Posts

Jumping on the Bandwagon isn’t the Same as Following Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Every industry has best practices – guidelines, methods or techniques accepted as the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a desired result. Sometimes when something new comes along or starts to get industry attention, the hype can make it easy to confuse jumping on the bandwagon with following proven best practice. This is particularly true when it comes to technologies that are thrust in the spotlight through mainstream media buzz.

The explosion of media hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots over the past few years – and the subsequent confusion in the customer experience (CX) space – is one of topics Creative Virtual discusses in our article for The Parliamentary Review. The Parliamentary Review is a series of independent British publications which aims to share best practice among policy makers and business leaders. They combine commentaries from award-winning journalists with innovative thinking from industry experts. Creative Virtual was invited to contribute this year as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector.

Partially spurred by Facebook’s introduction of bots for their Messenger Platform, the media buzz around AI and chatbots has created a renewed interest in the technology over the past couple of years. While this had a positive effect in garnering more attention for using chatbots and virtual agents to deliver automated self-service, it also played a role in creating industry confusion. Some vendors tried to jump on the AI bandwagon, but ended up overpromising and creating unrealistic expectations for AI chatbots.

Based on our experience, we at Creative Virtual knew that pure AI was not the right option for automated customer service, and so we continued to present our hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content as industry best practice. This involved us working to educate the marketplace about the realities of the technology and using chatbots to provide a predictable and reliable self-service option, instead of jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Now the initial hype has died down and those unrealistic promises have turned into chatbot pilots that are failing or never got off the ground at all. The decision to stand firm in our hybrid approach to implementing our chatbots and virtual agents in spite of the buzz has strengthened our position as thought leaders and trusted consultants in the industry. It has also allowed the organisations we work with to take advantage of recent AI advancements while also continuing to provide quality self-service experiences for their customers and employees in line with industry best practice.

Be sure to check out our full three-page article in the 2018 Technology Review to learn more about Creative Virtual’s story, how we created a company culture of innovation, teamwork and ownership, and why our future looks bright.

Showcasing the Perfect CX Power Couple: Humans & AI

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Move over Beyoncé and Jay-Z, George and Amal, Will and Jada. There’s a new power couple in town: Humans and Artificial Intelligence. While you’re not going to see them on the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine or walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere, the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and humans is already making a mark on the world of customer experience (CX).

With the growing emphasis customers are placing on CX when making purchasing decisions and the growing challenge companies are facing when delivering service and support on more contact channels than ever before, this powerful new approach has arrived on the scene at just the right time. Humans and AI make the perfect power couple for meeting CX expectations – they both bring something to the table, learn from each other, support one another and build together.

On Thursday, 6 September Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, will feature the combination of AI and human input during the company’s sixth annual CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase webinar. He’ll give an inside look at bringing together humans and AI to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance, and increase customer satisfaction scores. Through a series of live demonstrations, attendees will learn:

  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents, and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of machine learning and human curation of content to reduce support costs while improving conversational engagement

Register now for Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple to see how organisations around the globe are already using the combination of humans and AI to provide successful customer service and how your organisation can leverage this new power couple to deliver a positive CX. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Tech Showcase will be sent to all registrants after the event.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Build Better Relationships with Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The buzz and hype around all things artificial intelligence (AI) is pretty amazing as I’m sure you’ll all agree. It’s important for organisations to go beyond that buzz and really understand how AI can help them reach their business goals. CRMXchange’s recent Tech Tank roundtable webinar, Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center, dug into this topic with industry research and live demonstrations. I was pleased to be able to join the expert panel and share insights into this topic.

During my presentation I shared how chatbots, people and AI are being used across organisations to create a seamless customer experience. The contact centre needs to be at the heart of these digital transformation projects. We’re in a world where knowledge management and how we learn from the way people interact with that knowledge is absolutely key. It’s a world where humans and machines work together, creating a hybrid of human curation and machine learning to support customers. This approach is being seen as best practice by industry analysts and consultants.

