Is Your Organization Mature Enough to Implement Chatbots for Customer Service?

By the Creative Virtual Team

The recent development of AI platforms has brought with it lots of uncertainty. Many companies believe that artificial intelligence tools could help their business, but are unsure if their organization is sophisticated enough to implement such a solution.

While there are some prerequisites for implementing an AI-based virtual assistant in your organization, the barrier to entry is much lower than many believe. As technological developments make AI more advanced, they also make solutions like V-Person™ more accessible to businesses in every industry.

Artificial intelligence for self-service support: past vs. present

When artificial intelligence virtual assistants were in their earliest stages, they required a significant investment of time and capital. Companies might have had to hire one or more specialists trained specifically in how to manage an AI platform. A simple artificial intelligence chat solution might require an exhaustive long-term plan with a hefty budget to match.

Things have changed. Today, a company can set up and begin using an AI virtual assistant with an average, up-to-date machine. Creative Virtual’s V-Person solution can be easily installed on any normal computer running Windows or Linux and requires just 30 MB of disk space. There is no need to purchase high-end servers or invest in a massive infrastructure upgrade just to implement an AI solution.

Further, V-Person doesn’t require any ramp-up time once it is installed. As soon as the preliminary setups are complete, it can handle as many as one million conversations per year and will continue to learn and improve upon its customer support answers. And while we recommend providing ample time for setup and testing, Creative Virtual has designed and deployed V-Person chat solutions for complex, enterprise-level organizations in less than 30 days.

Don’t wait for the “perfect” time to implement virtual agent software

While AI customer service technology is still developing, all signs point to it being the next big frontier in technology. A June 2016 report published by market research company TechSci predicts that the U.S. artificial intelligence market will grow at an astounding 75% CAGR until the year 2021.

If you think your organization could benefit from an AI virtual assistant but don’t feel completely ready to implement one, you should work with an experienced, capable provider who can help you get started painlessly. Check out our resource page to learn more about how Creative Virtual has helped all types of companies start enjoying the benefits of V-Person for customer service and brand consistency.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Do Bots and AI Anger Customers? A Balanced View

By the Creative Virtual Team

There’s a widely held belief in the customer service field that bots and artificial intelligence are loathed by customers. Horror stories of unresponsive automated phone menus and clumsy voice recognition float around the web, leading some companies to believe that only human support agents will work for their customers.

How true is this idea? To find out, we need to consider the most fundamental elements of any customer support event.

The premise of automated chat agents annoying customers

Some believe mistakenly that artificial intelligence doesn’t yet have the ability to really understand what a person needs to solve their problem. News stories in this vein are published all the time; in some cases, bots have even made up erroneous facts in their responses to customers.

Speaking to a live customer support agent can be helpful – as long as you are working with a top-quality representative. Unfortunately, there have been some cases of neglect, mistreatment, or downright rudeness from customer support agents.

Both human agents and artificial intelligence virtual assistants can provide excellent service, which is why deciding on one or the other isn’t the most important question to answer for your company’s customer and sales support needs.

Why the chatbots vs. live agents debate misses the point

Whatever your beliefs about AI-based customer service, it’s important to remember that there’s only one goal in every customer support interaction: solving a specific problem or answering a specific question. Every other component of customer service is a tool to accomplish this goal.

When a customer initiates a chat or dials in to a support line, they need something. It doesn’t matter whether they chat with an automated support bot, call a live agent, ask one of their friends, or look up an answer in a company FAQ. The faster the customer gets an answer to their question, the greater their overall satisfaction.

The bottom line: time matters most for customer support

No matter what kind of product or service you offer, your main goal for customer support improvement is reducing the amount of time it takes to solve your customers’ problems. Whether you accomplish this goal through hiring a full team of support agents or relying on a sophisticated AI chatbot program is less important than how effective you are at answering the concerns of your customers.

