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The Era of Intelligent Assistants is Here

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As an introduction of the Intelligent Assistants Conference held in London on the 4th and 5th of May, Dan Miller and Derek Top of Opus Research agreed that the era of intelligent assistants, chatbots, and AI has arrived. The biggest catalyst of this was Facebook, when its Messenger platform was opened to chatbots and virtual assistants in 2016. Since then, millions of chatbots can be found on that platform.

In the professional field – in which we tend to use the terms intelligent assistants and virtual agents – machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) are basics. Benefits of virtual assistants (VAs) are well proven – they bring fast changes and results to business, they reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and engagement. Though, if we want to create an outstanding, reliable experience, assisted service is also needed.

This could be the motto of the first day of the conference – almost every presenter mentioned and Opus Team member emphasised that, with the big expansion of virtual agents, we have the technology and what companies need is creativity to ensure the added value. Hence human support and background are always needed and Intelligent Assistance (IA) needs to be managed with a combined approach. In this way, instead of seeing human versus AI/technology we rather are looking for a collaboration where we can maximize the benefits of this synergy.

virtual agent Ask MoThe leading adopters of VAs are the banking and retail sectors and, per Dan Miller, these sectors want to reduce local presence and increase online availability. For example, several big retail chains are reducing their stock in store in favour of online retail platforms. At the same time, internal VAs also play a crucial part in this process. As one of our clients’ representative – Llaura Hughes from Motability Operations – described in her case study, their internal VA called ‘Ask Mo’ made a huge impact on their organisation’s workflow, making things simpler, more transparent and took the pressure off the live agents. Also their VA ensures continuous monitoring activity and helps to improve their database set (knowledgebase) day by day. The best thing is that the live agents can give instant feedback and they become engaged in this AI technology – as said at the beginning of the day: a brilliant example of human and machine collaboration.

IAC LondonAll this sounds good, but how should a company step up to conversational commerce? Our Head of Operations, Rachel Freeman explained that the more departments that get involved in the VA project, the better it is. A good VA needs to be cross functional (helpdesk, marketing, sales) and every department has its own view which can give an extra feature/benefit to the VA and ensure they make the most out of it. Rachel again emphasized that the technology is a given, so it is rather what the organisation wants to be represented in their VA. Marketing and brand are vital today and a VA is just another platform to build this brand image, so again the creativity of the VA provider is what makes the deployments outstanding – just as Opus Research mentioned at the beginning of the day. On the other hand – these things take time and as Rachel described, building, maintaining and improving a VA should be approached as a journey which has no end, because to maintain a high level of performance and up-to-date content we need to have that above mentioned human assistance. Through regular monitoring and testing, an organisation can understand what customers want and even learn about customer habits.

There were some more thought provoking sessions at the conference, one of them was Wally Brill (Senior Persona Designer for Adecco at Google) discussing if we need to “be friends” with robots. He mentioned the interesting expression “uncanny valley” which, in short, means that too human-like bots are found to be scary and raise feelings of eeriness and revulsion. As we can see, the revolution of AI is rather an era of IA when intelligent assistants help, support and make the life of humans (live chat agents, analysts, sales persons, customers, etc.) easier. The future is those who focus on hybrid methods, as we cannot just rely on a black box of AI, but we want to know what’s going on in the background.

It was a great day of innovation and inspiration and I was glad to be able to participate in this conference where I could learn about the latest trends on the VA field. Thanks to Opus Research for hosting the Intelligent Assistants Conference in London again this year! 

Be sure to check out our IAC London 2017 photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page.

IAC London 2017: Real use cases and best practices for natural language intelligent assistants

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Chatbots continue to be a hot topic for customer service and marketing with more and more organisations beginning to realise the potential benefits of automated conversational systems. The best way to learn about this technology, how it can be implemented and its place in the future of customer experience is to engage with companies already using it and industry experts. Opus Research’s Intelligent Assistants Conference (IAC), returning to London for a second year, offers the opportunity to do just that. The conference will feature a series of keynote addresses, expert panel discussions, case studies and networking opportunities.

Creative Virtual will once again be sponsoring IAC London and lending our expertise to the conference agenda. Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations, will be a part of the ‘Stepping up to Conversational Commerce’ panel on Day 1. Peter Behrend, CTO, will help Opus Research end the event as a panellist on the closing panel, ‘Future of Intelligent Assistance’.