For some time now, we’ve been learning about how customer experience is a key differentiator in the marketplace. Recent research shows that the customer experience is still growing in importance for consumers when it comes to making their purchasing decisions. Industry experts are predicting a significant increase over the next two years in customer service and support operations integrating virtual agents and chatbots across engagement channels to help improve their customer experience.

With this in mind, where should your contact centre focus? During the webinar, I summarised three key areas:

  • Centralising knowledge managementKnowledge management is very important, and you need to ensure this integrates from a workflow perspective with all of the ways your organisation learns and delivers information. This creates enormous benefits in terms of efficiency, accuracy and consistency. Knowledge is always up-to-date with this approach and becomes a single point of truth.
  • Integrating chatbots and live agents – This creates a seamless customer experience, with humans and machines working in harmony. I showed this in action during my live demos.
  • Combining AI and human input – We’ve all seen the potential disaster if AI is left on its own to provide customer service. An infamous case is Microsoft’s chatbot that became sexist and racist as it learned from the way people were interacting with it. It’s important that the system you implement enables human moderation of the machine learning component.

What does all this mean for your contact centre? It allows agents to really concentrate on the more complex issues and move their focus from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with your customers. Your contact centre benefits from lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

If you weren’t able to attend the live webcast, I encourage to watch the Tech Tank recording on-demand to see my live demos of chatbots and live chat. The Creative Virtual team would also love to give you a personalised demo to show how this technology can help your organisation improve your contact centre performance and customer experience.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for hosting the webinar and to the other expert presenters from NICE Nexidia and CallMiner.

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.

[Meet the Team] Maria Ward: From Virtual Agent Customer to Partner to Expert Member of the Creative Virtual Team

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 Maria Ward, Account Manager/ Knowledgebase Engineer with Creative Virtual’s UK team. Maria brings a unique perspective to her work managing, creating and implementing virtual agents, having first encountered the technology as a Creative Virtual customer, then working for a partner company for nine years before officially joining the Creative Virtual team in December 2015. Today she uses her expertise to support both new and long-standing clients with their virtual agents and chatbots, assisting them with the initial deployment as well as on-going development and enhancements. She shared with me the key factors in keeping virtual agent installs successful year-after-year and why saying The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise is amazing just doesn’t do it justice.

What was your first experience working with virtual agent solutions and how has the industry evolved since then?

My very first experience with a virtual agent was when I worked at One Railway and oversaw the project to implement a virtual agent, which was a solution from Creative Virtual! Rachel Freeman [Operations Director] built it for Creative Virtual, and I was fascinated by the technology. It was such a fun and exciting project and I was really keen to try out some NLP [natural language processing]. I managed to convince my contacts at Creative Virtual to let me do a little bit of the NLP work, which I ended up loving. I was disappointed when my higher-ups decided to end the project.

Women in IT Excellence AwardsAfter a franchise change and some internal restructuring, I left that position and joined the Virtual Zone in October 2006. The Virtual Zone was partnering with Creative Virtual and I was excited to hear when I took the job that there was a chance I’d get to work on a new virtual agent. I remember going into my first meeting with NRE [National Rail Enquiries] in January 2007 and being extremely nervous. I believe Chris Ezekiel [Founder & CEO] was there, and I felt a little bit like an imposter talking about virtual agent technology when I felt like I still knew so little. Building the virtual agent for NRE was hard work – they had a huge amount of information and I was still new and learning as I went. I remember putting in long hours and questioning if I was up to the task. While it was pretty stressful, I also found it to be incredibly fulfilling.

The technology has really changed since my first experience with virtual agents. The virtual agent for One Railway was a basic implementation and wasn’t developed further after the initial build, but that’s not the case for solutions we’re delivering today. The ability to integrate with customer databases to provide personalised information directly through the VA [virtual agent] gives huge usability improvements and so does handing over to live chat based on rules decided by the customer. In addition, knowledge management with V-Portal™ was a big step forward for the technology. And now we’re also seeing improvements with things like semantic matching and deep learning. The NLP techniques I use today are very different from the early days. We’re able to take advantage of these changes to be more confident that the virtual agent is giving customers a good experience.

