5 Questions to Ask About Digital Customer Service Improvement Plans

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, Creative Virtual USA

Of the many opportunities provided to the business world with so many digitally connected consumers, some of the most exciting are in the realm of customer service. Digital tools allow us to serve customers better than ever before – as long as you choose the right solution and engage the right experts to help deliver on its promise.

If you’re considering implementing a new digital customer service improvement plan, ask a provider the following questions to gain a clearer sense of how they can help you take better care of your customers:

  1. What’s the expected cost per resolution?

It’s important to understand the fully-loaded cost of helping a customer resolve a problem in each of your customer service channels. To quickly estimate cost per resolution, take the cost per contact for the channel and divide it by the expected success rate of resolving issues. You can expect a fairly large variance in costs across your channels, so be sure to take a broad look across digital and offline channels to determine which method is the most effective for your business and your customers.

  1. How long does it take to see ROI?

A transformative digital customer service improvement plan often requires significant upfront investment. While you are planning for this cost, it’s important to have proper expectations for when you’ll see a return. Providers who are confident enough in the effectiveness and fit of their solutions to offer outcome-based pricing are an encouraging sign – Outcome-based pricing allows you to lock in return on elements of your investment, which begin as soon as your solution goes live, improving your bottom line.

  1. Does the solution have a sales component?

While effective customer service is critical for keeping customers, every organization needs sales to grow. The best customer service programs understand that service and sales are hand-in-hand.  Improvement plans should incorporate service elements, new customer sales, cross-selling and upselling components.

  1. What ways can my customers find help using this solution?

This is a critical question for ensuring that you maximize the efficacy of your customer service solution. If your customers are highly active on social media or mobile platforms but the customer service improvement plan you are considering can’t be deployed there, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

Also request job descriptions of the internal resources required to deploy and manage the solution. Will there be significant IT projects required to make it work? Can the customer service solution you are considering be set up to work with your data warehousing or analytics solutions? These are all questions that could affect the time to deploy, cost and value of your solution.

  1. Does the customer service solution self-learn?

In today’s world where artificial intelligence can write poetry and drive your car, it’s important that your customer service solutions are evolving with your business over time. A great customer service solution learns from previous interactions to gain a better understanding of what your customers ask about, what solutions work best, and incorporates that learning to offer better service.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

A Vision of Seamless, Fully-Integrated, End-to-End Customer Engagement

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today is a truly momentous day, and a very proud one, for all of us at Creative Virtual. Our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. Once we established ourselves as independently recognised leaders in the virtual customer assistant (VCA) space, we underpinned all our channel support with our critically-acclaimed V-Portal™ (knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence) platform. Today we realised our vision with the official launch of our newest product: V-Person Live Chat™.

Defining industry best practice

V-Person Live Chat completes our customer engagement jigsaw because it successfully blends virtual and real customer support in a way that no other vendor in the marketplace can provide today.  Our many years of experience with integrating our V-Person virtual agent technology with other live chat systems made us realise that there was a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from a deeper blending of the two technologies. This inspired us to develop our own live chat product which is now defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents, a unique feedback loop and a customisable workflow provided by V-Portal.

At Creative Virtual we closely monitor developing trends and the evolution of engagement touchpoints in order to provide enterprises with cutting-edge Smart Help solutions. It is clear to us that the contact centre in its current form is finished. As there is a transition to more automation, combining virtual and real customer support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will be key for organisations. We’ve addressed this contact centre shift with the deep integration of virtual agents and live chat, particularly with our unique feedback loop that allows live chat agents to help keep content accurate for both virtual and real agents just by doing their normal jobs.

A complete approach to learning

V-Person self-learningOur V-Person technology utilises a hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning to give organisations a predictable and reliable customer self-service option. We have developed this approach based on our extensive experience and our partnerships with some of the world’s largest organisations. We understand how enterprises want to use virtual agents and chatbots to deliver effective self-service today and how the customer support landscape is evolving for them in the future.

Human curation of content allows organisations to be absolutely sure that their VCA is responding to users in a predictable way. At any point in time, designated content editors have full access to the knowledgebase to make updates that can be deployed instantly to the virtual agent. Organisations never need to wait for the system to ‘re-learn’ the new information. This human element is combined with the virtual agent’s ability to become more intelligent and adapt through self-learning.

