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On the Hunt for Better Customer Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The world always seems to be on the hunt for the next thing that will be bigger and better – the newest tech gadget, the latest fashion trend, the hottest social media challenge, the next break-out Netflix show. As customers, we want the best deal, the most innovative products and the greatest experience possible. This means that companies are always on the hunt for ways to meet those expectations, build brand loyalty and deliver a better customer experience.

Last week we celebrated Customer Service Week and CX Day, two annual events that place a spotlight on the importance of customer service and your overall customer experience as well as the people involved in supporting your customers. At Creative Virtual, we recognised these global celebrations with a special series of blog posts written by members of our expert team and published throughout the week. Each contributor selected their own topic independently, and the result was a well-rounded look at how humans and machines can help companies on that hunt for better customer service.

On Tuesday, we published a post by Rachel Freeman in which she explores the struggles contact centres have been facing during the pandemic. Long wait times have been fuelled by a sharp rise in calls combined with the unpredictability of available agents due to office closures and quarantines. She advocates for letting self-help tools, such as virtual agents and chatbots, share the burden being felt by contact centres.

“Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work” Rachel writes. This combination of humans and machines can create a seamless experience and more efficient customer service interactions. At the same time, using this approach helps companies prioritise the health and well-being of both their customers and employees.

This provided the perfect set-up for Laura Ludmany’s Customer Service Week Musings on how a machine knows if it’s wrong which we published on Wednesday. In her post, she takes a closer look at the different approaches that can be used to ‘teach’ chatbots and virtual agents. Her conclusion? When it comes to using these AI tools to provide customer service, they can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs.

Laura uses her experience working with self-service virtual agents to describe this hybrid approach and the different ways data can be collected from users and applied by the tool to learn about what is right and wrong. “As long as AI tools serve customer queries,” she explains, “they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.”

She ends her post by recognising the important role humans, both customers and the virtual agent experts, have in helping these self-service tools deliver a continuously improving experience. This theme of the importance of the human touch was then picked up in Thursday’s post by Björn Gülsdorff.

Björn starts by recalling the presentation he gave in March at the CCW 2020 conference in Berlin which was all about the human touch in AI. The human touch was a hot topic at the event, being seen as the latest trend in Bot Building, and one that Creative Virtual has been doing for years. In his session, Björn talked about putting your customer in the centre of the project, keeping the human experts involved and giving the virtual agent’s responses a personal touch to improve the customer experience.

Now, seven months on from that conference, Björn acknowledges, “The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.” He advocates for the use of technology to bridge the gaps created by the physical distancing needed to control the spread of COVID-19 but stresses the importance of remembering that these are just tools being used to connect people. Keeping the human touch in customer service by keeping humans in the loop is more important than ever.

So, what does this all mean for companies on the hunt for a better customer service experience? Having the right technology in place to enable customers to self-serve is imperative. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digital customer service. Customers who may have turned to digital channels and self-service options out of necessity this year, are now familiar with their convenience and are more likely to make them a part of their new customer service expectations. Contact centres also benefit from this technology with a better agent experience and improved customer interactions.

However, having the technology does not automatically ensure success. It needs to be combined with the right human expertise and support in order to be developed, implemented and maintained correctly for your organisation, customers and agents. That type of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight or come from reading a few blog posts (even great ones like these!). It takes a deep understanding of the technology, how the tools work and the ways users interact with implementations. That expertise only comes from years of actual experience in developing, implementing and maintaining self-service solutions.

Customer Service Week may be over for this year, but the never-ending hunt for better customer service – by companies and customers – goes on. 2020 has forced changes on all of us and accelerated the push for digital transformation. Smart companies know the present and future of better customer service lies in the combination of humans and machines, people and technology, live agents and virtual agents.

Customer Experience: It’s all about long-term relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, like everything else, is held with the dark cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. Customer experience has always been a key competitive differentiator, and this has never been more apparent than this year. It’s a true saying that when the chips are down you find out who your true friends are. As the CEO of Creative Virtual, I’ve been on two sides on this equation during these tough times: supporting our customers and being a customer myself.

