The British 10k and Pie in the Face for the RSPCA

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

We did it! Our five-member team from Creative Virtual – Rachel, Tracey, Alex, Kristina and myself – completed the British 10k on Sunday, 9th July 2017. We raised over £1,000 for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). It was an incredible feeling afterwards, but I must say, it was the toughest 10k race I’ve ever done. At 9:30am when the race started the sun was shining bright and it was very hot! The water and shower stations around the course were very much welcomed!

At least the weather was good for the spectators! It was a good fun day, with music and cheering. I love this particular run as it covers some great London landmarks – and it’s so nice seeing them with no traffic (well, it’s hard to take a lot in when you’re running and panting! – but it’s still nice).

And it was nice to soak up the sunshine afterwards as we strolled around London proudly wearing our medals.

The British 10k

To assist with the fundraising efforts, Rachel, Liam and myself foolishly agreed to be on the receiving end of a sponsored pie throwing event at our UK summer party. They say I cheated, but I reckon I just have better reflexes! 🙂

A big thanks to everyone who helped us exceed our fundraising target.

You can still sponsor us by donating through our 10K JustGiving page or by sending a text if you are in the UK to 70070: CVCV50 and an amount of £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10.

Thanks for all of your support – Go Team Animal!

Fundraising for RSPCA

Creating the Best Conversations with Digital Customers

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many company executives looking for ways to improve their customer service and support. As more and more emphasis has been placed on the customer experience as a competitive differentiator, it’s become increasingly important to organisations to provide quick and easy support options for digital customers. Companies are looking for the best way to manage customer engagement and create positive experiences.

I’m proud to say that Creative Virtual’s technology has once again been recognised as the being the best in these areas. We’ve been named ‘Best for Self-Service Customer Experience Management Solutions 2017’ and ‘Best Natural Language & Knowledge Management Technology: V-Person Mobile™’ by the 2017 UK Enterprise Awards!

There’s no denying that we’re living in a mobile-first world with digital customers who prefer quick, easy self-service options. It’s become essential for companies to provide seamless and effortless support to customers on their preferred devices, or risk losing customers to competitors that do. With Creative Virtual’s V-Person virtual agents, organisations can engage customers in natural language conversations and provide the digital self-service customers want. By maintaining content for all self-service channels, as well as human-assisted channels, in a central knowledgebase, companies can easily manage the customer experience and ensure that they are providing consistent and reliable information no matter how customers engage.

Liam Ryan, APSIRecently I was invited to speak about chatbots and virtual agents at an event in Luxembourg focused on software robotics and artificial intelligence. There’s been lots of buzz around AI and chatbots lately, but it’s important to look past all the hype to be realistic about these solutions. At Creative Virtual, we know that customer service is not the place for pure AI and so we use an industry-defining combination of self-learning and human curation of content for our chatbots and virtual agents. I explained during my presentation how this hybrid approach enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of virtual agent responses.

It is this approach to self-learning combined with the backing of V-Portal™, our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform, that makes our natural language self-service solutions stand out in the marketplace. Our virtual agents are answering over 50 million questions a year, and that number is constantly growing.

Request your own live demo to see how you can create the best conversations with your digital customers.

My thanks to the UK Enterprise Awards for recognising Creative Virtual with these two awards. You can read our official award announcement here.

What’s the Point of Contact Deflection?

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

Contact Deflection – is there a reason why so many companies have this as an objective? Well, our clients tell us what their goals and pain points are, but I can’t help thinking that treating one’s contact centre as a cost centre is past its prime. Also, if you want to make money, contact with your customers is a good thing. At least, that was my theory.

I was therefore quite happy to be able to speak in front of the Call Center Verband (Call Centre Association) in Halle, Germany, as well as meet the European customer service directors of the Deutsche Telekom AG at their gathering in Budapest. An opportunity to talk to people from the field and test my thinking. I expected at least some consensus, though: DTAG gave me 90 minutes of airtime for a speech on “Growth Through Customer Service” (funnily enough the title of one of our blogs from 2015), so I could tell I was on the same page with the organisers at least.

As the Budapest event was with the service directors while the one in Halle was with those who actually run the call centres, the two meetings represented two different points of view on the same topic. Still there was a lot of agreement: Customer service has become a differentiator for companies and a driver of revenue. People expect immediate, seamless service and their user journey starts on a (mobile) device. If you make them call, you can forget about first time resolution, channel containment and similar metrics, because it is too late. When people call or email, they have tried to get help through other channels before – and failed. Another thing came up: In this new scheme, agents need new skills. It was never fair to look at them as FAQ answering machines, but the demand for social and selling skills has grown a lot. It is now all the more important to support them in their work, serve them facts, help with procedures and let them focus on the relationship with the customer.

