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Would You Rather Call Customer Support or Clean a Toilet?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

42% of Americans would rather clean a toilet and 46% would rather go to the dentist than call customer support.

These stats, just two of many in the 2022 Achieving Customer Amazement Study, likely have you nodding in agreement thinking about your own painful customer service experiences. Long wait times, disengaged agents, multiple call transfers, repeating yourself over and over – calling customer support has a bad reputation for a reason.

Having to call customer support is perhaps even more frustrating now than 20 or 30 years ago because we know that there are better and easier ways for businesses to provide customer service. Many of us would rather self-serve on the website, send an email, or chat with an agent online for most of our support needs, particularly when we are dealing with large companies. When we do need or prefer to make a phone call to speak with someone, a bad experience is made worse by the knowledge that there are ways to make support calls less painful which many contact centers aren’t utilizing.

Poor customer support experiences create unhappy customers, bad reviews, and lost revenue. Here are a few questions to ask about your customer service to help make it more pleasant than cleaning a toilet:

Do you make it easy for customers to reach your contact center?

Self-service options like chatbots and virtual agents are increasingly preferred by customers, but they can’t – and shouldn’t! – completely replace human contact center agents. Instead, they should be integrated with human-assisted options such as live chat and call-back so users can reach a human when needed without starting a whole separate engagement. When escalating customers from self-service to a live agent, the experience should be as seamless as possible. The agent should have full visibility of the customer’s conversation with the chatbot so they can pick it up right where the self-service experience ended.

Also, don’t make it difficult for customers to find your contact details. Companies that hide their support phone number and email address aren’t keeping customers from contacting them with issues. They are just making customers who are already annoyed about needing to contact the support team more frustrated. They have started the support experience negatively and made the job of their contact center agents even more difficult.

Do you intelligently route customers to the right agent?

Customers reaching out to your customer support channels want the ability to reach the right person to solve their issue. They don’t want to repeat their problem to multiple agents or waste more time on hold as they are transferred from department to department. Having agents specialized in specific areas is a great way to improve customer service, but only when customers are being connected with the right expert from the start.

Forward-thinking companies are using conversational AI to intelligently route customers to the right agent the first time. This technology can be used with IVR (interactive voice response) solutions for customers calling the contact center. It can also be used when handing users over from an automated chatbot to a live chat agent or call-back option. This improves the experience for both customers and agents, as well as helping to reduce the time it takes customers to have their issue resolved.

Do you provide agents with the best training and tools?

Customers want your contact center agents to be both knowledgeable about your products and services and able to convey that information in a kind and helpful way. That only happens when you provide your agents with the proper training and contact center tools. These two elements go hand-in-hand as the agent tools you have in place greatly impacts agent training.

Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions improve agent performance, reduce training time, and cut average call handling times (AHT) by enabling quicker resolutions. A virtual agent designed specifically to support the agents in your contact center gives all staff members easy access to the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience. Agents can quickly find step-by-step guidance for even the most complicated procedures, processes, and applications. When agents have instant, reliable access to all the information they need in one place, they can focus on creating positive, efficient, and empathetic engagements with your customers.

Would customers rather clean a toilet or go to the dentist than call your customer support?

If the answer to this question is yes, then it’s time to make some changes to your customer support strategy. Start with simple changes, like making sure contact information for your support channels is easy to find. If you aren’t already leveraging conversational AI for self-service and in your contact center, now is the perfect time to explore those options. Recent developments in this technology make it a great choice for improving some of the most common customer frustration points.

Want to learn more? The whitepaper by Insurance Thought Leadership, The Virtual Insurance Agent, provides insights on improving customer experience with conversational AI that are applicable for all industries. Also check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for tips from industry experts on how to implement and maintain successful solutions.