Customer experience is a much-debated subject of course, but the thing that’s often missing from these debates is the importance of building strong customer partnerships that can stand the test of time. Creative Virtual is fortunate to have many long-term customers: one of our first customers has been with us since the formation of the company (nearly 17 years ago!). Having a great team, who are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the customer, is the main attribute for a long-term partnership. Being flexible, listening and supporting our customers as they face their own challenges, and taking a longer-term perspective, is an inherent part of our company culture.

I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. The pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in the customer experiences that myself or people I know have encountered. Like all of us, I’ve been truly inspired and humbled by our key workers. The dedication and positivity from staff at the local Waitrose, for example, has been a breath of fresh air (service with a smile!). There are some bank and landlord experiences that I’ve heard about that have been pretty bad. And these cases are particularly beguiling when there’s been a long-term relationship in place and the bank/landlord has turned their back in a moment of need. Purely from a business perspective, these actions are completely counterproductive as this often leads to a loss of business.

Today much of the customer experience is automated, and when I consider what makes our chatbot/ virtual agent and live chat technology successful, it’s taking that long-term view. Building the right foundations at the beginning means the technology can be easily adapted as business priorities change and can be readily scaled up as required. This was particularly put to the test during the height of the pandemic when our customers saw a dramatic increase in virtual agent transactions and required quick updates to the chatbot/ virtual agent content. Taking a long-term perspective is just as important for chabots/ virtual agents as it is for human relations!

If you’re planning to add a chatbot virtual agent to your CX strategy to help improve your customer relationships, you’ll want to download this whitepaper: Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. The guide provides insights from industry experts on how having a strong partnership with your technology vendor sets your self-service solution up for long-term success.

As you celebrate CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, consider the approach you are taking with your customer experience strategy. Are you striving to build strong, long-term customer partnerships? Are you empowering your employees to make decisions to strengthen those customer relationships? Are you taking a long-term view to achieve success with automated CX tools?

Customer experience is all about long-term relationships – and that’s never been more important than right now. When the chips are down, are you a reliable partner for your customers?

#CXDay: Serving Your Customers a Custom Support Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy CX Day! Today is the annual global celebration of the professionals and companies that make great customer experiences happen. In a world of growing expectations for on-demand service and highly connected, always-on customers, creating and delivering a great customer experience (CX) is no easy task.

A couple of weeks ago I was at an alpaca farm, a stop on my local annual County Farm Tour, with my niece. She was excited to get a chance to feed and pet the alpacas but, having already endured a few hours of attention from random strangers, the animals were not so interested in what the afternoon visitors were offering. I chuckled to myself as I watched the children – and a few adults – follow the alpacas around with outstretched hands offering them a bite to eat as they ran up and down the fenced in area. As we followed some into the barn, my niece noticed that a couple alpacas that had refused to eat from her hand were eating from the feed trough instead. She wondered aloud why, if the alpaca was hungry, it hadn’t just eaten what she offered.

Digital customers, like those alpacas, aren’t always interested in engaging in a one-on-one human interaction – even though companies often feel that is the best way for them to build connections and loyalty. In fact, analyst firm Gartner reports that millennials are four times less likely to pick up the phone to resolve issues than older generations, opting instead to try to self-serve first. When companies don’t offer a way for customers to do that on their website or mobile app, those customers will end up looking, and possibly failing, on non-company channels. Organisations that want to empower customers to self-serve, and ensure they have a positive experience while doing so, need to offer those tools to customers themselves.

While self-service is increasingly imperative to a customer’s experience, that doesn’t mean that the one-on-one human interaction is no longer important. After watching numerous alpacas eat from the feed trough, my niece was ecstatic when one showed interest in the food she was offering and suddenly her hand was empty. The same is true with customers – not every customer wants to self-serve and not every customer issue or question is best resolved with self-service. A successful digital customer experience strategy never leaves out the human touch completely.

