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Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Regardless of what you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. How to select and deploy the right technology to do that for your organisation was the focus of the webinar I recently presented with Engage Customer.

In the webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, I talked about some key questions to keep in mind when adding one of these solutions to your customer experience (CX) strategy. You want to ask: How can I ensure my chatbot or virtual agent is:

  • Providing accurate and personalised information?
  • Creating a positive and seamless experience?
  • Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in a reliable way?
  • Able to grow and expand with my digital strategy?

Deploying a solution that enables you to integrate with other systems and knowledge repositories is crucial to success. You want a solution that is backed by an orchestration platform that allows you to bring together all of the content sources and manage the natural language processing (NLP), intents and machine learning to keep the conversations flowing in a seamless, personalised way across customer touchpoints. You also want to be learning all the time from these conversations in such a way that the human content owner works alongside the machine learning component to provide the best possible customer experience.

I am a great believer that the best way to really understand the technology and why these questions are so important is to see the technology in action. During the webinar I shared a series of live demonstrations of solutions currently deployed for companies in the telecommunications, financial services and travel sectors. I selected these examples because they showcase how the technology is being used across a variety of customer touchpoints and with various integrations to deliver customised, seamless experiences.

To help companies get started with selecting a new chatbot or virtual agent – or finding a solution to replace a poor performing tool – I ended my presentation with four important tips:

  1. Work with an experienced vendor
  2. Select a reliable technology
  3. Look for flexible integration options
  4. Evaluate the orchestration platform

I went into detail on each of these tips and shared some specific questions to ask during the evaluation process to ensure you are deploying a technology that will work for your specific goals and use cases. It’s important to consider how the solution not only fits with your immediate plans but how it will evolve and grow with your company and strategy.

My thanks to Steve, Katie, Dominic and the entire team at Engage Customer for hosting this webinar! You can watch the webinar recording on-demand to see the demos and find out more about my tips and best practices for deploying AI chabots and virtual agents.

If you want to learn more about Creative Virtual’s experience and technology or are interested in arranging an individual workshop, contact us here. The Creative Virtual team is ready to help you get started on your successful virtual agent strategy.

Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

On the wall of my parents’ kitchen hangs my mother’s beloved rotary phone, referred to by the family as simply The Rotary. Fans of Stranger Things will have watched Joyce receiving her first contact with Will from the Upside Down on a near replica of The Rotary – right down to the amazing mustard yellow colour – that was hanging on her wall, too.

The Rotary, now only functioning to answer incoming calls to the landline, is an oddity in today’s world of smartphones. For the grandkids it’s one of those weird things you only see at your grandparents’ house because they’re old. For my siblings and me, it’s the source of a long-running family joke and a little bit of nostalgia.

The trends and preferences in our personal communications and the technology we use to stay connected have changed drastically over the lifetime of The Rotary. The same is true for how companies engage with and support us as customers. Newer channels, such as messaging apps, have entered the mix and preferences are shifting more and more towards digital self-service as a first choice. Yet even with these changes, customers still sometimes want or need to reach out to a human agent in the contact centre.

In the 2020 edition of The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel surveyed business leaders about their current and planned customer service offerings and investments. One survey question focused on the role they saw artificial intelligence (AI) playing in their contact centre. Among respondents from the UK, 94% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would be used to support human agents. There was an agreement that this helps to speed up responses and provide customers with higher quality resolutions.

No one taking part in the UK survey viewed AI as unimportant to their contact centre, and only 24% agreed or strongly agreed that AI would replace human agents. Respondents from large contact centres with 200+ seats were more likely to think that agents would be replaced by AI than those from small or medium-sized contact centres.

AI in the contact centre

Survey respondents from the US also viewed AI as having the role of supporting agents, with 83% agreeing or strongly agreeing. However, they were more likely to believe that AI will replace human agents with 59% agreeing with that survey option. Interestingly, the US survey also had 12% of respondents thinking AI is unimportant to their contact centre.

AI in the contact center

There’s been a lot of hype around AI taking over jobs and making humans obsolete in certain roles and industries. While there’s been impressive advancements in the use of AI within the customer service space over the past several years, it’s certainly not at a point where it can completely replace all of your human agents. The fact that a majority of survey respondents in both the UK and US felt that AI will be used to support agents is right on the money. The combination of humans and AI makes for an improved customer support experience.

