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Stop Trying to Improve Efficiency at the Expense of CX

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Earlier this year my niece starting reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie book series, and I’ve been rereading them along with her. It’s been fun having discussions with her about the books and hearing what part of the stories stuck out for her as most interesting or surprising about Laura’s pioneer life. It’s also made me grateful to have modern conveniences like running water and refrigeration!

Over the course of history, humans have always looked for ways to improve efficiency and productivity. Think about all the inventions you studied in school, like the printing press and cotton gin, that initiated key moments of change for industry and society. Innovation drives progress, but that progress doesn’t innately mean a better experience or quality of life for everyone.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have meant more potential use cases for automation technologies. Businesses see this as an opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity – and it is. However, being too focused just on those goals often means they overlook the importance of the experience.

Forrester analyst, William McKeon-White writes about this as part of his research on help desk chatbots. He points out that prioritizing efficiency over experience leads to the critical element of user success being overlooked. If users don’t have a good experience with the chatbot, they won’t keep using it. And if users aren’t coming back to the tool, there’s no way for the organization to achieve positive longer-term outcomes.

It’s important to understand this as you build your business case for a conversational AI tool. As chatbot expert Rachael Needham explains in a vendor selection guide:

“Having a clear business objective will dictate much of what and how the chatbot is implemented. For example, is the objective to reduce phone calls or live chats – and how will that be tracked? Is it to improve customer satisfaction – and how will that be measured? Another key question to ask when thinking of customer experience is: are we really meeting the needs of our customers or are we just trying to make a score look better?”

Improving productivity and efficiency are worthy and important goals but shouldn’t be attempted at the expense of the user experience. Your chatbot or virtual agent should be designed to create a better experience by providing quick, easy support. Reducing phone calls or live chat sessions because you’re giving customers a better way to get help, without having to take the time and effort to engage with a contact center agent, is an efficiency improvement that’s positive for your business and your customer experience (CX).

In a recent discussion with ISG, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, pointed out that he has seen a shift in the focus of organizations when implementing conversational AI. Five years ago, the business cases for these solutions were heavily centered around contact deflection. However, as businesses come to recognize the competitive advantage of improving CX, that focus moves to creating better experiences as the key priority.

This doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t have the goal of improving efficiency and productivity with conversational AI tools. Instead, they should identify those objectives as part of their strategy to improve the overall experience. Often, you’ll find they go hand-in-hand. Efficiency improvements can be a crucial means by which the experience is made better. Expert conversational AI professionals understand the best ways to balance these needs and set goals that go beyond just making a score look better to achieving real success.

For more tips on creating a conversational AI strategy and building a business case, check out these resources:

How Much Does it Cost to Make a Chatbot that Actually Works?

By Paulo Barrett, Chief Operating Officer

Ask any seller of a highly complex and customizable chatbot or virtual agent system about cost and you’re likely to get an evasive answer. ‘There’s no one-size fits all.’ ‘I’d need to talk to you on the phone to give you an accurate quote.’ Increasingly, in this ever-saturating market, it’s easy to find elements of chatbot pricing (i.e., API request fees) or flat monthly subscription costs for low-end systems, but who is giving the educated bot buyer a clear, top to bottom view of what it costs to build a system that will really work?

By ‘really work,’ I mean one that will materially contribute to cost savings, improve customer satisfaction, and maybe even generate new revenue. In other words, how much is it realistically going to cost to build a bot your customers will actually want to use.

The truth is, building a successful chatbot is not purely a question of technology. Whether you are buying a platform to BYOB, getting something cheap and cheerful off the shelf, or looking for a bot consultancy to support your internal efforts, your work is really just beginning once you have the system configured and deployed. The ongoing work to improve the chatbot’s performance and to get the best out of self-service in your unique deployment is what makes the difference.

It can be difficult to predict exactly what actions your customers will want to take in the beginning. That means being able to take an informational system and swiftly evolve it as desired customer outcomes become clear is key for success. This is enhanced by using great technology, of course, but ultimately, you need the right experts (internal or external) to separate your deployment from the crowd of others (often failures) which are flooding the support world.

Think of it like buying an instrument. No matter how expensive or special it is, either you learn to play it, or you get someone else to play it for you (alternatively, it ends up gathering dust and doing absolutely nothing for anyone). One way or another, this expert training costs time and money. You have to weigh this investment against the return.

