement came in April when we were officially recognised as the winner of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017! The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is the UK’s most prestigious business award for British companies, and we were recognised for innovation for our V-Person™ and V-Portal™ technology. Over the summer, our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, and CTO, Peter Behrend, attended a Royal Reception at Buckingham Palace for the winners and got to meet Her Majesty the Queen and several other members of the royal family. In September, the company hosted our official award ceremony and celebration, bringing together Creative Virtual team members from around the world, customers, partners and a variety of other guests in London. Mr Leslie Morgan OBE DL, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, presented our award on behalf of the Queen, and Jim Fitzpatrick, our local Member of Parliament (MP) for Poplar and Limehouse, also said a few words.

Creative Virtual was recognised by a variety of other awards programmes this year as well, being named ‘Best Customer Service Solutions Provider 2017’, ‘Most Innovative Customer Support Tool: V-Person Live Chat’, and ‘Best Virtual Assistant Solutions Provider 2017’ among others. We were also a proud part of the APPEX Omnichannel Catalyst which took home the Outstanding Performance in the Catalyst Program award at TM Forum Live! 2017.

Two individual members of our UK team were recognised by independent awards programmes this year for their contributions to Creative Virtual. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, was a finalist in the Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Hero of the Year (SME)’ for demonstrating excellence in her support of others and going beyond the call of duty to achieve a business goal. And I was honoured to be named ‘Best CX Solutions Business Marketer – UK’ in the 2017 Business Woman of the Year Awards for my success in driving brand recognition, thought leadership and lead generation activities. It was certainly a big year for award wins for us as a company and individually!

While we enjoyed celebrating – and walking the red carpet! – this year, we were also busy sponsoring and hosting industry events and delivering thought leadership presentations in 11 different countries – India, the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Luxembourg, Singapore, Germany, Australia and Hungary. Our fifth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar (Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre) with CRMXchange had a record-breaking number of registrations, highlighting the huge surge in interest in chatbots, virtual agents and artificial intelligence (AI). You can still watch that webinar on-demand, as well as our most recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth.

While there has been a marked increase in interest in chatbots and virtual agents this year, there’s also a lot of confusion, unrealistic expectations and false promises being perpetuated in the marketplace. We drew on our expertise to share a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer space in our whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre. Founder & CEO Chris similarly tackled this topic in a column for CMRXchange, Are Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre?. Chris also shared his expertise in interviews with ReadITQuik and The Wharf Newspaper, and Mike Murphy, CEO of Creative Virtual USA, shared his thoughts on the industry in a CRMXchange Executive Interview. Following on the heels of our launch of V-Person Live Chat last year, early in 2017 we created a new video showing how you can combine self-service virtual agents and human-assisted channels to deliver a fully integrated support experience.

This year we welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network. Our V-Person Family continued to grow throughout 2017 with new virtual agent and chatbot deployments across the globe in a variety of languages, and our collaborations with current customers resulted in new features and functionality being added to existing installs. This year Motability Operations’ award-winning ‘Ask Mo’ and National Rail Enquiries popular ‘Ask Lisa’ virtual agents both celebrated their 10th birthdays. REST Industry Super’s virtual agent Roger played a part in two award wins for them this year: ‘Best Innovation Super Feature’ in Money Magazine’s Best of the Best Awards and ‘Best Fund: Innovation 2017’ in the Chant West 2017 Super Fund Awards.

As he does every year, Founder & CEO Chris took the award for most travelling as he once again flew around the world visiting with the Creative Virtual team, partners and customers and taking part in a number of different events. In November, he also added a new job title to his CV, taking on the role of monthly technology columnist with The Wharf Newspaper.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out our 2017 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled shots from our official presentations and events as well as our fun group activities and award celebrations – everything from Founder & CEO Chris meeting to Queen to him taking a pie in the face during our fundraising efforts for the RSPCA. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.

