Posts

Customer Service and the Voice of Your Customers and Team

By Katrin Zieren, Business Development Consultant

V-Person from Creative VirtualThe communication habits of your customers have changed and are changing yet. They are increasingly using voice for entries rather than typing. They are speaking into their mobile devices to create messages on apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram, asking their search engine for information or giving commands to smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Or – wow, this is amazing 😉 – they are using their mobile phone to call your service centre.

What’s the impact on your customer service? It’s not complicated. Just consider voice as part of your strategy when you want to offer self-service, whether if it is for your clients or your team.

The good news is that the natural language understanding (NLU) solution of Creative Virtual, or let’s say “the brain of your self-service supply”, does not really care about the input type. It is processing text and there are different possibilities to convert speech to text (STT) and text to speech (TTS).

Now, let’s take a look at the different possibilities of speech conversion:

mobile virtual agentOn mobile devices, speech recognition and language generation are built-in features under full customer control and no further integration is needed.  So, if you have, for example, a chatbot on your website, users can use the voice capabilities of their mobile device to ask their question. You don’t have to consider anything. The device converts speech to text and the outcome is the same as if the user would type into the entry box.

 

smart speaker chatbotA variety of smart speakers, like Alexa, Cortana or Google Home, can be integrated with our self-service virtual agents. For example, Virtual Agent Roger for Rest is available on the web as well as through Google Home. The Virtual Agent for Transport for NSW uses Alexa to let the user know if there are any issues on their commute at that time.

 

contact center agent assist

If you want to offer phone as a contact point for self-service, you need STT and TTS. We have a very big partner network for this technology, and can integrate with any other third-party system of your choice, provided they have a full featured API. Also, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and avatars with lip synchronisation are covered by our partners.

 

So this Customer Service Week, make sure your support strategy fits with your users’ communication habits. Are you enabling them to self-serve within their channel and language modus of choice?

If you want to learn more about our voice solutions, just schedule a live demo with us.

Keeping the Human Touch in Customer Service is More Important Than Ever

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

At the CCW in Berlin in March, I gave a speech about the human touch in AI. It was about putting your customer in the center of the project, keeping the human expert involved because they know most, AND – not accidentally last in this list – give the responses a personal touch, allow small talk, feedback, etc. as and when it helps to improve the customer experience.

Funnily enough, human touch was one of the big topics at the show. Not for the first time, I found myself telling people that at Creative Virtual we were doing for years what the industry now saw as the latest trend in Bot Building. I know this sounds a little condescending, but nearly 17 years in business creates a fair deal of justified “been there, done that” attitude.

So, after the event I meant to write a blog post about how we add a human touch to the way machines interact with humans.

Since then, times have changed and we are all affected in one way or another, most of us working from home more than ever and spending countless hours in online meetings. The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.

If you have had enough of ‘we have just the right tools for you to go digital’ messages, bear with me because I feel the same and want to go somewhere else.

All the measures taken against COVID-19, be it social distancing, home offices, travel stops or actual lock downs, just made it clearer than ever that it is all about people and here ‘it’ is everything, indeed. Tools to bridge the gap are very important of course, but they are just tools, which must be used to connect people. It starts with having the technology to include escalation into our projects (which we’ve been doing for years 😉 but we always strive to make it easier for the end-customer) and it extends to making sure that the communication with our customers keeps rolling.

I am happy and grateful how well this has worked and how we managed to keep up and sometimes intensify the cooperation. It has certainly helped that we always considered our people our main asset and that everything we do focuses on people, be it our customers or the end-customer interacting with a virtual agent or chatbot.

So, what are my thoughts for Customer Service Week? Keeping the human touch by keeping the human in the loop is more important than ever.

Our latest whitepaper focuses on the importance of the human touch when implementing a chatbot or virtual agent. Download it here to find out why a technology company says that when it comes to selecting a vendor you should forget about the technology.

To our customers: I miss you and I look forward to seeing you in person again!

