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Running Towards My Virtual Viewpoint

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

At the end of last year I started writing a regular column for The Wharf News, a weekly newspaper distributed in the Canary Wharf area of London. Aptly titled ‘Virtual Viewpoint’, the column gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on technology and science. I’m really enjoying writing these columns and looking at the impact technology and science have on our lives and businesses.

I often use my running time to think about my column and how technology is impacting the world – and I’ve had a lot of time to think lately since I’ve been training for the London Marathon! Sometimes I find myself reminiscing and taking a walk down memory lane; sometimes I find myself contemplating our digital future; sometimes I find myself analysing technology’s impact on businesses. At the end of my runs, I often find that I’ve thought about things in a different way and come up with ideas I know I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I enjoy seeing my column in print every month, but I also wanted a way to share them digitally and have started publishing them on LinkedIn as well. Check out the links below to catch up on the ones already published:

  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 30 November 2017 – I take a look at the current technological revolution and the impact artificial intelligence will have on jobs and quality of life.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 4 January 2018 – I contemplate whether we are reaching a point of having too many gadgets and the issues of privacy and data protection that come with using them.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 1 February 2018 – I think back to a time before instantaneous global communication and reflect on why we all need to find a way to escape the digital world.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 8 March 2018 – I share my annoyance with people failing to communicate properly and how dumping ‘old’ methods of communication diminishes our lives along with companies’ profits.
  • Virtual Viewpoint :: 5 April 2018 – I know my pro-Brexit view isn’t popular within the business community, but I believe this is a historic opportunity to build a global economy for UK businesses to thrive within.

For those of you who are local, don’t forget to pick up a free copy of The Wharf every Thursday. I’ll also continue to add my new ‘Virtual Viewpoint’ columns on LinkedIn, so be sure to connect with me there. I’m sure I’ll be finishing the marathon on Sunday exhausted but with lots of fresh inspiration for my upcoming columns.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported my London Marathon fundraising efforts for Jewish Care. You can still sponsor me here. Good luck to my fellow Creative Virtual marathon runners – Rachel Freeman who is running for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (sponsor Rachel) and Maria Ward who is running for the Ipswich Hospital Charity (sponsor Maria)! See you at the finish line!

It’s Time to be Realistic about AI, Chatbots and Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I had the opportunity to present a webinar with Engage Customer titled ‘AI, Chatbots and Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth’. I’m sure we can all agree how hot the market is for all things artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and live chat at the moment. It really is exploding out there! We’re also seeing a lot of confusion, false claims and inflated expectations. My goal during this webinar was to separate the truth from the myth by showing some real-world customer examples and, through a series of live demonstrations, share best practices in deploying chatbots and human assistance for customer support.

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of when AI goes wrong, such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which became sexist and racist because it learned from the way people were interacting with it. This is the simple reason why artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service, so you need to be very careful there. Companies need to be realistic about chatbots and virtual agents, but also make sure they select a system that fits with their roadmap for implementing this technology. And, just as important as the technology, is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions.

Right now we’re in a digital and artificial intelligence revolution, and there’s no doubt that the contact centre in its current form is finished. Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation initiatives and, of course, the contact centre needs to be a key part of that. All too often the contact centre is still siloed and we’re seeing them being left out of those discussions, though. In the future, there will be a paradigm shift and the contact centre will go from dealing with repetitive inquires to being the centre of excellence for knowledge and playing an important role in keeping self-service chatbots up-to-date.

When it comes to using artificial intelligence for customer service chatbots, a blended approach – not pure AI – is best. Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology uses a hybrid approach that allows organisations to tune how much machine learning and how much human curation of content they want to provide for the solution. Companies already know their top call drivers and machine learning isn’t needed to determine that. In fact, it gets in the way and gives a bad experience if it doesn’t take into account the learnings that the organisation already has. A hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of chatbot responses.

I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to get a better understanding of this topic and to see the live demonstrations I shared of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used around the world.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar.

AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Industry analysts are predicting a huge increase in the number of customer interactions that will involve technologies such as machine learning applications and chatbots over the next five years. Smart organisations are already setting themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating chatbots and virtual agents into their customer support strategies to meet the expectations of digital customers.”

-Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another article pushing artificial intelligence (AI) or another analyst forecasting an increase in machine learning to improve customer experience and engagement. But, if you feel like the hype doesn’t always match up to the reality, you aren’t alone.

On Tuesday, 5th December 2017 at noon (UK time), Engage Customer will host a live webinar titled AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth. This webinar will challenge the myths perpetuated by media hype and overpromising to walk attendees through a realistic explanation of machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space. It will be presented by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel and Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media.

In addition to giving insights on how to realistically incorporate AI, chatbots, virtual agents and live chat into your customer support strategy, Chris will share a series of live demonstrations showing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve customer engagement and build brand loyalty. The webinar will also cover:

  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • 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

As customers increasingly seek out digital and self-service options, organisations are facing an evolving customer service landscape filled with changing engagement preferences. AI, chatbots and live chat can help organisations meet the expectations of digital customers, but they need to be implemented correctly. Join Engage Customer and Creative Virtual as we help you separate the truth from the myth.

This webinar is free, but advance registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be provided for registrants unable to attend the live event.

AI in the Corporate World Today

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has long been the stuff of science fiction, often portrayed as becoming evil and turning against its human creators – from robots rising up to destroy humanity to supercomputers trying to take over human minds. In recent years, however, AI has moved from something seen as a far-off dream of the future to an actual reality in households and workplaces around the world. AI is powering the voice assistants on our phones and in our homes, the self-driving cars appearing on our streets and the chatbots that are popping up on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

AI & Robotics THE MAIN EVENT, being held on 14 September in London, will focus on the reality of AI and automated technology in the corporate world today. The conference will cut through the hype and highlight the tangible actions and results of AI and robotics in the business world, including the impact these technologies are having on performance, profitability and workforce efficiency.

Creative Virtual is a Gold Sponsor of this year’s event and will showcase their V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots as part of the conference’s ‘AI in Action’ sessions. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel will also speak as part of Session 1, ‘Almost Human – How Chatbots Transform Customer Experience and Corporate Life’ starting at 14:30. Drawing on his extensive experience working with organisations around the globe, Chris will explain the realities of AI and machine learning in the world of enterprise chatbots. He’ll also explore the role these technologies will have in the future of customer engagement.

“When it comes to AI, chatbots and virtual agents,” says Chris “Enterprises need to make decisions based on realistic expectations but shouldn’t shy away from incorporating this technology into their customer support strategy.”

We hope you’ll join us at the Victoria Park Plaza on 14 September for a day of interactive discussions, networking and AI in action. A full copy of the AI & Robotics conference programme, as well as ticket information, can be found on the event website.

Can’t attend but interested in learning more and seeing real enterprise chatbots in action? We’d love to schedule a personalised live demo at a time that works for you.

Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Business Disruption

Internet of Things

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) gained a lot of attention last year and are poised to be hot topics again this year. More than just buzzwords, both have been identified as drivers of business disruption in 2017. In fact, many industry experts and researchers feel that IoT needs AI in order to successfully achieve business growth and transformation.

IoT is sometimes referred to as the driver of the fourth Industrial Revolution by industry insiders and has triggered technological changes that span a wide range of fields. In 2015 Gartner forecasted there would be 20.8 billion connected things in use worldwide by 2020, but more recent predictions put the 2020 figure at over 50 billion devices. Various other reports have predicted huge growth in a variety of industries, such as estimating healthcare IoT to be worth $117 billion by 2020 and forecasting 250 million connected vehicles on the road by the same year. IoT developments bring exciting opportunities to make our personal lives easier as well as improving efficiency, productivity and safety for many businesses.

With more connected devices comes more data – lots more data! – that has the potential to provide amazing insights for businesses but presents a new challenge for how to analyse it all. Collecting this data benefits no one unless there is a way to understand it all. This is where AI comes in. Making sense of huge amounts of data is a perfect application for pure AI. By applying the analytic capabilities of AI to data collected by IoT, companies can identify and understand patterns and make more informed decisions. This leads to a variety of benefits for both consumers and companies such as proactive intervention, intelligent automation and highly personalised experiences. It also enables us to find ways for connected devices to work better together and make these systems easier to use. This, in turn, leads to even higher adoption rates.

