It’s Time to Embrace Digital Channels and Build Smart Help

By Patrick Gallagher, Managing Director ANZ & North Asia

In my over 30 years of involvement in contact centres, IVR and customer experience applications, I’ve experienced companies investing millions in their contact centres to provide support to customers calling to purchase, enquire, complain, apply or seek assistance. Traditionally this has been the ‘tried-and-tested’ option as companies continued to invest in their contact centre in order to build their customer support capability. But, as customers have moved to digital channels, this approach is no longer enabling organisations to meet their customers’ expectations.

I drew on this experience in my recent Executive Interview with CRMXchange to discuss the growing popularity of online self-service and ensuring customers can resolve issues with minimal effort. It’s key for organisations to recognise that it’s more than just support today’s online customers want. They expect to purchase, enquire, complain, apply and get help effortlessly online. This means companies need to embrace the digital channels and build smart help online, not force customers to use a traditional search tool that returns pages and pages of results or give customers answers that say ‘To find out about this product, please call the contact centre’. There’s nothing smart about that, and it really creates a poor online experience for customers.

CRMXchange also asked me about using a combination of natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) technology for improving the customer support experience. AI is certainly a hot topic around the world in the customer experience industry, and so I thought it important to share a word of caution about the ‘pure’ AI solutions on the market that are being promoted as virtual agents. While these technologies have a place in driving quantitative analysis of large volumes of data, they are not ready to be deployed for customer service and support. Organisations should look for virtual agents that employ self-learning capabilities, but in a way that still gives them control over the reliability of the responses.

Please check out my full interview for more on these topics as well as delivering personalised experiences to customers, making intelligent virtual agents available across all contact channels and using these solutions to complement the knowledge of live agents. You can also learn more about Creative Virtual’s technology and see our smart help tools in action by requesting a live demo.

My thanks to CRMXchange for the opportunity to participate in their Executive Interview series!

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.

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.

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.

IAC London 2016 Day 1 – Pioneering the 4th Industrial Revolution

By Gianandrea Gaetani, Junior Knowledgebase Engineer

With all the talk revolving around the convergence of Artificial Intelligence, the present and future implementations of Intelligent Agents, Robotics, identity and biometrics, quantum, nano bio tech, and 3d printing, the Intelligent Assistants Conference held in London on the 26th and 27th of April left participants debating where we all stand in tech matters. Is it too soon to talk about the 4th Industrial Revolution just yet?

Whether we want to believe it or not, businesses today are left to navigate the chasm in an ever changing digital world. Digital and biological worlds tend to get closer with every passing year and static businesses and websites seem to be coming alive through the implementation of Intelligent Assistance.

As the Channel Owner of Swedbank, Martin Kedback, stated, in our present day, people are engaging with companies like never before. Users seem to now be logging into banking services through mobile devices 21.4 times per month on average. This data calls for a re-design of the way businesses interact with their customers. There is a strong demand for new channels of interaction that has not yet been fully addressed effectively. There is a need to hyper personalize customer experience and deliver it to the users in a quick, trustworthy and efficient way. We live in a world where the very use of our technology will be moulded by a level of hyper personalisation that can only be achieved through Intelligent Assistance.

We now live in a place where the instant access and sharing of information can determine the success or failure of an enterprise. Virtual Assistants will be playing a key role in this personal information economy. These implementations will not only have to be proficient at managing knowledge, but will also have to guarantee an increasing degree of trust, security, and satisfaction.

As silos of information everywhere are opening up to create a wider and faster world, there is a need to establish ways to effectively respond to the task at hand. The new “quick and cheap” chatbot trend seems to be providing a solution that does not guarantee any sort of satisfaction and security in the long run. These unstable solutions and a sharp 57% increase in the number of IA companies trying to enter the market today seem to be calling for the establishment of “best practice” in terms of virtual assistance. The need to respect norms of human behaviour such as permission, respect, mutual value, and trust, must be met with efficiency and security by virtual agents.

Intelligent Assistants ConferenceDuring the first day of IAC London 2016, the team members attending from Creative Virtual really felt the need to address two questions: Where do we stand, and where are we going as a global company? As our Founder and CEO, Chris Ezekiel stated, our expertise in knowledge management, agility, compatibility, technology, and the wealth of having an experienced team with an open mind, will push Creative Virtual to stay at the very top of this evolutionary wave. With regards to the future, during the Executive Summit panel, Chris pushed forth the idea that “we see the personal and commercial assistants converging in the future”. It is this mentality that makes Creative Virtual a leader in the field of Virtual Assistance.

Be sure to follow Creative Virtual on Twitter for more from Day 2 of IAC London 2016. Not able to attend the event but want to know more about our innovative virtual agent technology? Contact us to learn more!

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

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Alessandro Giordo, Web Developer and Support Technician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Smart Machines are Coming! Are You Ready?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Deputy General Manager, Personal Banking Group, CBD

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

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

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

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

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

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

CBD in Arabic: “Upside down and right-to-left”

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

It’s been very exciting times recently as we prepared the launch of an Arabic version of Commercial Bank of Dubai’s (CBD) Virtual Assistant Sara. Building a virtual assistant in Arabic turned the interface and our natural language processing upside down.

Or, to be precise, it flipped it from left-to-right to right-to-left.

Once again, we saw the advantages of our rule based approach: Starting from the English version of Sara, we created a language library and a CBD knowledgebase in parallel. Doing this, we focused on the content needed for the project at hand, without having to start with complicated language models, grammars and whatnot. A quite straightforward process managed by the Netherlands and UK offices, in collaboration with the client who provided the business content while we looked at the natural language processing side of things. As V-Engine™ is language agnostic anyway, most of the work happened in V-Portal™ and soon we were having the first conversations in Arabic. My Arabic is non-existent unfortunately, so my own “dialogues” consisted of copying a question into the input field and enjoying the beauty of Arabic lettering. Proper tests were carried out by Arabic speakers at Creative Virtual and by CBD.

We learned a great deal about handling Arabic and similar languages and, as can be expected, had a few unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The nice part of the learning exercise was, in fact, how smoothly various people can work largely independently on business content, language processing rules, knowledgebase structure and scripting, with only the first two tasks requiring any skills in Arabic! A successful approach that has since then been applied to the creation of other language cores.

Soon we had dealt with all the issues, localized the UI, added Sara to the English site at cbd.ae and created a little language detection in both versions of Sara which make her offer a switch to the respective other language. You can also easily switch languages through a link in the UI. And now, conversation logs in Arabic are rolling in. Seems like the times will be very exciting a bit longer!

If you want to know more about Arabic Sara, check out our official announcement and read CBD’s Customer Success Story.