Now to the million-dollar question … pun intended. What will a chatbot that your customers actually want to use cost for a large enterprise? While it’s true that most deployments are unique to every client and require some customization, there are some standard pricing building blocks you can expect to see.

The first cost to nail down is the pilot fee. How much am I gonna spend to test this thing out and see if it works for me? The financial risk associated with a pilot should be shared by the customer and the vendor and typically runs around $50,000 (USD). While the client assumes some risk via the initial cost, you should expect this to be credited against the cost of the full production-level deployment if you choose to move forward. This fee will cover all hosting, software deployment, content development, technical consultancy, and transactional fees for the agreed period. Typical pilots run 30-60 days from go live to give you enough time to see material results and make a decision about the ongoing plan.

Once you convert from pilot to full system (we pride ourselves on a +90% conversion rate!), you have some choices to make about how you pay for the tools and ongoing consultancy. Some customers wish to be purely pay-for-performance. Often, they go with a tiered model based on volume with session costs starting at a dollar (i.e., a single interaction with a user, with unlimited question/integration calls in that session). This per session cost may fall based on meeting certain volume thresholds. With any variable pricing model there are pros and risks for both the customer and the vendor.

If you prefer not to have a variable rate in your forecasting, you can purchase a more traditional software/services package. A standard production system should include integration with a live chat platform as well as your CRM. This will ensure your customers get personalized answers to their questions and are able to complete transactions with the bot online, rather than just receiving flat, informational content. The cost to provide the software and ongoing consultancy, along with an adequate knowledgebase of 100-200 solutions, will generally cost somewhere between $150,000 and $250,000 (USD) per annum, depending on the number of sessions.

While this may seem like quite the investment, you have to ask yourself: What is the cost of deploying a support tool that my customers don’t want to use and delivers a negative, frustrating experience?

Ready to learn more? Our team is always on hand to arrange a personalized demo with you and answer any questions you may have about getting started with your pilot.

Past the Point of No Return: Customer and Employee Experience Post-Pandemic

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Last month I attended Gartner’s IT Symposium/Xpo 2020, EMEA which was fully virtually this year. As you’d expect, there were lots of presentations discussing the various impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic and what the ‘new normal’ will look like for communities, businesses and individuals as we head into 2021.

In a number of the sessions I streamed, the presenting analysts specifically made a point about the fact that when it becomes safe for our day-to-day lives to return to a more pre-pandemic ‘normal’, we will not be able to take that step as the same people we were at the beginning of 2020. We will all bring with us the experiences and knowledge we internalised during this year of lockdowns and quarantines. Students and teachers will return to classrooms with a new set of technology skills. Employees and employers will re-evaluate the need for physical office space based on the successes and failures of remote working. Customers will approach buying decisions with new access to and experiences with digital and online options.

This observation isn’t ground-breaking. Any significant life event we experience creates a change in who we are and how we view ourselves and the world – the birth of a child, a life-threatening illness, a major career change, living or studying abroad, a natural disaster. The difference with the experience of COVID-19 is that it has happened to the world. And while each of us has still had an individual experience and been impacted in our own unique way, it has also been a global event that is leaving lasting, substantial effects on communities and companies everywhere.

Keeping this in mind will be essential as your company moves forward into the new year and beyond. Your business plans and strategies must take into account the impacts – both good and bad – the current public health crisis has had on your employees and customers. At the end of the day, your organisation’s success depends on the people and the experiences you deliver internally and externally. If you don’t adjust those experiences based on the new skills and knowledge and the changed expectations and views of employees and customers, you can’t be successful in a post-pandemic world.

That might be pushing ahead plans to add or scale up customer self-service. That might be giving more opportunities and support to employees wanting to work remotely. That might be continuing to utilise digital options for client meetings when possible to decrease your team’s carbon footprint. That might be providing trainings and workshops for employees to improve their stress management and emotional intelligence.

We are collectively past the point of no return. We have experienced too much uncertainty, overcome too many unexpected challenges, developed too many new digital skills and created too many new expectations to be the same as we were prior to this global pandemic. Your organisation needs to acknowledge these changes and leverage them to become a better company.