Customer Service Week Musings: How does a machine know if it’s wrong?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There are many comparisons dealing with the main differences between humans and machines. One of the recurring points is while humans have consciousness and morals, machines can only know what they are programmed to, hence they are not able to distinguish right from wrong unless they are provided data to make decisions based on that information. There have been many discussions on the self-awareness of robots, which is a topic as old as Artificial Intelligence, starting from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, continuing to the Turing test and nowadays AI ethics organisations.

One thing is commonly agreed – bots need to be ‘taught’ morals, and to achieve this there could be two approaches, both having their advantages and disadvantages. The first one contains a loose set of rules, but plenty of space for flexibility; this system could always reply to questions. However, it could also result in many false positives cases and could go wrong on many levels. The other would mean more rules and a narrower approach. The system could answer a limited number of queries, however, with very few or non-false judgements.

What does this mean from the customer service and customer experience (CX) view and for virtual agents answering real time customer queries? If we narrow down our conditions, bots would deliver the right answers at most times. However, they could not recognise many simple questions, making users frustrated. The same can happen with the loose set of conditions: the assistant would easily deliver answers but could misinterpret inputs, resulting again in annoyance.

To solve this problem, we must use a hybrid approach: an AI tool can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs. While we can add our well-established set of rules based on previous data and set a vague network of conditions, the bot will learn day-by-day by discovering new ways of referring to the same products or queries through user interactions. Half of a virtual assistant’s strength is its database, containing these sets of rules. The other half lies within its analytics, which is an often-overlooked feature. What else could be better training for a CX tool than the customers leaving feedback at the very time an answer was delivered? Conversation surveys are not only important to measure the performance of the tool. They are also crucial for our virtual assistants to be able to learn what is wrong and what is right.

Our approach at Creative Virtual to reporting is to follow the trends of ever-changing user behaviour. We offer traditional surveys, which measure if a specific answer was classified as helpful or not by the user and if it saved a call. Sometimes, the specific required action or transaction cannot be performed through self-service options and the customer must make a call, or else, the answer has been slightly overlooked and needs to be updated – for these cases there is a designated comment section, so users can express themselves freely.

We all know from personal experience, that we can’t always be bothered to fill out long or detailed surveys – we are on the go and just want to find the information we were looking for without spending extra time to leave feedback. This is typical user behaviour, and for this we came up with different options for our clients such as star ratings and thumbs up and down, keeping the free text box, to make the rating simpler for users. The solutions deployed are always dependent on the requirements and preferences of our clients, which are in line with the nature of their business and their website design. For example, financial organisations usually go with the traditional options for their customer-facing self-service tools, but internal deployments often have more creative user feedback options.

What if, during a conversation, a virtual assistant delivered the correct answer to five questions, but two answers advised the user to call the customer contact centre and one answer was slightly outdated? Does this rate as an unsuccessful conversation, due to three unhelpful answers? To solve this dilemma, we have End of Conversation Surveys, which ask customers to rate the whole conversation, on a scale to 1-10 and choose what they would have had done without the virtual assistant. As always, there is a free text box for further communication from the customer to the organisation. These surveys show high satisfaction levels as they measure the overall success of the conversation, which can have some flaws (just as in human-to-human interactions), but still can be rated pleasant and helpful.

Let’s take a step further – how can the virtual assistant learn if it was right or wrong if none of these surveys have been taken up by the user? Is this valuable data lost? Our Creative (Virtual) analytics team have levelled up their game and came up with a solution! During voice interactions, such as incoming calls to customer contact centres, there is a straightforward way to understand if the conversation wasn’t successful, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, as the tone might change or the same questions might be repeated. But how can we rate a written communication with our customer? There has been a specific platform developed, which sits on the top of our previously described survey layers. This platform classifies the whole conversation, with a carefully weighed several-factor-system, which can be tailored to our client’s needs, containing factors such as if there has been more than one transaction, whether the last customer input was recognised by the virtual assistant, if there have been negative user responses recorded, etc.. The primary ‘hard’ indicators remain the user-filled surveys, so this is just a nice icing on the cake, as our mature deployments show over 80% of successful conversation rates.