Not everything received such unanimous consent, however. The pace of such changes, the differences between industries and the rise of voice messages as a new channel left more than enough room for debate. Quite enjoyable, because nothing beats the voice of the customer – ours and theirs!

Check out this contact centre guide to learn more about the changes contact centres are facing and the transitioning role of agents.

Infographic: Are Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Some academics and experts are warning about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) – predicting everything from a huge loss of jobs to the end of the human race. At the same time, industry analysts are predicting significant increases in chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space. So what does this mean for your contact centre? Should you approach chatbots and virtual agents as threats? Are contact centres about to become completely automated?

Check out the new infographic below for a realistic overview of the impact AI, chatbots and virtual agents are having on the contact centre. And then download the whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre to learn more.

AI Chatbot Threat to Contact Centres

 

 

“Keeping it real with chatbots” – Impressions from the Chatbot Summit

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

“Your talk was the most down to earth”, an attendee wrote me via the event’s messaging app after I had delivered my keynote “A Hybrid Approach to Machine Learning” at the Chatbot Summit in Berlin.

Now, is that good or bad for a keynote? Shouldn’t I have been breath-taking or ground-breaking or both – instead of down to earth?

Gaging by the talks we had later at our booth, it was a compliment. Creators of chatbots, as well as potential buyers, were happy to see a way out of the current AI craze where unsupervised machine learning seems to be the one and only solution and the power of the human brain is overlooked – and which requires enormous amounts of groomed, relevant data.

Enterprise ChatbotsIn fact, the chatbot community struggles to add learning, conversation and personalisation to their systems, which are very often highly scripted things. I spoke to a chatbot builder who was forced to use algorithms to create training data. Puts a new spin on the “artificial” in Artificial Intelligence.

There was also a lot of uncertainty about how to move chatbots into the enterprise world. A world of timelines, budget, ROI and predictability. Again, what it takes is a robust, proven, down to earth approach to each project, combining the virtual (artificial) intelligence with the real and unlocking existing silos of information. Not everyone from the chatbot crowd was happy to hear that though.

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic, energising event! I was pleased to join this buzzing chatbot community (we had our first discussions with other attendees while setting up our booth; it wasn’t even 8am!) and to learn that the number of bots is currently growing faster than the number of apps grew when the age of the apps began (and it is in decline again already). It is even fair to say I was touched to see a technology lift off that Creative Virtual has fostered and helped grow for over a decade – in fact, some of our senior management team started this in the last millennium.

AI, Chatbots and the Threat to Your Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Warnings abound about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart robots, with industry and academic experts such as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates expressing concerns about everything from a huge loss of jobs to the end of the human race. Yet in a recent interview with the BBC, Garry Kasparov, chess grandmaster and keynote speaker at last year’s Social Robotics & AI conference, said this:

“Intelligent machines will not make us obsolete but our complacency might.”

So, should we be worried about intelligent machines taking over the world and triggering the end of life as we know it? Once seen as a far-off dream of the future and the stuff of science fiction, AI has become a reality in households and workplaces around the world. From the voice assistants on our phones to the self-driving cars in our streets to the chatbots providing customer service on Facebook Messenger, AI is having an impact on our day-to-day lives.

Customer experience professionals should also be questioning the impact chatbots and intelligent virtual agents are already having, and will continue to have, on the contact centre. The age-old debate about whether automated self-service or human-assisted support is better seems to be coming to a head as technology and generational changes are having a big impact on how we communicate with each other and companies. Are AI-powered chatbots the future of the contact centre, or are they a threat signalling the end of contact centres?

In order to get a realistic view of AI, we need to take a step back from the warnings, predictions, promises and hype to see where we are right now. The perfect place to start is the brand new whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre. This whitepaper discusses the warnings about the dangers of AI, the inflated expectations for chatbots created by unrealistic promises in the marketplace and the reality of using these technologies in the contact centre and for automated self-service. More specifically, it guides readers through:

  • A realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer experience space
  • The impact of chatbots and virtual agents on the contact centre
  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

When it comes to AI, chatbots and virtual agents in the customer engagement space, organisations need to make informed decisions based on realistic expectations. Download a full copy of this whitepaper to get a better understanding of the technology and how it’s already starting to impact your contact centre.

Calling All Chatbot Enthusiasts to Berlin!

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Chatbots will take centre stage – along with the Development & AI Stage and the Product & UX Stage! – in Berlin next week at the Chatbot Summit. In its second year, the summit will bring together industry experts, established vendors, new start-ups and chatbot enthusiasts for a day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities on Monday, 26 June 2017.