Here are a few CX Day tips to help you deliver a custom support experience for your customers:

  • Get to know your customers – It’s great to offer customers options for getting the information and support they need, but make sure they are the right options for your customer base otherwise you’re wasting time and money. For example, Rest knows that nearly 75% of their customer base is under 40 and most start their experience on the company website. In order to improve engagement with their growing customer base of digital natives, they now offer 24/7 support with virtual agent Roger on their website as well as other channels, such as Google Home.
  • Integrate self-service and human-assisted channels – As mentioned, self-service is not always the preferred method or the best way to answer customer questions. Other times customers will want to self-serve but then reach a point where they need or want to escalate to a human. This is why your self-service options can’t be standalone tools. Chatbots and virtual agents should be integrated with human-assisted channels such as live chat or call back to provide customers with a seamless experience. When customers are escalated from virtual agent to human agent, a full history of their conversation should be passed over as well. Internally, if you are using a virtual agent to assist contact centre agents, make sure you have feedback loops in place so your live agents can help keep the virtual agent’s content accurate and up-to-date.
  • Start small with a plan to grow – As with most things in life, trying to tackle a huge digital CX transformation project all at once just won’t work. Start small and then use what you learn from the first stages of your plan to make improvements as you scale your solutions and work through later phases. Transport for NSW started with their chatbot RITA on Facebook Messenger, a popular channel with their customers, and then grew their solution to be deployed across other channels, including their website and Amazon’s Alexa. This step-by-step approach has improved their customer experience and has won them numerous awards.
  • Work with vendors that have both the technology and expertise – Designing and delivering a customised support experience for digital customers requires a significant investment from companies and their employees. Selecting the best technologies for your goals is very important, but it shouldn’t be the only focus of your strategy. The customer support landscape is littered with failed and frustrating solutions, and the best way to avoid becoming one of those statistics is to work with an expert team that can provide consultation experience along with the technology. You want to work with a vendor that will collaborate closely with you and can provide guidance on both general industry and sector-specific best practices. Just as the service you offer customers needs to be a combination of self-service solutions and human support, your digital customer experience strategy needs to bring together the right blend of technology and human expertise.

Frost & Sullivan predict that the year 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. Are you serving your customers a custom support experience that makes your company stand out?

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.

Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

In our digitised world, with expectations for immediate access to a variety of informational touch points, is it right to assume that we are losing our ability to have a one-to-one discussion that doesn’t involve a social forum? Are we so “busy” that we’d rather just get an answer than exchange any pleasantries?

I’m not convinced, but I bring it up to make us think about how we interact with our phones, desktops, social media apps and any home assistant device – an important consideration as we celebrate CX Day. On many occasions we use social media to advertise in some way –  it can be a product, photo, achievement or opinion. These channels call out for banter and hoped-for positive communication. Our home devices (Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home) often exist to provide “fluffy” help (turning on lights/heat/oven) but also can act as a personal advisor offering bedtime stories, the weather, a joke or football stats.

Currently I think it is safe to say that our desktops, tablets and phones are often the devices used the most to seek out a deeper level of information and help – whether it be to research a subject, reach out to individuals for a longer email or finally to get help on an account, including learning about the levels of service or complaining about a problem.

People use Twitter and Forums often to advise others of a poor customer service or a really good one, but email or help areas with FAQs and chat services are where most of us go to find out how we can be served more in-depth with our specific issue. Consequently, when things get more specific, a “pre-chat” of some sort usually occurs.

In the pre-internet days, people either picked up the stationary telephone or had to go into a shop or bank during office hours to clarify any concerns or support issues. There was a level of formality to the process, but now the protocol is more about ensuring voices are not raised on a live chat handover or indeed that profanity and insults are avoided at the risk of being cut-off from the session. All of these scenarios involve a chat of some kind in order to ease off the customer’s anger and for the agent to familiarise him/herself with the issue.

Personalisation (virtual or in-person) is an expectation and if a user logs on to a smart system, the system can be programmed to already know that Joe has a birthday on Sept 22nd and that his mobile phone package includes unlimited WIFI. Smalltalk can be easily factored into a smart agent or a chatbot, but the main objective is to get an answer and/or a resolution to the problem so that the customer has received (and the company has succeeded in providing) a smooth, positive and effective service transaction. A synthesis of a bit of familiarity with a positive result is the aim of great customer service – and this is when chat and help are done without the customer really caring if it is via a human or a machine.

With fewer face-to-face encounters, do we want a chat or do we just want an answer with no smalltalk included? Does it matter if the system you are logged into doesn’t appreciate the nuance of the fact that you are celebrating your 35th birthday on the day your broadband is due to be upgraded thus resulting in a massive downtime of service?