Keeping the Human Touch in Customer Service is More Important Than Ever

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

At the CCW in Berlin in March, I gave a speech about the human touch in AI. It was about putting your customer in the center of the project, keeping the human expert involved because they know most, AND – not accidentally last in this list – give the responses a personal touch, allow small talk, feedback, etc. as and when it helps to improve the customer experience.

Funnily enough, human touch was one of the big topics at the show. Not for the first time, I found myself telling people that at Creative Virtual we were doing for years what the industry now saw as the latest trend in Bot Building. I know this sounds a little condescending, but nearly 17 years in business creates a fair deal of justified “been there, done that” attitude.

So, after the event I meant to write a blog post about how we add a human touch to the way machines interact with humans.

Since then, times have changed and we are all affected in one way or another, most of us working from home more than ever and spending countless hours in online meetings. The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.

If you have had enough of ‘we have just the right tools for you to go digital’ messages, bear with me because I feel the same and want to go somewhere else.

All the measures taken against COVID-19, be it social distancing, home offices, travel stops or actual lock downs, just made it clearer than ever that it is all about people and here ‘it’ is everything, indeed. Tools to bridge the gap are very important of course, but they are just tools, which must be used to connect people. It starts with having the technology to include escalation into our projects (which we’ve been doing for years 😉 but we always strive to make it easier for the end-customer) and it extends to making sure that the communication with our customers keeps rolling.

I am happy and grateful how well this has worked and how we managed to keep up and sometimes intensify the cooperation. It has certainly helped that we always considered our people our main asset and that everything we do focuses on people, be it our customers or the end-customer interacting with a virtual agent or chatbot.

So, what are my thoughts for Customer Service Week? Keeping the human touch by keeping the human in the loop is more important than ever.

Our latest whitepaper focuses on the importance of the human touch when implementing a chatbot or virtual agent. Download it here to find out why a technology company says that when it comes to selecting a vendor you should forget about the technology.

To our customers: I miss you and I look forward to seeing you in person again!

Customer Service Week Musings: How does a machine know if it’s wrong?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There are many comparisons dealing with the main differences between humans and machines. One of the recurring points is while humans have consciousness and morals, machines can only know what they are programmed to, hence they are not able to distinguish right from wrong unless they are provided data to make decisions based on that information. There have been many discussions on the self-awareness of robots, which is a topic as old as Artificial Intelligence, starting from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, continuing to the Turing test and nowadays AI ethics organisations.

One thing is commonly agreed – bots need to be ‘taught’ morals, and to achieve this there could be two approaches, both having their advantages and disadvantages. The first one contains a loose set of rules, but plenty of space for flexibility; this system could always reply to questions. However, it could also result in many false positives cases and could go wrong on many levels. The other would mean more rules and a narrower approach. The system could answer a limited number of queries, however, with very few or non-false judgements.

What does this mean from the customer service and customer experience (CX) view and for virtual agents answering real time customer queries? If we narrow down our conditions, bots would deliver the right answers at most times. However, they could not recognise many simple questions, making users frustrated. The same can happen with the loose set of conditions: the assistant would easily deliver answers but could misinterpret inputs, resulting again in annoyance.

To solve this problem, we must use a hybrid approach: an AI tool can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs. While we can add our well-established set of rules based on previous data and set a vague network of conditions, the bot will learn day-by-day by discovering new ways of referring to the same products or queries through user interactions. Half of a virtual assistant’s strength is its database, containing these sets of rules. The other half lies within its analytics, which is an often-overlooked feature. What else could be better training for a CX tool than the customers leaving feedback at the very time an answer was delivered? Conversation surveys are not only important to measure the performance of the tool. They are also crucial for our virtual assistants to be able to learn what is wrong and what is right.

Our approach at Creative Virtual to reporting is to follow the trends of ever-changing user behaviour. We offer traditional surveys, which measure if a specific answer was classified as helpful or not by the user and if it saved a call. Sometimes, the specific required action or transaction cannot be performed through self-service options and the customer must make a call, or else, the answer has been slightly overlooked and needs to be updated – for these cases there is a designated comment section, so users can express themselves freely.

We all know from personal experience, that we can’t always be bothered to fill out long or detailed surveys – we are on the go and just want to find the information we were looking for without spending extra time to leave feedback. This is typical user behaviour, and for this we came up with different options for our clients such as star ratings and thumbs up and down, keeping the free text box, to make the rating simpler for users. The solutions deployed are always dependent on the requirements and preferences of our clients, which are in line with the nature of their business and their website design. For example, financial organisations usually go with the traditional options for their customer-facing self-service tools, but internal deployments often have more creative user feedback options.