One way in which companies can support their live agents is with AI-enhanced virtual agents and chatbots. Back in 2015, Motability Operations won a Customer Contact Innovation Award for their contact centre virtual agent, Ask Mo, and gave a presentation on their winning case study. While the presentation is a bit old now (although not nearly as old as The Rotary!), it provides some great insights into why Ask Mo – which is still used in their contact centre today – has been so successful. It provides real evidence to back up the survey’s findings that using AI to support agents provides customers with higher quality resolutions and a better experience.

Be sure to download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights into the ways organisations are using AI as part of their self-service and contact centre strategies. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies and methods to help them support those channels, as well as newer ones, in a better and more cost-effective way.

Satisfy Your Curiosity About Deploying AI Virtual Agents and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Do you have a chatbot or virtual agent on your roadmap? Do you need to upgrade a poor performing self-service tool? Are you curious about successful use cases for AI-enhanced virtual agents?

If so, you’ll want to reserve your spot now to join Creative Virtual and Engage Customer for their upcoming webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents.

On Thursday, 4 June 2020 Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media, for this live webcast. Through a series of live demonstrations, they’ll explore:

  • Best practices for deploying and optimising conversational self-service
  • Questions to ask when selecting a chatbot or virtual agent solution
  • Tips for using AI and machine learning to improve performance
  • Guidelines for implementing seamless handover to live chat
  • Current live use cases and results from organisations around the world

Advancements in chatbot, virtual agent and conversational AI technologies have made them a go-to solution for providing easy-to-use and cost-effective customer support on digital channels. Customers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service options and appreciate being able to get help instantly at any time of the day or night. Companies benefit from reducing demand on contact centre agents and improving their customer experience.

The realities of the ongoing global pandemic have placed an increased pressure on organisations’ digital channels, including their existing virtual agent solutions. For many companies, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how they maintain and build customer loyalty during this time and in the future. Offering reliable self-service is an important piece of that strategy.

Register now for the webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents to learn more. Can’t attend the live event? Don’t worry, a recording will be sent to all registrants after the webinar.

You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent self-service and improve customer loyalty.

The Impact of Customer Experience Developments on the Future of Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There is always an element of uncertainty we must take into account when planning for the future. This has perhaps never been truer on a global scale than right now as we face the unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be the right time to book your next beach getaway or send out invitations for your extended family reunion, smart companies should be looking towards the future impacts of customer experience (CX) developments and consumer expectations.

In the recently published report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel takes a deep dive into the current status of CX self-service technologies, use cases and customer preferences. Each version of the report breaks down the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers in that country on their expectations of a good customer experience. The report then compares those responses with survey responses from organisations on their current and planned self-service offerings and investments.

The last section of the report analyses responses from business leaders on the future of CX, self-service and the contact centre. This includes a question on how important various CX developments will be on their organisation in the next two years. The two graphs below summarise their responses – the first is responses from the UK, the second from the US:

ContactBabel Self-Service GuideContactBabel Self-Service Guide

In the US survey, 61% of respondents identified AI/self-service as being very important, up from just 51% in 2018. The UK survey found a similar noteworthy increase in responses from the 2018 survey for AI/self-service. This reflects the significant developments made in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer service space over the past several years. The hype around AI-powered self-service tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, has evolved into a more practical and realistic view giving organisations more confidence to pursue the technology.

It also reflects the increased adoption of digital self-service by customers over the same period. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service chatbots and virtual agents. They appreciate being able to get help and support instantaneously at any time of day or night. In both the UK and US customer surveys cited in the ContactBabel reports, respondents identified website self-service/mobile app as their preferred method to contact a company for a high urgency interaction. Nearly half of all respondents selected self-service over other options such as phoning the call centre or sending an email.

Self-Service Guide

Self-Service Guide

It will be interesting to see how these trends change over the next 12 months as companies rise to the challenges of supporting customers during and after coronavirus-related shutdowns and social distancing measures. There has already been a significant uptick in the use of self-service tools like virtual agents as contact centres struggle to respond to the sudden surge of incoming calls, chats and emails. Will this result in a more permanent increase in customers turning to self-service as their first point of contact for support issues? And will the more intense focus on digital strategies within organisations, currently driven by necessity, continue as they see the benefits of the changes they are making?

Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of the coming year, organisations must take action now to assess their customers’ needs and expectations in order to prioritise CX developments. Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights and self-service use cases.

Recognition, Acceptance and Delivery: The RAD approach for continued innovation

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

Accolades and list rankings can never be taken for granted no matter how often a company appears on industry recognised lists or is selected for voter’s choice awards. Indeed, even direct positive customer reviews and feedback should be treasured as unique and appreciated even if hundreds or thousands are received, because one bad experience wipes out scores of positive comments. Creative Virtual have had our fair share of acknowledgements in recent years including the coveted Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, a Tech Track 100 award and the Frost & Sullivan Product Leadership Award for AI-enhanced Customer Self-Service.

100 SmartTech InnovatorsWith this caveat, I humbly, excitedly and gratefully acknowledge the latest news that Creative Virtual has been voted 36th out of 100 SmartTech Innovators in the UK! Creative Virtual is being recognised as innovative for our chatbot and live chat technologies that have been developed over 16 years. This has been possible because of the expertise of a devoted team at Creative Virtual who bring a wealth of understanding in the industry across sectors and have been with us for longer than many recent AI inspired companies have been in existence.

We are proud of our retention record, both in terms of our team members and our list of customers. We are proud of how our operations team works closely with our customers and feeds back to our development team to get the best and most optimal results at an agile speed. We are proud of our ability to change tack when required based on market driven requirements which is advantageous in a quickly changing industry.

We bask in the Recognition, Accept and understand why we are chosen and then work on ensuring that we Deliver continually the best, most innovative products and solutions for seamless, self-service customer and employee experiences.

We never rest on our laurels and always aim to harness our years of involvement with self-help tools and AI-enhanced products by producing technology worthy of any award, whilst keeping an eye out for however we can excel and drive change based on the feedback from our customers and partners.

Thank you to everyone who cast their vote for us, the esteemed judging panel and BusinessCloud Media. We are delighted you recognise our dedication to being industry innovators. Our success is buoyed as we look to the future and what we will deliver next for enhanced features and usability. Stay Tuned!

You can find the full 100 SmartTech Innovators ranking here, and you can schedule your own personalised demo with an expert member of our team here to see our innovative technology in action.

Happy Holidays from the Creative Virtual Team!

As we come to the end of the year – and the decade! – all of us at Creative Virtual want to extend a big thank you to all our blog readers, customers and partners for being a part of our 2019!

We kicked-off the year with our 15th anniversary celebrations and soon followed that with the announcement of our Frost & Sullivan AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leadership Award.  We are ending the year with the news just announced this week that we are part of AI Time Journal’s TOP 25 Artificial Intelligence Companies 2019! You can check out more of our highlights from the year in our 2019 in Review blog post and our 2019 in Review photo album. Then stay tuned in the new year as we celebrate Creative Virtual’s Sweet Sixteen.

On behalf of the entire Creative Virtual team around the globe, best wishes for a very Happy Holiday Season!

APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

This year the Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) has been celebrating their 20th anniversary. Every year this not-for-profit organisation holds the HKCCA Symposium and the HKCCA Award Presentation and Gala Ceremony as part of their mission of advancing the contact centre industry. Creative Virtual was excited to be invited back to participate again by our partner Continuous Technologies International Ltd (CTINT) in the Symposium held on 31 October and to attend the Gala the following evening.

HKCCA Symposium - Chris EzekielThis was the fifth year we have attended the event as a solution partner of CTINT and Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, has presented on the event theme. His session was titled Smart Self-Help for a Seamless, Omnichannel Customer Experience and focused on delivering the right information on the right channel at the right time for customers. This hit right at the heart of the challenges faced by customer experience (CX) practitioners across the APAC region.