The industry has also seen a big change in the channels customers are using virtual agents on. It used to just be desktop, but now it’s much more mobile. In fact, Siri has made virtual agent technology more popular. It used to be that when I told people what I did for a living, they had no idea what I was talking about. Now they do … mostly!

And, of course, there’s lots of hype about AI [artificial intelligence] in the press these days. It’s a hugely popular topic, and lots of people are panicking about robots. I find it fascinating but realistically know we’re a long way off from AI robots taking over the world. I’m looking forward to continuing to work in the industry and seeing what kind of eye-opening projects I might get to take on in the future.

What are the key factors in keeping virtual agent and chatbot deployments successful over many years?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on both new installs and virtual agents that have been online for many years. The absolute key to a long-standing virtual agent is the relationship we build with the client. They need to be positive and excited about the virtual agent. It’s important that we, as the virtual agent experts, help our customers understand the worth of their solutions and see the potential the technology has to benefit their company and customers – that is a huge factor.

The virtual agents that have been successful for many years are the ones that are treated by our clients as an important part of their customer service strategy. They are kept as up-to-date as the website and viewed as providing important information to customers. They are also strategically used in a way that helps increase engagement.

Continuing to develop the virtual agent is also important. Adding functionality such as seamless handover to live chat and account-specific information that may not have been possible when the virtual agent was first launched help keep it delivering the experience expected by current customers. Creative Virtual’s Tech Team are amazing at helping our clients deliver these types of improvements.

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

10k for the RSPCAI’ve worked a long time with the Creative Virtual team! As a client, I really became fascinated with the technology and got a chance to try my hand at some NLP work. The virtual agent was a fun, exciting project to work on. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to develop that interest further when I joined the Virtual Zone. One of the biggest highlights of my time working with Creative Virtual as a partner was attending the Global Partner Meeting in London. I thoroughly enjoyed it and went away enthused about the technology. It was a really good way to rediscover the excitement I had when I worked on my first virtual agent.

I joined Creative Virtual in December 2015, and I love being a part of the team. Each person is such a character – and I mean that in a good way! Everybody is so friendly and supportive, and I like feeling more joined up with the team than I did as a partner. I love our quarterly company calls and having a chance to hear what is going on everywhere around the world, all the new developments and future plans. It was great to have the opportunity to travel to Australia and help the team there. And I also appreciate that I can work from home and still make regular trips to the Canary Wharf office to work in person with the London team. It’s a perfect combination for me.

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

The Queen's Awards for EnterpriseIt’s such an amazing achievement! I haven’t got the words to properly describe it. I felt so proud to have been a part of the Creative Virtual team at the time we won. I told all my family and friends and shared it all over Facebook. Seeing Chris’ [Ezekiel] face and hearing him talk about it, you can just tell how chuffed he is – and rightly so! The Queen’s Award is a BIG DEAL, a big deal for five years. You don’t win an award like this for nothing. The whole team pulls together to bring projects to fruition – it’s a real credit to everyone and the fact that we have so many long-standing customers really says a lot about the team.

Our company celebration was such an amazing night. The atmosphere was wonderful and everyone looked so happy. It was great to see everyone come together and getting to meet Chris’ family was lovely. It was really an uplifting experience.

AI, Chatbots and the Threat to Your Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Warnings abound about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart robots, with industry and academic experts such as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates expressing concerns about everything from a huge loss of jobs to the end of the human race. Yet in a recent interview with the BBC, Garry Kasparov, chess grandmaster and keynote speaker at last year’s Social Robotics & AI conference, said this:

“Intelligent machines will not make us obsolete but our complacency might.”

So, should we be worried about intelligent machines taking over the world and triggering the end of life as we know it? Once seen as a far-off dream of the future and the stuff of science fiction, AI has become a reality in households and workplaces around the world. From the voice assistants on our phones to the self-driving cars in our streets to the chatbots providing customer service on Facebook Messenger, AI is having an impact on our day-to-day lives.