Automated virtual assistants can help you address these concerns quickly, cut down on staffing costs, and give you a better understanding of your customer support. They can also help you ensure that your customer service is consistent with your brand messaging. Thanks to sophisticated AI, advanced conversational abilities, and the option to seamlessly handoff a support customer to a live agent, today’s AI virtual assistants provide answers quickly and predictably without angering customers – as long as you choose the right technology.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Debunking the Myth that Digital Customer Solutions Seem Labor Intensive and Costly to Maintain

By the Creative Virtual Team

Any company considering a new system that will bring about broad changes to their operation has to think about cost. A valuable business platform has a labor and capital cost involved to install and maintain the system: V-Person™ is no different. However, our solution has a few important characteristics that help you keep maintenance costs lower than you might think.

Data Tracking and Analytics

The key to getting better at a high-volume activity like customer communication is tracking and analyzing data. Our V-Portal™ platform features a powerful reporting functionality that can track metrics like:

  • Call deflection
  • First contact resolution
  • Conversion rates
  • Customer satisfaction levels

You can also use V-Portal’s reporting system to determine which questions or concerns are most common. This saves time and money for your support and sales departments because you can update your knowledge databases in accordance with issues that your customers and prospects are actually concerned about.

Additionally, since our virtual assistant is able to analyze your current customer requirements based on customer service chat or phone transcripts, much of the work required to set up a chatbot solution can be done without any labor. We can usually configure your virtual assistant to answer about 80% of your customers’ questions just by reviewing your old customer service transcripts.

Semantic FAQs

One of V-Person’s most powerful features is its ability to make intuitive presumptions and get to an answer on its own, without any direct oversight or input from a team member. These presumptions are based on loose connections made between relevant topics.

For example: if a power company was using V-Person and a customer went to their site and asked the virtual assistant about thunderstorms in their area, the VA would connect thunderstorms with service outages and suggest solutions for a service disruption.

Even though V-Person might not have any information about thunderstorms specifically, the semantic FAQs feature allows it to make an intuitive connection between storms and outages to help the customer. With semantic FAQs, you’ll cut down on customer service calls and minimize the amount of human input necessary to resolve customer issues.

Costs Compared to Support Agents

Though there is a cost to implementing and maintaining the V-Person solution, consider the cost of hiring agents to handle customer concerns. Research shows that the cost-per-contact of a virtual assistant is about 25% of the cost of a live agent chat, and about 10% of the cost of an agent phone call.

In some cases, a virtual assistant solution can even help a company deal with a large-scale staff shortage. Verizon has used virtual assistant technology to improve its customer service and eliminate millions of calls each month, despite a huge reduction in its workforce.

Consider the Lifetime Cost vs. Benefits

There will always be installation and ongoing maintenance costs when using any new business system, especially in an enterprise setting. To determine whether the labor and financial investment is worth it, you must consider not just the cost of the solution, but the cost and labor required to achieve the same results without the solution.

Your company doesn’t need to have access to highly advanced technology or already have artificial intelligence solutions in place. An AI virtual assistant is a solution that can grow with your business – as your organization grows and changes, your virtual assistant will continue to improve its ability to provide excellent customer service and contribute to your business goals.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I presented Creative Virtual’s fourth annual Technology Innovation Showcase with CRMXchange. As I mention every year, this is one of my favourite webinars to do because it’s mostly live demonstrations with very few slides. Seeing the technology in action is the best way to understand how your organisation can implement these solutions to improve your customer experience.

This year’s webinar, Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, focused mostly on bringing together virtual agents and live chat. I started my presentation with some recent statistics from Forrester showing the growing usage of virtual agents and live chat. They summed up this research by saying:

Customers increasingly leverage self-service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction.

The bottom line is that your customers want effortless interactions with your company. There is a generational change taking place, with a new generation of customers who spend more time having text conversations with their friends and loved ones than they do actually talking to them. The last thing in the world they want to do is pick up the phone and speak to your company. Effortless also means brevity. They want to get the answers they need as quickly as possible, so the second to last thing they want to do is get into a lengthy email conversation with your company.

The call centre and contact centre as we know them today are finished. Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers. Smart assistants will learn from how they are being used and adapt as the organisation learns. They won’t be maintained separately, but instead will have feedback loops that help them learn just by the organisation learning in a really seamless way.

We’re already seeing much change in this area but, of course, this won’t happen overnight. There will be a transition to more automation, and combining virtual and real support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will give you the best way to manage that transition. Gartner is also seeing this trend, and they predict that by 2018, 30% of interactions will be via a smart machine such as virtual agent technology.