What if, during a conversation, a virtual assistant delivered the correct answer to five questions, but two answers advised the user to call the customer contact centre and one answer was slightly outdated? Does this rate as an unsuccessful conversation, due to three unhelpful answers? To solve this dilemma, we have End of Conversation Surveys, which ask customers to rate the whole conversation, on a scale to 1-10 and choose what they would have had done without the virtual assistant. As always, there is a free text box for further communication from the customer to the organisation. These surveys show high satisfaction levels as they measure the overall success of the conversation, which can have some flaws (just as in human-to-human interactions), but still can be rated pleasant and helpful.

Let’s take a step further – how can the virtual assistant learn if it was right or wrong if none of these surveys have been taken up by the user? Is this valuable data lost? Our Creative (Virtual) analytics team have levelled up their game and came up with a solution! During voice interactions, such as incoming calls to customer contact centres, there is a straightforward way to understand if the conversation wasn’t successful, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, as the tone might change or the same questions might be repeated. But how can we rate a written communication with our customer? There has been a specific platform developed, which sits on the top of our previously described survey layers. This platform classifies the whole conversation, with a carefully weighed several-factor-system, which can be tailored to our client’s needs, containing factors such as if there has been more than one transaction, whether the last customer input was recognised by the virtual assistant, if there have been negative user responses recorded, etc.. The primary ‘hard’ indicators remain the user-filled surveys, so this is just a nice icing on the cake, as our mature deployments show over 80% of successful conversation rates.

With our proactive approach and multi-layer analytics tool sets, we can be sure that our virtual assistants will learn more and more about what is right and wrong, to increase the customer satisfaction level continuously. However, I think no machine will ever be able to answer all questions correctly, as this would mean that deployments have stopped being fed up-to-date real-life data. Our world is changing rapidly as are our user queries. These cannot be fully predicted ahead, just analysed and reacted to appropriately. As long as AI tools serve customer queries, they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.

As we celebrate Customer Service Week this year, we need to recognise the role customers play in helping to teach our AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants right from wrong and the experts that know how to gather, analyse and incorporate that data to help train those tools. Check out our special buyer’s guide that explains why experience matters for using this hybrid approach to create reliable and always learning bots.

Two Thumbs Up for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Today we kick off the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service, the people who deliver that service and the impact it has on successful business practices. 2020 has brought new customer service challenges for companies and altered the way customers engage with businesses, perhaps forever. Delivering service that gets two thumbs up from customers has been – and continues to be – no easy feat!

This is the fifth year I’ve put together a blog post roundup to start off Customer Service Week, and it might just be the most important one yet. The global pandemic has put digital transformation projects on the fast-track for many organisations, including digital customer service initiatives. Having expert insights, resources and industry stats is important for getting those strategies right. Here are some of the key blog posts on customer support we’ve shared over the past year that can help you with improving and extending the customer service you provide:

  • Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-10 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers – COVID-19 has put organisations under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This three-part blog series explores the business value of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide easy-to-use self-service, starting with supporting customers. Also take a look at Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents and Part 3: Supporting Employees.
  • Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part blog series dives into the real experiences of financial organisations as they took quick action to keep the information they were providing to customers up-to-date during a period of fast-paced changes. They used their existing virtual agent implementations both to analyse customer needs and deliver 24/7 support for better customer service.
  • Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector – Starting in late February and early March, Creative Virtual saw a spike in virtual agent traffic that surpassed anything the company had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By the end of the first week in July, those virtual agents had already recorded about 75% of the total transactions completed the previous year. While some sectors saw a return to more normal usage after the initial spike, the Banking sector continued to see increased usage compared with the first two months of 2020.
  • A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic – In August, AI Time Journal published a new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, exploring the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. The ebook also covered several conversational AI success stories, including one telling how an international financial services group’s virtual agent rose to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.
  • The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters – If you are considering virtual agent or chatbot options and providers, then you will benefit from the expertise of this group of industry insiders. Together they offer 83 years of experience in a field that has only been commercially viable for about two decades. Learn about the six areas of experience that are necessary for the success of a conversational self-help tool.
  • APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies – There has been a shift in the APAC region as an increasing number of organisations look to use AI and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and workload.
  • Hindsight May be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision – Customers are expecting more from the companies they give their business to, and that includes effective service across touchpoints. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.
  • A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture – While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience to avoid frustrating customers with a disjointed, unhelpful experience.
  • Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents – Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Whatever you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. Selecting and deploying the right technology for your company is key to achieving success.
  • Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre – A ContactBabel customer service survey found business leaders agreed that AI will be important to the future of the contact centre. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies to help them support those channels in a better and more cost-effective way.