Resisting Change Can Spell CX Disaster

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Over the summer, one of my Netflix obsessions was ‘Call the Midwife’, a TV drama that follows a group of midwives working in London’s East End during the 1950s and 60s. There often seemed to be a conflict between the traditional customs or ways of thinking and modern ideas that drove the storyline of the episodes. For example, patients resisting new medical practices such as giving birth in a maternity home instead of at home or the older generation of midwives dismissing the younger nurses’ ideas on topics like allowing husbands to be present for the birth. Often the arguments came in the form of “If it was good enough for my mum, it’s good enough for me!” or “We’ve always done it that way!”

Humans – and companies – are creatures of habit and often resistant to change. While the ‘but it’s always been done that way’ reasoning makes for a relatable and compelling TV show, it can spell disaster for organisations when they resist recognising changes in customer behaviours and preferences. Blockbuster has become a posterchild for missed opportunity, passing on the chance to purchase Netflix and then trying to get into the streaming trend too late, which ultimately led to the company’s demise.

When it comes to customer experience, organisations can’t afford to ignore the impact technology is having on the way we communicate with each other and with brands. Today’s highly connected digital customers are looking for 24/7 access to information and support across multiple channels and devices. They want a seamless experience that is personalised, consistent and easy. Companies like Amazon are often applauded for their superior customer experience, and customers are now expecting that same level of service from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry.

As consumers increasingly turn to self-service and digital channels, organisations need to analyse the changing preferences of their customer base and look to incorporate new channels and technologies into their customer support strategy. The change to self-service needs to happen in conjunction with an evolution of the contact centre. Current capabilities of AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents put these solutions in the perfect position to be complementary with the contact centre and live agents.

While some sceptics talk about chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space as a passing fad, the reality is that they are a tried and tested tool for providing digital self-service and are helping to define the future of customer engagement. Since the days of the early chatbots, these tools have improved greatly in their conversational abilities thanks to advances in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). The evolution of customer expectations has also driven massive amounts of innovation in the technology to allow for flexible back-end integration, easier maintenance and a reliable hybrid approach to self-learning.

Take the first step toward meeting the expectations of digital customers with chatbots by requesting a demo to see this technology in action. Change can be hard, but smart organisations (and midwives!) know it is the way forward.

Excellent Customer Service: What’s the secret to achieving success now and in the future?

By Susan Ott, Customer Success Manager, USA

Often, customer service can be a challenging world. Solving problems, providing information, making sure things run smoothly…it’s not always easy.

When I take a moment and think about companies that emanate unmatched customer service, I see an atmosphere in which employees and management alike are engaged on the front lines with their customers. Pride in the company you work for should always be at the forefront of every interaction. That emotion of pride instills a sense of teamwork and customers can feel it!

Companies who employ individuals who go above and beyond will always win me over. Most often it’s those little “extra” moments that customers remember and foster a sense of loyalty to your brand. Delivering a personalized and effortless customer experience is really what it’s all about.

As we find ourselves in this age of internet-driven, 24- hour news cycles, we see a world full of ever changing landscapes. Customer touch points are rapidly expanding, and we see companies asking: How can we keep up and stay relevant?

Fortunately, new technologies are out there opening pathways for us to build a dialogue with our customers. We are already seeing that chatbots will have a major impact on the world of customer service over the next several years. Digital interactions will help employees complete tasks both great and small. Features that make our conversations seem natural and super convenient are constantly being improved upon.

The bottom line with regards to the future of customer service? Focus on creating a seamless experience BEFORE, DURING and AFTER a customer interaction. That is what customers want and if a chatbot can help with the process, we shouldn’t be opposed!

Contact us to hear more about how we can help with AI 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.

Together We Can Deliver Iconic Customer Experiences

By Patrick Gallagher, Managing Director ANZ & North Asia

Over the years, companies have invested millions in their contact centres to provide support to customers calling to purchase, enquire, complain, apply or seek assistance. Traditionally this has been the ‘tried-and-tested’ option as companies continued to invest in their contact centre in order to build their customer support capability. But as customers have moved to digital channels, this approach is no longer enabling organisations to meet their customers’ expectations.