V-Person’s statistical algorithm processes user journeys to return a list of related questions that is a true reflection of how users asking for similar information engaged with the virtual agent. Organisations also benefit from our statistical approach to self-learning with tightly integrated business intelligence reporting. V-Portal brings together voice of the customer feedback and user surveys with conversational data in real-time, actionable analytics that are directly linked to the virtual assistant’s knowledgebase.

Now with V-Person Live Chat, we are able to complete our approach to learning with our unique feedback loops. V-Portal enables enterprises to implement feedback loops that allow live agents to provide real-time comments and suggestions on content so that they can improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal job.

This hybrid approach to learning enables V-Person implementations to adapt in a very predictable way. The combination of human and self-learning is important for continually improving the system while also enabling enterprises to maintain control over the reliability of the VCA responses.

Where we go from here

Seeing our vision of seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement come to fruition is an important milestone, but certainly not the end of the roadmap for us. We are looking forward to rolling out our new live chat product to our customer organisations and experiencing with them new levels of customer engagement success. By continuing our collaboration with them, we will look to make new updates to our workflow and do more development around the self-learning aspects of our technology. Our roadmap is all about combining best practices around knowledge curation and self-learning, and integrating V-Person with best-of-breed technologies to provide a world leading enterprise level end-to-end digital customer engagement platform.

Whether you are currently using live chat and/or a virtual agent to support customers or just starting to think about implementing these tools, the best way to see how V-Person Live Chat can benefit your organisation is by requesting a personalised demo.

You can also read more about how we are combining virtual and real support with a live chat solution that is defining industry best practice in our V-Person Live Chat Overview.

Attention Marketers: You Could Learn Something from Your Customer Support Colleagues

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“The data is clear: B2B buyers prefer do-it-yourself options for researching products and services prior to purchase. By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate rather than talk to sales representatives to learn about your offerings. The vast majority of B2B buyers will eventually connect with sales when necessary – they just want to be left alone while they do their research.” *

It’s certainly no secret that today’s customers are increasingly turning to low-friction, low-effort self-service options for information and support. But what about B2B buyers? In their recent report How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing, Forrester Research points out that the self-service behaviours we’ve learned as digital consumers are translating over to the approach B2B buyers are taking to make their purchasing decisions. When surveyed, 59% of B2B buyers agreed that they prefer their primary source of information to be their own online research rather than interacting with a sales representative.

For marketers who have been religiously creating and sharing educational content for marketing and advertising campaigns, this may not entirely come as a surprise. Yet simply having published this content doesn’t necessarily mean B2B buyers can find the information they need to move them towards a purchasing decision. This is where Forrester suggests that marketers can learn something from their customer support colleagues. As they point out in this report, customer support professionals have been ‘enabling self-service for years and are committed to facilitating knowledge transfer by removing every source of friction from the customer journey.’ B2B marketers must do the same for their buyers.

Forrester highlights three categories of self-service customer support tools that can be directly applied to B2B self-service research: organic search, contextual help/FAQs and virtual assistants. When implemented properly, these self-service solutions can benefit B2B marketers by helping them to retain more prospects, create self-qualified leads and gain a meaningful advantage over their competitors.

As a virtual assistant and contextual help/FAQs vendor mentioned in this report, we at Creative Virtual see huge potential for smart self-service solutions in both B2B and B2C marketing. Virtual agents not only help buyers find the relevant content and information they seek, but also engage them in a natural language conversation and can guide them through their research step-by-step. Our V-Person™ virtual agent solution is designed to be complementary to the systems and processes already in place, sit on top of existing infrastructure and integrate with other software and tools such as databases, site search and live chat. This means B2B marketers can quickly deploy a self-service research solution without lengthy or expensive development projects.

Forrester’s How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing is available to download from Creative Virtual for a limited time, so be sure to request your copy of the full report.

After reading the report, be sure to check out our educational resources and chat with Creative Virtual’s virtual assistant, Quark.

