Tag Archive for: virtual agent

Innovation Excellence in Conversational AI

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Conversational AI is a very hot and in-demand technology right now. This is not surprising given the pressures on organisations to improve digital experience and provide smarter automation. It’s also not surprising that this demand has led to a very crowded field of competing vendors, from big companies down to small, new start-ups.

An over-crowded and highly competitive marketplace brings both positives and negatives for buyers. While having options can be nice, evaluating so many choices makes it more time consuming and difficult to select the best vendor for you. Competing vendors can drive innovation, but those innovations don’t necessarily mean better solutions and real business benefits. It can be hugely helpful for buyers to have knowledgeable insights from independent industry experts.

This is why AIxOutlook, a part of Sceptertech Digital, are conducting their Best Practice Research. Their uniquely designed evaluation process benchmarks vendors’ performance against competitors to identify industry leaders. They award their Innovation Excellence Leadership recognition to companies committed to innovation and offering the next generation of products and services.

Creative Virtual is proud to be named the Innovation Excellence Leader in the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report! Prasobh Namboothiri, Associate Editor at AIxOutlook says:

“Creative Virtual is the clear Innovation Excellence Leader in a crowded and competitive conversational AI industry. Businesses collaborating with them benefit from their cutting-edge technology as well as their expert consultation, resulting in customised, integrated, and personalised solutions that deliver real business value.”

Conversational AI Innovation Excellence

AIxOutlook’s evaluation focuses on both innovation and customer impact and finds Creative Virtual to be the leading conversational AI innovator driving the industry forward with our V-Person™ technology. They call out V-Person’s flexible integration options that enable organisations to develop customised solutions for delivery of unified, personalised experiences.

Another vital differentiator identified in the report is our approach to AI and the training of our chatbots and virtual agents. The analysts praise our blending of machine learning and a rules-based approach to natural language processing (NLP) and refer to our conversational AI management platform, V-Portal™, as cutting-edge.

Check out the 2022 Innovation Excellence Leadership in Conversational Intelligence report for AIxOutlook’s full independent assessment of our conversational AI capabilities. The report also includes an evaluation of the global conversational AI market along with current developments and trends in the industry.

As a pioneer in the virtual agent and chatbot space, Creative Virtual has always been committed to innovating in a way that will help companies tackle their current challenges and be prepared for future changes. It’s an honour to be recognised for this long-standing dedication to being a trendsetter in the conversational AI market. Our goal is to always deliver the best possible combination of innovative technology and expertise to our customers and partners.

Download a full copy of the 2022 Conversational Intelligence report here. And then request a personalised demo here to discuss how V-Person can help improve your customer and employee experiences with an expert member of our team.

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.

Better Digital Support with the Virtual Insurance Agent

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Insurance companies have always had the challenge of delivering personalized support for their customers. From selecting coverage and understanding benefits to confirming payments and filing claims, both policyholders and agents need information that is customized to them. As the expectation for companies across all industries to offer digital, 24/7 support and self-service has grown, delivering a positive experience has become more challenging than ever for the insurance sector.

Fortunately, advances in conversational AI technology are helping insurance companies escape from the dangers of frustrating, disjointed experiences by creating the seamless digital support options policyholders and agents need. According to industry experts at Insurance Thought Leadership (ITL), “The sky is the limit for conversational AI.”

In their whitepaper The Virtual Insurance Agent, ITL takes a detailed look at how conversational AI is allowing insurance companies to greatly improve their customer experiences while also reducing costs. With the right integrations, conversational AI tools – like virtual agents and chatbots – can reach across silos and into back-end systems to pull together all the relevant information and customer data to deliver the right responses in a consistent tone. The technology has the capability to both provide the best self-service options to customers and improve insurers’ interactions with agents.

ITL identifies six common use cases for conversational AI in the insurance industry, explaining the benefits and limitations of each example.  All of these – selecting coverage, filing a claim, understanding benefits, updating policies, educating insurance agents, and supporting the contact center – represent perfect opportunities for successfully automating top service queries through personalized, integrated conversation flows.

Being able to respond to such a high percentage of contacts from customers and agents with conversational AI delivers valuable benefits for insurance brands. They can:

  • Create better customer experiences and meet expectations for digital support
  • Improve agent experience and boost productivity
  • Reduce contact center traffic and alleviate pressure on busy live agents
  • Increase revenue by reducing customer churn and making the buying process easier
  • Lower support costs and improve efficiency by simplifying complex processes

According to ITL, “Conversational AI is one of those rare beasts in business: It delivers demonstrably better service to customers while cutting companies’ costs.” Isn’t that every insurance company’s dream?

Read more on these insights from ITL by downloading the full ‘The Virtual Insurance Agent’ whitepaper.

