Running Towards My Virtual Viewpoint

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At the end of last year I started writing a regular column for The Wharf News, a weekly newspaper distributed in the Canary Wharf area of London. Aptly titled ‘Virtual Viewpoint’, the column gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on technology and science. I’m really enjoying writing these columns and looking at the impact technology and science have on our lives and businesses.

I often use my running time to think about my column and how technology is impacting the world – and I’ve had a lot of time to think lately since I’ve been training for the London Marathon! Sometimes I find myself reminiscing and taking a walk down memory lane; sometimes I find myself contemplating our digital future; sometimes I find myself analysing technology’s impact on businesses. At the end of my runs, I often find that I’ve thought about things in a different way and come up with ideas I know I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I enjoy seeing my column in print every month, but I also wanted a way to share them digitally and have started publishing them on LinkedIn as well. Check out the links below to catch up on the ones already published:

  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 30 November 2017 – I take a look at the current technological revolution and the impact artificial intelligence will have on jobs and quality of life.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 4 January 2018 – I contemplate whether we are reaching a point of having too many gadgets and the issues of privacy and data protection that come with using them.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 1 February 2018 – I think back to a time before instantaneous global communication and reflect on why we all need to find a way to escape the digital world.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 8 March 2018 – I share my annoyance with people failing to communicate properly and how dumping ‘old’ methods of communication diminishes our lives along with companies’ profits.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 5 April 2018 – I know my pro-Brexit view isn’t popular within the business community, but I believe this is a historic opportunity to build a global economy for UK businesses to thrive within.

For those of you who are local, don’t forget to pick up a free copy of The Wharf every Thursday. I’ll also continue to add my new ‘Virtual Viewpoint’ columns on LinkedIn, so be sure to connect with me there. I’m sure I’ll be finishing the marathon on Sunday exhausted but with lots of fresh inspiration for my upcoming columns.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported my London Marathon fundraising efforts for Jewish Care. You can still sponsor me here. Good luck to my fellow Creative Virtual marathon runners – Rachel Freeman who is running for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (sponsor Rachel) and Maria Ward who is running for the Ipswich Hospital Charity (sponsor Maria)! See you at the finish line!

Overcome Language and Culture Barriers with Chatbots

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the annual Asian Financial Forum (AFF) in Hong Kong with our partner HKT. The forum brought together some of the most influential members of the global financial and business community to discuss developments and trends in the dynamic Asian markets.

The two-day forum featured over 100 international speakers sharing insights into the event theme “Steering Growth and Pioneering Innovation: Asia and Beyond”. On Day 2, HKT sponsored a session on “Business Transformation along Your Belt and Road Journey”. This session discussed megatrends in global business development and how companies can accelerate their growth in overseas and mainland China markets through transformation and the effective use of various infrastructure and ICT services.

Björn Gülsdorff, Creative Virtual’s Chief Business Development Officer, joined me at the forum and gave a presentation on chatbots as part of HKT’s Belt and Road session. I asked him to share his thoughts with me after the event:

The One Belt One Road initiative is one of greatest business initiatives of our time – and as ours is the time of globalisation, that is to say: in all times. In this undertaking, Hong Kong is a central element for all sorts of reasons. So, when entering the plenary hall of the Asia Financial Forum 2018 in HK, I wasn’t surprised to find the stage taken by an executive board member of the German Federal Bank in discussion with Group CEO of HSBC (among others in that league).

The event nicely mixed the big picture with more workshop-type sessions about the very next steps and what this means for the individual business. I think it is fair to say that many companies see a big challenge in this new outward facing and more connected way for China to do business in the world. Being the world’s workbench and garden was much more clear-cut and even easier in a way.

So, we had a packed room and an eager audience in our session on “Business Transformation”. Flanked by two great co-speakers I shared some ideas how virtual assistants and chatbots can help businesses to grow across countries, time zones and languages without jeopardizing their customer communications. Thankfully, I could do this in English (and listen to Chinese speeches), because the organizers provided real time translations via headsets – what a great service! My only “problem” was that I had to scratch the artificial intelligence (AI) part of my speech because Professor Daniela Rus, Director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, had just explained in a key note how much manual work it takes to get machine learning right. Regular readers of our posts will immediately picture me nodding heavily for the entire 45 minutes. What really struck me at this conference, was the nearly unanimous view that technology will be key, but shall support people, not replace them. In short, the financial services sector in this part of the world is ready for virtual assistants and a hybrid approach of human and machine labour.

