Posts

Building a Cohesive Virtual Agent and Live Chat Solution

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Virtual agents. Live chat. Some of you may remember the days when companies wanting to implement customer support on their website believed they had to make a decision: either a virtual agent or live chat; either automated self-service or human-assisted web chat.

This was the common thinking a decade ago when Creative Virtual integrated their virtual agent deployment for a leading telecommunication’s company in the UK with live chat, creating a seamless handover for users within the same template. Around the same time, an online financial services company in the US collaborated with Creative Virtual to add a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents. Both of these companies were very forward-thinking in their approach to combining these technologies.

Now in 2022, virtual agents and live chat are seen as complementary tools instead of rival solutions. In fact, it’s become best practice to integrate the two in order to improve digital customer support. In the recent webinar ‘Deploy Chatbots to Meet Self-Service Demands’, Gartner analysts talked about the importance of seamlessly escalating customers from virtual agent to live chat agent to create positive, cohesive service experiences.

Instead of a conversation about which of the two technology options to implement, organisations are having discussions about how to incorporate both into their digital customer experience (CX) strategies. Companies that have already done so are seeing a variety of benefits to both their customer and agent experiences, including:

  • Customers are always supported with 24/7 access to self-service even outside of live chat hours or when all live agents are busy.
  • The most common questions are answered by the virtual agent, reducing the overall number of live chat contacts and the need for agents to answer simple, repetitive questions.
  • Virtual agents do the discovery work and pass a complete history of the customer’s conversation to the chat agent, creating a seamless experience for both user and agent.

Adding a virtual agent to an existing live chat deployment

If you already have live chat available to customers and are ready to add a virtual agent, you can jumpstart the project with transcripts from those conversations. By analysing your live chat transcripts, the virtual agent vendor can identify which questions can be answered without human involvement. This analysis can also identify the percentage of live chats that can be deflected with successful automation. It can assist you with identifying key metrics and help build your business case.

Many traditional live chat providers are now offering virtual agents and chatbots as an add-on solution. Unfortunately, often these vendors maintain their focus on driving usage of live agent support. Because of this, the functionality of their virtual agent tools is limited. It’s also not unusual for them to use a pricing structure for self-service that’s similar to their live chat, such as charging by transaction. This makes the virtual agent both poor performing and expensive.

Self-service tools from virtual agent-first vendors deliver better user experiences and more reasonable pricing models. A sophisticated conversational AI platform will support integration with a variety of different live chat providers. This means you can deploy a highly functional virtual agent with seamless handover to your existing live chat solution, providing both successful self-service and easy escalation to human-assisted support.

Adding live chat to an existing virtual agent deployment

If you already have a virtual agent available to customers and want to add handover to live chat, you should start by talking with your virtual agent vendor about your options. Confirm that your existing conversational AI platform supports integration with live chat to handover users within the same template and pass a full conversation history to the live agent. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to find a better virtual agent solution.

Ideally, you’ll already have both a virtual agent platform with flexible integration options and a vendor you trust with expert insights. If they offer their own live chat product, explore that option first. Ask them about their integration experiences with different live chat providers and how their joint solution is better. Ask them for live examples of other similar deployments and for existing client references to get additional insights.

You can use your virtual agent transcripts and metrics to assist with setting up custom rules and triggers for users to be escalated from self-service to live chat. How users have engaged with your virtual agent should inform the set-up of live chat to ensure you are adding it in a way that will deliver the best experience possible for your customers.

Adding both a virtual agent and live chat or changing providers

If you need both virtual agent and live chat technologies, begin your selection process with the virtual agent. Customer engagements will start with your virtual agent, so you want to ensure you are delivering a positive self-service experience even if escalation to a live agent is necessary. A ‘bad’ virtual agent frustrates users and makes the job of your live chat agents even more difficult.

Use the advice shared above and in this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for selecting a virtual agent platform. If you have an existing virtual agent, either live or in-progress but never deployed, be sure to ask how a new vendor can reuse it so you don’t lose that investment. If you have live chat or contact centre transcripts, also ask about using an analysis of those to jumpstart a new virtual agent.

Then once you have found the conversational AI platform that best fits your organisation and goals, explore the live chat technologies that integrate well with your virtual agent choice. Use the expertise of the virtual agent vendor to help with your selection. They will know from experience which live chat systems deliver the greatest results for your industry, use case, etc. when integrated with their self-service tools. Test some existing joint deployments and talk to other companies using both technologies about their experiences.

Developments in conversational AI over the past decade have enabled a more seamless integration of automated self-service and human-assisted support. With the right technologies, organisations can take advantage of these advancement to deliver improved end-to-end experiences for both customers and agents. Cohesive, convenient customer service is key to building brand loyalty and reducing customer churn. It can provide real business value today and give you a solid foundation for the future.

Gen Z and your Customer Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When it comes to your customer service strategy, does age matter? Do you make decisions about how and where you deliver support based on the generations of your target customers? Are you planning for the expectations of younger customers as they gain more buying power over the next few years?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are doing your company and your customer base a huge disservice. You are opening the door to your competitors and welcoming them in to steal your customers away. You are missing out on a prime opportunity to put your customer service efforts on the path to future success.