Also check out the short video below for a closer look at how Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ for Insurance brings together chatbot, virtual agent, and live chat technologies with extensive industry experience to create reliable digital support that is personalized, convenient, and efficient.

 

Resolve to Make Your Conversational AI Project Healthier this Year

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is here and that means it is time for New Year’s resolutions. The most common personal resolutions are focused on being healthier – exercising more, eating better, improving fitness, losing weight, stopping smoking. People join the gym, sign up for weight loss programmes, and download meditation apps.

But what about your conversational AI project? Does it need a New Year’s resolution to be healthier in the new year, too?

If your organisation already has a conversational AI project, then you don’t need me to wax on about the importance of digital customer support. You get it. However, if you’re concerned that your current conversational AI tool isn’t up to the task of improving your digital support experience in 2022, then it’s time to make a resolution for change.

Even the best laid plans sometimes take a wrong turn or need to be tweaked as customer expectations and your organisation change. The start of a new year is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate your conversational AI project and strategy. If this review leaves you dissatisfied with what you find, you’re not alone. Here are some common reasons other organisations have given for being unhappy with their conversational AI projects:

  • I can’t expand my solution to support my growing business and customer base.
  • I have limited integration options to create a seamless and personalised experience.
  • I started my project with an inexperienced start-up that isn’t able to provide the technology updates and support I need from my conversational AI vendor.
  • I am struggling to manage multiple chatbots across different business divisions or departments.
  • I am unable to staff my chatbot project with internal resources with the necessary knowledge and experience.
  • I don’t own the user interface or training data with my current chatbot provider.

The good news is that none of these common issues are dealbreakers that mean you must scrap your current virtual agent or chatbot project and start over. Like any New Year’s resolution to be healthier, you just need a plan that starts where you are and takes you to your goal of creating a successful, valuable, and healthy solution.

Your first step should be to download the new ebook Conversational AI Issues & Solutions: Transforming Ineffective Chatbot & Virtual Agent Projects. It takes an individual look at each of the common issues listed above, explaining how they can negatively impact your conversational AI project and exploring ways they can be solved.

When you’re ready to work out the details of your plan for a healthier chatbot or virtual agent and put it into action, the Creative Virtual team is ready to be your personal trainer and coach. Contact the team here to learn more about the expert consultation and technology that’s helping brands around the world deliver reliable and valuable conversational AI solutions.

This new year, resolve to transform your conversational AI project into a healthier, more effective customer service solution. Make 2022 the year your customers, employees, and company experience the full benefits of a successful chatbot or virtual agent.

The Generic ‘Chat Now’: Virtual Agent or Live Chat?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

A couple months ago I had a question about an online order I had placed several days earlier. After searching through the information on the website in an attempt to self-serve with no success, I started a live chat session. I was connected to a live chat agent relatively quickly, but then spent over 30 minutes in a chat that felt like it was lasting forever and, in the end, delivered no real resolution to my question.

It immediately became obvious to me that the live chat agent was juggling multiple – and likely too many – chat sessions simultaneously. To try to fill the long gaps between his responses, I received canned ‘sorry for the long wait’ messages with random small talk questions about my day and comments about how much I was going to love the item I had ordered. This quickly became tiresome – I wasn’t there because I wanted to chitchat. I just wanted to an answer to my question!

I certainly don’t blame the agent for creating such a poor experience or for ultimately not having access to the information I needed. When implemented properly and with realistic internal expectations of agents, live chat can be a great digital support option. Unfortunately, I know my frustrating experience isn’t a fluke or an uncommon occurrence. That is one reason why customers looking for a quick answer may shy away from starting a conversation with a live chat agent.

This is something that organisations implementing a self-service virtual agent or chatbot should keep in mind, regardless of whether they are integrating it with live chat. Why? In the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor, conversational AI expert Laura Ludmany explains:

“Be sure your virtual agent is prominent on your pages. Make it obvious that it is a digital, automated tool with wording such as ‘Please ask our Virtual Agent’. Avoid using confusing or vague terms such as ‘Agent’ or ‘Chat Now’ as these can make users think it is a live chat tool and may prevent them from starting a session when they are trying to self-serve.”

Customers are more comfortable with and increasingly seeking out digital self-service options. In response, organisations are also increasingly deploying conversational AI tools. However, if those tools aren’t easily accessible or clearly identified as the place to self-serve (without having to engage with a human) then both customers and businesses are missing out on their benefit.

Rest virtual agentLet’s take a look at the successful virtual agent implementation at Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, as a great example of Laura’s recommendation in action. Rest understood their large customer base of digital natives were most often starting their experience on the website. In order to enrich the experience for those digitally savvy customers, they added virtual agent Roger to their website in 2016. This not only gave Rest the distinction of being the first Australian superannuation fund to service members’ enquiries online 24/7 with a virtual agent, but also resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback from their members.