How to Make Your Chatbot More Conversational

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When customers use your chatbot to self-serve, what kind of experience do you deliver? Does your chatbot need questions asked a particular way to return the correct response? Do your customers have to guess the correct keywords to enter or know specific terminology to locate the right information? Are users repeatedly told by your chatbot to try rephrasing an input that doesn’t have a direct match in the system?

All of these scenarios provide a frustrating, negative self-service experience. They often lead to an escalation to a live chat session or a call to the contact centre for resolution, meaning your support agents are left to deal with the immediate impacts of that poor experience. With digital self-service such an important piece of customer support, a chatbot with these limited capabilities is detrimental to the success of your customer experience (CX) strategy.

This is why using a high-quality conversational AI technology to build your chatbot is so important. You want your chatbot to engage with users conversationally. That isn’t possible with basic bot platforms which act more like simple FAQ tools or don’t give you options for backend integrations.

Engaging ‘conversationally’ doesn’t mean that a goal of your chatbot should be to make users think they are chatting with a real person. It’s always best to be clear that it is an automated self-service tool. Customers appreciate transparency about whether they are using a human-assisted or automated digital support option. The last thing you want to do is make them feel tricked!

Here are a few ways to create the right conversational engagement through your chatbot:

  • Create a conversational tone – Just because you aren’t trying to make users think they are talking to a real person doesn’t mean that you must make your chatbot’s responses sound stiff and bland. Craft your responses using a conversational tone that reflects your brand and has the same type of language you use on your website and in customer communications.
  • Understand free text inputs – There is more than one way to ask the same question, and in a conversation both participants understand this. Ensure your chatbot is trained to respond to the various ways users can word an input rather than requiring a specific keyword or phrase. This includes taking into account both common synonyms for your language and region as well as those for your particular industry, products, and services. And on occasions when a user’s input can’t be confidently matched to a response and the chatbot asks for the question to be rephrased, also offer some clickable suggestions or possible related FAQs to improve the experience.
  • Craft conversation flows – Adding customised conversation flows enables your chatbot to guide users through a process step-by-step in a very natural, conversational way. These flows are perfect for troubleshooting account or device issues, completing a form with the chatbot, or pinpointing a very specific piece of information to assist the customer.
  • Deliver personalised support – Integrate your chatbot with backend systems so it can provide customised responses based on that customer’s current account, subscriptions, orders, etc. Using sophisticated slot-filling functionality also enables users to authenticate within the chatbot at any time to create a seamless and more personal conversation.

The best conversational AI technology for customer support chatbots uses a blend of machine learning and natural language rules. This lets you take advantage of recent innovations in machine learning so your chatbot is constantly improving based on your users’ activities. At the same time, it gives you control over the AI so you can ensure your chatbot is using those learnings to continue providing accurate, reliable responses in a conversational way.

If you currently have a chatbot that’s failing the conversational test, check out this eBook on Conversational AI Issues & Solutions for ways to improve your solution.

If you don’t have a customer service chatbot yet and are concerned about choosing the right conversational AI technology, check out this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for some insider expert tips.

A chatbot can be a valuable self-service option for your customers, but it must be backed by a high-quality conversational AI technology – with an emphasis on conversational.

Set your Chatbot up for Success with the Right Budget

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

I think it’s safe to say that we all love to get a good deal – or at least feel like we are! – and save a little money whenever we can. I think we can also all agree that are certain times when going with the cheapest option or skimping on a line in the budget doesn’t pay off in the end. You get what you pay for, right?

A conversational AI solution is one of those projects that your organisation should be careful not to underfund. Without the proper level of financial support and ongoing funding, you will never achieve success with a conversational AI project. A chatbot or virtual agent that is treated like an unimportant side project not worthy of dedicated resources will perform like one. It will provide a poor experience and drive users away.

If you want to have a conversational AI tool that increases customer satisfaction, contributes to cost savings, generates new revenue, and improves efficiency and productivity, then your company needs to make a commitment to invest in those goals. That commitment starts with properly budgeting for the cost of the technology, the cost of developing and implementing your customised solution, and the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Budget for the technology

Earmarking a portion of your budget for the technology itself should be a no-brainer. Without a working conversational AI technology, you have no working chatbot! However, the amount you allocate for this really depends on how and where you plan to deploy your solution.

