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Are All Members of Your Conversational AI Team Equal?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There is a question I came across recently which made me think and raises a good discussion for Customer Service Week: Who is the most important participant in the workflow of the development and maintenance of any AI-powered customer service tool?

Let’s imagine we build a virtual assistant from scratch for a large enterprise client where the solution must be scalable, available across multiple channels, and delivering measurable results. There are many out-of-the-box, seemingly quick solutions on the market which catch attention with claims of being up and running with little time and effort. However, these deployments are not often expandable or manageable as the real-life interaction traffic increases. These chatbots often cannot mature at the same pace as the usage, leaving a bitter taste in the users’ mouths and doing more harm than good for the organisation.

To deploy a chatbot just for the sake of having a chatbot, to tick one cool gadget off the list, to appear to be keeping up with the technology trends – none of these are good goals for a conversational AI project. The goal should be a long term one: to leverage the virtual assistant to its full capabilities; to discover new integrations, features, channels and start using it in a proactive way; to listen to your customers’ needs and feedback gathered in conversations; to broadcast news and promote products, offers, and sales to users in a centralised, accessible way.

Building and managing a virtual assistant with the goals described above, requires more people than a reader from outside the industry would probably imagine:

  • We need a salesperson to introduce the technology to the client and translate their business requirements into virtual assistant project specs.
  • We need a project manager who keeps the momentum going between the client and the team, organises the resources, streamlines the workflows, oversees the processes, and really just holds everything together.
  • We need a knowledgebase/AI engineer who designs the user journeys, builds and updates the database of the chatbot, and manages the algorithm that matches the submitted questions with the intent.
  • We need ‘hard techies’, the software engineers and developers who build the user interface, work on the different integrations, design the templates, and ultimately deploy the virtual assistant.
  • We need an analyst to look after the reporting side of the tool, understand the client’s KPIs, implement those indicators to the reporting platforms, and then deliver the required insights and statistics to the desired reporting suites.

Depending on the size and nature of the project, there can be multiple people sharing the same sets of tasks and many times there can be even more experts involved in a launch of a single chatbot.

So, then the question is: Who is the most important part in this workflow? The sales lead as he ‘brings’ the business in and has to pitch the future client? The project manager who deals with both sides and oversees everything? The AI engineers who build and maintain the ‘brain’ of the virtual assistant? The software developers who bring the chatbot to reality by building the user interface? The analytics experts who provide the reports which show the performance and measurable results of the tool?

Hint: there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has different views and valid arguments about it. We might say very diplomatically that each and every person has equal importance in the process.

I think, based on my experience, the most important participant in a chatbot project is the client. As the conversational AI vendor, we might have the latest integrations, the coolest features on the template and the best performing chatbots ever, but our client needs to be heavily involved in the continuous journey of a conversational AI tool for real success.

There is no sadder thing for us as chatbot professionals, than to build a majestic AI tool which is then no longer looked after as it is supposed to be. There will always be new user trends evolving, new unrecognised user questions to be addressed, and new technology updates becoming available.

Hence each point of contact has a crucial role to play to win the ‘heart’ of the client, to prove and promote the value of the chatbot, to raise interest, show enthusiasm and engage with the stakeholders. Everyone in the team needs to be proactive and showcase the capabilities of the virtual assistant, whether that be through post-sales add-on integrations and launches, regular touch base meetings, analysing and improving user journeys, flagging content gaps, showing the latest technology solutions, or sharing new reporting features. We have to pass on the passion we share within our team to the client who is just starting to discover the endless possibilities and advantages conversational AI has to offer.

So, from my point of view, making the client interested, invested and an advocate for their chatbot will ultimately make them the most important participant in the chatbot workflow. As we celebrate Customer Service Week, we should recognise their crucial role. At Creative Virtual, we celebrate all our clients who are so devoted to keeping their virtual assistants successful and with whom we work hand-in-hand, day-to-day with over years and even decades.

Not All Chatbots are Conversational AI Solutions

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Over the past several years businesses around the world have faced significant hardships and uncertainty. As these difficulties continue and new challenges arise, the IT sector will play a critical role in keeping companies connected and enabling them to adapt. SME News Magazine is recognising this with their newly established IT Awards programme.

The new IT Awards honour companies that are driving forward innovation and focusing on client-centricity while remaining true experts in their industry. I’m excited to share that Creative Virtual has been awarded Best Conversational AI Solutions 2022!

Creative Virtual has built our reputation as a conversational AI leader by consistently delivering successful and innovative solutions to our customers and partners for nearly two decades. It’s an honour to be recognised by the SME News IT Awards as the best in the industry – especially since this award comes on the heels of us being named the Conversational AI Innovation Excellence Leader by AIxOutlook.

Having worked in the virtual agent and chatbot field since 2000, I’ve experienced first-hand how these solutions and technologies have changed. It’s been exciting to lead one of the companies that has helped drive innovation forward in the industry. The virtual agents of today are certainly not the same as those I was working on 20 years ago.