The combination of natural language virtual agents with live chat or web chat is an ideal way to give customers the effortless interactions they want. With the right integrations in place, your company can provide a seamless and personalised experience. Using a central knowledgebase and feedback loop that are linked with workflow functionality will allow you to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels.

I invite you to watch the recording of this webinar on-demand to see my demonstrations of intelligent virtual agents, the seamless integration of virtual agents with live chat and the industry-defining feedback loop that empowers live agents to consistently improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal jobs.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to schedule a personalised live demo to show you how this technology can help your organisation manage the transition to more automation and provide effortless interactions.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another great Technology Innovation Showcase.

How does V-Person™ compare to the latest AI media hype?

By the Creative Virtual Team

If there’s one thing media outlets love reporting on today, it’s artificial intelligence. Activities ranging from defeating chess masters to driving cars without human input are hailed as the next frontier of technology, or the downfall of humanity, depending on who you ask.

All the media bluster about the innovative things that AI can do ignores one key element for enterprise clients: customer communication. Our virtual assistant customer service solution learns how to talk to customers and solve their problems while also taking into account the context of each interaction.

The lost art of AI conversation

Artificial intelligence from companies like Google and IBM has made headlines for doing things like painting, researching diseases and analyzing the work of famous artists and athletes. These are all noble pursuits that add value to our world in their own ways, but they aren’t contributing to business goals.

To do that, you must consider the experience of your customers. Many enterprises looking to implement virtual assistant solutions for customer service fail to understand the most important element of successful customer support.

The content transfer misconception

Imagine training a new customer support agent recently hired at your company. Would you just hand them a thick company knowledge database with thousands of articles and tell them to learn how to transfer this information to customers?

Of course not. You would train the agent on the different channels your customers use, how to interact with customers at different stages, and how to deal with some of the most common problems. You would also teach them how to stay consistent with your company’s voice, to ensure that customer experiences are both helpful and memorable. The actual support data is just one part of the broader picture of customer service.

The same idea holds true for an AI-based virtual agent. Our virtual assistant doesn’t just take content from your company’s existing knowledgebase and transfer it to customers. It also considers how your customers interact: what mood they are in, which platforms they use to seek help, what type of issues they’ve had in the past, how agents have handled those issues, and so on.

Don’t let AI hype influence your customer experience

Sophisticated artificial intelligence is important, but for effective customer service, it must do more than just receive an input and output a certain answer. The answer to a customer’s inquiry is the foundation upon which V-Person creates a conversational experience that is also influenced by the nature of the inquiry, the customer’s status, and the voice of your brand.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Can V-Person™ customer support platform integrate with existing business databases?

By the Creative Virtual Team

Yes. Our solution was not designed as a platform to operate separately from your other business systems. Instead, we created our virtual assistant with the ability to draw on other tools being used by various departments across the organization. Not only does this make the implementation of your virtual assistant much easier, it enhances the customer experience in a few important ways.

How our self-service customer support solution integrates with other knowledge sources

One example of AI knowledge integration is the practice of uploading content to an artificial intelligence entity so that it can incorporate the information in its day-to-day activities. A great example: in May of 2016, Google uploaded over 11,000 books for its AI to read in an effort to teach it how to write poetry.

This type of manual learning is just one way AI can draw on existing sources of knowledge. In a business context, AI-based digital customer service software can automatically integrate with several important databases:

  • CRM platforms can be queried automatically to determine what type of solutions a customer has purchased and how frequently they buy
  • Accounting databases can be accessed to allow the virtual assistant to see what a customer’s payment status is and remind them of any upcoming or past-due payments
  • Customer support records from phone calls and live chats can be scanned to see if an individual customer has had problems with a certain issue in the past

These are just a few examples – thanks to the prevalence of today’s API economy, our virtual agent can integrate with almost any other system, online service or interactive technology.

V-Portal™: the key to seamless integration with business databases

At this point, you may be wondering exactly how our virtual assistant can integrate with so many different knowledge sources. The reason our customer service tools are so flexible is V-Portal, Creative Virtual’s omnichannel knowledge management system.

When a new client begins implementing our solution, we meet with pertinent team members to get a better understanding of their tools and workflows. We learn which APIs they use and how they apply them within the context of their business procedures.