For me, the forum really showed that chatbots and AI are no longer just areas of study or something for companies to research. In the Finance sector, organisations are now taking action and making this technology a real part of their digital initiatives. Deploying a chatbot in different languages breaks through the barrier of initial customer engagement in doing business in “One Belt One Road” countries.

We are delighted to have engaged HKT as our partner to promote Creative Virtual chatbot solutions in Hong Kong. HKT is one of the largest suppliers of high-end Omnichannel Contact Centre solutions in Hong Kong, where chatbots are increasingly being used for improving customer engagement, and for expediting customer services. Together, HKT and Creative Virtual shall deliver outstanding customer engagement solutions, combining the strengths of both companies. We are looking forward to that.

Our thanks to HKT for inviting us to take part in AFF 2018 and to the event organisers for putting on a great forum. To learn more about how chatbots and virtual agents can help you overcome language barriers and grow your business, request a personalised demo.

Asian Financial Forum

Chatbots in Action – Creative Virtual at CCW 2018

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

The end of February is Call Center World time, Europe’s biggest “international conference and trade show for innovative customer dialogue”, now in its 20th year. (Congratulations!)

Whilst chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) made it to the stage last year already, they have now become one of the major topics of the show and I am excited to have three speaking slots with our partner sogedes.

Excited and a little bit nervous: Since last year, the AI hype cycle is said to be past the “peak of inflated expectations” and having started the descent into the “trough of disillusionment”. Looking at what some people did promise and how they boasted about the “intelligence” of their solutions, that is a well-deserved set-back, but there is always the risk of an overreactions and buyers turning their back on technology altogether, just because of too high expectations. I will learn it the hard way, I guess, whether they have embraced the pragmatic (and working) hybrid approach already or not. My recent speeches in places as diverse as the Financial Forum in Hong Kong and the Service Desk Forum in Mainz, Germany give me hope, but you never know.

I am also looking forward to CCW 2018 because the world of call centres is comprehensively covered. It is the perfect place to see how virtual agents do (and must) fit into a customer communication strategy, how they can support agents best – “collaborate”, I should say – and which backend systems to integrate with. I’m also interested to hear where newer channels like messenger platforms (such as Facebook Messenger) are fitting into contact centre strategies. Could they be replacing AI as the most hyped topic?

In any case, it will be three challenging and inspiring days (from February 27 to March 1, since you ask) at the booth with sogedes and my colleague Katrin Zieren (Hall 3, Booth E8-E10). I am looking forward to that.

If you’re attending, be sure to catch our “Chatbots in action” presentation on Tuesday, February 27 at 11:30 in Hall 3 – International Plaza. We’ll also be showcasing chatbot solutions on Wednesday at 15:10 and Thursday at 13:00 in Hall 1 – TeleTalk-Demoforum. There’s more information and the full agenda on the CCW 2018 website.

If you can’t attend but want to learn more, request a live demo to see our chatbots in action.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

As we look to the end of 2017 and the start of a new year, we wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to all our blog readers, customers and partners for being a part of this amazing year!

Being honoured with The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 has made this a history-making year for us at Creative Virtual. A special thank you to everyone who celebrated with us and sent kind words of congratulations! 2017 was full of other record-breaking achievements as well – participating in industry events in 11 different countries, deploying virtual agents and chatbots in a record number of new languages, having a record-breaking number of registrations for our annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar. This will certainly go down as one of the most important years in Creative Virtual’s history.

On behalf of the entire Creative Virtual team around the globe, we wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

[Meet the Team] Antoinette Berns: Supporting a Company Culture that Encourages Innovation and Positivity

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Antoinette Berns, Billing Coordinator and Executive Assistant to Group COO with Creative Virtual USA. She joined the company in August 2015 and quickly became an integral part of the Stamford-based team. Antoinette’s primary role as Billing Coordinator consists of Spend Analysis Reports, projections and allocation tracking. As the company’s grown and her many talents have been revealed, her role has evolved to include Executive Assistant to Group COO which in turn led to aspects of everything from office manager to human resources administrator to event and travel coordinator. She wears so many different hats on any given day, that it would be impossible to find a stand big enough to hold all of them – and she does it all with a smile and a contagious positive attitude. She shared with me why taking her job with Creative Virtual is one of the best decisions she ever made and how being a part of the company’s Queen’s Awards win has her overjoyed.

