Posts

Content Repositories and Party Menus Mean Nothing if You Aren’t Serving Your Guests at the Right Time

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding, a surprise birthday party, or a family reunion knows how difficult it can be to get everyone and everything involved coordinated. All the pieces are interconnected, and good communication is essential to putting your plan into action. Often, even seemingly small details can be key in making sure all the moving parts are in sync.

The same is true for customer service strategies. Those that achieve real success are part of a bigger customer experience (CX) approach that is designed to create an integrated, coordinated strategy. Every piece is important and must be linked together to create a cohesive, seamless experience.

Within many companies, the digital customer service experience has evolved slowly and separately from other pieces of the support puzzle, such as the contact centre. For many years, when having a static set of FAQs on a website was enough for online self-service, organisations could get away with that siloed approach. Today that’s not the case. Customers expect a connected and more sophisticated digital service experience.

It’s not unusual for companies, especially large enterprises, to struggle with delivering an integrated customer support experience. Often, they have many of the pieces they need but aren’t sure how to link those pieces – or silos – together.

A good example is an organisation that has built up a robust content repository to house all of their customer help information. This was an important step in their journey to create a more consistent experience because it established a single place for them to manage content. They even enabled visitors to their website to leverage this repository by adding a simple search tool on the help page.

Now the company acknowledges that forcing users to scroll through a list of search results and read through long information articles is not delivering the online self-service experience they want to give existing and prospective customers. It’s the same as selecting a caterer and deciding on a menu for your party, but not making arrangements for the food to be delivered to the right venue at the right time. Despite all the effort you put into the food, you end up with a poor experience – and hungry guests! – because you haven’t put together the pieces of the puzzle behind the scenes.

Rob Foster, Knowledgebase Engineer and a conversational AI expert, shares a way to deliver a better self-service experience with a virtual agent that utilises an existing repository of help content. He explains:

“If you already have an existing content repository in use, consider integrating with it rather than spending time transferring all the data to a separate knowledgebase. With this option, your virtual agent recognises the user intent and makes an API call to retrieve the relevant information directly from the repository. This simplifies content management for you because you aren’t juggling multiple systems. It helps ensure accuracy because when content is updated in the repository, the changes are instantly reflected in the virtual agent. The integration also removes the danger of having conflicting information between the virtual agent and other online help pages since everything is managed in a single place.”

In 2017, a large Telecommunications Company took their first steps to do just this. They had already invested in an Oracle Knowledgebase that housed about 3,000 information articles. They wanted to provide a better user experience for their online help by adding a virtual agent to their website but did not want to move or replicate their help content. Their solution was to set a challenge as part of their conversational AI vendor selection process: 24 hours to build a working integration with their existing content repository.

You can find more details about that 24-hackathon and how their conversational AI solution currently works in the full Customer Success Story. Their approach is saving them an estimated £3 million per year from reductions in support calls and delivering better insights into their customer needs. It is also helping them make the most of their CX investments by linking up the pieces of their customer service strategy for a consistent, seamless experience.

You wouldn’t let your party guests go hungry, so why would you let your website visitors struggle to find information you could easily serve to them with the right tools?

Successful Conversational AI: Blending Machine Learning & Human Intelligence, Part 2

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In February ISG, a leading global technology research and advisory firm, published their ‘ISG Provider Lens™ Intelligent Automation – Solutions & Services’ report. The report evaluates 19 conversational AI vendors against a set of market-driven criteria and places Creative Virtual firmly in the Leader category within the quadrant.

Recently I joined Mrinal Rai, Principal Analyst at ISG, and Jan Erik Aase, Partner and Global Head – ISG Provider Lens, for a discussion on conversational AI over Zoom. In my last post I shared Part 1 of our nearly half hour chat. During the first part of the discussion, Mrinal shared why ISG identified Creative Virtual as an industry leader in their report. Jan Erik and I also discussed current conversational AI trends as well as the evolving role of contact centre agents. You can watch Part 1 here.

In Part 2 of our discussion (scroll down to watch the video), Jan Erik and I address two more questions:

  • What are the biggest barriers organisations face when it comes to building, deploying, and maintaining successful projects?
  • What impact has the pandemic had on the implementation and usage of conversational AI tools?

One key barrier to success that we explore is not having a team with the right skills and experience. Often organisations try to tackle conversational AI projects internally with a lack of knowledge and a toolset that doesn’t enable them to scale the solution to different channels, additional departments, etc. or support enough users simultaneously as the project expands. This sets the whole project up for failure. When it comes to conversational AI, knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.

Jan Erik and I also touch on issues some projects face when integration points and APIs aren’t readily available or accessible. Creating a personalised, omnichannel support experience really needs the conversational AI tool to be properly integrated with other systems. The contact centre not being a part of the organisation’s digital strategy is another common barrier we encounter. This is starting to change, but until company structures are more joined up in this regard, we’ll continue to see this as a widespread challenge.

The need to have the contact centre as part of the digital strategy was highlighted over the past year by the pandemic. We saw record traffic to our virtual agents and chatbots in 2020 as customers turned to online self-service for quick answers to their questions. For many of the organisations we work with, having a well-established conversational AI solution was a lifesaver as their contact centres dealt with an overwhelming volume of calls at the same time as new public health measures designed to keep agents safe.

Having a human-in-the-loop combined with machine learning gave our customers the ability to change responses within their virtual agent quickly, safely, and securely so they could deliver reliable, up-to-date information. In fact, one of our customers found that updating their virtual agent was quicker and easier than updating content on their website. Their contact centre recognised that the virtual agent was helping to reduce call volumes and proactively provided feedback and new content to add based on incoming calls from customers.