With our proactive approach and multi-layer analytics tool sets, we can be sure that our virtual assistants will learn more and more about what is right and wrong, to increase the customer satisfaction level continuously. However, I think no machine will ever be able to answer all questions correctly, as this would mean that deployments have stopped being fed up-to-date real-life data. Our world is changing rapidly as are our user queries. These cannot be fully predicted ahead, just analysed and reacted to appropriately. As long as AI tools serve customer queries, they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.

As we celebrate Customer Service Week this year, we need to recognise the role customers play in helping to teach our AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants right from wrong and the experts that know how to gather, analyse and incorporate that data to help train those tools. Check out our special buyer’s guide that explains why experience matters for using this hybrid approach to create reliable and always learning bots.

Harnessing Human and Machine During the Pandemic

By Rachel F Freeman, Operations Director

A direct quote of the explanatory theme for this Customer Service Week says: “The impact of events affecting the world today have changed the way in which companies and their employees engage with customers.”

Indeed this is true, and all of us in our businesses and in our personal lives can feel the effects of how services of all kinds have altered in ways ranging from barely discernible to completely different (filling out forms, having temperatures taken, tape and measurements of distance being assessed amidst a lot of Perspex dividers). A main thing that became apparent in call centre scenarios was that call wait times for an array of customer services were much longer and users still are advised in recorded messages that “due to Covid-19” call wait time may be impacted.

I can testify that I’ve never had to wait 25-30 minutes to speak to a representative for whatever service I needed before Spring 2020 but experienced that exact scenario at least four times in the past few months. Speaker phones have never been so handy so that one can do other tasks whilst being on hold for extended periods of time!

Cue the virtual agents, chatbots and virtual assistants. Now more than ever before it is a no brainer that online self-help tools that are available 24/7 should come into their own in this period of uncertainty and continued delays blamed on Covid. Self-help tools need not be subject to the same rules of quarantine which makes them more reliable when it is impossible to predict when humans will be available to handle and field queries based on who is in the office and who is self-isolating.

Now more than ever, in the spirit of seamless customer experience, let’s let the self-help tools do what they are designed to do. Let’s let them share the burden of the increasing pressure on call centre agents and take advantage of them working to their fullest potential. Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work whilst the humans that are healthy can spend time not only speaking to customers who truly need a human but also to check in from time to time on the accuracy of the responses of the virtual agent. A smart combination of self-help and human guidance creates confidence that the job will get done with the right tools.

We’re all being told to stay safe and be alert – so let’s work in parallel with the tools to help make that happen. We can enable more efficient customer service interactions whilst at the same time prioritising the health and well-being of both customers and employees.

Check out the Neutrino release of V-Person™ to learn how Creative Virtual is delivering some of the most up-to-date and seamless self-help tools available. Also download the ‘Conversational AI Trends 2020’ ebook from AI Time Journal for virtual agent success stories during the pandemic.

The way companies and their employees are engaging with customers may have changed significantly this year, but with the right tools a positive, seamless experience is possible. This Customer Service Week let’s celebrate both the people and the technology that are delivering safe and seamless customer support in this period of uncertainty.

Customer Experience: It’s all about long-term relationships

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, like everything else, is held with the dark cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. Customer experience has always been a key competitive differentiator, and this has never been more apparent than this year. It’s a true saying that when the chips are down you find out who your true friends are. As the CEO of Creative Virtual, I’ve been on two sides on this equation during these tough times: supporting our customers and being a customer myself.

Customer experience is a much-debated subject of course, but the thing that’s often missing from these debates is the importance of building strong customer partnerships that can stand the test of time. Creative Virtual is fortunate to have many long-term customers: one of our first customers has been with us since the formation of the company (nearly 17 years ago!). Having a great team, who are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the customer, is the main attribute for a long-term partnership. Being flexible, listening and supporting our customers as they face their own challenges, and taking a longer-term perspective, is an inherent part of our company culture.

