IAC London 2016: Helping humans harness the power of intelligent assistants

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For the first time Opus Research is bringing their Intelligent Assistants Conference to Europe. IAC London 2016 is being held 26-27 April at Grosvenor House in London and will be co-located with Intelligent Authentication Conference 2016. The Opus Research team has put together an impressive agenda of expert panel discussions and keynote addresses focused on the conference theme of ‘helping humans harness the power of intelligent assistants’.

Creative Virtual is proud to be an event sponsor of IAC London 2016 and to have both our CTO, Peter Behrend, and our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, speaking as industry experts. Chris will join the ‘Executive Summit – Focus on the Enterprise’ panel discussion at 4:15 pm on Day 1, and Peter will be a panellist in the Day 2 session ‘Striking the “People Versus Machines” Balance’ scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm. Both bring years of experience within the intelligent virtual assistant and self-service space to their panels.

David Cunningham, CTO Solutions at Atos UK and Ireland, will also be speaking at the conference about Atos’ experience in building Digital Customer Experience Transformation (DCXT). Atos has partnered with Creative Virtual and two other industry leaders to deliver DCXT, a dynamic tool for personal finance management which utilises our intelligent virtual assistant technology. This enables customers to interact with the solution in natural language to pose questions and ask for in-context information based on their current financial position and what they are trying to achieve.

As an event sponsor, Creative Virtual will have a stand in the vendor exhibition area. Liam Ryan, Head of Sales, will be available at the stand to provide live demos of our innovative virtual assistant solutions for conference attendees. Be sure to stop by to say hello, see a demo and pick up some additional information.

More conference details and a full agenda can be found on the IAC London 2016 website. If you aren’t able to attend the event but would like to learn more about how your organisation can harness the power of intelligent virtual assistant technology, please contact us.

Knowledge Management + Virtual Assistants = Award-Winning Contact Centre Solutions

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In 2015 Motability Operations, a long time Creative Virtual customer, was recognised with the Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture as part of the Customer Contact Innovation Awards presented by The Forum. The judges selected Motability Operations because “their approach to knowledge management builds trust and supports effective conversations, getting it ‘right first time’, optimising call length and – above all – helping advisors give customers confidence.”

This year, The Forum has generously invited Creative Virtual to their annual flagship Customer Strategy and Planning conference, which culminates with the Customer Contact Innovation Awards gala dinner. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, will present a lunchtime showcase to demonstrate the technology behind Motability Operations’ award-winning approach to knowledge management. His session will focus on the powerful uses of combining intelligent virtual assistants with knowledge management and feature several live demonstrations of current customer implementations. He’ll cover breaking down information and departmental silos to create consistency, keeping content accurate with a feedback loop in line with industry best practices, and building confidence with customers while achieving top customer and employee satisfaction scores.

Creative Virtual’s innovative V-Person Contact Centre™ solutions bring together natural language virtual assistant technology with a powerful knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform (V-Portal™). Motability Operations, and their virtual assistant Ask Mo, is a great success story of how this technology can help contact centres reduce agent training times, keep content accurate and consistent, increase first contact resolution and optimise call length.

The Forum’s Customer Strategy and Planning 2016 will be held 25-26 April in Stratford upon Avon. Chris will present his Knowledge Management Showcase on Day 1 of the conference starting at 13:10. Creative Virtual will also be exhibiting and giving individual demonstrations as part of the Conference Expo on both days of the event. More information and the full agenda can be found on The Forum website.

If you aren’t able to attend the conference but would like to learn how the combination of intelligent virtual assistants and knowledge management can help your contact centre achieve success, please request an individual demo.

Don’t be a Robot: Are Instant Replies Always Best?

By Alessandro Giordo, Web Developer and Support Technician

I’ve always loved the interaction between human and machine. No wonder I’m a Developer, used to communicating every day with computers and programs using their language, or mine.

When I started using online chats and support chats, I also started wondering about having a computer on the other end “talking”, creating a feeling like it’s a real person answering your questions.

