C3 San Francisco 2018: Enabling conversational commerce for customer service

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On September 12-13, Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. Following on from C3 London held in May, the event will explore conversational platforms and how organizations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features case studies, industry use cases, and a series of interactive, topical panel discussions.

Creative Virtual is a sponsor for C3 San Francisco and will be lending our expertise in building and deploying conversational systems to the conference agenda. Scott Tompkins, VP of Sales, will be an expert speaker on the ‘Achieving the Right Balance in Conversational AI’ panel on Day 2 of the event. This session will address the important discussions organizations must have around human involvement in automated solutions and the best ways to implement machine learning and chatbots.

Members of the Creative Virtual team will also be available at our stand to share live demonstrations and success stories of organizations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots, and live chat to optimize their conversational customer care. They will also be discussing tips on building a business case for this technology in your company and best practices for implementing solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement and build better relationships with customers.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 San Francisco event website. Also, be sure to follow conference announcements and updates on your social accounts using #C3SF2018.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to received $200 off the conference rate. If you aren’t able to be at the event in San Francisco, we’d be happy to arrange a personalized demo at a time that works for you.

A Complete Omnichannel Experience for Those at a Desk and on the Move

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

In my nearly 11 years with Creative Virtual, I’ve worked with organisations across all sectors looking to implement successful virtual agent solutions and have seen the industry and the technology change massively. As the number of communication channels have grown and customers have become more digitally savvy, virtual agent technology has also become more advanced and sophisticated. Today companies are using these solutions to increase engagement through natural language conversations and are seeing all the usual benefits that you’ve heard associated with chatbots and virtual agents for years – an enhanced user experience, improvement in CSAT scores, reductions in calls to the contact centre and lower customer service costs.

Yet, as I explain in my recent Executive Interview with CRMXchange, the benefits go beyond that with today’s solutions. Chatbots and virtual agents can now provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move. By being able to linkup channels – web, mobile, Facebook, messenger apps (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), voice assistants (like Google Home and Amazon Alexa), etc. – companies are benefiting from delivering a consistent, accurate and seamless experience that’s available to customers 24/7.

It’s important that companies looking to implement a virtual agent fully explore the benefits of deploying the solution across multiple contact channels using a single knowledgebase. This then needs to be a central consideration during their selection process. Many virtual agent and chatbot solutions on the market today don’t have this capability which means you end up with a stand-alone tool on a single communication channel and an even more disjointed customer experience.

In my interview I also talk about the benefits of using self-service virtual agents for employee support, particularly for internal service desk and HR support, and how working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual can help an organisation get the most from their virtual agent. I discuss why human moderation of the machine learning component of chatbots is essential and the effect the explosion of media hype and buzz around artificial intelligence and chatbots has had on the industry.

Read my full interview for more and request a live demo to see Creative Virtual’s technology in action. My thanks to CRMXchange for the opportunity to participate in their Executive Interview series!

[Meet the Team] Eileen Stall: Looking Past the Machine Learning Buzz & Chatbot Hype

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Creative Virtual is one of only four companies in London to be recognized by The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the category of Innovation in 2017. The company was selected for this honor 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 organization 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 Eileen Stall, Knowledgebase Manager with Creative Virtual USA. Having prior management and customer care experience and a degree in art history, Eileen came across a Creative Virtual job posting in 2015 while looking for a new role with a better work-life balance. Now a key member of our operations team, she is responsible for the building and upkeep of virtual agent knowledgebases for a number of large enterprise clients, including Cox, The New York Times and IHG. Eileen works closely with these organizations to enhance their content, utilize analytics to improve answer quality and coordinate new expansions of their virtual agents. She shared with me how the media buzz around machine learning has created industry challenges and why Creative Virtual’s diverse team is key to the company’s success.

What have you found to be major challenges facing the chatbot and virtual agent market today?