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

I remember coming for my interview, going through the usual interview questions and by the end of it we were laughing and telling jokes. I was there for two hours and by the time I got home, I already had an email asking me to come in to meet the CEO, it was so exciting. Taking this job is one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s a wonderful environment to work in where people are given a chance to rise up to the challenge and grow with the company. We are encouraged to be unique and use all our individual strengths to bring something new to the table. We foster a welcoming environment of treating everyone with respect and we have a wonderful system of communication so every voice can feel heard. I remember Chris Ezekiel [Founder & CEO] visiting the US office a few months ago and talking about the wonderfully brilliant, quirky people in the company and how everyone brings their own interesting ideas and personalities to the team. I think that sums it up perfectly.

Creative Virtual USAI appreciate how we’re encouraged to keep a healthy work/ life balance, where if we so choose, we have a variety of activities we can join. I personally am a member of the volleyball and kickball teams! What’s wonderful is that there is no pressure to be athletically inclined at all, it’s all about having fun and team building which I love. If sports are not your thing, we also host a monthly game night as a way of bonding and comradery. We’ll spend a couple of hours hanging out and playing different games. This was sparked by our participation in ExtraLife in 2015 and 2016, a 24-hour gaming marathon to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. We’ve also participated in other charitable activities, such as donating to veterans on Veterans Day.

There are so many other things I enjoy about being a part of the team! I love that in my role I have the unique opportunity to work with everyone in some way. Even if it’s just to a small degree, I get to talk to everyone and get to know all the different personalities and ways of working. The team is like pieces of a puzzle, and we all come together to create a wonderful portrait of Creative Virtual – it’s a beautiful thing! I also love the positive reinforcement and the praise that makes everyone feel valued. It feels like a bubble of positivity where everyone is encouraged and can blossom.

When you’re reviewing applications and conducting interviews, what experiences and qualities do you look for in potential new team members?

To start, I look for consistency on a resume and the types of experiences the person has had. I’m looking for someone showing commitment who will want to grow with the company. The cover letter gives the first clue. It would surprise you the number of people who don’t send a cover letter at all, when our job postings list it as a requirement to applying! The irony in most cases is then they list in their resume a major skill they possess is “attention to detail.”

I have a minor in Psychology and have always had an interest in how people think. When I do interviews I always encourage a good flow of conversation so it will feel more like talking to a friend rather than an interview. This helps the applicants reveal a more authentic version of themselves. I start with asking what they know about the company, what attracted them to apply and why the position is a good fit. I ask about the biggest lesson they learned from their last job and how they approach tasks. I find out about their greatest personal achievements and what types of decisions they find the hardest to make. Along with a variety of questions I typically ask that will give me an idea of how the person deals with mistakes. All of this shows me who they are as a person in a professional realm and whether they would work well in our company.

Of course I find out about their skills, which skills depends on the position they are apply for, and have the typical interview questions about strengths and weaknesses. Just as important as their skills is how they work. At Creative Virtual, we all work as a team but it is built on trust and autonomy, so I need to ensure that will be a good fit for everyone. We’re looking for people who will stick around and grow with us.

What are your secrets to keeping the Creative Virtual USA office running smoothly?

This is a hard question – I just do the things that need to be done! When I really stop to think about it, communication is key. Communication, taking notes and being organized. It’s important to have someone to talk to, someone to turn to when things get stressful. Paulo [Barrett], the Group COO, does weekly check-ins with me and so I never feel like I’m swimming without a life jacket. It is truly a privilege to work with someone of Paulo’s caliber, it’s motivating to see him bring out the best in everyone. It’s a pleasure working with him, and it’s great to hear him say, “you’re a star!”.

