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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.

Satisfy Your Curiosity About Deploying AI Virtual Agents and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Do you have a chatbot or virtual agent on your roadmap? Do you need to upgrade a poor performing self-service tool? Are you curious about successful use cases for AI-enhanced virtual agents?

If so, you’ll want to reserve your spot now to join Creative Virtual and Engage Customer for their upcoming webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents.

On Thursday, 4 June 2020 Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media, for this live webcast. Through a series of live demonstrations, they’ll explore:

  • Best practices for deploying and optimising conversational self-service
  • Questions to ask when selecting a chatbot or virtual agent solution
  • Tips for using AI and machine learning to improve performance
  • Guidelines for implementing seamless handover to live chat
  • Current live use cases and results from organisations around the world

Advancements in chatbot, virtual agent and conversational AI technologies have made them a go-to solution for providing easy-to-use and cost-effective customer support on digital channels. Customers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service options and appreciate being able to get help instantly at any time of the day or night. Companies benefit from reducing demand on contact centre agents and improving their customer experience.

The realities of the ongoing global pandemic have placed an increased pressure on organisations’ digital channels, including their existing virtual agent solutions. For many companies, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how they maintain and build customer loyalty during this time and in the future. Offering reliable self-service is an important piece of that strategy.

Register now for the webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents to learn more. Can’t attend the live event? Don’t worry, a recording will be sent to all registrants after the webinar.

You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent self-service and improve customer loyalty.

Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.

Hindsight May Be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

They say hindsight is 20/20, but companies can’t afford to rely solely on hindsight when it comes to their customer experience (CX). They should, of course, learn from past successes and failures and pay attention to the feedback from both customers and employees. However, that’s not enough to attract new business and build a loyal customer base. Companies also need to have a 20/20 CX vision.

Recently customer service and experience expert Shep Hyken tweeted his thoughts on customer service, pointing out the fact that “customers are getting smarter and expecting more”:

That “expecting more” includes effective service across touchpoints. For organisations, that means offering end-to-end engagement that blends self-service and human assisted support options. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.

Frost & Sullivan has identified 2020 as the year CX will overtake product and price as the number one way by which companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. There’s no avoiding the reality that it’s more important than ever to effectively serve and engage customers across touchpoints. It’s key that organisations work with a vendor that has the right tools and expertise to help them create and implement a chatbot, virtual agent and live chat vision that is unique to them and their customers.

To help get you started, the expert team at Creative Virtual has put together a new guide: Creating a 20/20 Vision for Your Chatbot, Virtual Agent & Live Chat Strategy. The guide includes:

  • Three steps for creating a successful chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy
  • A checklist for selecting and partnering with the right vendor
  • Tips for using existing chatbot projects and live chat transcripts to jumpstart your vision

The new year is all about looking forward, so learn from your 2019 CX hits and misses but also take the time to map out an updated vision for 2020. Make it your resolution to be one of those “great companies” Shep Hyken referenced in his tweet this year. Download this guide for creating a 20/20 vision to get the inspirational juices flowing with our actionable steps, tips and vendor checklist.

Setting Realistic Expectations for AI-Enhanced CX Technologies

By Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer

On 31 October I joined my colleague Liam Ryan at the 2019 CXtech Conference & Technology Showcase, which was co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, in London.  Even though it was the fourth year Creative Virtual sponsored the joint events, it was my first opportunity to represent the company, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Liam and I chatted about what the day held in store while attendees started to arrive. The day was packed with presentations from experts in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, aimed at advising participants who were looking to find out more about this ever-growing technology. Liam was due to present at 10 am on the “Evolution of Customer Experience”. I could tell how much he was looking forward to it!

I was manning the Creative Virtual stand for most of the time so didn’t get to see many of the presentations, but I did join the audience for Liam’s presentation.

He reminisced for a short time about the olden days when phones were smart if you could send a text and computers couldn’t be popped in a bag to take to work, before talking about the high expectations of customers of today. He outlined Creative Virtual’s top tips for implementing chatbot, virtual agent and live chat technology. He went on to talk about how Creative Virtual are combining the technological advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence with the human touch to create customer experience solutions that deliver on the promises made.

After Liam’s presentation came a Q&A session and I was happily sitting as an anonymous participant, when Liam kindly put me on the spot to answer a question about how the deep learning works. That moment seems like a bit of a blur now, and I hope my reply was coherent! I explained how the deep learning, (based on a rather complicated algorithm!), works alongside customer intent, which is ultimately being overseen by a human to ensure a controlled evolution.