G-Summit Melbourne, Genesys’ customer experience event taking place 7 – 8 August 2017, will address this change with their event theme of ‘Together – Together, we can deliver iconic customer experiences by powering digital business with a human touch’. Creative Virtual is looking forward to taking part as a Genesys AppFoundry partner and event sponsor.

Today’s customers want effortless interactions with organisations. Research shows that they are increasingly leveraging self-service and digital channels for customer service for this reason. However, at first we were seeing the change to self-service happening separately from the contact centre, particularly in Asia Pacific, which was creating new challenges for companies and not delivering the seamless omnichannel service customers were expecting. The change to self-service needs to happen in conjunction with an evolution of the contact centre and an internal shift in attitudes toward joined-up customer engagement across traditional and digital channels.

It’s key for organisations to recognise that it’s more than just support today’s online customers want – they want an effortless experience. This means companies need to embrace the digital channels and build smart help online, not force customers to use a traditional search tool that returns pages and pages of results. Customers also want a seamless experience and the option to escalate from self-service to human-assisted service if they want or need further support.

I’ll be on hand in the Partner Pavilion at G-Summit Melbourne to showcase Creative Virtual’s V-Person intelligent virtual agent and chatbot solutions. This technology enables organisations to provide customers with smart online help and is designed to be integrated with the Genesys platform to provide a seamless experience. With properly integrated virtual agents, customers benefit from 24/7 access to consistent, accurate and personalised information and a convenient, seamless customer experience. Contact centres benefit from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

I hope to see you in Melbourne for a great day of CX discussions, networking and demonstrations! Can’t attend G-Summit Melbourne but want to learn more? We’d be happy to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you.

Creative Virtual Continues 2017 Digital CX Road Tour – Chicago and Now Indy!

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

May began with several of our Executive team members traveling to Chicago for the Argyle CX event last week. This was our second time attending the event and again, we were not disappointed by the success we found in the numerous conversations that took place. This year we had the opportunity to Sponsor the event and had the privilege of hearing a great panel that also included one of our very own, Frank Schneider, VP of Customer Experience Solutions. Simultaneously, our sales team attended the Forrester Digital Transformation 2017, also in Chicago, to pick up strategies on innovation and growth in the digital enterprise.

The collaboration that goes into attending these events for us is simple. We enjoy the engaging conversations we have with both our partners, but also with potential prospects and industry leading practitioners. Having an open forum during the panel gave us insight into the type of breakthrough strategies and approaches driving real innovation in CX. The specific panel we did was titled: “The Modern Day Customer Care and Customer Experience Executive”.

2017 Argyle ForumA few of the day’s highlights included:

  • It was awesome hearing Renee Cacchillo, from Safelight AutoGlass regarding their vision for Customer Experience and using technology to delight the customer.
  • Jasper Weir’s introduction of ENPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) shed a creative light on creating happy employees and in turn elevating Customer Experience at TaskUs.
  • Dan Gingiss, author of Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Design Engaging Experiences on Social Media, spoke about measuring the Customer Experience you want to achieve by having a sincere heart and comparing your experience with your customer’s best experience all around.

What’s next on the CV Road Tour? Genesys CX17 Indy in Indianapolis on May 22nd-25th where we are Genesys AppFoundry Sponsors. Come by Booth #A05 and speak with Scott Tompkins or Rick Hancock. Both have over a decade of enterprise digital CX consulting experience and have had great success with Creative Virtual.

Breakthrough CX Innovations that Create Customer Delight

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Customers are increasingly starting their support journeys online and leveraging self-service options, but that doesn’t mean that the need for live agents will disappear. Instead organisations need to implement the right combination of virtual and real support and integrate those channels properly in order to provide personalised and seamless support for customers.”

– Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

On Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 7:00 pm UK/ 2:00 pm ET CRMXchange will host a Tech Tank Roundtable webinar titled Customer Delight: Live Demonstrations of Breakthrough Innovations. The live webcast will feature a panel of industry experts, including Creative Virtual’s Chris Ezekiel, showcasing emerging customer experience solutions that are beginning to impact the contact centre.

The contact centre industry needs to be constantly evolving in order to meet changing customer demands. As customers increasingly come to expect seamless and personalised omnichannel engagement, contact centres must turn to a combination of virtual and real support. During the webinar, Chis will address this change and give an inside look at Creative Virtual’s deep integration of virtual agents and live chat. This combined solution is defining industry best practice through a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents and a unique feedback loop combined with customisable workflow functionality.

The bringing together of live chat and virtual agents is a departure from the common belief that, until recently, prevailed in the contact centre industry that organisations needed to choose between the solutions. Forward-thinking organisations are now coming to understand that these two tools are complementary solutions that can play a key part in delivering quality digital support experiences for their customers. Gone are the days of the live chat vs. virtual agent debate as this shift in mindset begins to permeate the customer service industry.

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

CXM 2017: Meeting New CX Challenges in India

By Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director, India

According to a recent study, the number of internet users in India is expected to reach 600 million by 2020, nearly double the approximately 343 million users currently. A big factor in this growth is the increasing availability and adoption of smartphones. As the world’s second largest mobile phone market, India is predicted to see a growth from 240 million smartphone subscriptions to 520 million by 2020. With more and more customers becoming digitally connected, companies in India are facing new challenges when it comes to building a happy, loyal customer base.

For this reason, creating world-class customer experiences for digitally inspired and demanding customers is the focus of Customer Experience Management 2017, India’s largest customer experience event. CXM 2017, which is being held on February 3rd in Mumbai, will feature insights on how organizations can transform their experiences to meet the heightened expectations of progressively sophisticated, diverse and demanding customers. As the event’s Omni Channel Partner, Creative Virtual is looking forward to showcasing our suite of Smart Help solutions and sharing insights into how enterprises around the world are using these tools to increase customer engagement, reduce customer support costs and increase revenue.

The increasing adoption of smartphones, both in India and globally, is forever altering the way customers engage with businesses. Expectations for instant 24/7 customer service options are becoming the norm. Organizations need to move away from the traditional approach to customer experience and make investments in delivering easy, seamless and personalized smart help across digital channels. In order to remain competitive, they must provide a fully-integrated, omnichannel customer experience that matches with the growing demands of their customer base.

During CXM 2017, I’ll be joining the ‘Analyzing Customer Voice’ panel discussion to specifically talk about how social media is changing the way digitally savvy customers interact with brands. They now have the ability to share their opinions – good and bad – about products and companies with a global audience almost instantly. Organizations need to pay attention to the viewpoints customers are sharing on social channels, but it can be a challenge to know where to start. As a panelist, I’ll share insights into how companies can effectively analyze and apply the customers’ voice to positively impact their customer experience strategies and effectively use this information to their advantage across geographies, cultures and markets.

I hope you’ll join us in Mumbai at the beginning of February for what promises to be an inspiring day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities. My panel discussion on ‘Analyzing Customer Voice’ is set to begin at 11:30. You can learn more and register for the event on the CXM 2017 website.

If you aren’t able to attend, be sure to request your own personalized demo to learn more about our omnichannel smart help solutions.

CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service

customer experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For many the end of 2016 couldn’t come soon enough, with the dawn of the New Year bringing a fresh start and a clean slate. Yet, according to Forrester, companies are starting 2017 under attack. While traditionally we would think of this pressure as coming from competitors, today’s organisations are under attack from their customers. Forrester Analyst and Vice President Dane Anderson explains:

“Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers who now decide winners and losers.”

