Posts

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Download a copy of the V-Person Live Chat™ Overview and then request a demo to see the industry-defining integration for yourself.

Improving the Customer and Employee Experience with Live Chat Innovation

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Last year Creative Virtual officially introduced our new live chat product, V-Person Live Chat™, to the market and realised our vision of offering organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement. That was an important milestone for the company, and since then we’ve been proud to see organisations use this technology both as a way to improve their customer service as well as to provide better employee support internally.

This week V-Person Live Chat earned us a spot as a finalist in the UK National Innovation Awards’ Live Chat category. Created by the Directors’ Club United Kingdom, the National Innovation Awards recognise business technology innovations and their impact on customer experience, employee engagement, operations performance, product creation and profitable growth. We’ll join the three other finalists in this category on Tuesday, 7th March for a live online final which will be judged by over 100 senior leaders involved in the customer service, customer contact, customer experience and digital spaces.

In order to qualify for this awards programme, those entering needed to show that their live chat technology results in one or more of the following positive impacts on an end-user’s organisation:

  • Improve the operational efficiency of delivering the live chat channel
  • Improve live chat integration in an omnichannel contact centre
  • Improve the customer experience of using live chat
  • Improve the contact centre agent’s experience of delivering live chat
  • Improve customer engagement and satisfaction
  • Improve employee engagement and satisfaction

I’m very proud of the fact that V-Person Live Chat ticks all of these boxes. We have designed and developed our entire suite of Smart Help solutions, including live chat, in order to help enterprises make these improvements. With V-Person Live Chat, we specifically looked to blend virtual and real customer support in a way that will assist contact centres with the transition to more automation. Our unique feedback loop, which enables live chat agents to help keep content accurate and consistent for both virtual and live agents without any extra effort, is defining industry best practice.

As we look to the future of the contact centre, it’s clear that live agents will become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date. This will help bridge the gap between these previously siloed engagement channels to improve the overall customer experience and meet the growing expectations of customers for 24/7 access to accurate information and support. By empowering customers with constantly improving self-service tools, live agents no longer have to repeatedly deal with basic questions and are freed up to develop expertise in dealing with more complex issues that require human assistance. This means contact centres benefit from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

My thanks to the Directors’ Club United Kingdom and the National Innovation Awards judges for recognising our innovative live chat technology by naming Creative Virtual as a finalist. I’m looking forward to taking part in the live event final next month.

If you are currently using live chat and/or a chatbot to support customers or employees, or are just starting to think about implementing these tools, I encourage you to read more about V-Person Live Chat and request a personalised demo.

A Vision of Seamless, Fully-Integrated, End-to-End Customer Engagement

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today is a truly momentous day, and a very proud one, for all of us at Creative Virtual. Our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. Once we established ourselves as independently recognised leaders in the virtual customer assistant (VCA) space, we underpinned all our channel support with our critically-acclaimed V-Portal™ (knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence) platform. Today we realised our vision with the official launch of our newest product: V-Person Live Chat™.

Defining industry best practice

V-Person Live Chat completes our customer engagement jigsaw because it successfully blends virtual and real customer support in a way that no other vendor in the marketplace can provide today.  Our many years of experience with integrating our V-Person virtual agent technology with other live chat systems made us realise that there was a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from a deeper blending of the two technologies. This inspired us to develop our own live chat product which is now defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents, a unique feedback loop and a customisable workflow provided by V-Portal.

At Creative Virtual we closely monitor developing trends and the evolution of engagement touchpoints in order to provide enterprises with cutting-edge Smart Help solutions. It is clear to us that the contact centre in its current form is finished. As there is a transition to more automation, combining virtual and real customer support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will be key for organisations. We’ve addressed this contact centre shift with the deep integration of virtual agents and live chat, particularly with our unique feedback loop that allows live chat agents to help keep content accurate for both virtual and real agents just by doing their normal jobs.