 

* How Self-Service Research Changes B2B Marketing, Forrester Research, Inc., 13 May 2016

Why Self-Service Has Become an Imperative Despite the Obstacles That Block It

By Karen McFarlane, Marketing, Americas

On April 6th, Creative Virtual USA joined over 150 customer care executives at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum in New York City to discuss how the challenges of the current economic landscape are forcing organizations to examine and reduce costs and why the need for a customer-first approach is more important than ever. A core part of this discussion revolved around the growth of self-service channels, which is supported by analyst research predicting that by 2017, over 2/3 of all customer service interaction will no longer require the support of a human.

With customers practically begging for self-service, we wanted to see what other executives thought about implementing self-service channels and the biggest obstacles they are facing. So we took the opportunity to ask them at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum and polled all 150 attendees. 81% of them said knowledge management and gaining organizational support were the key obstacles to successful self-service deployment. You can download the full results of that report here.

Given these findings, the desire to deliver self-service remains strong, but making the business case and finding supportive technology that can galvanize traditionally siloed departments remains a challenge for many organizations. However, some brands have paved the way as early adopters and are having positive experiences iterating as they go.  Frank Schneider, VP of Customer Experience Solutions, joined a panel at the Argyle Forum, “The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations,” where he, along with executives from General Electric, Quest Diagnostics, Panasonic and Confirmit, discussed the strategies, technologies, and tactics they used to support their self-service investments. Below is an excerpt of the 50-minute panel discussion where they shared some of the challenges and achievements. The full recording is available here.

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Q&A Excerpt: The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations

Creating Your Self-Service Strategy

Q: What tactics have you started to use in terms of bringing the tech savvy customer in and starting to learn from what they need and what the experiences are to give them a better, richer experience?

Creative Virtual: Customers want to adopt these technologies and you have to keep it simple… make it conversational and give the customer a chance to tell us what they need…It’s easy to just wrap it in the wrapper of personalization, but if you actually take the time to listen to your customers and say, “OK, well, let’s meet them at this point and help facilitate that, we find that’s key.” Knowing who I am, knowing the type of customer I am, what package I have and leveraging that context to make this tool whatever it is, digital engagement or even an agent to respect me by showing the intelligence that you know me, makes a big difference. We try to enable that with our solution in particular and this is something I think all brands are hungry for.

Formulating a Business Case

Q: This morning we heard a lot about the investment and how do we finance it? Part of any investment, have you started seeing any reduction in cost? You talked about transferring some of the volume of calls to self-serve, have you started seeing that and are you measuring that somehow and how are you going about that?

Quest Diagnostics: One of the key pieces that we do measure is contacts into our call center per 1,000 patient requisition…we’re seeing that contacts per 1,000 requisitions come down and seeing it similarly increase in those digital or those self-service opportunities, which enables us to better manage that team. I think that’s been a really key piece that we’re looking at. Right now, we’re doing a lot of research to understand in the physician offices those who are active adopters and why they love it?… As we move more into a self-service environment, we’re seeing the reduction in that incoming volume, which is allowing us to be more cost effective. It’s improving their satisfaction and their stickiness.

Measuring Effectiveness

Q: How about cognitive analytics? How is that coming into the play in terms of how we’re using the data and how we’re predicting customer behavior?

Panasonic: In my case, because I have different responsibilities, we have metrics for the call center, which are pretty much the standard everybody’s measuring, AHT and things of that nature. We have web-related activity as to how our customers think we’re doing and the kind of activity from a service stand point. We have actually had some cases where we can react to customers and respond to them within a certain time period because we’re getting information and can communicate with the customer. When you can call somebody within a half hour of a problem, that makes a really big difference.

What the Future Holds

Q: How have you seen the customer service changing in particular with all the new technology that we’re trying to drive?

Confirmit: The role is changing in a lot of ways but not necessarily specific to technology. There is an elevation of the role and elevation of customer experience. You’re seeing investments being made with CCO’s and new directors of customer experience. Ten years ago, this did not exist. We’re just seeing a focus on putting dollars and focus and attention on customer experience. I think that the rest of it, the technology the marrying, the journey, all of that follows the focus because we now have a seat at the table to talk about the actual customer experience. I think there’s a huge investment being made in the roles, the people.