Customer service and CX expert, Shep Hyken recently published his 2022 ACA Study: Achieving Customer Amazementdownload a full copy of the report here – which explores the state of customer service and customer experience. For the study, a 26-question survey was completed by consumers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 65. The report breaks down generational responses into the following groups: Gen Z (ages 18-25); Millennials (ages 26-44); Gen X (ages 45-56); Boomers (ages 57-65).

One important question asked in the survey focused on the future of customer service. Participants were asked: Which of the following customer service experiences do you expect to be essential to you in the near future, 3-5 years?

2022 ACA Study

The report called out these two important stats:

  • In the next three to five years, non-human customer service will be more essential.
  • In the next three to five years, older generations expect 24/7 availability, online chat, human interactions only, and never being put on hold or transferred more than younger generations. Younger generations expect mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options more than older generations.

The finding that non-human customer service is becoming more important doesn’t come as a surprise. This has been a growing trend, especially over the past decade, as access to and the use of more technology has increased across age groups. Digital literacy has also improved greatly in the past few years, partly due to necessity as public health concerns have reduced in-person activities during the pandemic.

This is important for organizations to remember as they develop and tweak their customer support strategies for the next few years. Human interactions are still essential to a positive experience, of course. However, it will become increasingly essential for the human parts of your customer service to be linked with the non-human pieces in a way that creates consistency across your business.

More significant for the future of your customer support strategy is the second key stat highlighted in this part of the survey. If your company has customers across older and younger generations, then your strategy for the near future must take into account the preferences of both groups. However, the expectations of Gen Z and Millennials are where your focus should be as you plan for the long-term.

Younger generations selecting mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options as essential over the next three to five years reflects a crucial change in customer preferences. The evolution of preferences towards mobile and digital-first has been happening for years, particularly as smartphones have become a key part of everyday life. These preferences aren’t a passing fad. They indicate the expectations that will be placed on your customer service tools and engagements as younger generations of customers gain more buying power.

The survey also delved into current self-service usage, finding 71% of respondents use self-service tools. When asked more specifically ‘When you have a problem or issue with a company or brand, which solution do you prefer to help solve your problem?’, 49% of Gen Z participants and 41% of Millennials said they would use a digital self-service option rather than make a call to talk to a live customer service agent. These percentages were significantly higher than Gen X and Boomers, further reflecting the generational shift towards self-service.

Now is the time for every company to examine how self-service currently fits into their customer support strategy and what steps are needed to plan for self-service success in the future. Keep in mind that younger generations don’t just want self-service options, but rather are coming to expect intuitive self-service. More advanced technologies like conversational AI deliver the capabilities you need to create those self-service experiences.

Investments in these types of solutions can sound risky, but the real risk is in not making changes to your customer service approach now. The survey results shared in this report reinforce the need to take actions that not only create positive experiences now but lay the groundwork for successfully meeting the expectations of Gen Z in the future.

Download The 2022 ACA Study from Shep Hyken’s website for more insights on customer preferences and habits.

Also check out the three steps in Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to be a Risky Investment for tips to help get you started on creating proven, reliable, and intuitive self-service tools.

How to Make Your Chatbot More Conversational

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When customers use your chatbot to self-serve, what kind of experience do you deliver? Does your chatbot need questions asked a particular way to return the correct response? Do your customers have to guess the correct keywords to enter or know specific terminology to locate the right information? Are users repeatedly told by your chatbot to try rephrasing an input that doesn’t have a direct match in the system?

All of these scenarios provide a frustrating, negative self-service experience. They often lead to an escalation to a live chat session or a call to the contact centre for resolution, meaning your support agents are left to deal with the immediate impacts of that poor experience. With digital self-service such an important piece of customer support, a chatbot with these limited capabilities is detrimental to the success of your customer experience (CX) strategy.

This is why using a high-quality conversational AI technology to build your chatbot is so important. You want your chatbot to engage with users conversationally. That isn’t possible with basic bot platforms which act more like simple FAQ tools or don’t give you options for backend integrations.

Engaging ‘conversationally’ doesn’t mean that a goal of your chatbot should be to make users think they are chatting with a real person. It’s always best to be clear that it is an automated self-service tool. Customers appreciate transparency about whether they are using a human-assisted or automated digital support option. The last thing you want to do is make them feel tricked!

Here are a few ways to create the right conversational engagement through your chatbot:

  • Create a conversational tone – Just because you aren’t trying to make users think they are talking to a real person doesn’t mean that you must make your chatbot’s responses sound stiff and bland. Craft your responses using a conversational tone that reflects your brand and has the same type of language you use on your website and in customer communications.
  • Understand free text inputs – There is more than one way to ask the same question, and in a conversation both participants understand this. Ensure your chatbot is trained to respond to the various ways users can word an input rather than requiring a specific keyword or phrase. This includes taking into account both common synonyms for your language and region as well as those for your particular industry, products, and services. And on occasions when a user’s input can’t be confidently matched to a response and the chatbot asks for the question to be rephrased, also offer some clickable suggestions or possible related FAQs to improve the experience.
  • Craft conversation flows – Adding customised conversation flows enables your chatbot to guide users through a process step-by-step in a very natural, conversational way. These flows are perfect for troubleshooting account or device issues, completing a form with the chatbot, or pinpointing a very specific piece of information to assist the customer.
  • Deliver personalised support – Integrate your chatbot with backend systems so it can provide customised responses based on that customer’s current account, subscriptions, orders, etc. Using sophisticated slot-filling functionality also enables users to authenticate within the chatbot at any time to create a seamless and more personal conversation.