As more and more connected devices become key fixtures in homes and workplaces, there is another application of AI that will be important for IoT: enabling us to have conversations with these devices. This is where natural language processing (NLP), a branch of AI, come into play. In a nutshell, the goal of NLP is to enable humans to ‘converse’ with computers in both written and spoken contexts using natural human languages instead of computer languages. (You can see NLP in action by asking virtual agent Lisa ‘Can I take my cat?’ on the National Rail Enquiries website.) More connected devices mean higher demand for user support, and these conversational systems can enable users to get instant, 24/7 help and information with their connected devices. Natural language virtual agents and chatbots backed by the right technology lend themselves perfectly to the connected world of IoT because of their unlimited possibilities for integration. This means, for example, the virtual assistants in your home and car can be connected not only to each other but also to your virtual banking assistant so, regardless of whether you’re making dinner or driving to work, you can easily ask about the status of your latest direct deposit.

While it’s easy to see the powerful impact a combination of AI and IoT can produce, businesses do need to be careful about how they are applying AI to connected devices. Pure AI is perfect for analysing data and making sense of the vast amounts of information collected by IoT, but not for providing support and service for users. Those conversational systems should not only be NLP-based, but also employ a hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content. This means they consistently ‘learn’ and adapt based on user interactions while also giving businesses control over the reliability of responses – a necessity when applying AI to virtual assistants designed for consumer self-service.

With predictions for IoT to come of age in 2017 and usher in the start of an ‘everything connected’ world, and AI to continue to transform the way businesses are run and streamline B2C interactions, organisations need to look at these areas both individually and as a powerful combined force behind business disruption. There’s huge potential for business growth and making consumer lives easier for those able to bring together connected devices and AI in the right way.

The Role of AI in our Commercial Future

By Liam Ryan, Head of Sales

Back in 2001 I had the privilege of meeting Professor Noel Sharkey when he was a judge and I was a contestant on Robot Wars. Fifteen years later, I again had the pleasure of speaking with him when Creative Virtual sponsored the Social Robotics & AI conference. Noel and Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, were just two of the industry experts that presented as part of the event held at Oxford Brookes University in September.

This was the first year for this conference which aimed to unite the scientific community, business leaders and builders of human capital to discuss the role of AI in our commercial future. It was a well-attended event, with a large number of customer service professionals wanting to gain insight into how their companies should be looking to use cutting-edge AI technologies. As part of the ‘AI in Action’ showcase, we shared live demonstrations of our intelligent virtual agents. This sparked some interesting conversations about natural language chatbots, how self-service is perceived by customers and the potential for AI in the future of customer service.

Chris drew on his many years of experience during the ‘Customer relationships’ track, and his presentation, ‘Building customer relationships with intelligent virtual agents: A framework for humans and machines to work in harmony’ touched on many of the themes that came up during those conversations. A key takeaway for the audience was that customer support is not the place for pure AI. Intelligent virtual agents are an ideal solution for engaging customers and providing self-service, but they need to combine AI with a human element. This means they will learn and adapt based on how customers are using them while still enabling organisations to maintain control over the reliability of responses.

Social Robotics & AIAlso presenting at the conference was keynote speaker Garry Kasparov, world chess champion and AI advocate. His presentation delved into the relationship of intelligent machines and human creativity. He encouraged attendees to focus on how AI enables and empowers us to use technology in creative ways we never before imagined. Chris and I were both excited to have the opportunity to meet Garry and hear his thoughts on the potential of AI.

Noel Sharkey closed the conference with a look at ‘Human Responsibility in a World of Robots’. He shared some sensational newspaper headlines that were published as a result of his comments about AI being misinterpreted. These served as a first-hand example of the misunderstanding that often surrounds AI. Noel stressed that the industry needs to approach innovation in AI and robotics in a responsible manner that will help clear up this confusion and earn public trust.

In my opinion, the first Social Robotics & AI conference was a success from the impressive line-up of speakers and thought-provoking conversations right down to the delicious shrimp on the lunchtime spread! Our thanks to the organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to be a part of this event.

Please take a look at our Products page to learn more about Creative Virtual’s suite of Smart Help solutions and then request a personalised demo to see how AI technology can help you build relationships with your customers.

And for all of you curious about my Robot Wars appearance, check out the video below starting just before the 19-minute mark.

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.

How does V-Person™ compare to the latest AI media hype?