We had more enquiries this year than ever before about using virtual agent and chatbot technology internally to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. This reflected the shift we’re seeing in the region of an increasing number of organisations looking to use artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies. We were able to share with Symposium attendees a few examples of how this technology is already being used:

  • The relationship managers at a bank have access to a virtual agent customised specifically for them to use while meeting face-to-face with customers. It shortens the time they need to search for information so they can provide a better in-person service experience for customers.
  • Starting with their existing self-service FAQs, a utility company is developing a virtual agent for contact centre agents to use while they are handling cases from different channels. They are starting with voice and e-mail and then will expand this to include chat and messaging apps in the future.
  • Another organisation is using our natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to enhance their agent desktop. This means they can provide an AI-assisted virtual agent to reduce average handling times (AHT) for an improved customer experience.

A lot has changed in the contact centre space during the HKCCA’s 20 years. The advancements in AI and virtual agents are bring more changes. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and work load. When looking to use AI, NLP and virtual agent technologies, there are lots of important things APAC decision makers should consider, including:

  • Language support – The virtual agent should be able to handle enquiries in different languages and give users the option to get answers in the language of their choice.
  • Omnichannel service – The solution should give you the ability to join up information silos, contact channels, etc. so customers receive a seamless, consistent and accurate service experience.
  • Combination of AI and humans – The virtual agent should be powered by a combination of AI and human input to give your organisation control over the accuracy of information and your agents the ability to help keep content up-to-date through integrated feedback loops.

The HKCCA Symposium’s theme this year of ‘Customer Autonomy’ highlighted the impact technology is having on changing customer expectations. It was exciting to be a part of the discussions of how contact centres can meet new expectations with AI, virtual agents and chatbots.

HKCCA Award Gala 2019On behalf of the Creative Virtual team, I want to express our thanks to CTINT for inviting us to participate in the Symposium and attend the Gala Ceremony. We value your partnership in the region and appreciate all the work you put into making this event a success each year. Thank you!

I also want to wish the HKCCA a Happy 20th Anniversary! We are already looking forward to next year’s event.

To learn more about using AI and virtual agents in your contact centre and what questions to ask when selecting a technology, download the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. You can also request a live demo to see our solutions in action and discuss with our team how the technology can fit with your CX plans.

Preparing Contact Centres for the Impact of AI

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s that time of year when shopping centres are transforming into Christmas Wonderlands, children start to worry about being on the Naughty List, and industry analysts make their predictions for the impending new year. It’s only natural to want to know what the future holds – whether it be what you’ll find in your stocking on Christmas morning or what challenges and changes your business will face in the coming year.

There have been lots of predictions over the past several years about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot technologies will have on customer service. In particular, there has been a fear that automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents would completely replace the contact centre and eliminate the need for human agents. Those with a real understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and the needs of customers know those predictions are far-fetched and not going to be a reality any time soon.

However, AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents are changing the role of contact centres and human customer service agents. The analysts at Forrester talk about some of these changes in their Predictions 2020: Customer Service. One trend they mention that will have a growing impact on contact centres is the need for more highly skilled customer service agents because of improvements in AI and automated self-service tools. This will impact contact centre locations, budgets and agent experience.

Organisations that have well-established virtual agents and chatbots available to their customers have already been seeing this shift in their contact centres. As more and more customers self-serve for simple questions and easy tasks, contact centre agents are freed up to deal with more complex issues that need human assistance. This means agents no longer have to deal with the monotony of repeatedly answering basic questions all day long. However, it also means that contact centres need to be staffed with agents that are highly skilled and trained to deal with complicated and more sensitive situations.

New research from CCA, The Future of Work and Automation in CX, found that 85% of executives feel future agents will need to be skilled in handling multi-channel interactions and 83% think that problem-solving skills will be more important due to this shift of simple requests to automation. Responses to this survey also highlighted the importance of agent training to equip them with the skills necessary to show empathy and have emotional intelligence in order to deal with a wide range of demographics.

Contact centre leaders are realising that the AI chatbot technology being used to deliver a quality, 24/7 customer self-service experience can also be deployed to support their live agents. When used as a tool to assist agents, a chatbot or virtual agent gives them instant access to information at their fingertips, so their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers. This is especially important as agents transition to dealing with those more complex issues customers can’t solve by self-serving.

