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Cutting Through the AI Hype

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Last year when I attended the Social Robotics & AI conference I had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Noel Sharkey which brought back memories of being a contestant on Robot Wars. This month I attended the event, now called AI & Robotics THE MAIN EVENT, for a second year and again got to hear Professor Sharkey speak. This time I started reminiscing about my appearance on Techno Games where he was also a judge. I was also very aware that the robot my team entered into that competition back in 2002 seemed like a child’s school project when compared with the robots at this event!

This year’s AI & Robotics conference was held in London and aimed to investigate emerging technologies and their real world impacts on business and work. It cut through all the hype to focus on the reality of AI and automated technology in the corporate world. The event agenda featured a variety of academic and industry speakers sharing their expertise, including our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel.

chatbots and your customersIn his presentation, Chatbots & Your Customers: A Realistic Look at Using AI & Machine Learning, Chris drew from his extensive experience working with companies around the world to give insights into the world of enterprise chatbots. He explored the current realities of machine learning and AI and the role they should play in the customer experience space. Customer service chatbots need to use a combination of machine learning and human curation of content in order for companies to ensure a predictable, reliable and accurate customer experience.

In addition to watching the live demonstrations Chris gave during his presentation, many attendees also stopped by our stand during the ‘AI in Action’ sessions to see more examples of chatbots and virtual agents we currently have deployed for our customers. While speaking with them, it became clear that many of them were actively looking to add this technology to their customer support strategies. Some mentioned that they had been looking into these types of tools for a couple of years and were now very aware that the time is right to push the project forward or risk missing the boat. These sentiments didn’t seem to be specific to any one industry either. I heard the same thing being echoed across the board.

In my opinion, this year’s event was just as good as last year, if not better – from the list of speakers to the lunchtime spread! Our thanks to the event organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to sponsor the event again.

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 chatbots can help you build relationships with your customers.

I’m sure you’re itching to see my appearance on Techno Games, so check out the video below starting at about the 11-minute mark.

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.

Innovation Showcase: Preparing Your Contact Centre for the Future with AI and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The contact centre is integral to the customer support and engagement strategies of many organisations, but its role has been changing recently as a growing number of customers seek out digital and self-service options. While chatbots and virtual agents have gotten a reputation as being threats to the contact centre, the reality is that they can have a positive effect on the contact centre and a company’s overall customer experience.

Learn more on Thursday, 7th September at 4:00 pm UK time/ 11:00 am ET as Creative Virtual takes part in CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series for a fifth consecutive year. This year’s live webinar, presented by Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will take a realistic look at artificial intelligence (AI), virtual agents and chatbots in the customer experience space. Chris will also share a series of live demos showcasing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve the customer experience, increase sales, build brand loyalty and reduce support costs. Attendees will get an inside look at:

  • The impact chatbots and virtual agents can have on the contact centre, including lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents
  • 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

Register now for ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’ for an inside look at how to incorporate chatbots and virtual agents into your customer support strategy and help your contact centre meet the expectations of digital customers. A recording of the Technology Innovation Showcase will be provided for registrations unable to attend the live webinar.

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.

Calling All Chatbot Enthusiasts to Berlin!

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Chatbots will take centre stage – along with the Development & AI Stage and the Product & UX Stage! – in Berlin next week at the Chatbot Summit. In its second year, the summit will bring together industry experts, established vendors, new start-ups and chatbot enthusiasts for a day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities on Monday, 26 June 2017.

Creative Virtual is pleased to be a sponsor of this year’s summit and to have Björn Gülsdorff, our Head of Business Development, joining the list of esteemed event speakers. Björn’s keynote presentation, Enterprise Chatbots: Taking a Hybrid Approach to Machine Learning, is scheduled for the afternoon on the Development & AI Stage. He’ll explore why pure AI and chatbots touted as wholly self-learning and self-maintaining aren’t a good fit for providing predictable, consistent and reliable customer service.

The Creative Virtual team will also be manning booth #13 where attendees can see live demos of our innovative chatbot solutions and get a look behind the scenes at the science of conversation. As an established and trusted vendor in this space, our chatbots are answering over 50 million questions every year for enterprises around the world – and that number is constantly growing! In April, Creative Virtual was awarded The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 which was a win for the chatbot and virtual agent industry as well as our company. In order to receive the award, we had to prove not only that we’ve developed innovative technologies, but that Creative Virtual is achieving outstanding commercial success because of it. The Queen’s Awards recognition brings attention to chatbot technology and the positive results forward-thinking organisations are already achieving with our solutions.

In the early days of the technology, chatbots and virtual agents were standalone self-service tools that could answer only very basic questions and were often viewed as a novelty rather than a way to improve the customer experience or cut customer support costs. Today, they are tried-and-tested tools for providing digital self-service with greatly improved conversational abilities, options for integration across customer contact channels and proven results for reducing costs and improving customer experience. The Chatbot Summit – an event focused solely on this technology and its applications – highlights this exciting evolution and the growing awareness of chatbots.

Interested in joining us in Berlin for the Chatbot Summit? Purchase your tickets now using code cvbot20 and receive a 20% discount.