The line between a robot and a human being is quite clear still in many areas, although we have come very far from even a few years ago. There are ways of masking the feeling of artificiality, and I’m here to talk about some of them which can be a reality today.

In a customer service environment effectiveness and accuracy, matched with speed, are essentials. Creative Virtual’s virtual agents (VAs) reply instantly to customers’ questions, providing meaningful answers and giving users a choice of related questions or actions.

What if the VA is used for a game, a social network or something less “businessy”? What if the goal is to create the sensation that there is a real person, character or player giving the response? Is providing an instant answer ideal for these situations?

Now… I do write quite fast, but if I were to answer you in less than half a second I would be Superman, The Flash or a Robot. Unfortunately I’m not Superman…

The idea here is to have a “delay” in answering the question.

Why would you delay something? The quicker the better, right? Well, it depends.  If the objective is to give a sense of reality, of interaction, between you and the AI then perhaps instant replies aren’t better.

Social networks, games and other types of online media look for interaction, community, being social. Although very useful in some applications, a robotic answer is not social and doesn’t provide the friendliness of a human when answering. If I were to answer your questions face-to-face instantly or before you even finished speaking, you would definitely be annoyed by it…

Now think of adding a “typing…” animation to the VA answer, simulating the behaviour of a human being typing – just like in many popular messaging applications – and you have a “real” person at the other side of the screen!

Recent studies indicate that this creates more involvement with the user and a more positive interaction in certain scenarios. There are more options and approaches, such as anticipating what the user might say before they even type it. The possibilities are endless, and I think we are on the right track to make interactions feel more authentic.

What do you think of the interaction between users and computers? Are you as excited as me to see what comes next in the ever-evolving world of technology?

Whether you want to discuss using VAs to provide instant answers or to act as a “real” person, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

The Smart Machines are Coming! Are You Ready?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Smart machines offer huge potential benefits to early adopters within financial services, even with regulators barring banks from some use cases. CIOs must proactively prioritize potential investments in smart machines and begin pilots in 2016.” *

Everything seems to be getting smarter these days – our phones, our TVs, our watches – and now even our banking experience. In their recent report Where Banks Can Use Smart Machines, Gartner Analysts Tom Austin and David Furlonger explore the impact six smart machines (smart vision systems, virtual customer assistants, virtual personal assistants, smart advisors, other natural-language processing technologies and smart campus infrastructure) will have on financial institutions during the next few years.

The report discusses both the direct and indirect impact these technologies will have on financial services and provides recommendations for CIOs and other business leaders on how to work together to exploit smart machines. Early adopters have the potential to take advantage of huge benefits, including a positive impact on customer experience, productivity and commercial value throughout the value chain.

Virtual customer assistants (VCAs) are one of the key smart machines discussed by Gartner. As a VCA vendor mentioned in the report, we at Creative Virtual have experienced first-hand the evolution of this technology within the financial sector. Like our phones and TVs, VCAs are becoming ‘smarter’ and have proven their value by improving customer experience while reducing support costs for organisations currently utilising the technology.

Gartner includes some powerful sample use cases of smart machines already being used by banks. Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD) is included on this list with their VCA ‘Ask Sara’ which is powered by Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology. We know this is a great use case for financial organisations researching VCA technology. CBD has not only won several external awards for their VCA, but they have received a great response from their customers. They now offer ‘Ask Sara’ across desktops, mobiles, tablets and kiosks, and in 2015 implemented an Arabic version (in addition to the existing English version) of their VCA to provide a self-service option to even more of their customers.

“At CBD, our goal is to bring online banking to the next level: smarter, easier and responsive. Virtual Assistant Sara helps us do that across desktops, mobiles, tablets and kiosks.”

– Deputy General Manager, Personal Banking Group, CBD

Gartner’s Where Banks Can Use Smart Machines is available to download from Creative Virtual for a limited time (request your copy here), so don’t miss this opportunity to read the full report.

After reading the report, be sure to check out CBD’s Customer Success Story for more details about the implementation and positive impact of their VCA.

