Fifteen Years & Counting: Navigating the chatbot, virtual agent and AI revolution

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

As we celebrate our fifteen year anniversary, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on founding and running Creative Virtual.

In those early days, we were focused on winning deals as the plan from the outset was to grow the company organically; although the objective was always to create a global company; so many companies fail or are sold before getting to that point; and it’s a testament to our amazing team, that we have become a global leader. It’s an honour to lead such a great team!

People come and go within organisations of course, and that’s healthy for both the company and the people. However, there becomes a core backbone of people that make up the fabric – the culture – of what Creative Virtual stands for: passion, innovation and quirkiness are at the heart of everything we do. And the people become the DNA and vice-versa.

There’s also ups and downs of course; growing any business isn’t linear! We’ve certainly had our bumps along the way. People often ask me how I make the tough decisions and how I relax. We all have our own ways – for me it’s a recipe of: spending time with friends and loved ones, running, watching West Ham, physics, snowboarding, photography and art.

I took up running about five years ago, and really enjoy the energy it gives me; I find that being in good shape physically makes a big difference mentally. It also allows me to contemplate and to think about things differently. I find doing completely different things – like painting, which I’m absolutely useless at! – really helps one to switch-off from business. And speaking of DNA…West Ham is in my DNA…so there’s no escape from that as any football supporter will know! It’s another great way, for 90+ minutes, to switch-off from everything else! Spending time with friends and loved ones helps me to put things into perspective – as does my love of physics! Snowboarding gives me my adrenalin rush!

I also love travelling around the world and spending time with our people, customers and partners. It’s an absolute joy working with our great people and some of the world’s leading organisations.

We have been fortunate over the years to win many awards, and it’s so delightful when our customers win awards too. Our customer, Transport for New South Wales, won an impressive three awards for their RITA chatbot during 2018! In 2017 we were honoured with The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation. I couldn’t be more proud of what our team has achieved, and it was beyond what I had dreamt for Creative Virtual. Going to the Palace and meeting the Queen, Prince Philip and other members of the Royal Family was incredible. And being a five-year award, we celebrate our fifteen year anniversary in its continuing glow.

Having been a leading company in the establishment of the virtual agent market – and developing best practices in terms how virtual agents, live chat, artificial intelligence (AI) and knowledge management work together to create world-class customer experiences – there is still much more to do as organisations transition from the centralised contact centre model to one where the customer is at the centre of the universe. Helping organisations navigate through this has as much to do with the expertise of our people as the actual technology; and with such an experienced and dedicated team I know we are on the right path to remain at the forefront of the chatbot/AI/contact centre revolution!

Being an optimist by nature, my way of keeping my feet on the ground is to keep in mind the words of the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Here’s to the next fifteen years and the new challenges that lie ahead!

Best wishes for a Festive Holiday Season & a Happy New Year!

As the end of 2018 and the start of a new year quickly approach, we want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all of our blog readers, customers and partners for being part of another exciting year!

From launching a new website to being named one of Britain’s fastest-growing technology companies to running our fourth 10k in support of the RSPCA, this was certainly a year full of new accomplishments and recognitions for us as a company. Be sure to check out more of the highlights from this year in our 2018 in Review blog post and our 2018 in Review photo album. 2019 is already shaping up to be another exciting year as we look forward to celebrating Creative Virtual’s 15th anniversary.

On behalf of the entire Creative Virtual team around the world, we wish each and every one of you a festive Holiday Season and Happy New Year!

 

Employee Engagement Remains a Top Priority Alongside Customer Engagement for 2019

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Welcoming a new year often goes along with an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mindset, but two things that are staying hot on companies’ 2019 agendas are customer engagement and employee engagement. This was glaringly obvious at the recent AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum: AI Enhancing Customer & Employee Engagement. From the delicious smoked salmon and cheese bagels served for breakfast to the final moments of the drinks reception at the end of the day, the event highlighted companies’ increased focus on improving engagement across the board.

Customer experience and engagement has been a top priority for most organisations for years, but improving employee engagement is a more recent addition to agendas. Organisations are coming to understand the benefits of providing better and easier support for employees. They are also coming to understand that many of the same digital tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, that they are utilising to improve their customer experience can also be leveraged to improve their employee experience.

The event agenda featured presentations and panel discussions focused around practical uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer and employee engagement spaces. I was joined at the event by Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, who presented a morning session titled ‘Taking Engagement to the Next Level: Conversational AI for customers & employees’. He shared some insights into the expectations of customers and employees and then took an in-depth look at how organisations can bring everything together to centrally control a consistent, convenient and efficient experience for both customers and employees.