On Day 1 of the conference, Motability Operations will also present a case study of their virtual assistant ‘Ask Mo’ which they’ve partnered with Creative Virtual since 2007 to deploy. Llaura Hughes, Training & Communications Manager at Motability Operations, will showcase how the organisation uses a blended approach of a virtual agent and interactive process maps to meet their key initiatives and achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores in their contact centre. Motability Operations was the winner of the ‘Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture’ award as part of the 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Awards for this approach to knowledge management.

Creative Virtual will also have a stand in the vendor exhibition area where members of our team will be on hand to give live demos of our innovative virtual assistant solutions and explain more about how organisations around the world are currently using our technology to improve both customer and employee experiences. The team will also be happy to discuss the company’s recent win of the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017. This award was presented for V-Person™ (our virtual agent technology) and V-Portal™ (our knowledge management platform), and the commercial success we’ve achieved with these customer engagement technologies. The award is not only a great achievement for Creative Virtual, but also for the industry. This recognition brings attention to the technology along with the positive results forward-thinking organisations are already achieving with Creative Virtual’s solutions. Opus Research’s Amy Stapleton discusses this more in her recent article, Creative Virtual’s Prestigious Queen’s Award Reflects Growth of Intelligent Assistance.

IAC London 2017 will be held 4-5 May 2017 at Claridge’s Hotel. More information and the full agenda can be found on the conference website. Also, check out these materials from last year’s event:

You can also download our educational whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! to learn more about intelligent assistants and request your own personalised demo to see the technology in action.

IAC London 2016 Day 2 – Innovation and Inspiration in the Intelligent Assistants Field

By Rob Foster, Junior Knowledgebase Engineer & Andre Matthews, Knowledgebase Engineer

Day 2 of the Intelligent Assistants Conference burned just as brightly as the first. If you haven’t yet read our colleague’s blog on the first day of the event, you can find it here.

Darrius Jones, AVP of Enterprise Innovation at USAA, started proceedings by giving us some insight into upcoming virtual solutions in the mobile banking sector. In his keynote presentation “This is Our Moonshot”, he assured us that virtual assistants (VAs) have come a long way from the chatbot toys of yesteryear, and people are trusting VAs more and more with handling information about their lives. In fact, when looking for advice about sensitive topics like financial difficulty, often users will feel more comfortable asking a machine for help than a person. Having the right tools in place to handle customers’ needs is essential to ensuring that customers leave pleased with the service they receive. In addition, Darrius discussed how face and voice recognition is being integrated into virtual assistant platforms, cutting out the tedium of the online banking authentication process and helping to combat identity fraud.

IAC 2016 LondonAfter lunch, it was all eyes on Creative Virtual CTO, Peter Behrend as the panel discussed “Striking the ‘People Versus Machine’ Balance”. Peter highlighted the importance of Creative Virtual’s capability to allow the user to seamlessly transfer between the virtual assistant and live chat. The best customer experience is achieved when humans and machines work together, each doing what they do best. He explains that in a single session, the VA is able to offer instant, accurate responses to a wide range of questions, while a live agent can provide personal and empathetic insights if a customer has a specific query. Because VAs are doing the majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to answering the most frequently asked questions, job satisfaction of call centre workers is improving. Live agents are more stimulated now that they can avoid having to answer questions they are asked several times a day. This is a huge benefit for companies that wish to reduce employee churn and save time and money on training. And as we all know, happy workers equals higher productivity and greater customer satisfaction.

Day 2 also saw Atos CTO, David Cunningham join the panel discussion titled “Achieving Digital Transformation with Intelligent Assistants” along with Lee Beardmore from Capgemini. David shared his insights and experiences working with Creative Virtual’s virtual agent technology to deliver Digital Customer Experience Transformation (DCXT). He emphasised the countless opportunities and endless benefits of using VAs on both fronts: internally to assist employees and public-facing to solve problems directly for customers. An employee equipped with the VA is able to swiftly navigate to information needed, allowing them to provide more accurate and informative responses to customer queries. Likewise, customers can quickly get the response to their questions or navigate to the information they need, even when not fully sure what they are looking for, via the features at their disposal.

All in all, it was another day of innovation and inspiration from the Creative Virtual team and other experts in the field of virtual assistance. Congratulations to the Opus Research team on hosting a successful and thought provoking conference! Check out some more photos from the event in our IAC London 2016 album.