Chatbots have gone from being an obscure technology to one that everyone knows about and have likely had experience with. It’s nice that now chatbots have some recognition value when I explain my job! But “machine learning” becoming a buzz word has created a big challenge for the market. Companies don’t understand the huge amount of data that you actually need to implement a solution that only relies on machine learning. The idea that you can just deploy a chatbot and never have to work on it again is simply not possible. I find that a divorcing of technologies from their original contexts has created a lot of misplaced hype in the tech world.

Creative Virtual USANow the market is seeing a number of chatbot pilots which attempted to implement machine learning to inappropriately small datasets ending with some messy results. In several cases, we as Creative Virtual have had to go through a re-education process about the realities of machine learning after potential clients have heard some fantastical pitches from competitors. We’ve opted not to rely solely on machine learning in spite of the buzz. Rather, we leverage human curated content and look at user intents to determine the best responses. This may take a little longer than what’s promised with some other solutions, but that extra time is better than a Twitter bot disaster!

This is what sets us apart from those other vendors. We have a solid understanding of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, not just making technology decisions based on the buzz. Even when the market started going crazy about deploying fully self-learning virtual agents, we stood firm in our combination of machine learning and human curation of content because we knew that was the best approach to accurate and reliable solutions.

Why is it important to work with an experienced chatbot and virtual agent vendor like Creative Virtual?

Creative Virtual has what I like to call a concierge approach. We offer a packaged deal of innovative software and years of accumulated experience in the industry. Clients can leverage our experience to create a successful virtual agent. Companies don’t have a “bot division” so the more we can provide a concierge type of experience, the better the result and the less overwhelmed they feel. How can you expect someone with no experience to build out the bot, to know what content to put in, to identify when a user needs to be escalated to live chat? That doesn’t make sense. We don’t burden our customers with requests to provide huge amounts of content or put pressure on their copywriter. We have the experience to guide and assist through the entire process. We can be ghostwriters, creating content in the brand’s voice, but tailored to the chatbot platform, such that all that is needed is the client sign-off.

We customize our virtual agents on a case-by-case basis but have developed expertise in many industries. For example, I’ve worked a lot with telecommunication companies so I’m very familiar with the type of questions their customers are asking most often. The 80/20 rule has definitely applied to deployments in this sector wherein nearly 80% of the inputs are asked about the top 20% of content. Deploying a slimmer knowledgebase with the plan to build out is a great approach for that situation. You start with the most common questions being asked repeatedly – questions about a bill, how to cancel or change service, etc. – and then build the other content organically based on actual user conversations and the customer’s voice. That way the knowledgebase is being driven by what customers are really asking about. The more unnecessary content you have in a chatbot knowledgebase, the harder it is to achieve a high level of accuracy. Of course, the virtual agent won’t be able to answer 100% of questions at first, so it’s important to make sure your secondary support system, such as live chat or a help page, is robust. That way you have a back-up for users and can still provide a good customer experience. This approach is successful when you’re working with an experienced vendor like Creative Virtual because we have the expertise to build out an effective knowledgebase quickly and efficiently.

How has the explosion of new contact channels affected the deployment of virtual agents?

A lot has changed in the world of virtual agents over the past few years. Now companies are coming into new deployments with a plan for their bot. They have a space in their business where they need to provide help and know they don’t need a human to do that. They also know enough about the technology to understand the benefits of working with an experienced vendor who can help them finetune and implement their plan to achieve the best possible results. They have confidence in our expertise and take advantage of our large library of existing integrations and knowledge about rolling out chatbots to additional channels.

Creative Virtual USAIt can be like the wild west with new technologies though, with people and companies suffering from tech hype. There’s a growing confidence in bots and so you don’t need to convince people to use them. However, before rolling out a chatbot to another channel, companies need to keep in mind the context of their customer engagement rather than making a decision simply on that the fact that something is new and creating a lot of buzz.