This was quite apt as it’s apparent that many companies are being given unrealistic expectations about what AI can achieve for them. In fact, we are finding that many companies either have struggled or are currently struggling with unsuccessful, and often very expensive, chatbot projects – some which have gone live, only to disappoint and others that never got off the ground. (Did you know that Creative Virtual is offering a free workshop to help companies who find themselves in this position?)

I spent the remainder my time at the conference talking to people who had been impressed with Liam’s presentation, and who’d come to find out more about what we do at Creative Virtual. It was interesting to see the varied reasons people were exploring the world of AI and what questions they had. These discussions made it obvious that companies are approaching chatbot and virtual agent technology as a must-have for their customer experience and employee engagement strategies. However, often they are being cautious because there are so many options in the marketplace that can’t deliver positive results.

The day made me feel quite privileged to work in such a fast-moving and exciting arena. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our stand to learn more and to the event organisers for putting together an insight day for both the sponsors and attendees.

If you missed the event or Liam’s keynote session, be sure to download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent.

CXtech

We’re Coming to Rescue Your Failing Chatbot Project!

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In my role leading a global company, I have the opportunity to travel all over the world speaking at conferences, meeting with enterprise executives and collaborating with other industry experts. Everywhere I go, I hear stories from organisations that have started on chatbot projects which is exciting for the industry. Yet all too often that excitement turns to disappointment in these stories as we are seeing many of these projects failing or never coming to fruition.

I’m not alone in seeing this common theme. I’ve had many discussions with industry analysts this year who have echoed this same concern, and we’ve encountered this issue first-hand with some of our most recent customers who came to us for help after struggling with other chatbot products. Failing chatbot projects have also garnered negative press coverage for companies. Telecommunications company Telstra was in the news when their virtual agent Codi, a joint project with IBM and LivePerson, was branded a ‘virtual moron-idiot’ by customers. Failing to answer even basic questions, it left users frustrated and sharing their negative experiences with the world. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), a government agency in Australia, was criticised for spending more than $3.5 million AUD on an IBM Watson chatbot project that never even reached the testing stage. It’s not uncommon today to find enterprises with more than 10 internal chatbot projects in progress – and none of them actually delivering on their potential.

As someone who has been involved with virtual agent and chatbot technology since its infancy, I felt passionately that it was time for my company to act – and the expert team at Creative Virtual agreed. We know intimately how well this technology can work for enterprises and don’t want them to continue to miss out on those benefits. That’s why we are now on a Rescue Mission!

The goal of this mission is to rescue organisations struggling with poor performing chatbots and projects that never got off the ground. Instead of abandoning their failing projects, we are helping companies save their investments by leveraging what they already have and building on that to create a successful chatbot. We’re offering a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to our award-winning V-Person™ platform to get the transformation project started.

Creative Virtual is in a unique position to rescue these failing chatbot projects. As a company, we have over 15 years of experience in the virtual agent and chatbot space. Our very first enterprise customer is still a customer today – that’s 15 years of consistently delivering successful solutions for them! We’re able to do that because we have a highly experienced team that delivers best practice expertise alongside our innovative and award-winning technology.

Earlier this year Frost & Sullivan named Creative Virtual the AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader. In their independent review, they praised not only the capabilities and performance of our technology but also the effective way we provide the guidance of an experienced strategic partner to our clients. That combination of people and technology is what makes us perfectly suited to lead this Rescue Mission!

If you’re struggling with a poor-performing chatbot/virtual agent or are unsure about what to do with a failing chatbot project (or 10 failing projects!), we want to help. Let Creative Virtual save your investment by transforming your failing chatbot into a successful conversational AI solution. Sign up today for your no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade.

We’re coming to rescue you!

AI, Customer Experience and the Financial Services Industry

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

When I founded Creative Virtual over 15 years ago, our very first customer was a financial organisation. Not only are they still a customer today, but they also became the first on a long list of brands our team would work with in the financial services industry. Over the years, we’ve developed an expertise in creating, implementing and maintaining chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for major financial organisations. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those insights with you in my opening keynote at the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum.

This one-day interactive event will be held on Thursday, 27 June at The Shard in London. The agenda features a combination of presentations, case studies and panel debates designed for attendees to gather insights and advice from leading experts and practitioners in the financial services space.

In my keynote, Taking Your CX into the Future with Conversational AI, I’ll explore the growing role customer experience (CX) is playing in customer acquisition and retention and address the specific challenges financial brands are facing as they look to incorporate new CX technologies with legacy systems while still maintaining compliance with strict industry regulations. Through a series of live demonstrations, I’ll show best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. I’ll also explain why a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human input is necessary for successful and reliable CX solutions.

In today’s highly connected digital world, customers expect the same level of personalised, easy-to-access service and support from their financial institutions as they receive from companies across all other industries. It’s important for financial brands to work with an experienced team that provides best practice expertise – both specifically in the financial services industry and more generally in current and developing customer service trends – alongside innovative technology to deliver conversational AI solutions that are reliable, compliant and futureproof.