IAC London 2016 Day 1 – Pioneering the 4th Industrial Revolution

By Gianandrea Gaetani, Junior Knowledgebase Engineer

With all the talk revolving around the convergence of Artificial Intelligence, the present and future implementations of Intelligent Agents, Robotics, identity and biometrics, quantum, nano bio tech, and 3d printing, the Intelligent Assistants Conference held in London on the 26th and 27th of April left participants debating where we all stand in tech matters. Is it too soon to talk about the 4th Industrial Revolution just yet?

Whether we want to believe it or not, businesses today are left to navigate the chasm in an ever changing digital world. Digital and biological worlds tend to get closer with every passing year and static businesses and websites seem to be coming alive through the implementation of Intelligent Assistance.

As the Channel Owner of Swedbank, Martin Kedback, stated, in our present day, people are engaging with companies like never before. Users seem to now be logging into banking services through mobile devices 21.4 times per month on average. This data calls for a re-design of the way businesses interact with their customers. There is a strong demand for new channels of interaction that has not yet been fully addressed effectively. There is a need to hyper personalize customer experience and deliver it to the users in a quick, trustworthy and efficient way. We live in a world where the very use of our technology will be moulded by a level of hyper personalisation that can only be achieved through Intelligent Assistance.

We now live in a place where the instant access and sharing of information can determine the success or failure of an enterprise. Virtual Assistants will be playing a key role in this personal information economy. These implementations will not only have to be proficient at managing knowledge, but will also have to guarantee an increasing degree of trust, security, and satisfaction.

As silos of information everywhere are opening up to create a wider and faster world, there is a need to establish ways to effectively respond to the task at hand. The new “quick and cheap” chatbot trend seems to be providing a solution that does not guarantee any sort of satisfaction and security in the long run. These unstable solutions and a sharp 57% increase in the number of IA companies trying to enter the market today seem to be calling for the establishment of “best practice” in terms of virtual assistance. The need to respect norms of human behaviour such as permission, respect, mutual value, and trust, must be met with efficiency and security by virtual agents.

Intelligent Assistants ConferenceDuring the first day of IAC London 2016, the team members attending from Creative Virtual really felt the need to address two questions: Where do we stand, and where are we going as a global company? As our Founder and CEO, Chris Ezekiel stated, our expertise in knowledge management, agility, compatibility, technology, and the wealth of having an experienced team with an open mind, will push Creative Virtual to stay at the very top of this evolutionary wave. With regards to the future, during the Executive Summit panel, Chris pushed forth the idea that “we see the personal and commercial assistants converging in the future”. It is this mentality that makes Creative Virtual a leader in the field of Virtual Assistance.

Be sure to follow Creative Virtual on Twitter for more from Day 2 of IAC London 2016. Not able to attend the event but want to know more about our innovative virtual agent technology? Contact us to learn more!

IAC London 2016: Helping humans harness the power of intelligent assistants

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For the first time Opus Research is bringing their Intelligent Assistants Conference to Europe. IAC London 2016 is being held 26-27 April at Grosvenor House in London and will be co-located with Intelligent Authentication Conference 2016. The Opus Research team has put together an impressive agenda of expert panel discussions and keynote addresses focused on the conference theme of ‘helping humans harness the power of intelligent assistants’.

Creative Virtual is proud to be an event sponsor of IAC London 2016 and to have both our CTO, Peter Behrend, and our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, speaking as industry experts. Chris will join the ‘Executive Summit – Focus on the Enterprise’ panel discussion at 4:15 pm on Day 1, and Peter will be a panellist in the Day 2 session ‘Striking the “People Versus Machines” Balance’ scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm. Both bring years of experience within the intelligent virtual assistant and self-service space to their panels.

David Cunningham, CTO Solutions at Atos UK and Ireland, will also be speaking at the conference about Atos’ experience in building Digital Customer Experience Transformation (DCXT). Atos has partnered with Creative Virtual and two other industry leaders to deliver DCXT, a dynamic tool for personal finance management which utilises our intelligent virtual assistant technology. This enables customers to interact with the solution in natural language to pose questions and ask for in-context information based on their current financial position and what they are trying to achieve.

As an event sponsor, Creative Virtual will have a stand in the vendor exhibition area. Liam Ryan, Head of Sales, will be available at the stand to provide live demos of our innovative virtual assistant solutions for conference attendees. Be sure to stop by to say hello, see a demo and pick up some additional information.

More conference details and a full agenda can be found on the IAC London 2016 website. If you aren’t able to attend the event but would like to learn more about how your organisation can harness the power of intelligent virtual assistant technology, please contact us.