 

Finding a Clear Path Forward for Digital Customer Experience Priorities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A question that should be easier for companies to answer – and one that has become increasingly important this year: If your customers expect support on digital channels and you aren’t there to provide it, do you lose those customers to competitors who are?

A new survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week with marketers around the world found that, among customer-facing organisations with £50 million or more in annual revenue, 63% of respondents said they observed a “strong trend” of consumers adopting digital features more quickly as a result of COVID-19. An additional 33% saw “some trend’ of this happening.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots certainly experienced this trend, setting a record-breaking spike in usage during the first half of 2020. Using these digital self-service tools gave customers an easy way to find the most up-to-date information quickly during a time when contact centres were struggling with long hold and response times, reduced staffing and rapidly changing situations.

Often this trend towards using digital channels has been linked to Millennials and younger generations. However, the Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey found 40% of participants had observed a “strong trend” and 55% had observed “some trend” towards digital adoption among older consumers. This further highlights the importance of, and makes a stronger case for, digital transformation within organisations.

Regardless of whether this move to digital options is due to customer preference or out of necessity – physical locations closed, contact centres inundated, etc. – smart organisations know they need to pay attention and take action to support customers where they are. Digital customer experience (CX) projects can feel overwhelming – a massive undertaking without a clear path forward – during this time when so much seems overwhelming and uncertain.

Forrester analyst Judy Weader talks about CX prioritisation in a recent blog post as an important way for companies to make sound decisions. Not having a structured, consistent approach to prioritisation can lead to making poor choices on where to apply budget and staff, wasting critical time and under-delivering for customers. To help focus efforts and keep from being overwhelmed, Judy recommends prioritisation of CX improvement projects should be a conscious action, based on fact, and grounded in what matters most.

Some organisations may have actioned decisions quickly as a result of COVID-19, moving forward with digital projects initially thought to be temporary solutions to a temporary situation. Those projects should be re-examined and potentially prioritised as more permanent initiatives. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of digital tools and features, your CX might need more of a digital focus to give them the options and support expected on those channels.

If you are considering adding a chatbot or virtual agent to your list of CX priorities, the on-demand webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents is a useful resource. The webinar covers questions to ask when adding a self-service solution to your digital CX strategy, tips for selecting the right technology and a series of demonstrations showcasing live implementations across a variety of customer touchpoints.

As digital adoption among consumers across all age groups continues to trend upwards, you must take the proper steps to prioritise and focus your efforts to find the best way forward for your company and your customers. If you aren’t providing the digital tools and support customers expect and need, chances are they will leave you for a competitor that does.

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

We are currently living in unprecedented times as countries and communities around the world deal with quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. Businesses and brands of all sizes and across industries face new challenges as offices and physical locations close. For some, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how, and if, they emerge on the other side.

Organisations are now under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This includes the need to answer coronavirus-related questions as well as the usual queries about products, services, policies and procedures. Many are looking to fast-track projects that are already in progress or are re-evaluating strategies to add new projects that can be actioned quickly.

Advancements over the past several years in conversational AI technologies, including chatbots and virtual agents, have made them a go-to solution for providing cost-effective and easy-to-use support on digital channels. They also give organisations the opportunity to get self-service projects both deployed and performing well quickly. By working with an industry vendor that provides a combination of technology and implementation expertise and support, companies don’t need to worry about having that knowledge internally to get started.

When talking about self-service virtual agents, the first use case that usually comes to mind is customer service. That’s the capacity in which these solutions first got their start, but companies shouldn’t overlook the benefits of using this technology within the contact centre to support agents as well as to provide self-service for employees in areas such as HR and IT support. As many companies deal with the sudden switch to supporting a remote workforce, exploring these internal-facing solutions is more important than ever.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll take a closer look at using AI-enhanced virtual agents to support contact centre agents and your employees.