What has also changed over this time is the variety of names used for these solutions. In fact, there have been so many names, and such little agreement amongst industry experts and analysts on how these names are used, that there is a lingering confusion in the market. Virtual agents, chatbots, virtual assistants, virtual customer assistants, intelligent virtual agents – the list goes on. In general, all these names can be, and often are, regularly used interchangeably to describe solutions.

Most recently, the industry has adopted the name of ‘conversational AI’. However, conversational AI is more than just another name for these solutions. It is more specifically describing the technology behind them. While a virtual agent, chatbot, or virtual assistant can be a conversational AI solution, not all of them currently deployed today are.

This raises an important question: What makes a virtual agent or chatbot a true conversational AI solution?

There’s lots of discussions about how successful conversational AI tools use artificial intelligence, both in the initial development stage and to continuously improve as part of the ongoing maintenance. This is vitally important for identifying real conversational AI solutions, of course. It isn’t the only identifier though. Too often overlooked is the need for integration and personalisation.

True conversational AI virtual agents and chatbots are backed by a platform that enables flexible integration with a variety of other technologies and systems. This includes knowledge management platforms, ticketing systems, live chat technologies, contact centre platforms, voice systems, real-time information feeds, multiple intent engines, CRMs, messaging platforms – to name a few.

These integrations help create conversational and personalised engagements. Personalisation goes beyond just knowing a logged-in user’s name and account or order details. It’s also about personalising the experience based on the user’s engagement channel, location, language, job title or member status, saved preferences – to name a few.

True conversational AI goes beyond a basic FAQ chatbot to deliver solutions that are customised for the business and for the individual users. As we’ve developed and improved our V-Person™ technology over the years, we’ve always maintained a focus on integration and personalisation. In fact, V-Person is recognised as the first virtual agent solution to successfully deliver personalisation by both Gartner and Patricia Seybold Group. We are continuing that focus with our upcoming Gluon Release which will make it quicker and easier to build, deploy, and maintain integrated, personalised conversational AI solutions.

If you’d like to learn more about Creative Virtual’s true conversational AI solutions and get an early look at our next big V-Person release, arrange a personalised demo session with one of our experts.

My thanks to SME News and their research team for our Best Conversational AI Solutions recognition! Congratulations to the Creative Virtual team for another well-deserved award!

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.

Integrate Your Way to a Better Self-Service Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

If you give visitors to your website the option to self-serve with a chatbot or virtual agent, kudos to you for recognising the importance of easily accessible digital support! Both current and potential customers appreciate being able to engage with automated self-service anytime, anywhere. However, what they don’t appreciate is thinking they are going to have an easy self-serve experience only to discover your chatbot is ill-equipped to handle anything beyond a simple question and answer pair.

I’ve been in the chatbot and virtual agent field for over 13 years and have the privilege of working with many colleagues who have over two decades of experience with the technology. Back in the early days, all chatbots were very simple question and answer tools. Rachel Freeman, Operations Director at Creative Virtual, has talked about starting in the industry in 2000 “when the focus was marketing and the novelty of the service was almost as important as the aim to increase ‘website stickiness’.” Major advancements in the technology have propelled the capabilities of today’s chatbots far ahead of those early deployments.

Unfortunately, there are still many chatbot platforms on the market that operate as simple question and answer tools with very limited conversational capabilities and integration options.  While there are specific use cases for these types of bots, quality customer self-service is no longer one of them. You will never be able to deliver the experience customers are looking for if you don’t have a tool built with an advanced conversational AI technology and the ability to be integrated with other systems.

Why is the ability to integrate your chatbot or virtual agent with other backend systems so important? Without those integrations, you are unable to deliver personalised responses for authenticated users. You can’t seamlessly escalate users from the virtual agent to a live chat agent. You don’t even have the option to deliver updates in real-time from external information feeds. All these pieces of functionality are now part of users’ expectations when they engage with your chatbot.

Given those expectations, what sort of systems should you consider integrating with your conversational AI tool? The integrations you select will depend on your self-service use cases and customer needs. Think about integrating with live chat, CRMs, voice technologies, knowledge management platforms, digital payment systems, community forums, ticketing systems, user survey tools, and contact centre platforms. Your goal should be to implement integrations that enable both you and your users to fully take advantage of the benefits of today’s conversational AI capabilities.

The big question then is: how should you go about upgrading your simple Q&A bot to an effective and integrated conversational AI tool? An obvious first step is to determine if your current chatbot platform supports the integrations you want. If not, find a more advanced platform that will allow you to create those connections. Jumpstart your upgraded tool by repurposing what you already have with your current project.

Once you have a chatbot management platform that gives you the integration and customisation options you need, don’t feel pressured to do everything at once. Take a staged approach, starting with the integrations that will have the biggest impact on improving your self-service experience. Then gradually add additional functionality to create a tool that is built for your specific needs and goals. Don’t forget to periodically review your conversational AI plan and make adjustments as your business and customer needs evolve.

We all know from our own personal experiences as customers how influential the support engagements we have with a company can be in our purchasing decisions. Take a few minutes to test your organisation’s digital self-service from that perspective. Are you delivering a seamless and personalised experience with your chatbot or virtual agent? If not, then it’s time to revisit your conversational AI strategy and identify what integrations could improve your self-service.

