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Can Conversational AI Make Your CX More Human and Empathetic?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

For years automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents have been criticised as being a cold and impersonal way of supporting customers. Opponents of these conversational AI solutions claim they remove the human touch from the customer experience and keep companies from being able to build real relationships with their customers.

As conversational AI technologies have improved and customer preferences have shifted more towards self-service options, some of these critiques have become less relevant. Certainly, over the past two years with the pandemic making in-person interactions less possible or desirable, there has been a significant uptick in the acceptance and expectation of digital support. Many companies have found their virtual agent solutions to be a lifesaver for both their customers and their business over that time.

Yet, it’s also clear that technology can’t fully replace the need for real human interactions. No matter how advanced and integrated your conversational AI tool may be, some support issues are best handled by a contact centre agent. And some consumers will always prefer to talk to a human even when self-service options are available. Any conversational AI vendor worth their salt will never advocate for their technology to completely remove the human from the experience for these reasons.

In addition to the push to digital, the pandemic has also brought a crushing load of personal and professional stresses for your customers – financial concerns, deaths of loved ones, long-term health issues – added on top of their usual day-to-day stresses. This has made the human interactions they have with your company even more significant and potentially challenging for your employees and agents.

Gartner has predicted that by 2026, 75% of customers who call customer service and support will do so because of loneliness, and not because they have an actual service issue. That alone will have a massive impact on your contact centre. It further highlights the fact that you need to equip your agents and employees with the right tools and training to properly support vulnerable customers.

Unfortunately, for some businesses all this compounds an already existing struggle to properly assist vulnerable customers. Recently someone I know tragically lost everything in a house fire – thankfully she, her dogs, and her neighbours are all fine! Most of her interactions with her utility companies were fast, smooth, and empathetic. However, the call she had with one provider was horrible and made an experience that was already traumatic even worse. After a 45-minute wait to connect to an agent, she was pressured to pause her service (at a monthly cost) even after being clear she wanted to cancel, told she had to go into the house to recover their equipment (or be charged for it) despite her saying everything in the house was a total loss, and pushed for a new address for them to send her final bill even though her account had been on autopay for 10 years.

It was very clear that this agent did not have the proper training or tools to deal with a customer needing assistance after a catastrophic loss. This company missed the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with a long-standing customer through a supportive, empathetic human interaction. Instead, they have both lost a previously loyal customer and delivered an experience so bad that she’s shared it with her family, friends, and followers on social media.

One of the CX trends Gartner has identified for executive leaders in 2022 is increasing the capability for customer empathy at all levels of the organisation. For some companies, a focus on trust and empathy is long overdue. For others, this is already a priority and part of the internal culture.

In fact, some forward-thinking companies are using conversational AI to make their customer interactions more human and empathetic.

Conversational AI solutions designed specifically for the contact centre have been creating better experiences and improving agent performance for years. A perfect example of this is Motability Operations, an organisation in the UK that provides cars, wheelchairs, and scooters to more than 630,000 customers with severe disabilities. They have used a virtual agent tool in their contact centre since 2007 to support their advisors taking incoming calls. They have won numerous awards and recognitions over the years for their tool, including a 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Award.

The judges selected Motability Operations because their “approach to knowledge management builds trust and supports effective conversations, getting it ‘right first time’, optimising call length and – above all – helping advisors give customer confidence.” The conversational AI tool gives every agent in the contact centre access to all the information at their fingertips, so they don’t need to worry about how they are going to find the right answer. Instead, their focus can be on listening to the caller and engaging with them in a human and empathic way.

Virtual agent solutions are also helping other company employees outside of the contact centre improve their human interactions with customers. Some organisations have deployed internal conversational AI tools to give employees easy access to information on products, services, and processes. With the right integrations, these tools can even allow employees to submit forms, check on account information, and update orders all in one place.

One major financial services group, after seeing the benefits of using internal virtual agents for years, deployed a new conversational AI solution designed to help employees provide specialist support for potentially vulnerable customers. Employees can use search terms such as ‘job loss’, ‘autism’, and ‘anxiety’ to access tips on how to support the customer’s needs sensitively and effectively. The tool also includes a glossary and links to practical and helpful resources.

Think about how much better my friend’s interaction would have been after the traumatic loss of her home if the agent she spoke with had access to that kind of conversational AI tool. A quick search for ‘house fire’ could have provided him with the proper questions to ask and special accommodations that could be made for a customer in that situation to create a supportive, empathic experience at such a vulnerable time.

As your organisation works to increase customer empathy this year and provide better support for vulnerable customers, consider how conversational AI technology can help you do that. Instead of removing the human touch from your CX, conversational AI can make your engagements with customers more human and empathic.

Being Grateful in a Year of Challenges

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As we say goodbye to this year, we can all agree that 2020 has brought us a wide range of unexpected situations and challenges, affecting both personal and business life. This period of the year is a great time to reflect and, even though this year seems to be gloomy and simultaneously flying by and lasting forever, we still need to find reasons to stay positive and be grateful.