Using a single orchestration platform enables you to deliver consistent information and support across touchpoints and allows you to more easily engage users on the devices, channels and apps they are already using in their everyday lives through chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. For conversational AI to be effective, it must use a hybrid approach of machine learning and human input. The orchestration platform you put in place must allow you to manage that combination of humans and AI so you can deliver the best experience to users and maximise on your investments.

During his session, Chris shared a few live demonstrations to illustrate industry best practices. The best way to really understand how this all comes together is to see it in action, so if you weren’t at the event I encourage you to request a demo. Our team is always happy to arrange a time that works with your schedule so you can experience the ways conversational AI can help you improve your customer and employee engagement.

Our thanks to the AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to take part in your last event of the year!

A Look Back: 2018 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

As 2018 is quickly coming to an end and planning for 2019 continues to move full steam ahead, it’s time once again to take a moment to slow down and look back over the past year. It’s been another exciting year not only for Creative Virtual as a company, but also for the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat industry, with lots of new developments and innovation. So, as per our annual tradition, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the past 12 months.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 by publishing more Meet the Team interviews and pushing forward with our Innovations Roadmap. In September, we added a new recognition to our growing list of accomplishments when we won a place on The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 as one of Britain’s fastest-growing private technology companies. Rachel Freeman (Operations Director), Peter Behrend (CTO) and Chris Ezekiel (Founder & CEO) attended the awards ceremony in London to accept our award and spend an interesting evening mingling with other Tech Track 100 companies. This year we also had the opportunity to share our story in The Parliamentary Review as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector. It was exciting to see our article in print – there are still copies of the publication available in our London office – and talk about our journey from a small industry pioneer to a global leader in our space and our company culture based on innovation, teamwork and ownership of which we are very proud. You can read our full article here.

We can’t mention recognitions without a special shout out to the Transport for NSW team and their chatbot RITA on having an exceptional year. RITA was in the news in January for giving commuters access to voice-activated information with a new integration with Amazon’s Alexa. The team also brought home three separate awards this year: ‘Most Innovative and Intelligent BOT for Customer Experience’ at the AI Conference Awards, ‘Best Multichannel Customer Experience’ in the EY-Ashton Media 2018 CX Awards, and a win in the Solutions category at the Transport Recognition Awards for “A new frontier in customer information”. Congratulations!

There were also some other noteworthy and news making announcements for individual members of the Creative Virtual team this year. Maria Ward, Andre Matthews, Dinah Clarke, David Barker, Chloe Tooley, Tracey Biela, Björn Gülsdorff, Steve Smith, Rachel Freeman and Chris Ezekiel completed the Virgin Sport Westminster 10K in July and exceeded their fundraising goal for the RSPCA. This was the fourth time a group of runners from Creative Virtual did a 10k in support of the RSPCA. Jeff Clifford was invited to speak at Milton Keynes College during Digital Day in February to share insights on chatbots and virtual agents with students (read our interview with Jeff here). Rachael Needham had her ‘Meet the Team’ interview featured in her local newspaper, the Cameron Citizen-Observer, in September (read the article here and our full interview with Rachael here). Liam Ryan was featured in CRMXchange’s Executive Interview series, sharing his thoughts on self-service technology and recent industry developments (read his full interview here).  And I was honoured to be named ‘Most Influential Marketing Manager 2018 – UK’ as part of the 2018 Business Woman Elite Awards for my work at Creative Virtual.

We once again celebrated Customer Service Week (1-5 October) and CX Day (2 October) with a special series of posts on the Creative Virtual blog. This year we explored the evolving role of chatbots and combining automation with a human element to better support customers with special contributions from Laura Ludmany (Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity), Rachel Freeman (Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly) and Chris Ezekiel (Automation Shouldn’t Force Customers to do the Work Themselves). We also shared our annual blog post roundup (Five Stars for Customer Service Week) to kick off the week and released a brand new whitepaper, A Chatbot for Your Contact Center, which shares tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform to support agents and provide an omnichannel customer experience. It includes 12 specific questions to ask when deciding what solution will work best for your organisation.