Not able to attend or want to do a little preparation before the summit? Download our educational whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbot and Avatars – confusing or what! to learn more about the role of chatbots in digital customer engagement.

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Download a copy of the V-Person Live Chat™ Overview and then request a demo to see the industry-defining integration for yourself.

CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service

customer experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For many the end of 2016 couldn’t come soon enough, with the dawn of the New Year bringing a fresh start and a clean slate. Yet, according to Forrester, companies are starting 2017 under attack. While traditionally we would think of this pressure as coming from competitors, today’s organisations are under attack from their customers. Forrester Analyst and Vice President Dane Anderson explains:

“Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers who now decide winners and losers.”

For example, Forrester identifies consumers in Asia Pacific as changing along five key dimensions:

  • Increasingly willing to experiment
  • Reliant on technology
  • Inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences
  • Able to handle large volumes of information
  • Determined to create the best experiences for themselves

Forrester has found these key points to explain evolving customer trends and increased customer empowerment. With highly empowered customers willing to take their business elsewhere for a new, exciting experience, organisations need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating in order to remain competitive.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to consumers in Asia Pacific. Digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers around the world are placing these expectations on organisations in all industries. Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report found that an average of 90% of consumers surveyed in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA expect brands to have an online customer self-service portal. 97% of global consumers answered that customer service was either somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand, and 60% reported having stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.

2016 customer service

The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences. In their report Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, they observe that AI is finding rapid uptake as a tool to provide better customer service and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (VCAs), also called virtual agents or chatbots, will increase by 1,000%. They also discuss how changing customer preferences will lead to an increased automation of customer service needs and a growing market for chatbots able to provide customer engagement over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Gartner foresees VCAs and chatbots becoming a necessity for business-to-consumer organisations in order to deal with the demand for 24/7 support and the increased volume of customer interactions.

The panel of industry experts interviewed for Call Centre Helper’s annual Contact Centre Technology Predictions shared similar thoughts on the increase of self-service and the changing role of contact centres in 2017. One contributor predicted the replacement of FAQs with conversational systems that allow for dynamic two-way conversations. Another expert felt 2017 may be the year in which chatbots or virtual agents become widely used in call centres to alleviate workloads and help live agents focus more on important calls. Others echoed these insights through predictions that the investment in customer self-service will gather pace in 2017 and organisations will focus on engaging customers through conversational commerce.

It’s clear that organisations need to take action in 2017 in order to avoid being declared a loser by empowered customers, and digital self-service options will be key to successful customer engagement. This certainly isn’t a surprise to those in the industry. In fact, both Personal Assistants/Intelligent Agents and Artificial Intelligence were in the top four marketing-related searches of 2016 in the UK according to Microsoft’s Bing Ads.

But knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer engagement plan are two very different things. The best way to begin this journey is to educate yourself about digital engagement solutions, the advancements in and limitations of AI and customer expectations of self-service tools such as chatbots. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! is a great resource to get you started on your path to creating a tale of customer experience success in 2017.

Your customers may not be giving you a fresh start when it comes to their opinion of your customer experience just because the new year is here, but there’s no time like the present to take a hard look at your CX strategy and identify where you can make improvements. Make 2017 the year digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers declare your company a winner!

Facebook Messenger, Chatbots and the Opportunity for Customer Engagement

By Alessandro Giordo, Junior Development & Support Technician

When Facebook announced chatbots I went crazy and tried so many different platforms for building one. Being a Developer, I opted for ‘geekier’ versions of it using NodeJS and Python, but I have to say the possibilities are endless. Working with one of the world leaders in virtual assistants and artificial intelligence allows me to spend time exploring this new trend and experimenting with the possibilities.

There are many useful bots that I regularly employ to help me in my daily life routines, and there are others that I talk to once and never again. Bots can be useful but there are horror stories as well, such as Microsoft’s AI bot Tay.

I’ve recently read this post about Facebook ‘business bots’ replacing call centres and this really interested me. The question was: Would you miss traditional call centres? At the time I took the poll, 67% had responded that they would not miss call centres, which I think is very telling about how people actually want to engage with companies.

For organisations, the growing popularity of instant messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and chatbots offers new opportunities for communicating with customers. At Creative Virtual, we have announced the integration of our virtual agent technology, V-Person™, with Facebook Messenger for customer self-service.

With our technology, organisations can have chatbots with personalities that can engage users in chit chat and small talk, but they can also provide integrated, seamless and personalised self-service. By using the same knowledgebase that’s already being used for other channels, companies can easily add Facebook Messenger (and other messaging applications) as new support channels. This connects them with existing channels (self-service, live chat, contact centre) for a consistent customer experience, rather than having a siloed, stand-alone chatbot.

Like many other chatbot or virtual agent tools, V-Person has the ability to become more intelligent and adapt based on usage. However, this method of adaptive learning gives companies control over content and the learning process, so they don’t need to worry about their virtual agent becoming another Tay (if you aren’t familiar with Tay, you can read more in this article).

Check out our official Facebook Messenger announcement for more information about how V-Person integrates with this platform to provide a positive self-service experience.

Also be sure to download this guide for five important questions to ask when choosing a virtual agent solution for instant messaging platforms and SMS.