From there, our clients can use V-Portal to manage workflows and database integration. With V-Portal, clients can:

  • Decide which databases, services or interactive platforms they want their virtual assistant to integrate with
  • Set guidelines for how information is categorized: by product, business line or channel
  • Determine how the virtual assistant uses categories and buyer attributes to offer proactive suggestions
  • Create safeguards that protect against repeated data to ensure customers are presented with unique information

V-Portal allows users to manage these and other functions without any technical or coding knowledge. The portal’s intuitive, visual dashboard uses a drag-and-drop interface that is simple to work with, even on a smartphone or tablet.

Virtual customer service knowledge integration for your business

The most important thing to understand about our customer engagement platform is that all of its integration features are designed to drive sales and customer service goals. We’ve applied knowledge gained from years of working with Fortune 500 banks, telecom providers and hospitality brands to design a robust virtual agent solution that is strengthened by our clients’ existing databases and workflows.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Does V-Person™ Customer Service Technology Self-Learn?

By the Creative Virtual Team

Artificial intelligence is a popular technology, used today for everything from diagnosing breast cancer to completing levels of Super Mario World. A big catalyst in the advancement of this technology is the concept of self-learning, which allows AI to autonomously improve decision-making to achieve desired outcomes.

Self-learning is a valuable component of our V-Person customer engagement solution, but it alone doesn’t make our platform a cutting-edge tool for customer service.

Why self-learning is not the ultimate goal for customer experience solutions

Customer service platforms are designed to do just that: serve the customer. Self-learning technology in fields like art and music is free to continuously iterate upon what it has learned, which makes it possible for AI to paint and create music. Continual improvement in this manner is valuable and helps push the field of AI forward.

Customer engagement platforms share this ability to self-learn and iterate, but apply it only within the context of helping people. Because they are used as a front-facing communication option, AI virtual assistants must be periodically monitored and adjusted by real humans, to ensure its messaging stays consistent.

Applying self-learning for a great customer experience

In March of 2016, Microsoft pulled the plug on its “Tay” Twitter bot, after it began tweeting profane, racist statements and professing its support for Adolf Hitler.

This is an example of unbridled self-learning, which is not the goal for any effective customer service platform. Instead, self-learning should be applied to functional tasks that help customers find what they need in a prompt, intelligent manner. A few examples of this kind of self-learning include:

  • Determining what type of product or service a customer has and offering them customized solutions based on that knowledge
  • Checking a customer’s purchasing history to understand how frequently they buy a product or service
  • Looking into a customer’s previous support inquiries to see what kinds of issues they may have had in the past
  • Browsing a knowledgebase for specific keywords pertaining to customer or prospect inquiries
  • Allowing users to perform basic account maintenance functions like resetting their password or changing their personal information

These basic tasks might not be as sexy as the creation of a vivid abstract painting or the writing of a complex, multilayered orchestra piece, but they are vital for companies looking to harness AI for business purposes.

Don’t lose the practical AI trees for the self-learning forest

The ability of artificial intelligence to self-learn is poised to revolutionize many parts of society, from the way we analyze and interpret big data to the way we drive our cars. But when it comes to using AI to offer an enjoyable, efficient customer experience, self-learning should be applied in pragmatic ways that contribute to business goals – exactly the purpose of Creative Virtual’s V-Person customer service solution.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

The Wharf Innovation in Business Awards: An East End Boy Does Good

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I enjoy hearing uplifting local success stories in the news. Since receiving word that Creative Virtual is shortlisted for The Wharf Innovation in Business Awards, I’ve felt a little like my own ‘hometown kid does good’ story. An East End boy takes a chance starting his own London-based company, distributing a technology that was still very much in its infancy at the time. Fast forward twelve and a half years and that organisation, now a successful world-leading business developing its own industry-changing technology, is being recognised by an awards programme celebrating the hard work and ingenuity of companies in Canary Wharf, on the Isle of Dogs – the place where it all began for Creative Virtual. I’d like to think that I’ve made me mum and family proud!