Many, if not all, self-improvement books, practises and lectures emphasize the importance of expressing gratitude and looking for the silver lining in whatever challenges we might face. According to Dr David Hamilton, some of the many benefits of gratitude are –

  • Good for mental health – People who were asked to list blessings were around 25% happier, compared to people who were asked to list hassles and annoyances.
  • Helps counter stress – Gratitude switches our focus and helps us notice more of the good things in life. This effect also comes in handy when we can’t get to sleep, as counting blessings (not sheep!) helps relax us.
  • Makes us feel less lonely and more connected – During these times of lockdown and self-isolation, practising gratitude can make us feel more connected and part of life as a whole. It also increases our sense of belonging in the world.

Sadly, furlough, reduced hours and redundancy have become a part of our everyday vocabulary in 2020, which can make it hard for us to stay positive. Yet, there are things to be grateful for. At Creative Virtual, our sense of community is more important than ever, hence we made a small survey to see what we are grateful for as a team:

1. We are grateful for our customers and the ability to be able to help them.

Many of us expressed a sense of purpose at work. With our reports and client feedback, we can clearly see how our tools can improve the customer experience, save calls and direct users to the best sources to self-serve. We have long term personal relationships with our customers which really makes a difference.

‘I am grateful that our jobs have always been able to help other companies help their clients at a really difficult time.’

‘I’m grateful for the messages of thanks we’ve received from our customers this year expressing their gratitude for the ways Creative Virtual team members made their jobs easier when so much else was harder than usual.’

 

2. We are grateful for our creative work.

Due to our close relationships with our clients and solutions, our approach is very responsive to sudden changes from the real world of customer inputs and there is a great deal of collaboration with our key contact people, often on a daily basis. Ad-hoc reporting requests, queries, urgent updates, new templates and functionalities are all part of our days, making the day-to-day work dynamic and variable.

‘I am grateful for the fun of never knowing what updates or emails I will get – days are colourful and not repetitive.’

 ‘I am grateful for working in an area that is technical, creative and challenging. Every day at work is a joy.’

 

3. We are grateful for our local and global team.

We are a good bunch of quirky people, and no one feels to be left alone with a task, because we know we can always rely on each other. We had loads of Creative Virtual live streams during the spring involving our global team, when we could learn more about each other in an interactive way. Our team is truly multinational and across the globe. I love to be Slacking with my colleagues who are based in the US, Australia, India or in a different country in Europe!

‘I’m grateful to have such a lovely bunch of supportive colleagues and managers.  Everyone’s willing to share their knowledge and help out when needed. Teamwork really does make the dream work!!’

‘I am grateful to be working for and with such an awesome team. Everyone has a lot of experience and know-how. I truly enjoy working with them.’

 

This was our quick ‘what we are grateful for list’ at Creative Virtual, with final thoughts from our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel:

As we enter the Christmas season, it’s always a good time to reflect. We all look forward to a New Year and hopefully a way out of this awful pandemic. It’s been amazing to see our Creative Virtual team working hard to support our customers and partners during these difficult times. Teamwork is our strength and has brought us through 2020. I’m very proud to be leading such a wonderful team and look forward to raising a virtual glass and having some fun with them all during this festive season!

 

Here’s to a new habit of practising gratitude on a daily basis for a more positive new year!

What are You Doing to Deal with Stress?

By Rachael Needham, Head of Delivery Management

A key to good relations with our (yours and mine) clients is dealing with stress. When we’re negatively stressed or stressed out, we are less likely to be friendly, come up with creative solutions, or handle difficult situations well.

There is lots of great information about stress and handling it, so this is just a little reminder and snapshot of stress and handling it. Let’s take a look!

1. Is stress good or bad?

It’s both. There is stress that gets you up and going, which is good. However, bad stress is distress. It impacts you physically as well as mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and just about any another “ally” you can think of.

2. The physical impact of stress

Stress sets off inflammation in the body, stomachaches, headaches, and a long list of other issues. The biggest cause of inflammation in the body is from stress. The physical impacts can lead to illness, fatigue, brain fog, etc. And what happens when we have physical issues?

3. The psychological impact of stress

What affects us physically affects us psychologically, and vice versa. Studies show that just one night of poor sleep impacts our reaction time while driving and our decision making. Negative stress will have a knock-on effect as we work with colleagues and clients. Negative stress can sneak up on us, and begin impacting our decisions, words, and interactions, which can cause smaller issues to become escalations. Escalations create more stress and may draw others into negative stress, compounding issues by triggering stress motivated reactions.

4. Simple Solutions

There are lots of solutions for dealing with stress. Sometimes the smallest changes to your regular routine can have a major impact. Which of these things could you start doing for yourself?

  • Go to bed 30 minutes early a few nights a week
  • Walk barefoot in the grass once a week / month
  • Bounce on an exercise ball / on a trampoline / in place for 5-15 minutes a day
  • Stop looking at your phone / watching TV an hour before going to bed
  • Take a pharmaceutical grade, bio-available, quality nutritional
  • Eat a fresh salad / avocado twice a week (or an additional time if you’re already great about consuming veggies)
  • Chat with a trusted friend or co-worker
  • Take two 15-minute breaks a week to breathe / pray / meditate
  • Read a book on personal development / techniques to handle stress
  • Meet with a therapist
  • Watch a funny video that will make you laugh out loud

stress less

If you’re dealing with high negative stress and feel like it’s more than you can handle, please reach out to a doctor or professional counselor who is willing to look at both your physical and mental health.

 

Here’s to a great life ahead as you pursue stress-free health and supporting customers and clients from a place of wellbeing!