 

 

* Gartner, Where Banks Can Use Smart Machines, Tom Austin & David Furlonger, 16 January 2016

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

It’s Time to Talk About the End-to-End Digital Employee Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Talking about the end-to-end digital customer experience is nothing new. Over the past several years we’ve seen organisations take on the challenge of how to serve highly connected, always on customers. While this has certainly not been an easy undertaking, companies are now understanding the importance and necessity of providing customers with a complete digital experience and are embracing it throughout the organisation as a key part of their overall customer experience strategy.

What has been missing from this conversation for many organisations has been the end-to-end digital employee experience. The good news is that recently this has started to change, and I’m seeing a real maturity happening within organisations. Companies are now looking internally as well as externally and considering the employee point of view. They are recognising that employees needing support don’t want to find a phone to call the service desk or be constrained by the working hours of live agents any more than customers want to have that disjointed support experience. They are also realising that forcing employees to make a phone call or rely on the availability of live agents for every service desk contact is having a negative impact on overall productivity. In today’s increasingly digital workplace, the employee experience is something that organisations can’t afford to ignore.

Today we officially launched the newest addition to Creative Virtual’s suite of Smart Help solutions: V-Person Service Desk™. Our development of this self-service solution was in response to the growing need we saw for organisations to deliver quicker, easier service desk support for their employees without incurring the extra cost of additional live agents. In the service desk space there is a focus on shifting work left, and that’s exactly what V-Person Service Desk is designed to do. By giving employees the proper tools to troubleshoot instantly, they are empowered to self-serve, when and where they require support, without needing to contact a live service desk agent. This reduces service desk support costs while improving productivity.

Like our other V-Person solutions, the virtual agent understands questions asked in natural language and provides an instant, consistent answer every time. V-Person Service Desk is also designed to be complementary to the systems and processes organisations already have in place. It can be easily integrated with existing Single Sign-On (SSO) and ticketing systems, third party databases and live chat systems. By integrating with your SSO system, the virtual agent is able to provide employees with an extremely personalised experience based on pieces of information unique to each user, such as their name and location, which devices they have, the system they run on, and applications to which they subscribe, with no extra effort needed from the employee seeking support.

You can learn more about this service desk solution and download a product overview on our V-Person Service Desk page. We’d also love to schedule a live demo to show you how our Smart Help solution can help you improve productivity and reduce growing service desk support costs.

Is Your Customer Support Team Turning into the Working Dead?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Recently I read an article discussing the effect multichannel support is having on customer support professionals. Balancing a heavy workload, which is only predicted to increase in 2016 as multichannel support grows, has made the risk of burnout a huge challenge for the industry. With burnout comes less satisfied and engaged team members and, ultimately, a greater turnover of support staff. So what can organisations do to lighten workloads and reduce the risk of their support team turning into the working dead?

Implementing self-service solutions that are easy for customers to use and access is a great first step in reducing your contact centre’s workload. For example, intelligent virtual agents are proven to provide average contact deflection rates of 20-30%. Some organisations are seeing up to 80% reductions in live chat sessions by placing a virtual agent in front of their live chat system.

Self-service virtual assistants benefit your customer support team in a number of ways. They lighten the workload by decreasing the overall volume of questions and support issues that come into your contact centre. Even as the number of customer contact channels grows, the flexibility of this Smart Help technology allows self-service solutions to be deployed across touchpoints, including web, mobile, social, kiosk and IVR. By empowering customers to self-serve for transactional queries and troubleshooting common problems, your support team is freed up to assist customers with more complex issues that truly need human assistance. Not only do customers appreciate being able to get quick resolution without a call or email, but live agents also benefit from no longer having to deal with the tedious task of dealing with those basic issues over and over.