Canary WharfWorking on our award entry and then meeting with the judges last week really got me reminiscing about the Wharf. It took me back to the years when the docks were closed and the area was being transformed. What had become a very desolate area is now a bustling, global place to do business. It’s a financial centre, home to some of the world’s largest banks, and a thriving retail and dining destination. I don’t want to show my age too much, but I think it’s safe to say that the Canary Wharf we know today is very different from that of my childhood. You can see some of Canary Wharf’s transformation in this cool collection of photos of London’s Docklands through the years.

Canary Wharf also continues to be home to Creative Virtual’s headquarters. Growing an international company has taken me away from London a good bit over recent years, and I always enjoy visiting our offices, partners and customers in all corners of the world. However, coming back to the Canary Wharf office always feels like coming home – even if some of the team members there do jokingly re-introduce themselves to me when I walk through the door after a particularly long period of travel! And I like having Creative Virtual team members from other parts of the globe visit our headquarters and experience all that Canary Wharf and London’s East End has to offer. Those who follow me on Twitter (@chrisezekiel) will know that I regularly share photos from around the Wharf and the Isle of Dogs – a proud East End boy!

It’s honour to be shortlisted for The Wharf Innovation in Business Awards and to know that our company is continuing to employ local people who are helping us make our mark as a global leader in the exciting world of customer engagement. You can find more information about the awards programme and booking tickets for the awards evening on The Wharf website.

Innovation Showcase to Explore Live Chat and Virtual Agent Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Live chat and virtual agents are quickly gaining popularity with customers as their preferences shift towards online support options. According to Forrester Research, customers turn to self-service and digital channels for service because they “offer the least amount of interaction friction”. Forward-thinking organisations are not only acknowledging this customer service trend, but also taking advantage of the powerful combination of virtual and real support.

On Tuesday, 12th July, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will explore this emerging trend as part of CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series. His presentation, titled Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, features live demonstrations of current implementations and a look into the technology powering these solutions. He’ll also share recent research and developments in the industry.

In addition to seeing intelligent virtual agents in action, attendees will also hear tips for integrating self-service options with live chat. When implemented properly, customers can seamlessly escalate from virtual to live agent and live agents can seamlessly provide feedback to keep information up-to-date. The result is an improved experience for both customers and support agents.

Register now to reserve your spot for this Technology Innovation Showcase. A recording of the webinar will be available to view on-demand for those registrants unable to join the live event.

Facebook Messenger, Chatbots and the Opportunity for Customer Engagement

By Alessandro Giordo, Junior Development & Support Technician

When Facebook announced chatbots I went crazy and tried so many different platforms for building one. Being a Developer, I opted for ‘geekier’ versions of it using NodeJS and Python, but I have to say the possibilities are endless. Working with one of the world leaders in virtual assistants and artificial intelligence allows me to spend time exploring this new trend and experimenting with the possibilities.

There are many useful bots that I regularly employ to help me in my daily life routines, and there are others that I talk to once and never again. Bots can be useful but there are horror stories as well, such as Microsoft’s AI bot Tay.

I’ve recently read this post about Facebook ‘business bots’ replacing call centres and this really interested me. The question was: Would you miss traditional call centres? At the time I took the poll, 67% had responded that they would not miss call centres, which I think is very telling about how people actually want to engage with companies.

For organisations, the growing popularity of instant messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and chatbots offers new opportunities for communicating with customers. At Creative Virtual, we have announced the integration of our virtual agent technology, V-Person™, with Facebook Messenger for customer self-service.

With our technology, organisations can have chatbots with personalities that can engage users in chit chat and small talk, but they can also provide integrated, seamless and personalised self-service. By using the same knowledgebase that’s already being used for other channels, companies can easily add Facebook Messenger (and other messaging applications) as new support channels. This connects them with existing channels (self-service, live chat, contact centre) for a consistent customer experience, rather than having a siloed, stand-alone chatbot.

Like many other chatbot or virtual agent tools, V-Person has the ability to become more intelligent and adapt based on usage. However, this method of adaptive learning gives companies control over content and the learning process, so they don’t need to worry about their virtual agent becoming another Tay (if you aren’t familiar with Tay, you can read more in this article).

Check out our official Facebook Messenger announcement for more information about how V-Person integrates with this platform to provide a positive self-service experience.

Also be sure to download this guide for five important questions to ask when choosing a virtual agent solution for instant messaging platforms and SMS.