By the Creative Virtual Team

If there’s one thing media outlets love reporting on today, it’s artificial intelligence. Activities ranging from defeating chess masters to driving cars without human input are hailed as the next frontier of technology, or the downfall of humanity, depending on who you ask.

All the media bluster about the innovative things that AI can do ignores one key element for enterprise clients: customer communication. Our virtual assistant customer service solution learns how to talk to customers and solve their problems while also taking into account the context of each interaction.

The lost art of AI conversation

Artificial intelligence from companies like Google and IBM has made headlines for doing things like painting, researching diseases and analyzing the work of famous artists and athletes. These are all noble pursuits that add value to our world in their own ways, but they aren’t contributing to business goals.

To do that, you must consider the experience of your customers. Many enterprises looking to implement virtual assistant solutions for customer service fail to understand the most important element of successful customer support.

The content transfer misconception

Imagine training a new customer support agent recently hired at your company. Would you just hand them a thick company knowledge database with thousands of articles and tell them to learn how to transfer this information to customers?

Of course not. You would train the agent on the different channels your customers use, how to interact with customers at different stages, and how to deal with some of the most common problems. You would also teach them how to stay consistent with your company’s voice, to ensure that customer experiences are both helpful and memorable. The actual support data is just one part of the broader picture of customer service.

The same idea holds true for an AI-based virtual agent. Our virtual assistant doesn’t just take content from your company’s existing knowledgebase and transfer it to customers. It also considers how your customers interact: what mood they are in, which platforms they use to seek help, what type of issues they’ve had in the past, how agents have handled those issues, and so on.

Don’t let AI hype influence your customer experience

Sophisticated artificial intelligence is important, but for effective customer service, it must do more than just receive an input and output a certain answer. The answer to a customer’s inquiry is the foundation upon which V-Person creates a conversational experience that is also influenced by the nature of the inquiry, the customer’s status, and the voice of your brand.

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

Does V-Person™ Customer Service Technology Self-Learn?

By the Creative Virtual Team

Artificial intelligence is a popular technology, used today for everything from diagnosing breast cancer to completing levels of Super Mario World. A big catalyst in the advancement of this technology is the concept of self-learning, which allows AI to autonomously improve decision-making to achieve desired outcomes.

Self-learning is a valuable component of our V-Person customer engagement solution, but it alone doesn’t make our platform a cutting-edge tool for customer service.

Why self-learning is not the ultimate goal for customer experience solutions

Customer service platforms are designed to do just that: serve the customer. Self-learning technology in fields like art and music is free to continuously iterate upon what it has learned, which makes it possible for AI to paint and create music. Continual improvement in this manner is valuable and helps push the field of AI forward.

Customer engagement platforms share this ability to self-learn and iterate, but apply it only within the context of helping people. Because they are used as a front-facing communication option, AI virtual assistants must be periodically monitored and adjusted by real humans, to ensure its messaging stays consistent.

Applying self-learning for a great customer experience

In March of 2016, Microsoft pulled the plug on its “Tay” Twitter bot, after it began tweeting profane, racist statements and professing its support for Adolf Hitler.

This is an example of unbridled self-learning, which is not the goal for any effective customer service platform. Instead, self-learning should be applied to functional tasks that help customers find what they need in a prompt, intelligent manner. A few examples of this kind of self-learning include:

  • Determining what type of product or service a customer has and offering them customized solutions based on that knowledge
  • Checking a customer’s purchasing history to understand how frequently they buy a product or service
  • Looking into a customer’s previous support inquiries to see what kinds of issues they may have had in the past
  • Browsing a knowledgebase for specific keywords pertaining to customer or prospect inquiries
  • Allowing users to perform basic account maintenance functions like resetting their password or changing their personal information

These basic tasks might not be as sexy as the creation of a vivid abstract painting or the writing of a complex, multilayered orchestra piece, but they are vital for companies looking to harness AI for business purposes.

Don’t lose the practical AI trees for the self-learning forest

The ability of artificial intelligence to self-learn is poised to revolutionize many parts of society, from the way we analyze and interpret big data to the way we drive our cars. But when it comes to using AI to offer an enjoyable, efficient customer experience, self-learning should be applied in pragmatic ways that contribute to business goals – exactly the purpose of Creative Virtual’s V-Person customer service solution.

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