Creative Virtual USAKey components would be to organize the chaos, identify what’s high priority, medium priority and low priority. The way I conduct my tasks is with the mentality that even when something is deemed low priority, it never means it’s not important. I always let people know that I have their requests and tasks in hand, and keep them updated. It’s important to me to let everyone know they are being heard.

Something I find valuable in all walks of life is: patience. Everyone is so talented and amazing at what they do, but we are all human after all. We all take our turn dealing with frustrating and stressful situations. The key to navigating them is staying calm and taking it one step at a time. Remember you are never alone and help is always at hand, you just need to reach for it.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?

Winning the Queen’s Award means a lot – it’s hard to put it into words! It is always a wonderful moment to see years of dedication and hard work publicly celebrated and acknowledged. Especially with one of the highest official UK awards for British businesses. I’m so proud to be a part of a company that cultivates knowledge, promotes innovation and really cares about every individual in its organization.

Parliament TourChris [Ezekiel] is such an inspiring person. To have someone heading the company who exemplifies those qualities tells you a lot about the type of company Creative Virtual is and what a welcoming, encouraging place it is to work.

Being able to attend the award ceremony in London was AMAZING! I felt elated, overjoyed and honored to be chosen to go. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and it was wonderful to get to meet so many people on the team in person. And going on a tour of Parliament and getting insights from an actual member of Parliament was such an adventure! It was truly a great opportunity.

A Look Back: 2017 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The end of 2017 is quickly approaching and so, as has become our tradition, it’s time to take a look back at Creative Virtual’s year. To say this has been an exciting and busy year for us, our customers and our partners would be an understatement! 2017 will go down as one of the most important years in Creative Virtual’s history, so let’s take a look at some of the year’s highlights.

Queens Awards for EnterpriseBy far our biggest company announcement came in April when we were officially recognised as the winner of The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017! The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is the UK’s most prestigious business award for British companies, and we were recognised for innovation for our V-Person™ and V-Portal™ technology. Over the summer, our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, and CTO, Peter Behrend, attended a Royal Reception at Buckingham Palace for the winners and got to meet Her Majesty the Queen and several other members of the royal family. In September, the company hosted our official award ceremony and celebration, bringing together Creative Virtual team members from around the world, customers, partners and a variety of other guests in London. Mr Leslie Morgan OBE DL, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, presented our award on behalf of the Queen, and Jim Fitzpatrick, our local Member of Parliament (MP) for Poplar and Limehouse, also said a few words.

Creative Virtual was recognised by a variety of other awards programmes this year as well, being named ‘Best Customer Service Solutions Provider 2017’, ‘Most Innovative Customer Support Tool: V-Person Live Chat’, and ‘Best Virtual Assistant Solutions Provider 2017’ among others. We were also a proud part of the APPEX Omnichannel Catalyst which took home the Outstanding Performance in the Catalyst Program award at TM Forum Live! 2017.

Two individual members of our UK team were recognised by independent awards programmes this year for their contributions to Creative Virtual. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, was a finalist in the Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Hero of the Year (SME)’ for demonstrating excellence in her support of others and going beyond the call of duty to achieve a business goal. And I was honoured to be named ‘Best CX Solutions Business Marketer – UK’ in the 2017 Business Woman of the Year Awards for my success in driving brand recognition, thought leadership and lead generation activities. It was certainly a big year for award wins for us as a company and individually!

While we enjoyed celebrating – and walking the red carpet! – this year, we were also busy sponsoring and hosting industry events and delivering thought leadership presentations in 11 different countries – India, the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Luxembourg, Singapore, Germany, Australia and Hungary. Our fifth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar (Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre) with CRMXchange had a record-breaking number of registrations, highlighting the huge surge in interest in chatbots, virtual agents and artificial intelligence (AI). You can still watch that webinar on-demand, as well as our most recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth.

While there has been a marked increase in interest in chatbots and virtual agents this year, there’s also a lot of confusion, unrealistic expectations and false promises being perpetuated in the marketplace. We drew on our expertise to share a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer space in our whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre. Founder & CEO Chris similarly tackled this topic in a column for CMRXchange, Are Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre?. Chris also shared his expertise in interviews with ReadITQuik and The Wharf Newspaper, and Mike Murphy, CEO of Creative Virtual USA, shared his thoughts on the industry in a CRMXchange Executive Interview. Following on the heels of our launch of V-Person Live Chat last year, early in 2017 we created a new video showing how you can combine self-service virtual agents and human-assisted channels to deliver a fully integrated support experience.