For example, enterprises might already have some stats and live chat transcripts from a channel like Facebook Messenger that they can use when considering adding their chatbot to that type of channel. Similarly, adding a bot to their app can be informed by what customers are already doing on mobile. When faced with a completely new channel where there is no history of experience with customers there, that’s when it’s hard to determine whether that channel can provide value. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are getting a lot of media coverage now, and they can be a great channel for chatbot deployment for some use cases. This is where context is important to provide a positive customer experience. Does your content lend itself well to a voice conversation? Or do your customers need a visual, such as a diagram or chart, to really benefit from the virtual agent’s answer? That’s another reason to work with an experienced provider like Creative Virtual. We can help guide you through the maze of new contact channels to develop the best experience for your customers.

I love that there’s always something new in this industry, so my work never gets stale! There’s always something to learn and new ways to use these developments to help our clients provide better customer support.

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

Creative Virtual USABeing American, I had never heard of the Queen’s Awards, so when Creative Virtual was announced as a winner I did a little research and was happy to discover that the award went beyond simply recognizing companies for their financial success. The award also recognized the people behind that success who bring together our variety of experiences every day to create and deliver our innovative solutions. This really resonated with me as I’ve always felt that the diversity of our team in the US is what makes us a good vendor and partner. Everyone is coming together from different backgrounds with different perspectives to become experts in the field.

This award is fitting because on top of delivering innovation to our customers, we also prioritize developing our staff. Cultivating positive interpersonal relationships in the office and across customer and partner companies is an important part of the Creative Virtual culture. Our diversity has been key to our success, particularly on difficult projects. We’re not your stereotypical bunch of old white men sitting in a boardroom; we’re a diverse group of people combining our unique outlooks and experiences to deliver the best solutions possible to our customers.

[Meet the Team] Tracey Biela: Crazy About Virtual Agent Technology Since 1999

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 Tracey Biela, Senior Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Tracey started in the virtual agent field in 1999 with a company in Hamburg, Germany and fell in love with the technology. After leaving that role in 2005 and then moving away from Hamburg, she feared she would never get to work in the industry again. Thankfully for Creative Virtual, that was not to be the end of Tracey’s virtual agent journey! In 2011 she joined the Creative Virtual team and is now involved with defect management, testing, training and supporting partner implementations. She shared with me why she is crazy about chatbots and virtual agents and how she still looks for a way to slip the company’s Queen’s Awards win into conversations.

How has your early work with virtual agent technology influenced your current role with Creative Virtual?

That was when I first started to love virtual agents. I’m crazy about the technology! I started working with virtual agents when I lived in Hamburg. It was at that company where I first met and worked with Chris [Ezekiel] before he founded Creative Virtual, and also worked with several others who would eventually be a part of the Creative Virtual team. I was interviewed for that first job by Olaf Voβ [Lead Application Designer] and trained by Björn Gülsdorff [Chief Business Development Officer]. I also worked with Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] and Katrin Zieren [Business Development Consultant].

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualAfter having my kids and relocating again, I thought to myself, “What have I done?!” I thought I would never get to work in the business again. It was only after I reconnected with Chris and Rachel that I realised there might be a possibility of joining Creative Virtual. I’m so happy to be back again and working for Chris. We share a similar philosophy on things, so I knew it would be good to work for him.

The very first VA [virtual agent] I worked on was named Mark and was built to sell virtual reality glasses and talk about science fiction in German and English. I worked on the English version and Björn did the German. At that time I never thought that eighteen years later I’d find myself working on virtual agents that are helping large organisations deal successfully with a very high amount of traffic.

During my time at my first virtual agent job, I was involved with developing the basic knowledgebase and still see some of that early work reflected the VAs I work on today.  I also had the opportunity to be involved with the servers, UI [user interface] and backend aspects of the technology which has been an advantage when supporting partners in my current role.

What makes Creative Virtual stand out in the virtual agent industry?

V-Portal™ is the fifth system I’ve used during my career for building virtual agents, and it is by far the best. V-Portal is amazing! Our clients really appreciate that we provide a suite of products. In particular, that V-Portal works hand-in-hand with our Live Chat and virtual agents. No one else does that.

I have a background in linguistics, with a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics, so the language aspect of VAs is something else I love. Creative Virtual has built our technology to work with any language which is incredibly important. V-Portal’s multi-lingual capabilities allow our VAs to maintain accuracy across all languages.