A complete approach to learning

V-Person self-learningOur V-Person technology utilises a hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning to give organisations a predictable and reliable customer self-service option. We have developed this approach based on our extensive experience and our partnerships with some of the world’s largest organisations. We understand how enterprises want to use virtual agents and chatbots to deliver effective self-service today and how the customer support landscape is evolving for them in the future.

Human curation of content allows organisations to be absolutely sure that their VCA is responding to users in a predictable way. At any point in time, designated content editors have full access to the knowledgebase to make updates that can be deployed instantly to the virtual agent. Organisations never need to wait for the system to ‘re-learn’ the new information. This human element is combined with the virtual agent’s ability to become more intelligent and adapt through self-learning.

V-Person’s statistical algorithm processes user journeys to return a list of related questions that is a true reflection of how users asking for similar information engaged with the virtual agent. Organisations also benefit from our statistical approach to self-learning with tightly integrated business intelligence reporting. V-Portal brings together voice of the customer feedback and user surveys with conversational data in real-time, actionable analytics that are directly linked to the virtual assistant’s knowledgebase.

Now with V-Person Live Chat, we are able to complete our approach to learning with our unique feedback loops. V-Portal enables enterprises to implement feedback loops that allow live agents to provide real-time comments and suggestions on content so that they can improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal job.

This hybrid approach to learning enables V-Person implementations to adapt in a very predictable way. The combination of human and self-learning is important for continually improving the system while also enabling enterprises to maintain control over the reliability of the VCA responses.

Where we go from here

Seeing our vision of seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement come to fruition is an important milestone, but certainly not the end of the roadmap for us. We are looking forward to rolling out our new live chat product to our customer organisations and experiencing with them new levels of customer engagement success. By continuing our collaboration with them, we will look to make new updates to our workflow and do more development around the self-learning aspects of our technology. Our roadmap is all about combining best practices around knowledge curation and self-learning, and integrating V-Person with best-of-breed technologies to provide a world leading enterprise level end-to-end digital customer engagement platform.

Whether you are currently using live chat and/or a virtual agent to support customers or just starting to think about implementing these tools, the best way to see how V-Person Live Chat can benefit your organisation is by requesting a personalised demo.

You can also read more about how we are combining virtual and real support with a live chat solution that is defining industry best practice in our V-Person Live Chat Overview.

The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I presented Creative Virtual’s fourth annual Technology Innovation Showcase with CRMXchange. As I mention every year, this is one of my favourite webinars to do because it’s mostly live demonstrations with very few slides. Seeing the technology in action is the best way to understand how your organisation can implement these solutions to improve your customer experience.

This year’s webinar, Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, focused mostly on bringing together virtual agents and live chat. I started my presentation with some recent statistics from Forrester showing the growing usage of virtual agents and live chat. They summed up this research by saying:

Customers increasingly leverage self-service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction.

The bottom line is that your customers want effortless interactions with your company. There is a generational change taking place, with a new generation of customers who spend more time having text conversations with their friends and loved ones than they do actually talking to them. The last thing in the world they want to do is pick up the phone and speak to your company. Effortless also means brevity. They want to get the answers they need as quickly as possible, so the second to last thing they want to do is get into a lengthy email conversation with your company.

The call centre and contact centre as we know them today are finished. Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers. Smart assistants will learn from how they are being used and adapt as the organisation learns. They won’t be maintained separately, but instead will have feedback loops that help them learn just by the organisation learning in a really seamless way.

We’re already seeing much change in this area but, of course, this won’t happen overnight. There will be a transition to more automation, and combining virtual and real support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will give you the best way to manage that transition. Gartner is also seeing this trend, and they predict that by 2018, 30% of interactions will be via a smart machine such as virtual agent technology.

The combination of natural language virtual agents with live chat or web chat is an ideal way to give customers the effortless interactions they want. With the right integrations in place, your company can provide a seamless and personalised experience. Using a central knowledgebase and feedback loop that are linked with workflow functionality will allow you to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels.