Creative Virtual is pleased to be a sponsor of this year’s summit and to have Björn Gülsdorff, our Head of Business Development, joining the list of esteemed event speakers. Björn’s keynote presentation, Enterprise Chatbots: Taking a Hybrid Approach to Machine Learning, is scheduled for the afternoon on the Development & AI Stage. He’ll explore why pure AI and chatbots touted as wholly self-learning and self-maintaining aren’t a good fit for providing predictable, consistent and reliable customer service.

The Creative Virtual team will also be manning booth #13 where attendees can see live demos of our innovative chatbot solutions and get a look behind the scenes at the science of conversation. As an established and trusted vendor in this space, our chatbots are answering over 50 million questions every year for enterprises around the world – and that number is constantly growing! In April, Creative Virtual was awarded The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 which was a win for the chatbot and virtual agent industry as well as our company. In order to receive the award, we had to prove not only that we’ve developed innovative technologies, but that Creative Virtual is achieving outstanding commercial success because of it. The Queen’s Awards recognition brings attention to chatbot technology and the positive results forward-thinking organisations are already achieving with our solutions.

In the early days of the technology, chatbots and virtual agents were standalone self-service tools that could answer only very basic questions and were often viewed as a novelty rather than a way to improve the customer experience or cut customer support costs. Today, they are tried-and-tested tools for providing digital self-service with greatly improved conversational abilities, options for integration across customer contact channels and proven results for reducing costs and improving customer experience. The Chatbot Summit – an event focused solely on this technology and its applications – highlights this exciting evolution and the growing awareness of chatbots.

Interested in joining us in Berlin for the Chatbot Summit? Purchase your tickets now using code cvbot20 and receive a 20% discount.

Not able to attend or want to do a little preparation before the summit? Download our educational whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbot and Avatars – confusing or what! to learn more about the role of chatbots in digital customer engagement.

APPEX Omnichannel Takes Home Top Catalyst Honours at TM Forum Live! 2017

By Liam Ryan, Head of Sales

Enhancing the omnichannel customer experience should be a goal of every company, but we all know how challenging this can be when it comes to the reality of designing and implementing a consistent and seamless experience. That’s why at Creative Virtual we’re excited to be participating in the APPEX Omnichannel Catalyst as part of TM Forum’s Catalyst Project. And we’re proud to share that the project recently took home the ‘Outstanding Performance’ award in the Customer Centricity & Analytics stream of the Catalyst Program at TM Forum Live! 2017 in Nice, France!

First, a little about TM Forum and the Catalyst Program. TM Forum is the global industry association that drives collaboration and collective problem-solving to maximise the business success of communication and digital service providers and their ecosystem of suppliers. Catalysts are member-driven proof-of-concept projects which connect diverse organisations to develop innovative, commercially viable prototypes of new digital services and business models.

The object of the APPEX Omnichannel Catalyst has been the creation of an omnichannel solution environment for the service provider sector to encourage omnichannel adoption in order to enhance the customer experience across all channels. Creative Virtual joined the Catalyst this year as the project’s chatbot technology provider. Check out this interview with Deepanshu Motani, Enterprise Architect, Vodafone Group to understand more about the APPEX Omnichannel initiative:

 

A record-breaking number of Catalysts were showcased at TM Forum Live! this year, which was held 15-18 May at the Acropolis Convention Center in Nice. Each team provided demos of the projects on their stand for event attendees and TM Forum’s Strategy Committee who served as the judges. Visitors to the APPEX Omnichannel stand were treated to a fully immersive experience while watching the video below through the use of virtual reality technology.

TM Forum Live! 2017

 

TM Forum announced the winners of the 2017 Catalyst Awards at the end of the day on 17 May, and we were thrilled to hear APPEX Omnichannel announced as winners of the ‘Outstanding Performance in the Catalyst Program’ award! Congratulations to the entire APPEX Omnichannel team, and thanks to Huawei for inviting Creative Virtual to be a part of this exciting initiative.

Check out our TM Forum Live! 2017 photo album for more photos from the event.

Team Animal Takes on the British 10K for RSPCA

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

On Sunday, 9th July 2017 a five-member team from Creative Virtual – Rachel, Tracey, Alex, Kristina and myself – will dust off our running shoes and take part in the British 10K to raise money for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). With only about 6 weeks to go until the race, we’ll be stepping up our training and our fundraising efforts. Here are some thoughts on the upcoming run from Tracey and myself:

Tracey running the 10KTracey says: “This will be my third time participating in a 10K. Well, I say participating because with time it’s now better for me to walk than to run because my knees just can’t handle the extra pressure of running. Despite bad knees, I have signed up this year to literally get myself moving again. My goal is to shave some time off of last year’s time and to keep moving forward!