I’m also looking forward to being on a panel debate hosted by Martin Hill-Wilson, an expert in customer engagement strategy and implementation. Creative Virtual is the official sponsor of the Directors’ Forum, and we’ll have members of our team on hand to share more live demos and tips to help attendees build their business case for conversational AI.

There are a limited number of tickets still available for the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum, so reserve your spot today!

You can also learn more by downloading our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 and see our conversational AI platform in action by requesting a personalised demo.

The Campaign to Win Over Customers

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In electoral campaigns, candidates share their ideas, come up with catchy slogans and make promises to gain the support of voters and best their opponents. For businesses, every day is like a day on the campaign trail. There is a constant battle with competitors as they try to outdo each other with a superior product or service, lower pricing and an easier customer experience. As customers, we are choosing the winners and the losers every day by deciding where to spend our money.

I wrote recently about the prediction that 2020 will be the year that customer experience overtakes product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves in the marketplace. While we don’t have long to wait to see if that prediction comes to fruition, businesses don’t have the luxury of taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. If they haven’t already been putting time and effort into improvements to their customer experience and cultivating the company culture needed to make that a priority, they’ve put themselves at a great disadvantage.

I’ve also written before about the so-called ‘Amazon effect’ on customer experience expectations. Amazon and other companies that are delivering high quality experiences, including excellent service and support, are creating a customer base that is now expecting that same level of customer experience from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry. This is helping to push customer experience ahead of product and price in purchasing decisions.

Case in point: over the weekend I got a text from a friend that read ‘Lesson learned…I’m sticking with Amazon from now on…returns are super easy!’ She had been dealing with a drawn-out and frustrating return process for an item that, had she purchased it from Amazon, could have been sorted out in minutes on their website. That business had just lost a customer because of the poor experience they delivered; an experience that didn’t meet the expectations created by a customer knowing there could have been a simpler, quicker process in place.

Customer service and support is one area of the overall customer experience where organisations have often struggled to keep customers happy. One reason is the rapid change in how we communicate both with companies and each other, driven by technology and increased internet access. Not that long ago, businesses were only dealing with providing support in person, over the phone or via email. Now customers are looking for answers and information on websites, social media, messaging apps and smart speakers, too.

Forward-thinking companies understand that the future of customer service lies in automation. It’s not feasible to support customers on every communication channel with humans alone – and customers don’t expect that. Conversational chatbots and virtual agents are a smart way to deliver automated self-service for customers across multiple channels. These automated solutions can also be used to assist customer service agents in the contact centre to improve both the customer and agent experience. The key is to be smart about this automation, though. Work with a knowledgeable team to implement the right combination of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and human input to set your efforts up for long-term success.

In the relentless campaign to win over customers, it’s easy for businesses to promise a seamless, easy and positive customer experience. But as customer experience becomes more and more important in the decision-making process, it will be the companies that deliver on those promises that will come out victorious.

Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Chatbots and virtual agents have proven themselves to be quality self-service solutions, being increasingly implemented by smart organisations to provide support and being increasingly preferred by customers and employees for quick, easy access to information. Many more organisations around the world either have a virtual agent on their 2019 roadmap or are considering adding one. Yet, despite all the success stories, there are also stories of failed implementations and conflicting messages about artificial intelligence (AI) that are giving decisionmakers pause.

The explosion of interest in chatbots over the last several years helped bring attention to the technology but has left the market confused with media hype and a growing number of new, inexperienced vendors trying to break into the industry. It can be difficult to know how to select the best technology and implement it for long-term success, but organisations shouldn’t let this deter them from plans to offer a conversational self-service tool.

Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 addresses the most important items organisations should consider when evaluating and deploying this technology with eight actionable recommendations covering topics including:

  • Building your business case around the right key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Selecting a technology that fits with your roadmap and provides the necessary security and integration options
  • Collaborating with a vendor that can provide expertise beyond just the technology
  • Implementing your solution to create a seamless omnichannel experience
  • Keeping your solution accurate and up-to-date with the right combination of humans and AI

Chatbot and virtual agent technology continues to change quickly, and organisations need to keep in mind that the technology of 2019 is not the same as that of even a few years ago. Educating yourself – and others in your organisation – about the current capabilities and deployment options of these solutions needs to be the first step in your chatbot or virtual agent journey. Companies with failed chatbot implementations or tools that haven’t kept pace with more recent technology developments will also find these eight tips helpful to determine next steps for finding a replacement solution.

Download Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 for help with selecting, deploying and maintaining a successful self-service solution this year.