You should take into consideration your initial project plan as well as how you may want to expand and scale it in the future. Identify your integration points, calculate how many concurrent users you anticipate, estimate how large of a knowledgebase your content will require, and select the deployment channels that best serve your users. All these elements will impact which technology is a best fit for you and how much you will need to budget for that technology. An experienced conversational AI vendor or consultant will be able to provide guidance to help you scope out your technology requirements.

Budget for the development and implementation

While there are conversational AI solutions on the market that can be deployed straight out of the box with very little configuration, they will provide a very generic, basic engagement. To really create a positive experience and be successful, a chatbot needs to be customised for your organisation, use cases, users, and goals. This customisation should include integrations with other systems (such as your CRM platform, ticketing systems, or live chat) and conversational flows tailored for your users. You also want to ensure that the chatbot can respond to questions about your products, services, and procedures with specifics unique to your business.

Unless your organisation has a team with experience creating successful chatbots with the technology you select for your identified use cases and/or channels, attempting the building and implementation of your tool internally will be a mistake. Working with an expert vendor is more cost-efficient because they already know what they are doing so you aren’t paying them to figure it out. This also means you cut down on the development time and get better, quicker results.

Budget for ongoing maintenance

If a conversational AI provider tells you that you can configure and deploy a chatbot with their platform and then leave it alone to do its thing, cross them off your list immediately! Companies that invest in those solutions quickly learn that they have wasted money on empty promises. The truth is that the ongoing maintenance of conversational AI tools is what enables long-term success.

Newly implemented chatbots need more attention than well-established ones, so that needs to be reflected in your budget. During that initial period, engaging the expert vendor’s team is recommended for the same reasons you should work with them during the building and implementation step. However, after that you should have options for moving all or some of your chatbot maintenance in-house. If you choose to do that, factor into your budget costs for those internal staff members and any related trainings or licenses.

 

If the price tag of a quality conversational AI solution creates some hesitation within your organisation, consider the cost of deploying a chatbot that delivers a negative, frustrating experience for users. Putting time and money into a tool that your customers or employees won’t want to use – even if it is just the bare minimum investment – is a misuse of resources. Not only are you wasting your budget, but you are harming your digital experience and eroding confidence in your business.

Check out the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing for more insights on budgeting as well as typical pricing models, average costs, and calculating your return on investment.

Resolve to Make Your Conversational AI Project Healthier this Year

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is here and that means it is time for New Year’s resolutions. The most common personal resolutions are focused on being healthier – exercising more, eating better, improving fitness, losing weight, stopping smoking. People join the gym, sign up for weight loss programmes, and download meditation apps.

But what about your conversational AI project? Does it need a New Year’s resolution to be healthier in the new year, too?

If your organisation already has a conversational AI project, then you don’t need me to wax on about the importance of digital customer support. You get it. However, if you’re concerned that your current conversational AI tool isn’t up to the task of improving your digital support experience in 2022, then it’s time to make a resolution for change.

Even the best laid plans sometimes take a wrong turn or need to be tweaked as customer expectations and your organisation change. The start of a new year is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate your conversational AI project and strategy. If this review leaves you dissatisfied with what you find, you’re not alone. Here are some common reasons other organisations have given for being unhappy with their conversational AI projects:

  • I can’t expand my solution to support my growing business and customer base.
  • I have limited integration options to create a seamless and personalised experience.
  • I started my project with an inexperienced start-up that isn’t able to provide the technology updates and support I need from my conversational AI vendor.
  • I am struggling to manage multiple chatbots across different business divisions or departments.
  • I am unable to staff my chatbot project with internal resources with the necessary knowledge and experience.
  • I don’t own the user interface or training data with my current chatbot provider.