First, let’s explore some benefits of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide self-service for your customers. There are lots of published statistics and success stories that prove the business value of this technology. Here are a few immediate advantages organisations will gain from deploying an AI-enhanced chatbot or virtual agent to support customers in the current uncertain situation:

  • Available 24/7 – For much of the population, the usual daily routine has flown out the window as we transition to working remotely, home schooling our children and supporting more vulnerable members of our family and neighbourhoods. Having to keep track of your company’s contact centre hours is one of the last things your customers want to have to do. A virtual agent gives them instant access to the information and support they need at any time of the day or night, and without the need to find a quiet place to have a phone conversation with a real person.
  • Up-to-date information – Things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world as governments issue new instructions for businesses and leadership teams adjust policies and procedures to keep customers and employees safe. Quality virtual agent solutions enable a quick update of the tool’s content so customers can access the most up-to-date information available. The technology can also enable you to deliver customised information based on factors such as location to provide tailored answers to customers.
  • Relieve pressure from live agents – Contact centres are being overwhelmed with calls, live chats, emails and social posts from customers as COVID-19 related questions are added to the usual mix of regular queries. By adding a conversational self-service solution, companies can relieve some of that pressure from contact centre agents by giving customers another option. A virtual agent can successfully engage with an unlimited number of users at the same time and frees up live agents to assist customers with more complex issues or who want to talk with an agent.

For organisations new to the idea of deploying a virtual agent or those who are unsure how to take the first step, destinationCRM’s Best Practices Series on How to Select a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for Your Self-Service Project is a great place to start. It outlines actionable tips on selecting a solution that will positively impact your customer care.

Coming up in Part 2 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a deeper dive into using a virtual agent as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents. And in Part 3, we’ll take a look at how the technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce by giving employees reliable self-service options. I will also share my top recommendations for getting new virtual agent projects deployed quickly and upgrading existing tools that aren’t performing well.

Ready to get started on your self-service project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.

A Partnership for Industry-Leading Voicebot Solutions

By Gary Williams, Director of Sales and Consultancy UK and Ireland, Spitch

When Mandy Reed invited me to do a guest blog, I was quite honoured and of course jumped at the chance, so Thank You once again Mandy. The significance of this post is that it coincides with the announcement of a partnership between Creative Virtual and Spitch, something that I am very proud of to say the least.

…but just who on earth are Spitch I hear you say …

So, for those of you, like me, who hate overblown corporate presentations, here is the miniaturised version:

  • 6 years old, HQ in Zurich with offices in Milan, London, Madrid and Moscow
  • Technology – Speech Recognition, A.I., NLP/ NLU, Voice Analytics, Voice Biometrics
  • Solution areas – Omnichannel, self-service, IVR call steering, compliance monitoring, voice identification and much much more
  • Cloud-based OR on-premise (Spitch OR partner hosted)
  • High level, easy-to-use full suite of development tools
  • Multi-language support

That’s just a flavour, but I hope you’ve taken it all in as I will be asking questions later! 🙂

Of course, a glance through the above resume will show that we are a business focused on delivering solutions based upon speech recognition technology and although the word ‘synergy’ is overused in this day and age, it exists in abundance between our two companies. Both are strong innovators who constantly drive their businesses to provide solutions which are simple to use but packing a punch in terms of ability to solve real world business problems whilst delighting the end users – that magical CX factor that so many companies drone on about but few manage to harness with their offerings.

“Sweet Sixteen” was how Chris Ezekiel recently referred to Creative Virtual’s latest anniversary and what a sweet sixteen it has turned out to be with significant numbers of high-profile customers and accolades to match along its path to success. Spitch is young by comparison but already punching way above its weight with some customer profiles that even our largest competitors would be more than proud to showcase. What we lack in years of existence as a company we can more than compensate for – sadly – in age. Joking aside, many of the team having racked up half a lifetime of experience in aspects of speech technology including business, support, development and R&D.

Hopefully by now you’ve got the gist of my tone that I am very excited about this partnership and looking forward to working with Chris, Liam, Mandy and the wider team.  The same is echoed from the Spitch side who are very keen to get fully engaged on the opportunities that have already started to emerge.  Watch this space…

Check out our V-Person™ and Spitch integration overview to learn more about how we’re bringing our technologies together to deliver industry-leading voicebot solutions.