Customer experience professionals should also be questioning the impact chatbots and intelligent virtual agents are already having, and will continue to have, on the contact centre. The age-old debate about whether automated self-service or human-assisted support is better seems to be coming to a head as technology and generational changes are having a big impact on how we communicate with each other and companies. Are AI-powered chatbots the future of the contact centre, or are they a threat signalling the end of contact centres?

In order to get a realistic view of AI, we need to take a step back from the warnings, predictions, promises and hype to see where we are right now. The perfect place to start is the brand new whitepaper AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre. This whitepaper discusses the warnings about the dangers of AI, the inflated expectations for chatbots created by unrealistic promises in the marketplace and the reality of using these technologies in the contact centre and for automated self-service. More specifically, it guides readers through:

  • A realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer experience space
  • The impact of chatbots and virtual agents on the contact centre
  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

When it comes to AI, chatbots and virtual agents in the customer engagement space, organisations need to make informed decisions based on realistic expectations. Download a full copy of this whitepaper to get a better understanding of the technology and how it’s already starting to impact your contact centre.

AI Costs People Their Jobs!!!

By Mike Murphy, COO, Creative Virtual USA

You’ve seen the “Technologists” and “Futurists” with their neon-framed spectacles warning us that the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Revolution is going to put all of us out of work. Well…maybe they were right this time! We saw a couple of big news stories just in the last couple of months…first IBM Watson devoured some poor souls at MD Anderson and PWC, then Facebook lost a few fingers in the chatbot gears. The robots did indeed take some jobs…but not in the way the Futurists predicted. These folks were technology casualties because they were operating under the premise that their technology alone can do great things. And they’re right..Machine Learning and AI technology can do great things. But that doesn’t mean that it will. Luckily enough, it looks like people are going to be the key technology to fulfilling the promise of AI in automating human tasks.

It was exceptionally impressive to watch Watson beat Ken at Jeopardy. But the process that Watson underwent to get to that point was the real key to its eventual success, much more so than any inherent technological capability. And that optimization process involved lots of good, old-fashioned humans. The key to successful automation is understanding the process and the artistry behind any task. And every job has an element of artistry. Take doctors for instance. If you ever overhear a conversation between friends recommending a doctor (or mechanic), there’s a pretty good chance it’s because they are ‘a really nice, pleasant person who listens’…or some version thereof. When people share a good customer service story, there are often elements of “empathy” and “ownership” mentioned in their telling as often as “intelligence”. And who hasn’t gone back to a diner more for the entertainment value of the wait staff than for the food? The point here is not to underestimate the complexity of any job, even simple ones, that humans perform today. And betting your own job on Watson to deliver on its promise is much riskier than you may think.

There is an important lesson to learn from IBM & Facebook’s failures with AI. But it isn’t that the technology isn’t ready to make significant impacts on your business. The lesson is an old one…that, when selecting a vendor to partner with, you choose one that best understands and appreciates the complexity of your business. While we’ve helped companies automate millions of conversations over the last 13 years, we still start each engagement by first understanding how their best employees perform the task well. And we understand the importance of a close partnership that continually works together with experts within your own business to ensure our solutions are effective and consistently providing the right customer experience. Avoid losing your job from ill-behaving robots by reaching out to us for more info.

And if you’re attending Enterprise Connect in Orlando, FL be sure to swing by the ‘Contact Centers 2020: What Will Drive Innovation in the Contact Center?’ panel starting at 1:00pm on Monday.

 

Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – Confusing or What!

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone involved with customer service, marketing, customer engagement or sales who hasn’t heard something about chatbots this year. Along with all the attention and media buzz has come a wave of confusion for the marketplace. What’s the difference between a chatbot and a virtual agent? Should I be jumping on the bandwagon and offering a chatbot on Facebook Messenger? What do my customers actually want from a self-service virtual agent? Are bots just a passing fad for engaging my customers?

