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A Look Back: 2020 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Around this time every December, I put cursor to page and fingers to keyboard to take a look back over the last 12 months and reflect on some of the highlights of the year for Creative Virtual. This is the seventh time I’ve done this annual year in review blog post, but never have I had to review a year that was like 2020. I don’t need to tell you that not everything went as planned, but there were still some bright spots for us and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry.

Creative Virtual started 2020 celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel shared his pride in ‘building a successful, world-leading company over a sustained period of time with an amazing group of people’ in our first blog post of the year. As an organisation that has been in the industry since the infancy of virtual agents and chatbots, we really understand the past, present and future of these solutions and bring a wealth of experience and expertise alongside our technology.

It is that experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team that took centre stage this year. As physical offices and business locations were closed to comply with lockdown and stay-at-home orders around the world, our customers were faced with a surge of incoming queries from their customers and new challenges in supporting their employees while also dealing with rapidly changing information and guidance. They turned to our team for advice and assistance in keeping their virtual agent and chatbot solutions updated and proactively relieving pressure from their contact centres. Laura Ludmany, one of our experienced Knowledgebase Engineers, wrote a two-part blog series about helping some of our financial customers with their 24/7 customer support tools during this time. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Several months later, AI Time Journal approached us for a contribution to their upcoming ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic’. We were happy to share the experiences of one of our international financial services group customers using our V-Person™ virtual agent to provide customer support. You can read more here and download the full ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, here. For this organisation, their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid content changes and deliver accurate information to customers. With the support of our team, they were able to successfully push their virtual agent to the forefront of their CX strategy.

Neutrino release of V-PersonThe consultation and guidance that we provide is also key to the Neutrino release of V-Person which we introduced to the market in June. The localised support, international insights and best practice expertise of our team are combined with our virtual agent/ chatbot technology (V-Person) and orchestration platform (V-Portal™) for the conversational AI industry’s smartest solution yet. With Neutrino, organisations can leverage their existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

2020 was a record-breaking year for use of our virtual agent and chatbot implementations. With the help of Creative Virtual Analyst, Lester Lane, we took a look at the usage spikes and trends across different regions and sectors in two blog posts. Our initial look in April showed a spike starting at the end of February and beginning of March that surpassed anything we had seen in the 16+ years of the company’s history. When we reached the halfway point of the year, we again crunched the numbers and discovered that those virtual agents had already recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from the previous year.

This explosion in usage of virtual agents and chatbots wasn’t surprising given the closure of physical locations and long call centre wait times that many businesses experienced. However, offering these digital self-service tools delivers no benefits to customers or companies if they don’t provide a consistently positive and accurate experience for users. That is what inspired us to publish a new whitepaper this year titled, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience.

virtual agent & chatbot guideOn the surface, it may sound like something else crazy happening in 2020 – a technology company saying to forget about the technology! The reality is that it doesn’t matter how great the technology is if you don’t have the skill and know-how to implement it in a way to achieve success. In this whitepaper, Creative Virtual team members once again put our knowledge and expertise in the spotlight, explaining the six essential areas of experience your virtual agent vendor should have and why each is important to the success of your solution. We highlight expert tips from ten members of the team – Rachel F Freeman, Laura Ludmany, Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and myself – who combined have over 83 years of experience specifically in the virtual agent and chatbot field.

With travel and in-person events unsafe for much of this year, we couldn’t attend and join our partners at industry conferences as we normally do. Instead, after attending CCW 2020 in Berlin with our partner Sogedes in March, we focused on producing content that could be shared, read and watched virtually over digital channels. We held a webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, which can now be viewed on-demand. Mugdha Desai, Head of Operations for Creative Virtual India, and Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director of Creative Virtual India, each presented in virtual AI and chatbot events. Founder & CEO, Chris spoke for a sixth time at the Hong Kong Customer Contact Association (HKCCA) Symposium at the invitation of our partner Continuous Technologies, but this time virtually. We are sponsoring one more webinar this year with Customer Contact Central on 17 December, The Future of Contact Centers: A New Paradigm for Superior Customer Experience.

The team also produced our annual blog celebration of Customer Service Week (5-9 October) and CX Day (6 October) with insightful tips and recommendations that reflected the new customer service challenges that 2020 brought to businesses. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

Founder & CEO, Chris may not have been able to do his usual travelling around the world to spend time with our team, partners and customers throughout the year, but he did take part in a podcast and two online interviews. In February, Chris participated in the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s podcast alongside one of his heroes, Sir Geoff Hurst, to discuss leadership. In AI Time Journal’s interview series AI vs COVID-19: Sharing Sessions with People in AI, he talked about turning the remote work challenge into an opportunity to learn more about each employee, how technology may impact our need for in-person interactions and the difference AI is making in combating the virus. Chris also took part in Startup.info’s Innovators vs COVID-19 interview series where he discussed Creative Virtual’s approach to innovation and the pandemic’s effect on the conversational AI industry.

100 SmartTech Innovators 2020This year we celebrated being named to the Top 100 SmartTech Innovators List. We continued the five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017, and Chris continued to tell everyone about going to Buckingham Palace with our CTO, Peter Behrend, to meet the Queen – see the photographic evidence here! We grew our Global Partner Network and added new technology integration partnerships, including those we announced this year with Spitch and Semafone’s Cardprotect Relay+.

Unlike other years, we don’t have a 2020 in Review photo album to share with you since we weren’t able to gather much in-person for group activities or events – and no one wants to look at a whole album of grainy screenshots of video conferences! Be sure to check out the Creative Virtual Facebook page though for a few photos and virtual company celebrations.

And now we head into 2021 with a year of overcoming professional and personal challenges under our belts and a deep sense of pride in knowing that the experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team helped our customers and partners survive their challenges, too. It’s impossible to know what next year will bring, but we’re looking forward to finding out!