When it comes to fighting burnout, giving your support team the proper tools to do their job is just as important as reducing the volume of contacts coming in from your customers. One organisation excelling at doing this is Motability Operations. Their award-winning virtual assistant ‘Ask Mo’ is helping them achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores. The virtual assistant enables their contact centre advisors to search for information in natural language and then provides answers instantly that are easy to digest and customise for the individual customer. Advisors can also provide real-time feedback on missing or incorrect content which gives them an added layer of confidence that answers are current and accurate and allows them to focus on engaging with customers. Motability Operations also uses ‘Ask Mo’ as a training tool, drastically reducing the training time needed for new advisors and creating comfortability from the beginning with the tool they will be using on a daily basis to assist customers.

When backed by the proper knowledge management platform, both self-service and contact centre virtual assistants can be deployed using the same knowledgebase which further relieves stress on customer support teams by ensuring consistent communication. You and your support team can have confidence that regardless of the touchpoint or the live agent providing assistance, customers will receive the same information to answer their questions.

With the growth of multichannel support, organisations need to be proactive in taking steps to keep workloads manageable for their customer support teams in order to reduce burnout. How are you keeping your team from turning into the working dead?

Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The New Year is here, and with it the much anticipated 2016 predictions, outlooks and trends for just about every industry and field, including customer service. With customer service a key part of the overall customer experience, every organisation should be keeping an eye on developments in the space and evaluating which can help improve support for their existing and potential customers.

Analyst Kate Leggett shared five of her top trends to watch this year in her blog post Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016. Trend number one should come as no surprise: Companies will make self-service easier. Kate reports that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when customers were unable to successfully self-serve, rather than as the initial channel of contact. In 2016, organisations will strive to make self-service easier for customers by looking at their knowledge management strategies and exploring virtual agent solutions.

The themes of self-service and human assistance – and the combination of those channels – also featured prominently when Call Centre Helper turned to their readers and contact centre experts with the question: What Will Happen to the Contact Centre in 2016 and Beyond? One contributor predicted that artificial intelligence will ‘take care of everything’ with only complaints being escalated to a human agent. Another reader looked to self-care options to handle transactional queries but not be able to replace the desire of customers to speak with a human. A third reader declared that as soon as virtual agents pass the Turing Test, ‘it will be Artificial Intelligence all the way!’

While it’s not likely that contact centres will turn to artificial intelligence ‘all the way’ in 2016, it’s important to recognise the impact that advances in natural language virtual agents are having in the customer service space today. Once stand-alone tools only able to answer basic questions, they are now sophisticated Smart Help solutions proven to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing support costs for organisations. Virtual agents are great at handling transactional queries, including personalised, account-specific questions and tasks, thanks to advanced integration options. When backed by the right knowledge management platform, virtual agents can easily be deployed across customer channels, including web, mobile and social, to make consistent, accurate self-service easier for both companies and their customers.

The virtual agents of 2016 are also designed to be complementary to live chat and other human-assisted support channels, with seamless escalation from self-service to a human agent. They are being successfully deployed within contact centres to support live agents and assure consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels. Through real-time and Voice of the Customer reporting, virtual agents are also giving organisations incredible insight into customer questions and behaviours that help improve their customer service strategies.

With customer preferences shifting towards easy self-service, there’s no better time than 2016 for organisations to explore the combination of virtual and human agents to create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.

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

By Karen McFarlane, VP of Marketing (Americas)

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

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

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

Another great question! To find the answer:

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

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

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

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

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

5 New Year’s Resolutions That May Not Have Made Your List

By Karen McFarlane, VP of Marketing (Americas)

As you start implementing your 2016 plans, don’t forget that you already have a powerful marketing tool at your disposal that you need to consistently nurture – your customers. They are your single most important marketing tool and no amount of money can equal their impact. With customer service being called the new marketing, it’s imperative that organizations not only understand how customers currently engage with their brand, but also how customers want to engage going forward. To help you with this thought process, I propose five New Year’s Resolutions to add to your list.