Check out Part 2 of our ‘Successful Conversational AI: Blending Machine Learning & Human Intelligence’ discussion:

 

My next post will take a look at Part 3 of our session where we discuss setting goals and identifying KPIs for conversational AI projects. In the meantime, be sure to download your copy of the ISG Provider Lens™ – Conversational AI Quadrant Report.

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.

Setting Course for Success in 2021: It’s all about people and relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Happy New Year!

We all know how tough things have been, and indeed continue to be, with a lot of uncertainty still. And the festive period was very different for everyone. But a new year brings new hope, and we can see the dawn of the vaccines rising above the horizon. I’m sure 2021 will be remembered as the year that we defeated this awful pandemic. Hats off to the remarkable scientists, their teams and the vaccine trial volunteers! Whilst we reflect on the devastating suffering and loss of life, let’s hope that some of the good things, like the renewed community spirit, stay with us forever.

On the one hand we are reminded of the vulnerability of human life when there’s no defence against a virus wreaking global havoc, and on the other hand we have come so far considering the incredible vaccine progress and comparing that with other pandemics over the centuries. Education and curiosity are what drives human endeavour. When you consider the world’s greatest inventions and advancements, whether it’s been down to lone genius or collaboration and teamwork, one thing is for sure: the education and business environment needs to be right to enable such individuals and teams to flourish.

It’s been a tough period for every organisation. At Creative Virtual we are very fortunate to have fantastic customers and partners, and it’s been truly incredible how everyone has pulled together. When I founded Creative Virtual 17 years ago, I put long term relationships at the centre of our Creative Virtual DNA and taking a longer-term view on things has never been more important than this past year.

Whether it’s about the company or helping in the community, it all comes down to the people. I’m so proud to lead a company with so many amazing people! Teamwork has certainly been the operative word this past year! We talk about the importance of our people in our ‘Focus on Experience’ whitepaper. Innovation is another key characteristic of our company, and during the past year we have been investing significantly in the next generation of our products.

Governments around the world have had to put unprecedented amounts of money into supporting economies. Eventually, the books will need to be balanced, but we owe it to the generations to come to maintain a healthy environment where our scientists and innovators can flourish.

As we embark on a new year, let’s celebrate the quirky ones who dare to try new and unconventional things. And let’s remember that quite often we need to fail before we can succeed. Let’s support individuals and businesses that are changing the world for the betterment of mankind. That would be a fitting legacy to the pandemic of 2020.

Onwards to 2021! Happy New Year!

The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director & Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

Whitepapers are designed to be plain-speaking and informative documents spanning an array of subjects. At Creative Virtual, whitepapers are not created too often as they hold a special place in our repository of resources since they offer information that stays valid for a much longer time than other documents. We write them as valuable reference points which can be reviewed when required.

We take great pleasure in introducing this newly created whitepaper from Creative Virtual as it has a lot of straight talk about one of our favourite subjects: user experience in the realm of self-help tools. The insight and intel our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience contains spans the width and breadth of the company: sales, marketing, technical and not least the operations team, some of who contributed by submitting their hottest and most relevant tips.

Where else can you find a paper that consolidates industry understanding and expertise from a group of people with a combined 83 years of experience in a field that has only been viable, commercially, for about the past 20?!

In addition to contributions from both of us, the whitepaper also includes insights from Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and Mandy Reed. We drew from our extensive experience in the virtual agent and chatbot field to explore six areas of experience that are necessary for success. For example, we touch on the importance of skill in building a strong business case, integrating with other systems and technologies, creating the right user experience and identifying future developments.

We were so glad to contribute to this guide as it really brings the whole team closer to the readers. Having that personal touch makes a difference and helps to make the technology as well as industry jargon and terms more understandable. Having to choose a self-service solution can be a daunting task – there are so many industry-specific, and often even provider-specific expressions (which usually all mean pretty much the same thing!), that during your search, you might just feel even more confused than before you started. Demo calls might have the same effect, especially if you need to pass on the gained information to your team.

It helps to have clear, short and objective guides to help with your selection process – our 7-page long whitepaper is a perfect example of this. AI tools don’t need to be complicated and overwhelming if you go with the right team who can make things simple and easily understandable for you.

For example, we’ve found in our personal experience that as we go through the deployment and content curation processes clients, especially those who are new to self-service solutions, often find somewhat abstract our third area covered in the whitepaper: Experience with building and deploying successful solutions. To them, customer behaviour analysis and conversation flows are mysterious things and so they find it difficult to identify and deliver complex user journeys.

For an experienced virtual agent team, this is a typical case when a picture, or in this instance one demo flow, is worth a thousand words. Once we create a prototype flow for our customers, they are able to visualize their content flows and get quickly into the swing of things, supplying us new journeys and loops proactively. This is the sort of invaluable consultation experience you will receive when you work with the right virtual agent vendor.

The right team will also help you with analysing your virtual agent or chatbot’s usage to help you identify some quick wins. For example, for a new project we’ve been recently working on, our analysis enabled us to suggest creating new structured conversation flows by linking together existing content. This meant the client did not have to provide any new content, yet the user experience and their specific KPIs (key performance indicators) were improved significantly. It is personalised recommendations like this that enable you to get the most from your self-service tool, and that only happens when you work with a provider that builds a close relationship with your company and team.

virtual agent & chatbot guideWe encourage you to take a look at the tips and nuggets of wisdom from a dynamic and accomplished group of people on the Creative Virtual team who know their stuff and are happy to share it. We hope you find it useful as reference as you consider self-help tool options and providers. We may be a little biased, but we firmly believe you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better and well-informed source!

Download your copy of our Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience right now! Don’t forget you can always request more information or your own expert consultation by contacting us here.