This year we welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network. Our V-Person Family continued to grow throughout 2017 with new virtual agent and chatbot deployments across the globe in a variety of languages, and our collaborations with current customers resulted in new features and functionality being added to existing installs. This year Motability Operations’ award-winning ‘Ask Mo’ and National Rail Enquiries popular ‘Ask Lisa’ virtual agents both celebrated their 10th birthdays. REST Industry Super’s virtual agent Roger played a part in two award wins for them this year: ‘Best Innovation Super Feature’ in Money Magazine’s Best of the Best Awards and ‘Best Fund: Innovation 2017’ in the Chant West 2017 Super Fund Awards.

As he does every year, Founder & CEO Chris took the award for most travelling as he once again flew around the world visiting with the Creative Virtual team, partners and customers and taking part in a number of different events. In November, he also added a new job title to his CV, taking on the role of monthly technology columnist with The Wharf Newspaper.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out our 2017 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled shots from our official presentations and events as well as our fun group activities and award celebrations – everything from Founder & CEO Chris meeting to Queen to him taking a pie in the face during our fundraising efforts for the RSPCA. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.

It’s Time to be Realistic about AI, Chatbots and Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I had the opportunity to present a webinar with Engage Customer titled ‘AI, Chatbots and Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth’. I’m sure we can all agree how hot the market is for all things artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and live chat at the moment. It really is exploding out there! We’re also seeing a lot of confusion, false claims and inflated expectations. My goal during this webinar was to separate the truth from the myth by showing some real-world customer examples and, through a series of live demonstrations, share best practices in deploying chatbots and human assistance for customer support.

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of when AI goes wrong, such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which became sexist and racist because it learned from the way people were interacting with it. This is the simple reason why artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service, so you need to be very careful there. Companies need to be realistic about chatbots and virtual agents, but also make sure they select a system that fits with their roadmap for implementing this technology. And, just as important as the technology, is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions.

Right now we’re in a digital and artificial intelligence revolution, and there’s no doubt that the contact centre in its current form is finished. Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation initiatives and, of course, the contact centre needs to be a key part of that. All too often the contact centre is still siloed and we’re seeing them being left out of those discussions, though. In the future, there will be a paradigm shift and the contact centre will go from dealing with repetitive inquires to being the centre of excellence for knowledge and playing an important role in keeping self-service chatbots up-to-date.

When it comes to using artificial intelligence for customer service chatbots, a blended approach – not pure AI – is best. Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology uses a hybrid approach that allows organisations to tune how much machine learning and how much human curation of content they want to provide for the solution. Companies already know their top call drivers and machine learning isn’t needed to determine that. In fact, it gets in the way and gives a bad experience if it doesn’t take into account the learnings that the organisation already has. A hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of chatbot responses.

I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to get a better understanding of this topic and to see the live demonstrations I shared of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used around the world.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar.

AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Industry analysts are predicting a huge increase in the number of customer interactions that will involve technologies such as machine learning applications and chatbots over the next five years. Smart organisations are already setting themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating chatbots and virtual agents into their customer support strategies to meet the expectations of digital customers.”

-Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another article pushing artificial intelligence (AI) or another analyst forecasting an increase in machine learning to improve customer experience and engagement. But, if you feel like the hype doesn’t always match up to the reality, you aren’t alone.

On Tuesday, 5th December 2017 at noon (UK time), Engage Customer will host a live webinar titled AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth. This webinar will challenge the myths perpetuated by media hype and overpromising to walk attendees through a realistic explanation of machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space. It will be presented by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel and Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media.

In addition to giving insights on how to realistically incorporate AI, chatbots, virtual agents and live chat into your customer support strategy, Chris will share a series of live demonstrations showing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve customer engagement and build brand loyalty. The webinar will also cover:

  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

As customers increasingly seek out digital and self-service options, organisations are facing an evolving customer service landscape filled with changing engagement preferences. AI, chatbots and live chat can help organisations meet the expectations of digital customers, but they need to be implemented correctly. Join Engage Customer and Creative Virtual as we help you separate the truth from the myth.