Gone are the days of siloed, disconnected customer service chatbots. To deliver the conversational AI engagement customers want, expect, and appreciate, you must integrate your way to a better self-service experience.

Set your Chatbot up for Success with the Right Budget

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

I think it’s safe to say that we all love to get a good deal – or at least feel like we are! – and save a little money whenever we can. I think we can also all agree that are certain times when going with the cheapest option or skimping on a line in the budget doesn’t pay off in the end. You get what you pay for, right?

A conversational AI solution is one of those projects that your organisation should be careful not to underfund. Without the proper level of financial support and ongoing funding, you will never achieve success with a conversational AI project. A chatbot or virtual agent that is treated like an unimportant side project not worthy of dedicated resources will perform like one. It will provide a poor experience and drive users away.

If you want to have a conversational AI tool that increases customer satisfaction, contributes to cost savings, generates new revenue, and improves efficiency and productivity, then your company needs to make a commitment to invest in those goals. That commitment starts with properly budgeting for the cost of the technology, the cost of developing and implementing your customised solution, and the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Budget for the technology

Earmarking a portion of your budget for the technology itself should be a no-brainer. Without a working conversational AI technology, you have no working chatbot! However, the amount you allocate for this really depends on how and where you plan to deploy your solution.

You should take into consideration your initial project plan as well as how you may want to expand and scale it in the future. Identify your integration points, calculate how many concurrent users you anticipate, estimate how large of a knowledgebase your content will require, and select the deployment channels that best serve your users. All these elements will impact which technology is a best fit for you and how much you will need to budget for that technology. An experienced conversational AI vendor or consultant will be able to provide guidance to help you scope out your technology requirements.

Budget for the development and implementation

While there are conversational AI solutions on the market that can be deployed straight out of the box with very little configuration, they will provide a very generic, basic engagement. To really create a positive experience and be successful, a chatbot needs to be customised for your organisation, use cases, users, and goals. This customisation should include integrations with other systems (such as your CRM platform, ticketing systems, or live chat) and conversational flows tailored for your users. You also want to ensure that the chatbot can respond to questions about your products, services, and procedures with specifics unique to your business.

Unless your organisation has a team with experience creating successful chatbots with the technology you select for your identified use cases and/or channels, attempting the building and implementation of your tool internally will be a mistake. Working with an expert vendor is more cost-efficient because they already know what they are doing so you aren’t paying them to figure it out. This also means you cut down on the development time and get better, quicker results.

Budget for ongoing maintenance

If a conversational AI provider tells you that you can configure and deploy a chatbot with their platform and then leave it alone to do its thing, cross them off your list immediately! Companies that invest in those solutions quickly learn that they have wasted money on empty promises. The truth is that the ongoing maintenance of conversational AI tools is what enables long-term success.

Newly implemented chatbots need more attention than well-established ones, so that needs to be reflected in your budget. During that initial period, engaging the expert vendor’s team is recommended for the same reasons you should work with them during the building and implementation step. However, after that you should have options for moving all or some of your chatbot maintenance in-house. If you choose to do that, factor into your budget costs for those internal staff members and any related trainings or licenses.

 

If the price tag of a quality conversational AI solution creates some hesitation within your organisation, consider the cost of deploying a chatbot that delivers a negative, frustrating experience for users. Putting time and money into a tool that your customers or employees won’t want to use – even if it is just the bare minimum investment – is a misuse of resources. Not only are you wasting your budget, but you are harming your digital experience and eroding confidence in your business.

Check out the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing for more insights on budgeting as well as typical pricing models, average costs, and calculating your return on investment.

Register Now: Expert Insights on Conversational AI and Customer Service

By Scott Tompkins, Vice President of Sales

Just like a puppy isn’t only for the pandemic, customer service insights aren’t only for Customer Service Week. This week of celebrating customer service professionals and successful customer service experiences should just be the beginning of a renewed focus on your own customer service and CX strategies.

To help you keep that Customer Service Week momentum going, destinationCRM is hosting a roundtable webinar next week: Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? I’m looking forward to hearing the panel of experts, including Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, discuss the current trends and future possibilities of conversational AI technology.

Drawing from his own experiences and those of Creative Virtual’s global team, Chris will share expert recommendations for how your organization can maximize the benefits of conversational AI technology. He will also be delving into ways you can use back-end integrations to take your digital self-service from basic FAQ tool to a personalized, conversational interaction.

Conversational AI solutions, like chatbots and virtual agents, can have a powerful impact on customer loyalty and retention. When designed, implemented, and maintained correctly, these solutions have been proven to reduce support costs, increase sales revenue, and even reduce employee turnover. The next generation of conversational AI advancements are poised to improve customer service even more.

Register now to join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 pm ET for the live webinar, Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? This destinationCRM roundtable will be recorded, so be sure to sign up even if you can’t join the live event.

Once you’ve registered, I recommend checking out (or re-reading!) all of the posts from the Creative Virtual team that make up this year’s Customer Service Week Blog Celebration. There are lots of great insights on conversational AI use cases, customer expectations, and customer service trends.