Creative Virtual’s hybrid approach of human input and self-learning also makes our solution the best out there. The world has seen what happens when you let users completely train your chatbot, and that doesn’t work.

What do you enjoy most about your role and being a part of the Creative Virtual team?

I always feel like I am part of such an excellent team! The company is really flexible and understanding of family obligations, which also takes up a lot my day. In between juggling family life and work, I love it when I get to train clients or colleagues, especially when I’m working with a really engaged group. I enjoy meeting different people and learning as much from our customers and partners as they are learning from me.

Tracey Biela Creative VirtualMy current role really brings together my skills and interests. My linguistics background and interest in languages has been really helpful when working with VAs in Turkish, Swedish, Danish and other languages. This is a fascinating way to play with languages and be able to help our clients to help their customers. I sometimes see myself in a communicator role, helping to translate from technical terms and jargon into ‘normal’ language to explain things to clients and partners in a way they can easily understand. I also find myself really enjoying the part of my job that involves testing and replicating defects. I love being able to bite into a defect until I figure it out.

This work can be really stressful and busy at times, and it’s not for everyone. I tend to be a workaholic, so I need to make sure I’m taking some time off. As a company we seem to have a reputation of being hard workers but really knowing how to celebrate when we get together! I’m not sure how that started, but it came up again after one of the clients I work with was at our Queen’s Awards celebration and commented on how fun it was to celebrate with us.

RSPCA Creative VirtualIn addition to celebrating, the team also gets together to do good for the community. This will be my fourth time doing the 10k for the RSPCA, and I’m really looking forward to it this year. The first time I didn’t think I could do it. This year I started training earlier and am hoping to get a new personal best.

Having a career in the virtual agent industry does have a downside, though. My kids have an Amazon Alexa and are always asking her things. At first, they sounded a lot like the inputs we often get on a brand-new VA – cuss words and childish questions like “can you fart?” – when people are testing it out, which made me laugh. Now when Alexa misses a question or doesn’t have the answer, I find myself saying to my kids that she “hit the safety net” or “must not have those keywords”, and then suggesting another way they can ask. I can’t just enjoy Alexa like everyone else – I’m always analysing her knowledgebase! Although, I guess that’s a small price to pay for having my dream job.

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

Winning the Queen’s Awards is absolutely fantastic! I’m still excited! It’s such a prestigious award and not one that many companies can say that they won. I think I told everyone I know about Creative Virtual’s win, and I still look for a reason to slip it into conversation any time I can. I’ve told all of my family in the USA and all of my friends know. Some clients’ names are not always recognisable, but when you mention the Queen they always know the award is a big deal!

A friend once told me many years ago that when you find a job you get co-workers that you like or work that you like or you will like the pay. Working for Creative Virtual has been my dream job – I got all three! I mention this in every year in my annual review, and I feel grateful to work with such a great team and a great company.

Live Demonstrations of Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

No longer a thing of fantasy or science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is finding a place in our homes, schools and businesses, helping to automate tasks and make our lives easier. For organisations striving to improve their customer experience (CX), implementing AI has become vital. The contact centre must play a key role in digital transformation initiatives around AI, automation and customer self-service in order to avoid creating silos that will damage CX.

On Thursday, 14 June 2018, Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join the expert panel of speakers for CRMXchange’s Tech Tank Roundtable Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center. The live webcast, scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm UK time/ 2:00 pm ET/ 11:00 am PT, will feature insights on how to use machine learning and natural language solutions to make an immediate and positive impact in the contact centre.

Chris will give an inside look at how Creative Virtual’s intelligent solutions help contact centres build better relationships with customers through centralising knowledge management, integrating chatbots and live agents, and combining AI and human input. He’ll explore recent statistics, discuss industry predictions, and share live demonstrations of current implementations. Chris will also provide some practical tips for implementing natural language virtual agents and chatbots to enable seamless customer engagement and help your contact centre improve through lower costs, reduced staff turnover, and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

Register for the Tech Tank now to learn more and see live demonstrations from Chris and other industry experts from CallMiner and NICE Nexidia. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Roundtable will be sent to all registrants after the event.