This webinar is free, but advance registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be provided for registrants unable to attend the live event.

Reshaping Customer Engagement Priorities in the Financial Sector

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

“Changing World, Reshaping Priorities” was the theme of the 2017 Banking Conference hosted by Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) at the end of September. The conference looked at how the financial services industry can reshape their priorities, try new business models and better leverage technologies to improve operational efficiency and profitability against the backdrop of shifting customer preferences and economic policies. Creative Virtual had the privilege of joining HKT at the annual conference to meet with hundreds of bankers interested in digital transformation.

One key concern voiced at the conference was the need for a better customer engagement strategy. Financial brands struggle with huge call volumes and high operation costs in their call centres. As customer preferences are shifting, companies are faced with the need to handle multiple digital customer contact channels in addition to more traditional channels like phone. This can create even higher costs associated with staffing contact centres and training agents.

At the HKT booth we showed how chatbot solutions can help financial organisations dealing with these issues. Many visitors were familiar with “Ask Amy”, the virtual assistant chatbot we’ve implemented for HSBC in Hong Kong. With this technology, you can provide better customer service in e-channels by offering instant, accurate 24/7 support. Customers also receive consistent answers across the different digital channels and, through back-end integrations, are provided with personalised information based on their specific account or profile.

Chatbots also help improve efficiency within call centres and contact centres. By allowing customers to self-serve online, human resources can be prioritised for more important or complex engagements. The technology can be used within the contact centre as well to support agents by providing an easy way for them to access the information they need to help customers. This reduces average handling times and improves customer satisfaction. Chatbots are also proven to reduce the time and costs associated with training live agents.

There was also a buzz at the conference about artificial intelligence (AI) with a general agreement that AI is everywhere – even a rice cooker with fuzzy logic is now AI! Natural language processing (NLP) is part of the AI field and what allows our chatbots to understand the intent of customer questions and probe further if needed to provide the right and consistent answer.

It was a pleasure to be a part of HKT’s booth and spend the day with some of their experienced team. My thanks to HKT for the invitation to join them promoting FinTech, and to HKIB for hosting a successful event.

Want to learn more? Request a demo and discover how you can create a better customer engagement strategy with chatbot technology.

HKIB Banking Conference

 

[Meet the Team] Jeff Clifford: Over Ten Years of Building and Implementing Natural Language Virtual Agents

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognised by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honour not only for our innovative technology, but also because of the hard work and dedication of our global team. Creative Virtual’s experienced, expert team is what sets the organisation apart from others in the industry. As part of the five-year celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, we’re talking with some members of the Creative Virtual team about the technology, their involvement in the industry and what winning this award means to them.

Today we introduce Jeff Clifford, Lead Knowledgebase Engineer/ Account Manager with Creative Virtual’s UK team. For over ten years, Jeff has tirelessly worked to build, implement, manage and improve Creative Virtual’s virtual agents. He’s established great collaborations with organisations of all sizes and across all industries – from small local government councils to large international financial institutions – to help improve their customer and employee support with virtual agents and chatbots. For many members of the UK Operations Team, and quite a few team members in other locations, Jeff provided their first experience with building natural language virtual agents in his role as Creative Virtual’s go-to trainer. He shared with me why winning the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise feels like a personal victory for him and how virtual agent technology has evolved over the past ten years.

What do you remember most about your early days working with virtual agents and the company?

I remember walking out of the Canary Wharf office after my first day and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’. It was my first time working with NLP [natural language processing], and I didn’t understand it. I had studied a few programming languages at university, however this was something else. I remember spending a day trying to perfect the simplest of decision trees.

The company was so small at the time that within two weeks I was assigned to build a new virtual agent for a well-known financial services company. I had to learn quick and one of the best ways I learned about the technology was when I broke something and then frantically tried to fix it before the Tech Team found out. I felt like I was in over my head, and never imagined that ten years later I would be a specialist in the field!

I remember the early R&D meetings, discussions over beer and pizza on Friday evenings, that lead to our development of V-Person™ and V-Portal™. I also remember being constantly impressed that we had so many big clients when we were so small. I loved reading the adverts on the London Underground and counting how many of the companies were Creative Virtual customers. I remember the days when Chris our CEO would walk into the office very excited and mention we got another client. That hasn’t changed!