Quest Diagnostics: How do you continue to have that interaction, a dialogue? That’s a big piece and I think we found for us, that’s been critical is even changing the nomenclature in the organization to we were talking very clinically… If I’m a Phlebotomist caring for a patient one on one, they want a different feel and they want a different language set. That’s to your point, changing and meeting that customer how they want to be met. I think about investments around and the way we look at it, as an elevation customer care and that element is one piece of it. It’s that whole end to end and how we’re looking at all of those investments linked together.

Creative Virtual: Ultimately, without being too corny, ultimately technology is always supposed to improve our lives. Throughout history any advancement is supposed to improve our lives…. It’s common sense that we need to meet our customers in all these moments of truth and we win their hearts and minds by actually meeting them intelligently and being accessible and instantly available. Getting as much help as we can. When we can actually say, “Hey we can’t right now, here’s how we can.”

Panasonic: It’s more experiential. With all the new tools and stuff, customer reps are going to have to do more, do different things differently. They might have to do phone chat, social, things related that they didn’t have to do before. Selling things, revenue, we’re starting to do revenue as well and it is a different mindset.

To listen to the full recording of the panel discussion, click here.

Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The New Year is here, and with it the much anticipated 2016 predictions, outlooks and trends for just about every industry and field, including customer service. With customer service a key part of the overall customer experience, every organisation should be keeping an eye on developments in the space and evaluating which can help improve support for their existing and potential customers.

Analyst Kate Leggett shared five of her top trends to watch this year in her blog post Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016. Trend number one should come as no surprise: Companies will make self-service easier. Kate reports that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when customers were unable to successfully self-serve, rather than as the initial channel of contact. In 2016, organisations will strive to make self-service easier for customers by looking at their knowledge management strategies and exploring virtual agent solutions.

The themes of self-service and human assistance – and the combination of those channels – also featured prominently when Call Centre Helper turned to their readers and contact centre experts with the question: What Will Happen to the Contact Centre in 2016 and Beyond? One contributor predicted that artificial intelligence will ‘take care of everything’ with only complaints being escalated to a human agent. Another reader looked to self-care options to handle transactional queries but not be able to replace the desire of customers to speak with a human. A third reader declared that as soon as virtual agents pass the Turing Test, ‘it will be Artificial Intelligence all the way!’

While it’s not likely that contact centres will turn to artificial intelligence ‘all the way’ in 2016, it’s important to recognise the impact that advances in natural language virtual agents are having in the customer service space today. Once stand-alone tools only able to answer basic questions, they are now sophisticated Smart Help solutions proven to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing support costs for organisations. Virtual agents are great at handling transactional queries, including personalised, account-specific questions and tasks, thanks to advanced integration options. When backed by the right knowledge management platform, virtual agents can easily be deployed across customer channels, including web, mobile and social, to make consistent, accurate self-service easier for both companies and their customers.

The virtual agents of 2016 are also designed to be complementary to live chat and other human-assisted support channels, with seamless escalation from self-service to a human agent. They are being successfully deployed within contact centres to support live agents and assure consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels. Through real-time and Voice of the Customer reporting, virtual agents are also giving organisations incredible insight into customer questions and behaviours that help improve their customer service strategies.

With customer preferences shifting towards easy self-service, there’s no better time than 2016 for organisations to explore the combination of virtual and human agents to create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.

I Have Live Chat. Why Do I Need an IVA?

By Karen McFarlane, VP of Marketing (Americas)

Great question and glad you asked! The answer is quite simple. To start, think about why you employed live chat in the first place. Was it to:

  • Reduce volume to your contact center?
  • Provide online customer assistance?
  • Increase customer loyalty and reduce barriers to engagement?

All of the above reasons have significant monetary benefits – reduced costs, higher retention, increased sales – and demonstrate that live chat is a wise investment. In fact, a Forrester survey showed that “44% of respondents said that having a live person answer their questions while they were in the middle of an online purchase was one of the most important features a website could offer.” This is a great stat., but how can you make live chat work better?

Another great question! To find the answer:

  • Think about the human resources that are needed for your current live chat system and determine ROI. (You probably have this figure.)
  • Identify how many customers your live agents can handle at one time, and determine how that affects your wait times. (Check out this blog: Live Chat Is All Too Human.)
  • Analyze your live chat transcripts to learn more about the questions that are being asked by your customers, and ask yourself what portion can be answered by an automated system? 10%, 20%, 30% or more.