C3 London 2018: Redefining customer care with conversational commerce

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

On 8-9 May Opus Research will bring their Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) to London. Replacing the Intelligent Assistants Conference held the previous two years, this new event will explore conversational platforms and how organisations can unlock the power of machine learning, natural language processing and intelligent assistance. The conference features interactive panel discussions, industry case studies and networking opportunities.

Coined by Opus Research years ago, the term ‘conversational commerce’ has never been more important in the customer experience space than it is in 2018. Organisations are tackling the challenge of creating conversational engagement with digital customers across a wide range of contact channels. Advancements in chatbots and virtual agents have opened up powerful opportunities for using these tools to create conversations with customers.

Creative Virtual is sponsoring C3 London and lending our expertise in delivering intelligent conversational systems to the conference agenda. Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director, will be an expert speaker on the Demystifying AI – Enterprise Strategies for Digital Self-Service panel on Day 1 of the event. Having first entered the virtual agent and chatbot industry in 2000, Rachel will draw from her extensive experience building and implementing these solutions for organisations to discuss realistic expectations for artificial intelligence in the customer service space.

At the Creative Virtual stand, our team will be on hand to share live demos and success stories of organisations around the world already using our V-Person™ virtual agents, chatbots and live chat to deliver conversational customer care. Also stop by for insights and tips on building a business case for the technology in your organisation and how to approach implementing these solutions to create seamless omnichannel engagement.

You can find more information about the conference and the full agenda on the C3 London event website. Be sure to follow conference announcements and updates using #C3London.

If you haven’t registered yet and are interested in attending, contact us for a discount code to receive £200 off the conference rate.  And if you aren’t able to be at the event in London, we’d love to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you.

We’ll Spend 1 Billion Years Online in 2018

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It’s certainly no secret that we’re spending more and more time online. In fact, the 2018 Global Digital suite of reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite, published earlier this year, share data showing that the average internet user spends about 6 hours online every day. When you add that up for the 4 billion internet users across the globe, the world will spend an impressive 1 billion years online this year!

Nearly a quarter of a billion new users came online for the first time last year, bringing the total internet users to 53% of the world’s population – up 7% from 2016. Much of this growth is due to more affordable smartphones and mobile data plans. Social media use is also on the rise, up 13%, with over 3 billion people using social media platforms each month. Not surprisingly, 9 in 10 of those users are accessing those platforms on mobile devices.

Digital Around the World in 2018

The Growth of Messenger Apps

During 2017 nearly 1 million people started using social media for the first time every day, which breaks down to more than 11 new users every second. Facebook’s core platform is still the leader in active users, but WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both grew twice as fast. The number of people using each of those messenger apps was up by 30% last year, tying them at about 1.3 billion active users on each platform. However, WhatsApp wins when it comes to geographic penetration, boasting top messenger app status in 128 countries compared to Facebook Messenger’s 72 countries.

 Top Messenger Apps

The Rise in E-commerce

1.77 billion people worldwide are now buying consumer goods online, a growth of 8% during 2017, reaching a total annual spend of nearly $1.5 trillion USD last year. Adding in other categories such as travel and digital content raises the global e-commerce figure to be closer to $2 trillion USD.

Approximately 45% of all internet users are now making purchases online although there is a wide variation among countries. The United Kingdom leads the pack with 78% of the population buying consumer goods online; the United States comes in at 69% and Australia at 59%. Not surprisingly, the average revenues per user (ARPU) has also shown solid growth and is up 7%.

e-commerce consumer goods

e-commerce

Get to Know the Trends AND Your Customers

More than just providing attention grabbing statistics (like the world spending a whopping 1 billion years online in 2018!), these reports highlight some important worldwide trends for businesses. More than half of the world’s population is now online. It’s where we go to connect with each other, find answers to our questions and do our shopping. We’ve become highly connected digital customers looking for 24/7 access to information and support on a variety of devices. Organisations and brands need to keep their finger on the pulse of these trends – both global and local.