In September, we presented our sixth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar with CRMXchange, this year titled ‘Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple’. Chris Ezekiel shared a series of live demonstrations showcasing how to bring together artificial intelligence and human input to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance and increase customer satisfaction scores. You can watch the recording on-demand here. Then at the end of November, he presented another webinar, this time with Engage Customer titled ‘Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience’. He again shared live demos along with eight recommendations for organisations either looking to implement chatbots, virtual agents and live chat or who want to improve any of those tools they already have in place. Within minutes of finishing the live webinar, Chris received an email from an attendee that read, “I would like to say thank you for the best online presentation in my life.” Luckily you can also watch that recording on-demand here to experience it for yourself!

As always, we were busy sponsoring and joining our partners at industry events around the world during 2018 – Hong Kong, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, India – and were grateful to deliver thought leadership presentations and/or sit on expert panels at many of them. In addition to presenting at four of these events, Chris Ezekiel also penned an article for CRMXchange, Are You Ready for the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Contact Center?, which identifies three areas contact centres should focus on when it comes to developing and implementing digital initiatives and AI projects. We released two new Customer Success Stories this year: Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, who use virtual agent Roger to provide 24/7 support for customers on their website and Google Home; and a large Government Department that is reducing internal service desk costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent.

This year we celebrated the launch of a brand new Creative Virtual website that better reflects our company, brand and technology. We welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network, and our V-Person™ Family continued to grow with new deployments in a variety of languages and additional features and functionality being added to existing installs.

November marked the 15th anniversary of Chris Ezekiel founding Creative Virtual in London’s East End, and January will be the anniversary of when the company first started trading. As we finish out the end of 2018, we’re looking forward to celebrating our 15th anniversary next year!

Don’t forget to check out our 2018 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled photos from our official events and presentations as well as our fun group activities, company celebrations and fundraising activities. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.

The Platform at the Heart of a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

There’s such a buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots today, and it’s certainly a space that has changed a lot since I founded Creative Virtual 15 years ago. The learnings we have gained over the years are an important differentiator for our company and positively influence how we develop and implement our technology. During a recent webinar with Engage Customer, I shared some of those learnings and took attendees through current industry trends and best practices as well as sharing some new innovations. My goal was to show how organisations can orchestrate a seamless and efficient customer experience (CX) across contact channels with chatbots, virtual agents and AI to improve the experience whilst also saving costs.

The virtual agent, chatbot and live chat market is very crowded today with new vendors popping up all the time, and it’s confusing with all the buzz and mixed messages about AI. One of my key tips for any organisation looking at these solutions is that, whether you’re talking about the technology itself or the way chatbots and live chat are implemented and maintained, it’s the people element that’s absolutely crucial. It’s just as much about working with a vendor that can provide consulting expertise as the actual technology. The two need to come together hand-in-hand for a successful project, and that’s something we are very proud to offer at Creative Virtual.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to anyone reading this that over the past several years, customers consistently identify the same factors as being most important when it comes to customer experience and service: efficient, reliable, effortless, flexible. The good news for organisations is that machines, combined with humans, can help them deliver on all these expectations. Another of my key tips is to implement an orchestration platform that can bring together all of your content sources, manage the intents and keep the conversations flowing across all customer touchpoints completely seamlessly in a personalised way and at large scale. The V-Portal™ platform that powers our chatbots, virtual agents and live chat does this while also allowing you to learn from all those conversations going on in real time in such a way that a human, the content owner, works alongside the machine learning component to provide the best possible CX. It’s the machine learning and human curation parts coming together in a hybrid model that makes all of this possible. The orchestration platform is at the heart of creating a seamless and efficient experience.

The best way to understand this is to see real examples, so be sure to watch the webinar recording to see the live demonstrations I shared. You’ll also want to check out the eight recommendations I gave for organisations who are looking to implement chatbots, virtual agents and live chat or want to improve any of those tools they already have in place.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar and to all the attendees for their great questions and feedback. You can watch the full recording of Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience on-demand here.

The Numbers Don’t Lie: An interesting evening with the Tech Track 100

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

Creative Virtual has been receiving a lot of accolades in the past few years and the challenge for a blog post is what to say to make each new title or award stand alone and special. We never want to be complacent, but our readers may be a little tired of hearing all the good news – or not?!

Making it onto The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 list at 72 was an honour simply because the numbers don’t lie and there is no judging panel doing the placements. The league table ranks Britain’s 100 private technology companies with the fastest-growing sales over their latest three years.