I’m always studying how other companies treat their customers, and there’s no better way than being a customer yourself. The pandemic has brought out the best, and the worst, in the customer experiences that myself or people I know have encountered. Like all of us, I’ve been truly inspired and humbled by our key workers. The dedication and positivity from staff at the local Waitrose, for example, has been a breath of fresh air (service with a smile!). There are some bank and landlord experiences that I’ve heard about that have been pretty bad. And these cases are particularly beguiling when there’s been a long-term relationship in place and the bank/landlord has turned their back in a moment of need. Purely from a business perspective, these actions are completely counterproductive as this often leads to a loss of business.

Today much of the customer experience is automated, and when I consider what makes our chatbot/ virtual agent and live chat technology successful, it’s taking that long-term view. Building the right foundations at the beginning means the technology can be easily adapted as business priorities change and can be readily scaled up as required. This was particularly put to the test during the height of the pandemic when our customers saw a dramatic increase in virtual agent transactions and required quick updates to the chatbot/ virtual agent content. Taking a long-term perspective is just as important for chabots/ virtual agents as it is for human relations!

If you’re planning to add a chatbot virtual agent to your CX strategy to help improve your customer relationships, you’ll want to download this whitepaper: Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. The guide provides insights from industry experts on how having a strong partnership with your technology vendor sets your self-service solution up for long-term success.

As you celebrate CX Day and Customer Service Week this year, consider the approach you are taking with your customer experience strategy. Are you striving to build strong, long-term customer partnerships? Are you empowering your employees to make decisions to strengthen those customer relationships? Are you taking a long-term view to achieve success with automated CX tools?

Customer experience is all about long-term relationships – and that’s never been more important than right now. When the chips are down, are you a reliable partner for your customers?

Two Thumbs Up for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Today we kick off the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service, the people who deliver that service and the impact it has on successful business practices. 2020 has brought new customer service challenges for companies and altered the way customers engage with businesses, perhaps forever. Delivering service that gets two thumbs up from customers has been – and continues to be – no easy feat!

This is the fifth year I’ve put together a blog post roundup to start off Customer Service Week, and it might just be the most important one yet. The global pandemic has put digital transformation projects on the fast-track for many organisations, including digital customer service initiatives. Having expert insights, resources and industry stats is important for getting those strategies right. Here are some of the key blog posts on customer support we’ve shared over the past year that can help you with improving and extending the customer service you provide:

  • Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-10 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers – COVID-19 has put organisations under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This three-part blog series explores the business value of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide easy-to-use self-service, starting with supporting customers. Also take a look at Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents and Part 3: Supporting Employees.
  • Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part blog series dives into the real experiences of financial organisations as they took quick action to keep the information they were providing to customers up-to-date during a period of fast-paced changes. They used their existing virtual agent implementations both to analyse customer needs and deliver 24/7 support for better customer service.
  • Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector – Starting in late February and early March, Creative Virtual saw a spike in virtual agent traffic that surpassed anything the company had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By the end of the first week in July, those virtual agents had already recorded about 75% of the total transactions completed the previous year. While some sectors saw a return to more normal usage after the initial spike, the Banking sector continued to see increased usage compared with the first two months of 2020.
  • A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic – In August, AI Time Journal published a new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, exploring the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. The ebook also covered several conversational AI success stories, including one telling how an international financial services group’s virtual agent rose to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.
  • The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters – If you are considering virtual agent or chatbot options and providers, then you will benefit from the expertise of this group of industry insiders. Together they offer 83 years of experience in a field that has only been commercially viable for about two decades. Learn about the six areas of experience that are necessary for the success of a conversational self-help tool.
  • APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies – There has been a shift in the APAC region as an increasing number of organisations look to use AI and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and workload.
  • Hindsight May be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision – Customers are expecting more from the companies they give their business to, and that includes effective service across touchpoints. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.
  • A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture – While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience to avoid frustrating customers with a disjointed, unhelpful experience.
  • Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents – Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Whatever you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. Selecting and deploying the right technology for your company is key to achieving success.
  • Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre – A ContactBabel customer service survey found business leaders agreed that AI will be important to the future of the contact centre. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies to help them support those channels in a better and more cost-effective way.