The good news is that none of these common issues are dealbreakers that mean you must scrap your current virtual agent or chatbot project and start over. Like any New Year’s resolution to be healthier, you just need a plan that starts where you are and takes you to your goal of creating a successful, valuable, and healthy solution.

Your first step should be to download the new ebook Conversational AI Issues & Solutions: Transforming Ineffective Chatbot & Virtual Agent Projects. It takes an individual look at each of the common issues listed above, explaining how they can negatively impact your conversational AI project and exploring ways they can be solved.

When you’re ready to work out the details of your plan for a healthier chatbot or virtual agent and put it into action, the Creative Virtual team is ready to be your personal trainer and coach. Contact the team here to learn more about the expert consultation and technology that’s helping brands around the world deliver reliable and valuable conversational AI solutions.

This new year, resolve to transform your conversational AI project into a healthier, more effective customer service solution. Make 2022 the year your customers, employees, and company experience the full benefits of a successful chatbot or virtual agent.

Wishing you a Season that’s Magical & Bright!

As we wrap up another year at Creative Virtual, our entire team around the world want to say a big thank you to all of our blog readers, customers, and partners!

2021 brought both challenges and celebrations for us as a company and the wider conversational AI industry, and we’re ending it looking forward to what is to come next year. In particular, we’re excited about the next big release of our V-Person™ technology, Gluon. You can find a special sneak peek here. We are also excited about the brand new ebook we recently published to help organizations solve common issues they are having with their conversational AI projects. You can get your copy of the ebook here. Be sure to subscribe to our Blog (if you aren’t already!) so you don’t miss our Gluon release announcements and new educational resources in 2022.

On behalf of all of us at Creative Virtual, wishes for a magical, festive end to 2021 and a new year full of even more bright moments!

Take Your Customer Support from ‘Talking At’ to ‘Listening To’

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Once upon a time ‘market’ was a noun, denoting the place where people got together and negotiated public affairs. In some markets, like the Forum Romanum, history was made. Then, ‘market’ also became a verb. Now marketing basically means talking at people, often raising the level of volume, colours, and wordings whilst lowering niveau. 😊

Surely, to say such a thing is utterly unfair to many marketeers. Yet, when it comes to customer service, I uphold the claim that the communication is often rather unidirectional, and in the wrong direction on top of that. Countless the websites where FAQs are not “frequently asked questions” but rather “answers we’d like to give”. Or where obviously someone has created a user journey for me. Frankly, nobody needs to design that. I know pretty well where I want to go, thank you.

What I do want on my journey, is to have road bumps removed, gaps bridged, and connections optimised. If customer service was an airport, I don’t want the lounge refurbished; I want another fast lane and quick boarding.

I am aware that people are different and that the same person has different needs at different times. Therefore, there is not the one journey for all and clearing the path is not easy.

That’s where two-sided conversations, aka dialogues, kick in. Customer service is about listening as well as acknowledging that each experience will be unique. Virtual agents can play a role in that as they come with a free text input field. So even when customers are self-serving, they don’t need to guess the one correct search term or scroll through a list of FAQs someone else has selected.

When it comes to creating this dialogue with customers, there are good and not so good ways to start.Things like expectation management, consistency, focus, and coverage make a big difference. It also requires courage (customers will speak their mind!) and the will to act.

It may be an inconvenient truth, but customer service with a virtual agent (or any other tool for that matter) is not a one-off thing. Good customer service means listening to your customers and improving constantly, be it the NLP (natural language processing), answers in the virtual agent, your processes, your services, or your products. In customer service, the journey to design is your way to become a better and more successful company.

Whether you’re ready to add a virtual agent to your customer service plan for the first time or have realised that your current tool isn’t creating a helpful dialogue with customers, I recommend this whitepaper for tips from conversational AI experts.