This is where an intelligent virtual assistant provides tremendous value. What if you employed an IVA to answer 10, 20 or 30% of your live chat conversations? IVAs can converse with thousands of customers simultaneously in virtually any channel – web, mobile, SMS and IVR – and effectively “partner” with live agents to answer customer questions. Using sophisticated machine learning and natural language technology, an IVA can hold meaningful conversations with a customer and oftentimes resolve any issues without involving a live agent. However, if the issue requires human-assisted service, the IVA can easily escalate the customer to a live agent passing the entire exchange through so that the customer has a seamless experience.  To that end:

  • All interactions are personalized and relevant
  • All interactions are seamless no matter the channel or escalation path
  • Inquiries can be answered quickly, accurately and with great satisfaction anytime, anywhere

Now that’s what customers want. And when you pair live chat and intelligent virtual assistants together – you not only give your customers more of what they want, you can exponentially increase call deflection rates, decrease call handling times and improve the productivity of your workforce. Ah ha – more monetary benefits to your business. Now, that’s how you make live chat work better.

So now that I’ve piqued your interest a bit, here’s your next step. Download our 10 Point Checklist: 10 Ways IVAs Complement and Support Live Chat Systems. If at least three of the points speak to you, then your next action is to contact us. We’ll give you a demo, help you estimate ROI for an IVA, and answer any more questions you have about pairing live chat with an intelligent virtual assistant.

5 New Year’s Resolutions That May Not Have Made Your List

By Karen McFarlane, VP of Marketing (Americas)

As you start implementing your 2016 plans, don’t forget that you already have a powerful marketing tool at your disposal that you need to consistently nurture – your customers. They are your single most important marketing tool and no amount of money can equal their impact. With customer service being called the new marketing, it’s imperative that organizations not only understand how customers currently engage with their brand, but also how customers want to engage going forward. To help you with this thought process, I propose five New Year’s Resolutions to add to your list.

  1. Treat existing customers like gold: It’s harder to acquire a new customer than it is to keep and upsell an existing one. You’ve heard that before, but have you crunched the numbers? Calculate your cost per acquisition (CAC) and compare it to your retention numbers including churn and lifetime value (LTV) to determine the true value of your customer. Once you’ve figured that out, make sure you dedicate the time, resources and dollars to support that value. In turn, you’ll create happy customers who will remain loyal, become brand ambassadors and refer new customers.
  2. Empower your live agents: Live agents are often the first point of human contact for new and existing customers. When customers contact you, they want swift and helpful resolution. Therefore, you must develop a “customer-first” philosophy that is backed by your mission, vision and internal processes. Think about the tools and resources you can provide live agents to help increase their productivity and ability to achieve first contact resolution for every customer. And be specific. Let them know what kinds of decisions they can make on their own before having to escalate to a supervisor. To start, review your transcripts and find common problems that can be solved quickly through a live agent without the help of a supervisor, and break out the ones that can be handled through self-service tools.
  3. Know your customers: Customers don’t really want to talk to you, especially Millennials. Shocking, but true. They are more apt to seek answers for themselves turning to social media, forums, FAQs – anything they can get their hands on without having to wait in the dreaded queue. Think about how you can make more information available on-demand. Tools like live chat and intelligent virtual assistants help them sift through the clutter. Also, be sure you can provide self-service options on multiple devices. People are on-the-go and don’t want to be slowed down by unresponsive designs or apps that don’t provide real value.
  4. Enhance your existing tools. Dive into the data and be honest about your hits and misses. Whatever you’re doing well, make it better. Whatever you’re not doing well, ditch it or make it better. But be careful not to get bogged down by data. Going back to #3, take into consideration what your customers really want. So while your call center may be ringing off the hook, that doesn’t necessarily mean that customers want to talk to you; it could simply mean that they couldn’t find what they are looking for. Read between the lines, look for gaps and fill them.
  5. Embrace new technology. Automation is your friend and technology is getting better every day at solving our most insurmountable challenges. Intelligent virtual agents are able to talk to thousands of customers at the same time in any language and on every channel. There is no way you could have facilitated this a few years ago. Most of all, don’t be afraid to combine technologies to create even better experiences like live chat and IVAs. Dare to be creative. It doesn’t hurt to try.