The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100The 2018 Tech Track list was published in September – read our official announcement here – but attending the awards ceremony was an added wow factor. The event was hosted at The Brewery in London on 6th November and had 294 guests in attendance from the 100 featured companies and sponsors.

Myself, Chris Ezekiel (Founder & CEO) and Peter Behrend (CTO) were in attendance together, but once the canapes were scoffed and a group photo of us taken, we were seated at separate tables with the objective to get all attendees to mingle and learn more about the 100 companies on the list by sitting and speaking to different representatives.

People at my table represented various sectors including trucking, AI (that would be us!), HR incentive packages, insurance, bill paying and venture capitalists. The mood at the event was tingling with drive and achievement and it was a buzz to sit amongst such a varied group of companies – ranging from the altruistic helping people with diabetes to devising ways to make hair removal simpler!

The speakers were interesting and luckily didn’t drag on; the food was noticeably absent of rubber chicken which meant that dinner was quite tasty. Advice from the speakers was offered including: always listen to your customer, ask probing questions, put in the hard graft, don’t give up on your idea and be prepared for the unexpected. The Founder of Candy Crush (a former Tech Track list member before going public) was amongst the speakers, and I found it interesting to hear how unprepared they were for the success that came to them after several years of being on the brink of closure.

Had there been time to sit amongst all 32 tables in the room, I’ve no doubt there would be a cartful of stories and advice and impressive tales of success. The time that we did have was fruitful and dare I say a bit fun if not definitively interesting. It’s a recognition that differs from the others in that the numbers put us on the list and we are then given the opportunity to shine and explain our story… our story is also a great one and whilst three of us were there at the event, we were representing the strong team behind us across the globe.

Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

We live in an always-on world with instant access to information and news and trending hashtags always at our fingertips. There have been numerous studies done about the effects of digital devices and the growing need to always feel connected. As I’m writing this, I have no electricity or internet access thanks to the power of mother nature which, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, is giving me a good bit of anxiety about the percentage of battery left on my smartphone – my one connection to knowing what’s going on in the world without actually having to leave my house!

It’s certainly no secret that this new normal of constant digital connection and instant access to information in our personal lives has also changed our expectations for our engagement with businesses and brands. Organisations are facing the challenge of delivering a quality support experience over a growing number of contact channels. Messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, have been added to existing touchpoints, like the phone, website and social media, instead of replacing them. On top of that, many organisations are struggling with lots of disconnected information sources making it difficult to keep content updated and deliver the right information to customers on all channels. So how can organisations bring this all together to create a consistent, convenient and efficient customer experience?

Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Engage Customer on Tuesday, 27 November for a webinar to address this question, Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. Through a series of live demonstrations and practical tips, attendees will learn:

  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management control and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of artificial intelligence and human input to reduce support costs whilst improving conversational engagement

Register now for the webinar Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. 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 our technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent support and increase customer satisfaction scores.

Jumping on the Bandwagon isn’t the Same as Following Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Every industry has best practices – guidelines, methods or techniques accepted as the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a desired result. Sometimes when something new comes along or starts to get industry attention, the hype can make it easy to confuse jumping on the bandwagon with following proven best practice. This is particularly true when it comes to technologies that are thrust in the spotlight through mainstream media buzz.

The explosion of media hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots over the past few years – and the subsequent confusion in the customer experience (CX) space – is one of topics Creative Virtual discusses in our article for The Parliamentary Review. The Parliamentary Review is a series of independent British publications which aims to share best practice among policy makers and business leaders. They combine commentaries from award-winning journalists with innovative thinking from industry experts. Creative Virtual was invited to contribute this year as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector.

Partially spurred by Facebook’s introduction of bots for their Messenger Platform, the media buzz around AI and chatbots has created a renewed interest in the technology over the past couple of years. While this had a positive effect in garnering more attention for using chatbots and virtual agents to deliver automated self-service, it also played a role in creating industry confusion. Some vendors tried to jump on the AI bandwagon, but ended up overpromising and creating unrealistic expectations for AI chatbots.

Based on our experience, we at Creative Virtual knew that pure AI was not the right option for automated customer service, and so we continued to present our hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content as industry best practice. This involved us working to educate the marketplace about the realities of the technology and using chatbots to provide a predictable and reliable self-service option, instead of jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Now the initial hype has died down and those unrealistic promises have turned into chatbot pilots that are failing or never got off the ground at all. The decision to stand firm in our hybrid approach to implementing our chatbots and virtual agents in spite of the buzz has strengthened our position as thought leaders and trusted consultants in the industry. It has also allowed the organisations we work with to take advantage of recent AI advancements while also continuing to provide quality self-service experiences for their customers and employees in line with industry best practice.