As contact centres put together their Wish List for the coming year, they need to take a hard look at these industry predictions and trends. If they aren’t proactive now in preparations for the changing role of the contact centre and customer service agents, they will face a difficult struggle to catch up. When you add to the mix Frost & Sullivan’s prediction that 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the top way companies will differentiate themselves, ignoring the impact of AI on the contact centre sounds even more foolish – and will likely put you on Santa’s Naughty List.

Setting Realistic Expectations for AI-Enhanced CX Technologies

By Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer

On 31 October I joined my colleague Liam Ryan at the 2019 CXtech Conference & Technology Showcase, which was co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, in London.  Even though it was the fourth year Creative Virtual sponsored the joint events, it was my first opportunity to represent the company, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Liam and I chatted about what the day held in store while attendees started to arrive. The day was packed with presentations from experts in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, aimed at advising participants who were looking to find out more about this ever-growing technology. Liam was due to present at 10 am on the “Evolution of Customer Experience”. I could tell how much he was looking forward to it!

I was manning the Creative Virtual stand for most of the time so didn’t get to see many of the presentations, but I did join the audience for Liam’s presentation.

He reminisced for a short time about the olden days when phones were smart if you could send a text and computers couldn’t be popped in a bag to take to work, before talking about the high expectations of customers of today. He outlined Creative Virtual’s top tips for implementing chatbot, virtual agent and live chat technology. He went on to talk about how Creative Virtual are combining the technological advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence with the human touch to create customer experience solutions that deliver on the promises made.

After Liam’s presentation came a Q&A session and I was happily sitting as an anonymous participant, when Liam kindly put me on the spot to answer a question about how the deep learning works. That moment seems like a bit of a blur now, and I hope my reply was coherent! I explained how the deep learning, (based on a rather complicated algorithm!), works alongside customer intent, which is ultimately being overseen by a human to ensure a controlled evolution.

This was quite apt as it’s apparent that many companies are being given unrealistic expectations about what AI can achieve for them. In fact, we are finding that many companies either have struggled or are currently struggling with unsuccessful, and often very expensive, chatbot projects – some which have gone live, only to disappoint and others that never got off the ground. (Did you know that Creative Virtual is offering a free workshop to help companies who find themselves in this position?)

I spent the remainder my time at the conference talking to people who had been impressed with Liam’s presentation, and who’d come to find out more about what we do at Creative Virtual. It was interesting to see the varied reasons people were exploring the world of AI and what questions they had. These discussions made it obvious that companies are approaching chatbot and virtual agent technology as a must-have for their customer experience and employee engagement strategies. However, often they are being cautious because there are so many options in the marketplace that can’t deliver positive results.

The day made me feel quite privileged to work in such a fast-moving and exciting arena. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our stand to learn more and to the event organisers for putting together an insight day for both the sponsors and attendees.

If you missed the event or Liam’s keynote session, be sure to download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent.

CXtech

CXtech: Showcasing the Technology Transforming Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Technology is changing many aspects of our lives, and customer experience is no exception. The CXtech Conference and Showcase, returning to London for a second year, will explore the technologies changing today’s customer experience (CX) landscape, from design to delivery to analysis. Creative Virtual is pleased to again be a sponsor of the event, co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, on 31st October.

Together the two conferences will offer six streams of sessions and three keynote presentations. One of the keynote speakers is Liam Ryan, Sales Director at Creative Virtual. His session, From FAQ Systems to Conversational Chatbots: The Evolution of Customer Experience, will delve into the ways in which changing technologies have created a shift in customer expectations and how companies approach customer engagement. In particular, Liam will discuss how chatbot and virtual agent technology is now being used in a much more sophisticated way to create conversations with customers and deliver personalised service experiences. His session will include live demonstrations and actionable tips for selecting and implementing conversational self-service.

The Creative Virtual team will also be on hand throughout the day to provide demonstrations of our award-winning chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions as part of the Technology Showcase. Be sure to stop by for a behind the scenes look at how our solutions bring together artificial intelligence (AI) and humans and offer organisations control over how their chatbots and virtual agents self-learn. Conference attendees can also arrange an individual workshop with our team to build a business case for this technology within their own organisation or to consult on an existing chatbot project that is performing poorly.

For more information and to register, visit the CXtech Conference website.

If you’re unable to attend but want to learn more, you can request a personalised demo and sign up for a consultation workshop with the Creative Virtual team.