Register Now: Expert Insights on Conversational AI and Customer Service

By Scott Tompkins, Vice President of Sales

Just like a puppy isn’t only for the pandemic, customer service insights aren’t only for Customer Service Week. This week of celebrating customer service professionals and successful customer service experiences should just be the beginning of a renewed focus on your own customer service and CX strategies.

To help you keep that Customer Service Week momentum going, destinationCRM is hosting a roundtable webinar next week: Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? I’m looking forward to hearing the panel of experts, including Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, discuss the current trends and future possibilities of conversational AI technology.

Drawing from his own experiences and those of Creative Virtual’s global team, Chris will share expert recommendations for how your organization can maximize the benefits of conversational AI technology. He will also be delving into ways you can use back-end integrations to take your digital self-service from basic FAQ tool to a personalized, conversational interaction.

Conversational AI solutions, like chatbots and virtual agents, can have a powerful impact on customer loyalty and retention. When designed, implemented, and maintained correctly, these solutions have been proven to reduce support costs, increase sales revenue, and even reduce employee turnover. The next generation of conversational AI advancements are poised to improve customer service even more.

Register now to join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 pm ET for the live webinar, Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? This destinationCRM roundtable will be recorded, so be sure to sign up even if you can’t join the live event.

Once you’ve registered, I recommend checking out (or re-reading!) all of the posts from the Creative Virtual team that make up this year’s Customer Service Week Blog Celebration. There are lots of great insights on conversational AI use cases, customer expectations, and customer service trends.

Dialogues are Between People

By Björn Gülsdorff, Chief Business Development Officer

Have you ever heard about the H-H-Interface, aka the H2I? Likely not, because I just made it up. But I did so with a reason and here’s why.

When it comes to transactional tools, there is a lot of talk about the Human Machine Interface (or HMI), the look and feel, and other technicalities. That is all fine and important of course, but customer communication, however, is about people talking to people. Even if this communication is automated and asynchronous, it is still Human to Human.

Customers use conversational AI on the web, in apps and other channels. They interact with virtual agents and chatbots in a technical sense, but they certainly do not converse with them. The replies they get are perceived as coming from a person or a group of people (usually called a company 😊).  Having this in mind makes an important shift of focus in the virtual agent design. The focus goes from designing transactions to creating the dialogues you’d like to have with your customers.

Just think about voice mail: When you are greeted nicely and the message makes you smile, will you think “What a friendly machine!”? Or will it be: “What a nice person!”? See? When creating a virtual agent, the same thinking applies.

You need to create a dialogue between yourself and your customers. You need to ask yourself, who are you talking to and what do you want to tell them.  As a result, it is about personal contact and the tools you use are not the deciding factor. Or let me phrase this differently: You need tools that do not get in the way between you and your customers. You need a platform rather than a readymade, which allows you to create conversations with your customers – or with your customer groups, for that matter.

As this year’s Customer Service Week celebrations come to an end, be sure to keep the H2I focus in your digital strategy. And if your conversational AI solution doesn’t provide you with the platform options to create the dialogue you want with customers, then it’s time to make a change.

AI Growth in the Insurance Industry

By Susan Ott, Senior Customer Success Manager

At the outset of the global pandemic in 2020, there was already a great emphasis on the consumer’s desire for artificial intelligence (AI) in day-to-day life.  As we find ourselves making our way, 18 months and counting, in this new normal it is a safe bet that the world of AI-powered self-service isn’t going anywhere.

One industry that has experienced an influx in the need for self-service is Insurance. With technology advancing every day, the need for instant service and issue resolution is becoming more and more expected. The preference of customers to be able to self-serve isn’t waning, but their patience with companies that don’t provide that option certainly is.

AI remains a major trend in the technology sector that will continue to alter how we work and live. Within the customer service space in particular, conversational AI is enabling companies to successfully meet the growing need for instant service.