If you visit the Rest website today, Roger maintains a prominent spot on their homepage and throughout the website. They make it easy for users to self-serve as they navigate around the site. Rest has also always communicated clearly with users that Roger is a self-service tool, not a human live chat agent, with both the user interface (UI) and Roger’s welcome informing users they are interacting with an automated virtual agent. This means that the expectation is immediately set for Roger as a self-service option.

It can be tempting to use a generic ‘Chat Now’ as a way to try to engage users both looking to self-serve and chat with a human agent, but customers don’t want to feel tricked. They appreciate the transparency of knowing what kind of support they are going to receive – automated or human-assisted – before initiating the engagement. It sets the tone for the experience and gives customers more control over how they get the information and support they need.

Interested in more conversational AI expert insights and tips? Download the full Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience and check out this collection of posts from the 2021 Customer Service Week & CX Day Blog Celebration.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 2

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Innovative, cutting-edge, ground-breaking – these are all words used regularly to describe conversational AI technologies. Being the organisation that deploys an innovative technology typically requires being comfortable with a high level of risk. However, most companies don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take that degree of risk, whether real or inferred.

Deploying conversational AI solutions like chatbots and virtual agents can be risky but doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to be an early adopter of innovations to benefit from the technology. These solutions have been used by businesses for over two decades as part of their customer engagement and employee experience strategies, and you can take advantage of those learnings to deploy reliable, successful projects.

In this three-part blog series, I’m sharing three steps for achieving conversational AI success while minimising the risk for your organisation. Last time, we delved into Step 1: Be selective when deciding on a vendor and technology. If you missed that post, I recommend you read it first before moving on to the second step:

Step 2: Build a business case with realistic goals.

Embarking on any business project without identifying the goal is always a risk, so it is essential that you have a realistic business case and clear objectives for your conversational AI project. An experienced vendor will be able to assist you with this process by performing a textual analysis of your existing data, such as live chat or contact centre transcripts, to identify what queries can and should be automated with conversational AI.

Starting with this analysis immediately reduces risk because your business case is being built around your own data. It’s combining the vendor’s expertise directly with the information that is unique to your customers, employees, and company. Instead of guessing your users’ self-service needs or taking a generic approach, your business case is customised to you and your pain points from the start.

Follow that initial analysis with a consultation workshop to review the results and collaborate with the vendor to identify your key performance indicators (KPIs) and set realistic goals. These business objectives will directly inform how your chatbot or virtual agent is built and implemented. Having clear goals and deciding how you will track progress and measure outcomes minimises the danger of investing in a project that won’t really meet your needs.

The key in this step is to build your conversational AI business case around realistic and obtainable goals. Being practical about what you are automating and setting sensible targets for your solution creates a solid foundation for your project. It keeps your investment focused on reliable, reproducible outcomes and business benefits.

In the third and final instalment of this series, we will talk about starting your conversational AI project with a pilot and the best approach to minimise risk while rolling out a full deployment. A great resource for better understanding the financial investment needed for a successful virtual agent or chatbot is the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing: Calculating the Cost of a Successful Chatbot or Virtual Agent. Even if your company isn’t at the enterprise-level, this guide provides valuable insights into budgeting and calculating ROI that’s useful for all organisations.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 1

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

In the technology industry there tends to be a focus on being innovative, cutting-edge, and ground-breaking. Industry awards, conferences, and articles frequently showcase and reward vendors for technological innovations. Analysts and expert speakers regularly highlight case studies of companies that are early adopters, deploying technologies in inventive ways, or finding success by taking a chance on something new and unproven.

Innovation is essential to the advancement of technology but doesn’t automatically equal practical business benefits. Having companies try out new technological developments and deploy existing solutions in creative and unfamiliar ways is important for finding practical applications for new innovations. However, being the organisation that deploys an innovative technology typically requires being comfortable with a high level of risk.

Most companies don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take that degree of risk, whether real or inferred. For them, proven and reliable results are more important than being innovative and flashy. Projects that get budget approval and management backing are ones that are considered safe bets because they utilise established technologies that have documented business benefits.

Conversational AI is one technology that is regularly described with words like ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’. Simply having ‘AI’ in the name makes some people think of it as being futuristic or only for companies with the resources to implement it for the cool factor. It can be easy for business leaders to associate conversational AI with being a high-risk investment.

Deploying conversational AI solutions like chatbots and virtual agents can be risky but doesn’t have to be. Your organisation doesn’t need to be an early adopter of new innovations to benefit from this technology. Chatbot and virtual agent technology has been used by businesses for over two decades as part of their customer experience and employee engagement strategies, and you can take advantage of those learnings to leverage conversational AI within your organisation.