Since I work remotely, my training once again consists of long walks around the village, through the beautiful asparagus and strawberry fields of our local famer and going through the town of Darmstadt. Just recently, training consisted of a climb up into the hills to see Frankenstein Castle.

I always enjoy telling everyone here and afar about our efforts and getting funds drummed up. The RSPCA is such a worthy charity and it’s great supporting their good work. And nothing beats race day. In addition to the mounting anticipation leading up to the event; the excitement on race day is literally palpable – go team!”

As for me, my first ever ‘official’ run was the British 10K, three years ago. And like this year, it was also to raise money for the RSPCA. Since then I’ve done several other organised runs – and this year I did the London Marathon (I said never again as I crossed the finishing line, but now just a couple of weeks later, I’m contemplating my next one! – that’s what running does, it’s like a drug!).

It’s a great feeling leading up to a run – the training can be hard – especially in the UK winter, but I travel quite a lot and always take my running stuff with me. With all that travelling and meetings, I find that running really helps in all sorts of ways – especially my energy levels. It’s also a great way to do some sightseeing in a new place. I love running beside the sea and river – and it’s a great feeling running on the beach barefoot in the surf. A great sense of freedom and being close to nature.

In our busy lives, being able to take a step back and think about things becomes increasingly difficult: ‘contemplation’ is fast becoming an extinct word from our dictionary! I find running gives me the time and state of mind to help me do this, and certainly helps me running (excuse the pun!) Creative Virtual.

Getting back to the build up to a competitive/organised race: there’s a real buzz on the actual day – everybody is focused on the same thing – and it’s amazing how much fun it is. And when you’re doing it for a really worthwhile cause it makes it even more special. This is the third time our company will be running to raise money for the RSPCA and we couldn’t be more proud to represent such a fantastic charity. Of course, there’s always a competitive edge to it – whether that’s trying to beat somebody at work or setting your own personal goal – it all adds to the fun!

The British 10K being in July means it can sometimes be a bit warm, but at least the training is at a good time of the year. The long light evenings gives lots of opportunity to run after work – and I consider myself very fortunate working and living on the Isle of Dogs, as I’ve got some fantastic running routes: great river runs, to the Tower of London for example, through Wapping; through the foot tunnel to Greenwich Park, up to the observatory (the hill is quite challenging! – as is climbing the stairs in the foot tunnel. I’ve often been tempted to take the lift, especially on those occasions where the lift doors have just opened at the right time!); and it’s easy where I live to combine the River Thames, canals, parks, great views and famous landmarks in a single run. We’ve also got a weekly office running club (that’s some of us pictured above!) going which is good fun.

10K QuarkAnd it’s not just about the running: raising money for a charity like the RSPCA gets the whole company involved, as well as family and friends; and knowing all these people are supporting you gives you that extra boost!

You can sponsor us by donating through our 10K Justgiving page or by sending a text if you are in the UK to 70070: CVCV50 and an amount of £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10.

Thanks for all of your support – Go Team Animal!

Conversational Commerce for Demanding APAC Customers

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Effortless, Accurate, Seamless, Effective. When it comes to customer service, this is what customers expect. Yet putting the right technology, process and people in place to delight customers presents challenges for companies. This sparked insightful discussions during the 2017 Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) International Symposium on 28 April.

One hot topic was the growth of conversational systems – chatbots and virtual assistants – in Asia Pacific. Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, addressed this in his presentation titled Taking Your Contact Centre into the Future with EASE. He talked about the changes contact centres need to make to meet customer expectations, including best practices for bringing together chatbots and virtual agents with live chat. He shared live examples of virtual assistants in action and demonstrated how a combination of virtual and real support can benefit both customers and contact centres.

His presentation received a positive response from Symposium attendees. In the region we were seeing the change to self-service happening separately from the contact centre which was creating new challenges for companies. Now contact centre professionals are coming to understand that virtual assistants can work together with contact centre agents. They are seeing the benefits of including these conversational systems as part of their overall customer service plans. APAC customers are increasingly reliant on technology and inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences. Joining together the contact centre with self-service channels is necessary for companies to create delighted, loyal customers.

Another key takeaway from the event was that chatbots are one of the technologies that can be realised early along the road of digitalisation. This is important for companies struggling to move forward with their digital transformation. No matter what industry they are in, organisations are seeing the demand for conversational channels from their customers. Chatbot technology enables them to create digital conversations with customers that are effortless, accurate, seamless and effective.

My thanks to HKCCA for hosting another great event! It was a pleasure to take part alongside our partner company Continuous Technologies International Ltd for a third year.

You can learn more about how virtual assistants can work together with contact centre agents by downloading the guide, The Future of the Contact Centre. If you want to learn how chatbots can help your organisation create conversational commerce, request a live demo.

2017 HKCCA Symposium