At Creative Virtual our systems are designed to offer personalised, effective and smart tools to create the chat/service balance, yet also “know” what the right triggers are for handing over to a real person when it’s time. An integrated handover allows the human agent to see the customer issue, based on the transcript, and then can add that extra element – the human touch – which may be a perfect ending to finding the solution. The chat and the serving of the solution with both a smart agent and a human all completed in one session – genius and still with time to exchange a “Happy Birthday” to the customer.

Learn more by watching our recent webinar, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple, on-demand or request your own live demo to see our smart tools in action. Happy Customer Experience (CX) Day!

#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.

#CXDay: Bridging the Gap for Great Customer Experiences

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Happy CX Day! Today marks the 4th annual CX Day, a global celebration of great customer experience and the professionals who make it happen. There’s no escaping the fact that customer experience has become a key factor in customer purchasing decisions, often even outweighing price. And to say that delivering a positive experience can be challenging is certainly an understatement!

I was recently reading a blog post from Gartner about improving the customer experience by creating bridges between silos of engagement (more on that later), and it brought to mind a story about Waldameer Park, a small, family-run amusement park along the shores of Lake Erie in the US. In the 1990s, park owner Paul Nelson began the quest to build a new roller coaster, the Ravine Flyer II, to replace the original Ravine Flyer which closed in 1938. He was adamant that, like the original coaster, the new one cross over Peninsula Drive to give riders a unique, thrilling experience. Bridging the 4-lane highway, which is the only access road to popular Presque Isle State Park, became one of the main obstacles Paul would face in gaining approval to construct the new coaster.

Waldameer Park bridgeIn 2008, after nearly 20 years of planning, legal battles and long delays, the Ravine Flyer II opened – featuring a 165-foot-long arched bridge that takes riders over traffic on Peninsula Drive and back during their minute and a half long ride. Paul’s dedication to his vision paid off. The Ravine Flyer II won the prestigious ‘Golden Ticket Award’ as the best new ride in the world for 2008 by Amusement Today and park attendance jumped by 20% that season. The park has continued to maintain those increased levels of attendance in the years since the coaster opened, and the Ravine Flyer II is consistently ranked as one of the Best Wooden Roller Coasters in the world, reaching 5th place in 2016. Riders continue to rave about the experience of the Ravine Flyer II, many returning year-after-year to enjoy the coaster.

Just like bridging the 4 lanes of traffic was an obstacle for the construction of the coaster, so is the bridging of engagement silos for the improvement of the customer experience. According to Gartner analyst Gene Phifer:

“Delivering customer engagement in silos can significantly damage the customer experience. We predict that through 2020, silos of customer engagement will be one of the top three leading causes of customer dissatisfaction for enterprises across all industry segments.”

Even though silos may be the natural result of how your organisation is structured, your customers don’t care. They just want a smooth, seamless journey that enables them to remain oblivious to the fact that they may have transitioned from one internal silo to another. Mr Phifer continued:

“Bridging the silos of customer engagement leads to a seamless transition across channels and devices. Moving from a disconnected, siloed customer experience to a truly unified customer experience is an important step in maintaining and improving the customer experience. This may be nothing new, but the difference now is that it is no longer a ‘nice to have’. It has become a necessity for survival.”

That’s certainly some good food for thought as we celebrate CX Day and great customer experiences around the world. Organisations that want to be truly competitive need to take a step back and evaluate whether or not they are providing their customers with seamless, end-to-end engagement – even if their journeys feel like a roller coaster ride as they switch between channels and devices!

Whether or not you’re a roller coaster enthusiast, I’m sure you can appreciate that it was Mr Nelson’s unwavering commitment to his customer experience vision that made all the difference. While I’ve not met him personally, I’ve been told by someone who has that his passion for Waldameer Park and the experience of his park visitors is very obvious in every business decision he makes. Today we recognise him and all the customer experience professionals who are dedicated to bridging the gaps in order to deliver great experiences that make customers want to come back for more. Thank you for the hard work you do all year long!

 Photos courtesy of Mekis Construction.