The best conversational AI technology for customer support chatbots uses a blend of machine learning and natural language rules. This lets you take advantage of recent innovations in machine learning so your chatbot is constantly improving based on your users’ activities. At the same time, it gives you control over the AI so you can ensure your chatbot is using those learnings to continue providing accurate, reliable responses in a conversational way.

If you currently have a chatbot that’s failing the conversational test, check out this eBook on Conversational AI Issues & Solutions for ways to improve your solution.

If you don’t have a customer service chatbot yet and are concerned about choosing the right conversational AI technology, check out this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for some insider expert tips.

A chatbot can be a valuable self-service option for your customers, but it must be backed by a high-quality conversational AI technology – with an emphasis on conversational.

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.

#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?

Digital CX Challenge: Humanising Your Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

For as long as virtual agents and chatbots have been used by companies to provide customer self-service, they have been criticised for removing the human touch from interactions and taking away the opportunity to build an emotional connection with customers. While some organisations have used that as a reason for not providing automated tools for customer service, they are now facing the reality that more and more customers want – and expect – self-service solutions. This is putting more pressure on organisations than ever before as they try to figure out how to bring together self-service with the human element.

On 3rd October, a new event is coming to London that is focused specifically on this challenge. The Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference is a one-day event being held at the Museum of London Docklands. Creative Virtual is proud to be an event sponsor, and Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel will present a session titled ‘Conversational AI & the Human Touch’. As someone with many years of experience working with enterprise executives and industry experts, Chris understands the challenges companies face when implementing self-service as part of their digital customer experience strategies:

“This conference is addressing an important aspect of today’s customer experience – keeping the human element even as organisations transition to more digital and self-service solutions. Offering intelligent chatbot and virtual agent tools should never mean a removal of humans from your customer service and support strategy.”

During his presentation, Chris will share industry research and live demonstrations as he explores best practices for combining conversational AI and self-service with the human touch for a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. He’ll help attendees gain a better understanding of:

  • Current challenges companies face when implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat
  • Reasons why conversational AI and self-service solutions need a combination of self-learning and human input
  • Tips for selecting, deploying and maintaining successful digital self-service tools

More information and a full copy of the event programme can be found on the Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference website. As an event sponsor, Creative Virtual is able to offer our blog readers a discount on tickets – use code Partner150 when booking your pass online.

If you’re unable to attend the event or just want to learn more about how you can bring together humans, AI and self-service in a way that creates reliability and consistency for your organisation and your customers, request a live demo with a member of our expert team.

Digital Growth Around the World

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It seems like everyone is talking about ‘digital’ these days – digital assistants, digital data, digital marketing, digital art, digital footprint. We’re increasingly reliant on digital devices – smartphone addiction, anyone? – and the need to be constantly connected. On a flight recently, there was a passenger a few seats away from me having a mini-meltdown because the onboard WiFi wouldn’t be available for the entire flight.

According to the Global Digital 2019 reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite, the digital world shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the number of internet users around the world is growing by an average of more than one million new users every day! The research, published earlier this year, reports a 9.1% increase from last year, bringing the number of internet users to 4.388 billion. In areas like Northern Europe and North America, 95% of the population are online.

2019 internet users

It’s likely no surprise that of those internet users, 84% searched online for a product or service to buy, 91% visited an online retail store on the web and 75% purchased a product or service online. The growing number of mobile users (up 100 million from last year) is reflected in the fact that 55% of internet users had made an online purchase via a mobile device while only 42% had done so from a laptop or desktop computer.

With so many consumers researching and purchasing goods and services online, it’s important for companies to provide the right service and support online as well. According to Frost & Sullivan, US companies are losing more than $83 billion annually due to poor customer experiences. On the flip side, they also found that 74% of customers have spent more with a business due to a history of good service.

Organisations everywhere are taking on digital transformation projects and searching for the best way to join up digital channels with more traditional customer contact channels. Implementing and executing successful digital customer experience (CX) initiatives is crucial for companies, particularly those in regions where a majority of the population are internet users. Offering a seamless and efficient CX that delivers consistent and reliable information to consumers regardless of whether they self-serve or talk to a contact centre agent has a direct impact on a business’ bottom line. Companies must also consider the popularity of other touchpoints, such as messenger apps and smart speakers, with their target customers as they evolve their digital strategies. Some organisations like Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds, are using a virtual agent across multiple channels – including Google Home – to successfully engage a customer base of digital natives.

57% of the world’s population are now online, and the number of internet users is growing every day. Is your organisation positioned to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world?

2019 digital world