It’s been amazing to me to see how the company has grown. Someone said to me once when I was new that ‘one day people will be joining and you won’t know who they are’, which seemed strange to think of at the time – everyone knew everyone else and we immediately got to know the new people. But that’s exactly what has happened.

In the over 10 years you’ve worked in the virtual agent and chatbot field, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the technology and how the solutions are implemented?

When I first started in this industry in 2007, a virtual agent was a very niche thing. When people asked me what I did for a living, it never felt like an easy answer. I found it was often difficult to explain what I did, especially in social situations. Now a majority of the people I speak to know about virtual agents and chatbots because of the growth of the industry. Most folks I chat to have actually used a Creative Virtual virtual agent so understand from their personal experience with the technology.

Competitors have also changed in magnitude and volume, which is indicative of the industry growth and how far we have come. It’s impressive to think about the list of big, well-known companies, like IBM, that we’re competitive against now.

Virtual agents have also become an integral part of the self-service areas within websites instead of just being a cool novelty or add-on. Customers really want to be able to help themselves, and companies are now understanding that these solutions are so much better than a traditional site search or list of FAQs. Integration is limitless, especially the account integration work we do behind secure areas. We can answer personal queries about a user’s account and this is really where the virtual agent becomes more of a digital personal assistant

What are the biggest challenges you find organisations face today when deploying virtual agents?

One challenge is understanding that the virtual agent needs to ‘learn’ and that the system learns best by talking to real people. This is an area where our clients really benefit from our expertise. We know how to best leverage those real conversations to improve the virtual agent and can help companies with this process, both during development and after launch, and with setting realistic expectations.

Over the years I have also noticed that the collaborative partnerships we have with our clients is key to the success of a virtual agent. The virtual agent is able to provide our clients with valuable insight into the wants and needs of their customers, which in turn can be used to provide a better service and user experience.

Another age-old issue that’s common is users thinking they are chatting to a real person. I’m not sure we’ll ever stop running into that challenge!

What are a few highlights from your time working with Creative Virtual? What do you enjoy most about being a part of the team?

2016 RunTenFor me the biggest highlight has been watching how big the company has grown and being a part of that development. I have an invested interest in Creative Virtual growing and being successful. I was lucky enough to be chosen to train the first few members of the Stamford-based team for the US office, and it’s been exciting to see that office grow. Like any company, we’ve been through our trials and tribulations, and I’m proud that we’ve become stronger because of the tough times.

I really enjoy the team camaraderie and being a part of a group of people who are willing to share their expertise and work together to best serve our customers. When I’m interviewing potential new hires, I always pay attention to their attitude as much as their experience and skill set. If that doesn’t fit with the company ethos, they aren’t going to be a good addition to our team. I love watching my trainees go from being overwhelmed on their first few days of training to flourishing in their new roles. The company has grown because of our culture of team work and people being willing to learn from each other. I’ve personally learned a lot over the years. I’m obviously much more experienced in NLP and building virtual agents than I was back in those first few months! I’ve also learned a lot about account management, dealing with clients and managing a team.Creative Virtual team

I also appreciate how agile we are as a company and the flexibility we have to turn around requests and updates from our customers so quickly. Many of our big competitors can’t do that. That’s one reason why we are able to build such great relationships with our clients. They really appreciate our expertise and dedication to making their projects successful. One of my client contacts from many years ago recently reached out to me to ask if I was still with Creative Virtual and to say she’d like to work with us again in her new role with a different organisation.

What does Creative Virtual winning The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 mean to you?The Queen's Awards for Enterprise

Winning the Queen’s Award means as much to me as it does to Chris [Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO]. Just as he said he couldn’t be prouder to be leading this company, I am super proud to be a part of his company. I’ve been telling everyone, all my family and friends, that we’ve won and that Chris got to meet the Queen. When your boss gets to meet the Queen because of the work you and your colleagues did, that’s an amazing thing to be a part of and something you want to tell everyone. We’ve won many awards, but the Queen’s Award feels like a lifetime achievement award for me.