Getting know the trends is a great place to start but it isn’t enough. Companies also need to get to know their customers in order to understand how best to apply these trends and address the changing digital landscape. For example, organisations should be looking at how they can engage with customers on messenger apps and other social platforms but need to know which ones their customers are already using or those efforts will be wasted.

A good example of an organisation doing this is Transport for NSW in Australia. They saw an opportunity to connect with customers on Facebook Messenger and introduced an interactive chatbot, their Real-time Intelligent Transport Assistant (RITA), on the platform. They then built on RITA’s success in Facebook Messenger by adding the chatbot to their website and, in January of this year, integrating RITA with Amazon’s Alexa.

By combining global, local and industry trends with an understanding of their customer base, organisations can take advantage of the world’s growing dependence on the internet and preference for purchasing goods online. Companies will benefit from increased engagement and a better experience by meeting their digital customers where they are already spending their time.

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

What Goes Around Comes Around: A look at customer sentiment and intent

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

I’m delighted that one of the main reasons why I started working in this industry 18 years ago (eegad!) has re-surfaced as a credible and viable objective to move ahead with conversational flows that also provide a profitable punch: customer sentiment.

During the first wave of all things cool and nifty on the web – when website stickiness and brand promotion online was first and foremost – a virtual assistant was often deployed to assist a marketing campaign and answer “silly” questions about random topics that might have little to do with the brand. So long as the virtual assistant (always with an avatar) was presented in a branded UI, then the key was to keep a customer on the page and enable the engagement to be about whatever the user wanted.

Of course, the problem with that approach at its most extreme was that it lost its financial credibility since, without promotion or discussion about the products/ services, there was little to no ROI on the tool. The virtual assistant was demoted as a bit of expensive frivolity that was often axed once the first tech bubble burst and focus moved from bling to bottom line.

That was when I lost my job creating such novelties as VC money was running out and there was little to no appetite to fund such projects and focus on user sentiment and fun smalltalk, like whether the virtual assistant enjoyed pizza on a Saturday night or playing chess with fellow 24/7 assistants.

Creative Virtual evolved after that burst as it saw an opportunity at that time to take this technology and move it away from sentiment and emotions and casual smalltalk to focus on the business proposition of enabling a client’s customers to find and self-serve answers to relevant FAQs.

The company was built by actively addressing the public’s requirements. These requirements have changed over the years from quick and efficient delivery of answers, limited smalltalk and some avatars to moving away from avatars and focusing on back-end integration with APIs ranging from currency trackers to train delays. Then there was a major focus on user journey and intent – what does the customer need and what is the quickest and smoothest way to get him/ her there? Organisations were keen to link their virtual assistants to live chat and use decision trees or conversation flows. We saw the removal of the avatar in many situations and flat web designs for simplicity.

Now in 2018, we’re in the age of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and conversations – sometimes even via voice. User intent is assumed based on channels and the context of when the customer starts a conversation. Now it is time to get back to assessing if the user is happy or frustrated and work out which channel and journey the user needs to take to feel special (personalisation) and guided (customer service) after a fulfilled mission of getting what was required (positive user experience). True conversations need to happen and no longer just a session with Q&A pairs. The “silly” questions and random topics have a place if it helps hand hold the user to an endpoint – and the circle the virtual assistant industry (myself included!) started to draw in 2000 can now be closed!

The whole aspect of AI and NLP (natural language processing) combined with human curation requires more blog posts – but suffice to say that for the purposes of this post –  the “science of conversation” is truly back on the map for self-service tools. And we at Creative Virtual will be leading the pack as we were (a number of us working at other companies first) at the beginning when sentiment was more important than intent. Now we know how to join them both up in the same conversation – and the future of the industry is looking bright!

Want to learn more? The best way to understand The science of conversation™ is to see our technology in action with a personalised demo.

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.