  1. Treat existing customers like gold: It’s harder to acquire a new customer than it is to keep and upsell an existing one. You’ve heard that before, but have you crunched the numbers? Calculate your cost per acquisition (CAC) and compare it to your retention numbers including churn and lifetime value (LTV) to determine the true value of your customer. Once you’ve figured that out, make sure you dedicate the time, resources and dollars to support that value. In turn, you’ll create happy customers who will remain loyal, become brand ambassadors and refer new customers.
  2. Empower your live agents: Live agents are often the first point of human contact for new and existing customers. When customers contact you, they want swift and helpful resolution. Therefore, you must develop a “customer-first” philosophy that is backed by your mission, vision and internal processes. Think about the tools and resources you can provide live agents to help increase their productivity and ability to achieve first contact resolution for every customer. And be specific. Let them know what kinds of decisions they can make on their own before having to escalate to a supervisor. To start, review your transcripts and find common problems that can be solved quickly through a live agent without the help of a supervisor, and break out the ones that can be handled through self-service tools.
  3. Know your customers: Customers don’t really want to talk to you, especially Millennials. Shocking, but true. They are more apt to seek answers for themselves turning to social media, forums, FAQs – anything they can get their hands on without having to wait in the dreaded queue. Think about how you can make more information available on-demand. Tools like live chat and intelligent virtual assistants help them sift through the clutter. Also, be sure you can provide self-service options on multiple devices. People are on-the-go and don’t want to be slowed down by unresponsive designs or apps that don’t provide real value.
  4. Enhance your existing tools. Dive into the data and be honest about your hits and misses. Whatever you’re doing well, make it better. Whatever you’re not doing well, ditch it or make it better. But be careful not to get bogged down by data. Going back to #3, take into consideration what your customers really want. So while your call center may be ringing off the hook, that doesn’t necessarily mean that customers want to talk to you; it could simply mean that they couldn’t find what they are looking for. Read between the lines, look for gaps and fill them.
  5. Embrace new technology. Automation is your friend and technology is getting better every day at solving our most insurmountable challenges. Intelligent virtual agents are able to talk to thousands of customers at the same time in any language and on every channel. There is no way you could have facilitated this a few years ago. Most of all, don’t be afraid to combine technologies to create even better experiences like live chat and IVAs. Dare to be creative. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Opportunity for Retail Banking Solutions in 2016

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In December BAI Banking Strategies published an Executive Report examining the coming year for the retail banking sector, and found the general outlook to be a combination of optimism and uncertainty. While this report focused mainly on the US, I know many of the challenges and opportunities identified will resonate with other financial organisations around the world as well.

I had the pleasure of contributing to one of the articles in the report, ‘Opportunity for Solutions Providers in 2016’, which takes a look at the trends and developments vendors are seeing as we enter the new year. It’s interesting to note that even though those interviewed have expertise in a variety of different types of solutions, there was a common theme that emerged: banking customers are expecting convenient, consistent and personalised experiences. This presents a variety of challenges for banks as they battle for customers in a highly competitive marketplace while also dealing with internal struggles against legacy systems and out-dated, siloed processes.

At Creative Virtual we have a strong track record in this sector, signing our first financial customer shortly after our company started trading (and I’m proud to say they are still our customer today!) and now working with banks in regions around the world. We know first-hand that over the years many financial organisations have already made large investments in improving their customer experience. That’s why it is important for us to offer solutions designed to be complementary to what organisations already have in place and which can be implemented without lengthy or complicated development projects.

As I explain in the article, Virtual Customer Assistants (VCA), also known as intelligent virtual agents, combined with a knowledge management platform empower banks to address their customers’ expectations of convenient, consistent and personalised experiences. As a complementary solution, a VCA can be integrated with other support options, existing CRM and contact centre systems, personalised account information and community forums – to name a few possibilities. Focusing on an omnichannel customer experience will really be key for financial organisations in 2016, and these solutions are a powerful player in meeting those goals.

My thanks to Katie Kuehner-Hebert, author of the article, for inviting me to provide my insights. I appreciate the opportunity! A full copy of the Executive Report can be downloaded from the BAI website. The ‘Opportunities for Solutions Providers in 2016’ article begins on page 21 of the report.

I also invite you to read more about V-Person™ for Finance, Creative Virtual’s solutions designed specifically for the financial services industry, and then experience the technology for yourself by requesting a personalised, live demo.