These new technologies are being used in the multi-faceted Insurance field to automate Claim Processing, get Pricing/Quotes, and improve the overall Customer Service experience for Auto, Home and Life policyholders. Here are some examples:

  • Claim Processing: Companies spend a lot of money on Claims personnel, often times increasing rates to account for the large number of calls coming into their contact centers. Using AI, these companies can reduce their hiring budget by automating many of the routine questions that representatives field on any given day.
  • Pricing/Quotes: This is a huge area in which AI can be beneficial. Using AI, companies can be more competitive in their pricing and allow for personalization tailored to individual policyholders. Knowing some key criteria about a person, such as geographical location, marital status, and likelihood of filing a claim, helps to set premiums.
  • Customer Service: Companies need to look at AI in terms of it acting as a personal Concierge for users coming into the company’s website. It gets them where they need to be to best resolve their questions, allowing for a seamless and smooth experience, while decreasing phone or other live contacts via this digital channel.

Insurance companies should approach AI projects with the goal of creating better experiences for their policyholders, agents, and contact center teams. When used correctly, these technologies provide instant service that is personalized, convenient, and meets the expectations of today’s consumers. Automating processes and top customer service queries with AI also improves efficiency, increases productivity, and helps build customer trust and loyalty. All of this is more important than ever as we continue to make our way through this new normal.

Conversational AI and the Contact Centre: The perfect customer service pair

By Khushal Hirani, Customer Success Manager

You can’t celebrate Customer Service Week without talking about the contact centre. Onboarding agents in a contact centre can be very time consuming and expensive. From the recruitment process, to training, up until they are on the floor taking calls, it takes a very long time until new agents are self-sufficient.

The job of a fully trained contact centre agent can also be extremely stressful. They must remember how to use several tools and different areas to access certain knowledge. They often must memorise certain scripts and be able to explain detailed processes. This puts a lot of pressure on agents and can result in a poor customer experience, unnecessarily long call times, and low customer satisfaction scores.

For example, contact centre agents tend to keep notepads or workbooks with their own notes at their desks to ensure they remember the processes. This means communication of processes from one agent could be completely different when speaking to clients than from another agent.

Too often contact centre agents are also dealing with many tools and applications to do their job. This means that before they can even start working with customers, they face extensive training to learn them all. Then after completing their training, this makes it hard for contact centre agents to switch between screens while answering customer questions. This increases the time on the call for customers and creates a very disjointed experience.

Fortunately for contact centre agents and customers, conversational AI tools can help eliminate some of these issues and stresses. Here are some benefits of using conversational AI in your contact centre:

  • Training time is reduced – When contact centre agents are onboarded, the training time is reduced as the agents don’t need to learn complicated tools or multiple applications. This means less time to get agents to the floor and more of a focus on training agents on the human side of providing empathetic customer service.
  • Single source of truth – Knowledge and processes are in a single location where everything is accessible to all contact centre agents, giving everyone the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience level. Conversational AI tools like virtual agents can also be set up to provide support through public-facing solutions from the same knowledgebase with answers customised for both agents and self-serving customers.
  • New knowledge identified with agent feedback – Every contact centre agent can identify any knowledge gaps as well as contribute towards creating new processes or updating content with a built-in feedback loop. This keeps the customer experience accurate and consistent by ensuring the most up-to-date information is going out to all the end-users through multiple channels.
  • Integration with back-end systems – Integrations into different applications make it easier for the agents to use conversational AI because they have one tool that lets them find what they need. A customised agent dashboard can bring everything together in one place, including real-time alerts and step-by-step process flows.
  • Reports and metrics tracking – Reporting that is accurate and easy to understand gives important insights into what conversations the agents are having with customers and what knowledge gaps have been identified. This helps you track important metrics and see opportunities to further improve your support experience.

Contact centres are a big investment for companies and important for customer support. When used in the contact centre, conversational AI gives agents easy access to all the knowledge and processes they need to provide a better customer service experience. It makes their jobs easier and lets them focus on the human side of serving customers. Conversational AI and contact centre agents become the perfect customer service pair.