I invite you to watch the recording of this webinar on-demand to see my demonstrations of intelligent virtual agents, the seamless integration of virtual agents with live chat and the industry-defining feedback loop that empowers live agents to consistently improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal jobs.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to schedule a personalised live demo to show you how this technology can help your organisation manage the transition to more automation and provide effortless interactions.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another great Technology Innovation Showcase.

Innovation Showcase to Explore Live Chat and Virtual Agent Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Live chat and virtual agents are quickly gaining popularity with customers as their preferences shift towards online support options. According to Forrester Research, customers turn to self-service and digital channels for service because they “offer the least amount of interaction friction”. Forward-thinking organisations are not only acknowledging this customer service trend, but also taking advantage of the powerful combination of virtual and real support.

On Tuesday, 12th July, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will explore this emerging trend as part of CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series. His presentation, titled Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, features live demonstrations of current implementations and a look into the technology powering these solutions. He’ll also share recent research and developments in the industry.

In addition to seeing intelligent virtual agents in action, attendees will also hear tips for integrating self-service options with live chat. When implemented properly, customers can seamlessly escalate from virtual to live agent and live agents can seamlessly provide feedback to keep information up-to-date. The result is an improved experience for both customers and support agents.

Register now to reserve your spot for this Technology Innovation Showcase. A recording of the webinar will be available to view on-demand for those registrants unable to join the live event.

I Have Live Chat. Why Do I Need an IVA?

By Karen McFarlane, VP of Marketing (Americas)

Great question and glad you asked! The answer is quite simple. To start, think about why you employed live chat in the first place. Was it to:

  • Reduce volume to your contact center?
  • Provide online customer assistance?
  • Increase customer loyalty and reduce barriers to engagement?

All of the above reasons have significant monetary benefits – reduced costs, higher retention, increased sales – and demonstrate that live chat is a wise investment. In fact, a Forrester survey showed that “44% of respondents said that having a live person answer their questions while they were in the middle of an online purchase was one of the most important features a website could offer.” This is a great stat., but how can you make live chat work better?

Another great question! To find the answer:

  • Think about the human resources that are needed for your current live chat system and determine ROI. (You probably have this figure.)
  • Identify how many customers your live agents can handle at one time, and determine how that affects your wait times. (Check out this blog: Live Chat Is All Too Human.)
  • Analyze your live chat transcripts to learn more about the questions that are being asked by your customers, and ask yourself what portion can be answered by an automated system? 10%, 20%, 30% or more.

This is where an intelligent virtual assistant provides tremendous value. What if you employed an IVA to answer 10, 20 or 30% of your live chat conversations? IVAs can converse with thousands of customers simultaneously in virtually any channel – web, mobile, SMS and IVR – and effectively “partner” with live agents to answer customer questions. Using sophisticated machine learning and natural language technology, an IVA can hold meaningful conversations with a customer and oftentimes resolve any issues without involving a live agent. However, if the issue requires human-assisted service, the IVA can easily escalate the customer to a live agent passing the entire exchange through so that the customer has a seamless experience.  To that end:

  • All interactions are personalized and relevant
  • All interactions are seamless no matter the channel or escalation path
  • Inquiries can be answered quickly, accurately and with great satisfaction anytime, anywhere

Now that’s what customers want. And when you pair live chat and intelligent virtual assistants together – you not only give your customers more of what they want, you can exponentially increase call deflection rates, decrease call handling times and improve the productivity of your workforce. Ah ha – more monetary benefits to your business. Now, that’s how you make live chat work better.

So now that I’ve piqued your interest a bit, here’s your next step. Download our 10 Point Checklist: 10 Ways IVAs Complement and Support Live Chat Systems. If at least three of the points speak to you, then your next action is to contact us. We’ll give you a demo, help you estimate ROI for an IVA, and answer any more questions you have about pairing live chat with an intelligent virtual assistant.