Over the course of this three-part blog series, I’ll outline three steps for minimising risk and maximising benefits of conversational AI projects. Let’s get started with the first and most important step:

Step 1: Be selective when deciding on a vendor and technology.

The conversational AI market is oversaturated with new, inexperienced start-ups and technologies that haven’t been well-tested in the real world. The first step to reducing your risk is to choose a vendor that is established in the industry and provides a technology that has proven results. Both criteria are important when it comes to risk level.

Vendor experience is critically important because the more knowledge your selected provider brings to your project, the more confident you can be in their advice and guidance. You want a vendor that will become an extension of your own team and knows what they are doing because they’ve done it all before. Working with experts means you benefit from their many years of experience, thereby making your investment less risky even if your company is new to this type of technology.

When evaluating a vendor’s experience, ask specifically about how many years the company has provided conversational AI technologies, as these solutions may be an offering added recently even though the company has been in business for decades. Also ask about the experience of their individual team members and staff turnover rates. If they have high staff turnover and are constantly training replacements for departing employees, then you will likely miss out on the risk-reducing personal expertise you want the vendor to bring to the collaboration.

Just as critical as the vendor experience is having proof of their technology delivering positive results in real world applications. Don’t assume that just because a provider isn’t a brand-new start-up that they have a well-performing conversational AI technology. If the company has been in business for four or five years and only has one customer, you should question why more companies aren’t using their technology and if working with them is a risky option.

To reduce risk, ask about how the vendor has deployed their technology within your industry and what documented business benefits those solutions are providing. Saying they have the ability to deploy important features and functionality is great, but you want to see the technology in action in live installs. Also ask them about the length of their customer relationships as long-term engagements indicate that existing customers are happy with the technology, their results, and the collaboration. The vendor should be able to provide you with customer references so you can get first-hand feedback on their conversational AI projects.

Keep in mind that even if your company is minimising risk by selecting a proven solution with reliable results, you still want to partner with a vendor that is consistently innovating. You may not be the organisation trying out those new innovations first, but you don’t want to invest in a solution that’s not going to improve as those advancements become well-tested and are shown to deliver business benefits.

In my next post, we’ll explore building a realistic business case as part of Step 2 for reducing risk. In the meantime, check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. It explains in more detail the most important questions to ask a vendor about their experience during your procurement process.

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.

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Finding a Clear Path Forward for Digital Customer Experience Priorities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A question that should be easier for companies to answer – and one that has become increasingly important this year: If your customers expect support on digital channels and you aren’t there to provide it, do you lose those customers to competitors who are?

A new survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week with marketers around the world found that, among customer-facing organisations with £50 million or more in annual revenue, 63% of respondents said they observed a “strong trend” of consumers adopting digital features more quickly as a result of COVID-19. An additional 33% saw “some trend’ of this happening.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots certainly experienced this trend, setting a record-breaking spike in usage during the first half of 2020. Using these digital self-service tools gave customers an easy way to find the most up-to-date information quickly during a time when contact centres were struggling with long hold and response times, reduced staffing and rapidly changing situations.

Often this trend towards using digital channels has been linked to Millennials and younger generations. However, the Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey found 40% of participants had observed a “strong trend” and 55% had observed “some trend” towards digital adoption among older consumers. This further highlights the importance of, and makes a stronger case for, digital transformation within organisations.

Regardless of whether this move to digital options is due to customer preference or out of necessity – physical locations closed, contact centres inundated, etc. – smart organisations know they need to pay attention and take action to support customers where they are. Digital customer experience (CX) projects can feel overwhelming – a massive undertaking without a clear path forward – during this time when so much seems overwhelming and uncertain.

Forrester analyst Judy Weader talks about CX prioritisation in a recent blog post as an important way for companies to make sound decisions. Not having a structured, consistent approach to prioritisation can lead to making poor choices on where to apply budget and staff, wasting critical time and under-delivering for customers. To help focus efforts and keep from being overwhelmed, Judy recommends prioritisation of CX improvement projects should be a conscious action, based on fact, and grounded in what matters most.

Some organisations may have actioned decisions quickly as a result of COVID-19, moving forward with digital projects initially thought to be temporary solutions to a temporary situation. Those projects should be re-examined and potentially prioritised as more permanent initiatives. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of digital tools and features, your CX might need more of a digital focus to give them the options and support expected on those channels.

If you are considering adding a chatbot or virtual agent to your list of CX priorities, the on-demand webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents is a useful resource. The webinar covers questions to ask when adding a self-service solution to your digital CX strategy, tips for selecting the right technology and a series of demonstrations showcasing live implementations across a variety of customer touchpoints.

As digital adoption among consumers across all age groups continues to trend upwards, you must take the proper steps to prioritise and focus your efforts to find the best way forward for your company and your customers. If you aren’t providing the digital tools and support customers expect and need, chances are they will leave you for a competitor that does.