If any (or all!) of these questions left you scratching your head, don’t worry.  You’re certainly not alone. Even industry analysts and experts have taken a second look at how they view and talk about this technology. A new whitepaper, aptly titled Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what!, acknowledges this confusion and sets out to demystify the names, uses and future of digital customer engagement tools. As we approach the end of 2016 and begin to look at what 2017 will bring for the customer experience and service space, this comprehensive whitepaper is a great resource for understanding automated conversational systems and how they fit into your overall customer engagement plan.  It walks readers through:

  • The names and terminology being used for these systems in the customer engagement space: Virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant, chatterbot – there have been lots of different names used over the years which has added to the confusion in the marketplace. The whitepaper looks at the different terminology being used and what customers expect you to call your self-service.
  • The technology and AI behind chatbots and virtual agents: “A chatbot called by any other name is still only as good as the technology powering it.” This whitepaper discusses the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in relation to self-learning chatbots. It also addresses the types of features, functionality and integrations you should look for when exploring this technology for customer support.
  • Selecting a tool that’s right for your company and your customers: Step one is to determine how the solution will fit into your overall digital customer engagement plan. The series of questions presented in this whitepaper will help you choose a chatbot or virtual agent that fits with that plan and meets the very high expectations of today’s customers for 24/7 access to personalised, consistent and accurate information.
  • Current use cases for conversational self-service: Facebook Messenger’s introduction of chatbots was certainly a big announcement this year, but this technology has also been proven successful for providing self-service on other customer engagement channels as well. This whitepaper also goes beyond customer support to explore a compelling use case for using these tools for employee self-service, too.
  • Preparing for the future of digital customer engagement: Will chatbots play a role in the future of digital customer engagement or are they just a passing fad? With so many organisations working with tight budgets and limited resources, this is an important question to explore before investing in any new technology. Backed by industry statistics and analyst predictions, you’ll get a peek into the future of the contact centre and digital engagement.

Ready to leave your chatbot confusion behind? Download a full copy of this whitepaper to help you explore the possibility of chatbots being a win-win for your organisation and your customers.

Is Your Organization Mature Enough to Implement Chatbots for Customer Service?

By the Creative Virtual Team

The recent development of AI platforms has brought with it lots of uncertainty. Many companies believe that artificial intelligence tools could help their business, but are unsure if their organization is sophisticated enough to implement such a solution.

While there are some prerequisites for implementing an AI-based virtual assistant in your organization, the barrier to entry is much lower than many believe. As technological developments make AI more advanced, they also make solutions like V-Person™ more accessible to businesses in every industry.

Artificial intelligence for self-service support: past vs. present

When artificial intelligence virtual assistants were in their earliest stages, they required a significant investment of time and capital. Companies might have had to hire one or more specialists trained specifically in how to manage an AI platform. A simple artificial intelligence chat solution might require an exhaustive long-term plan with a hefty budget to match.

Things have changed. Today, a company can set up and begin using an AI virtual assistant with an average, up-to-date machine. Creative Virtual’s V-Person solution can be easily installed on any normal computer running Windows or Linux and requires just 30 MB of disk space. There is no need to purchase high-end servers or invest in a massive infrastructure upgrade just to implement an AI solution.

Further, V-Person doesn’t require any ramp-up time once it is installed. As soon as the preliminary setups are complete, it can handle as many as one million conversations per year and will continue to learn and improve upon its customer support answers. And while we recommend providing ample time for setup and testing, Creative Virtual has designed and deployed V-Person chat solutions for complex, enterprise-level organizations in less than 30 days.

Don’t wait for the “perfect” time to implement virtual agent software

While AI customer service technology is still developing, all signs point to it being the next big frontier in technology. A June 2016 report published by market research company TechSci predicts that the U.S. artificial intelligence market will grow at an astounding 75% CAGR until the year 2021.

If you think your organization could benefit from an AI virtual assistant but don’t feel completely ready to implement one, you should work with an experienced, capable provider who can help you get started painlessly. Check out our resource page to learn more about how Creative Virtual has helped all types of companies start enjoying the benefits of V-Person for customer service and brand consistency.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.