For example, Forrester identifies consumers in Asia Pacific as changing along five key dimensions:

  • Increasingly willing to experiment
  • Reliant on technology
  • Inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences
  • Able to handle large volumes of information
  • Determined to create the best experiences for themselves

Forrester has found these key points to explain evolving customer trends and increased customer empowerment. With highly empowered customers willing to take their business elsewhere for a new, exciting experience, organisations need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating in order to remain competitive.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to consumers in Asia Pacific. Digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers around the world are placing these expectations on organisations in all industries. Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report found that an average of 90% of consumers surveyed in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA expect brands to have an online customer self-service portal. 97% of global consumers answered that customer service was either somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand, and 60% reported having stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.

2016 customer service

The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences. In their report Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, they observe that AI is finding rapid uptake as a tool to provide better customer service and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (VCAs), also called virtual agents or chatbots, will increase by 1,000%. They also discuss how changing customer preferences will lead to an increased automation of customer service needs and a growing market for chatbots able to provide customer engagement over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Gartner foresees VCAs and chatbots becoming a necessity for business-to-consumer organisations in order to deal with the demand for 24/7 support and the increased volume of customer interactions.

The panel of industry experts interviewed for Call Centre Helper’s annual Contact Centre Technology Predictions shared similar thoughts on the increase of self-service and the changing role of contact centres in 2017. One contributor predicted the replacement of FAQs with conversational systems that allow for dynamic two-way conversations. Another expert felt 2017 may be the year in which chatbots or virtual agents become widely used in call centres to alleviate workloads and help live agents focus more on important calls. Others echoed these insights through predictions that the investment in customer self-service will gather pace in 2017 and organisations will focus on engaging customers through conversational commerce.

It’s clear that organisations need to take action in 2017 in order to avoid being declared a loser by empowered customers, and digital self-service options will be key to successful customer engagement. This certainly isn’t a surprise to those in the industry. In fact, both Personal Assistants/Intelligent Agents and Artificial Intelligence were in the top four marketing-related searches of 2016 in the UK according to Microsoft’s Bing Ads.

But knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer engagement plan are two very different things. The best way to begin this journey is to educate yourself about digital engagement solutions, the advancements in and limitations of AI and customer expectations of self-service tools such as chatbots. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! is a great resource to get you started on your path to creating a tale of customer experience success in 2017.

Your customers may not be giving you a fresh start when it comes to their opinion of your customer experience just because the new year is here, but there’s no time like the present to take a hard look at your CX strategy and identify where you can make improvements. Make 2017 the year digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers declare your company a winner!

Providing Both CX Expertise and Technological Innovation

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The customer experience landscape is constantly changing, and perhaps never more so than it is as we enter 2017. In my extensive travels I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of customer experience discussions with professionals from many industries in regions around the world, and they universally are faced with the issue of how to meet increasing customer demands. New advances and innovations in technology will certainly be a key factor in helping organisations rise to these challenges, but is that enough?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the answer to that question is a resounding ‘No’. That might seem strange coming from the Founder & CEO of a technology company, but I feel strongly that the way to navigate the ever evolving customer experience landscape is through a combination of people and technology. I’m extremely proud of Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team and the guidance we are able to provide to our customers and other organisations looking to learn more about digital customer engagement. We collaborate closely with large enterprises around the world to help them revolutionise their customer experiences while also reducing support costs and increasing revenue.

That’s why it is an honour for us at Creative Virtual to be named ‘Best Self-Service CX Management Solutions Consultancy – UK’ by Corporate Vision Magazine’s 2016 Consultancy Awards. This award is a testament to the thought leadership our team provides not only to our customer organisations, but also within the wider customer experience space. We closely monitor trends and the evolution of potential new customer engagement touchpoints in order to provide organisations with the information and cutting-edge technology to grow their customer experience strategy in line with customer expectations.

My thanks to the Consultancy Awards for this recognition! You can read our official announcement here.

I also encourage you to check out some of our latest customer experience resources, including the whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! and our new guide The Future of the Contact Centre.