Be sure to check out our full three-page article in the 2018 Technology Review to learn more about Creative Virtual’s story, how we created a company culture of innovation, teamwork and ownership, and why our future looks bright.

Integrating the Right Customer Experience Technologies

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

It’s impossible to talk about customer experience without also talking about technology. Companies and brands are looking to provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move, deliver quality service and support to digitally-savvy customers and remain competitive as a growing number of contact channels gain popularity among consumers. All of those goals involve not only implementing, but also integrating the right customer experience (CX) technologies.

Earlier this month I attended CXtech, a new technology conference and showcase focused on what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming next in CX technologies. One major theme that came up repeatedly during presentations and my discussions with other attendees was that the truth about artificial intelligence (AI) is now been revealed after all the hype, myths and unrealistic claims. The CX industry is coming together in agreement that a hybrid approach is best – using a combination of AI and humans to deliver the best experience for customers. This is the approach we’ve always taken at Creative Virtual, and one that we’ve seen industry analysts and experts talking about more and more recently.

CXtech Chris EzekielChris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, joined me at the event and presented as part of the ‘Digital Automation, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants’ stream. His session, Digital CX & the contact centre: AI, chatbots, live chat & knowledge management, was well-received by attendees. He talked about the essential components of AI-driven digital transformation in the contact centre and then showed them how organisations are already using our CX technologies through a series of live demonstrations, including one of our customer chatbots working on Amazon Alexa. It’s one thing to listen to someone talking about the possibilities of the technology; it’s another to actually see and experience the solutions working and delivering on those promises.

We had a mix of people from different areas of organisations – the contact centre, digital CX, marketing, etc. – stop by the Creative Virtual stand throughout the day, some expressing that Chris’ presentation showcased ‘exactly what we are looking for’. There was lots of interest in discussing how to support customers on social media and messenger apps like Facebook Messenger. I also spoke with attendees from organisations that aren’t part of the industries we typically see at these types of events, such as public and emergency services. This reflects the change we’re seeing in the CX market as a wider range of industries are feeling the pressures of cultural and digital changes.

Our thanks to the CXtech organisers for putting together a successful event. It was a day of great presentations and insightful discussions, and I especially enjoyed the salmon at lunch!

If you’re interested in learning more about AI-driven transformation in the contact centre, download our latest whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre.

And if you’d like to see our chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions in action, be sure to request a live demo to arrange a personalised demonstration.

Creating Intimacy with APAC Customers Through Artificial Intelligence

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

It’s more important than ever for organisations in Asia Pacific to connect with digital customers and create a convenient, efficient and seamless customer experience. When implemented properly, chatbots are a powerful tool to bring together the contact centre with self-service channels and navigate language and culture barriers to create conversational engagement with customers.

I’m looking forward to sharing how to join up the contact centre with digital channels through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human input at the upcoming Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) Symposium taking place on 25 October at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Creative Virtual will once again be supporting our partner company Continuous Technologies at the annual conference. This will be my fourth year presenting on the symposium theme, which this year is ‘Customer Intimacy Through Artificial Intelligence’.

My presentation, titled ‘Artificial Intelligence, Customer Experience & the Contact Centre’, will provide practical advice and best practices for integrating chatbots, virtual agents and live chat with the contact centre to create successful digital transformation strategies. I’ll also be sharing insights from recent industry research along with a series of live demonstrations showcasing how organisations in APAC and around the world are already using AI technologies to improve their customer experience.

It’s a pleasure to be invited back to present at the HKCCA Symposium and great to be taking part with Continuous Technologies. We’ve partnered with them since 2014 and currently collaborate on projects such as Octopus Cards Limited’s virtual assistant Helen. The HKCCA always hosts insightful events, and this year’s theme is especially relevant as the customer experience industry continues to debate AI and organisations struggle with the best way to implement AI technologies.

If you are attending the 2018 HKCCA Symposium, be sure to join me at 14:00 for my presentation and stop by our booth to meet the team and learn more. I look forward to seeing you there!

If you won’t be at the event, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo to show you how your organisation’s customer engagement strategy can benefit from a combination of AI and humans.

I also recommend downloading the new buyer’s guide A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre for tips on using chatbots and virtual agents to align your contact centre with digital channels for seamless customer support.