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Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

We are currently living in unprecedented times as countries and communities around the world deal with quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. Businesses and brands of all sizes and across industries face new challenges as offices and physical locations close. For some, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how, and if, they emerge on the other side.

Organisations are now under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This includes the need to answer coronavirus-related questions as well as the usual queries about products, services, policies and procedures. Many are looking to fast-track projects that are already in progress or are re-evaluating strategies to add new projects that can be actioned quickly.

Advancements over the past several years in conversational AI technologies, including chatbots and virtual agents, have made them a go-to solution for providing cost-effective and easy-to-use support on digital channels. They also give organisations the opportunity to get self-service projects both deployed and performing well quickly. By working with an industry vendor that provides a combination of technology and implementation expertise and support, companies don’t need to worry about having that knowledge internally to get started.

When talking about self-service virtual agents, the first use case that usually comes to mind is customer service. That’s the capacity in which these solutions first got their start, but companies shouldn’t overlook the benefits of using this technology within the contact centre to support agents as well as to provide self-service for employees in areas such as HR and IT support. As many companies deal with the sudden switch to supporting a remote workforce, exploring these internal-facing solutions is more important than ever.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll take a closer look at using AI-enhanced virtual agents to support contact centre agents and your employees.

First, let’s explore some benefits of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide self-service for your customers. There are lots of published statistics and success stories that prove the business value of this technology. Here are a few immediate advantages organisations will gain from deploying an AI-enhanced chatbot or virtual agent to support customers in the current uncertain situation:

  • Available 24/7 – For much of the population, the usual daily routine has flown out the window as we transition to working remotely, home schooling our children and supporting more vulnerable members of our family and neighbourhoods. Having to keep track of your company’s contact centre hours is one of the last things your customers want to have to do. A virtual agent gives them instant access to the information and support they need at any time of the day or night, and without the need to find a quiet place to have a phone conversation with a real person.
  • Up-to-date information – Things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world as governments issue new instructions for businesses and leadership teams adjust policies and procedures to keep customers and employees safe. Quality virtual agent solutions enable a quick update of the tool’s content so customers can access the most up-to-date information available. The technology can also enable you to deliver customised information based on factors such as location to provide tailored answers to customers.
  • Relieve pressure from live agents – Contact centres are being overwhelmed with calls, live chats, emails and social posts from customers as COVID-19 related questions are added to the usual mix of regular queries. By adding a conversational self-service solution, companies can relieve some of that pressure from contact centre agents by giving customers another option. A virtual agent can successfully engage with an unlimited number of users at the same time and frees up live agents to assist customers with more complex issues or who want to talk with an agent.

For organisations new to the idea of deploying a virtual agent or those who are unsure how to take the first step, destinationCRM’s Best Practices Series on How to Select a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for Your Self-Service Project is a great place to start. It outlines actionable tips on selecting a solution that will positively impact your customer care.

Coming up in Part 2 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a deeper dive into using a virtual agent as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents. And in Part 3, we’ll take a look at how the technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce by giving employees reliable self-service options. I will also share my top recommendations for getting new virtual agent projects deployed quickly and upgrading existing tools that aren’t performing well.

Ready to get started on your self-service project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.

Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly

By Rachel Freeman, Operations Director

In our digitised world, with expectations for immediate access to a variety of informational touch points, is it right to assume that we are losing our ability to have a one-to-one discussion that doesn’t involve a social forum? Are we so “busy” that we’d rather just get an answer than exchange any pleasantries?

I’m not convinced, but I bring it up to make us think about how we interact with our phones, desktops, social media apps and any home assistant device – an important consideration as we celebrate CX Day. On many occasions we use social media to advertise in some way –  it can be a product, photo, achievement or opinion. These channels call out for banter and hoped-for positive communication. Our home devices (Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home) often exist to provide “fluffy” help (turning on lights/heat/oven) but also can act as a personal advisor offering bedtime stories, the weather, a joke or football stats.

Currently I think it is safe to say that our desktops, tablets and phones are often the devices used the most to seek out a deeper level of information and help – whether it be to research a subject, reach out to individuals for a longer email or finally to get help on an account, including learning about the levels of service or complaining about a problem.

People use Twitter and Forums often to advise others of a poor customer service or a really good one, but email or help areas with FAQs and chat services are where most of us go to find out how we can be served more in-depth with our specific issue. Consequently, when things get more specific, a “pre-chat” of some sort usually occurs.

In the pre-internet days, people either picked up the stationary telephone or had to go into a shop or bank during office hours to clarify any concerns or support issues. There was a level of formality to the process, but now the protocol is more about ensuring voices are not raised on a live chat handover or indeed that profanity and insults are avoided at the risk of being cut-off from the session. All of these scenarios involve a chat of some kind in order to ease off the customer’s anger and for the agent to familiarise him/herself with the issue.

Personalisation (virtual or in-person) is an expectation and if a user logs on to a smart system, the system can be programmed to already know that Joe has a birthday on Sept 22nd and that his mobile phone package includes unlimited WIFI. Smalltalk can be easily factored into a smart agent or a chatbot, but the main objective is to get an answer and/or a resolution to the problem so that the customer has received (and the company has succeeded in providing) a smooth, positive and effective service transaction. A synthesis of a bit of familiarity with a positive result is the aim of great customer service – and this is when chat and help are done without the customer really caring if it is via a human or a machine.

With fewer face-to-face encounters, do we want a chat or do we just want an answer with no smalltalk included? Does it matter if the system you are logged into doesn’t appreciate the nuance of the fact that you are celebrating your 35th birthday on the day your broadband is due to be upgraded thus resulting in a massive downtime of service?

At Creative Virtual our systems are designed to offer personalised, effective and smart tools to create the chat/service balance, yet also “know” what the right triggers are for handing over to a real person when it’s time. An integrated handover allows the human agent to see the customer issue, based on the transcript, and then can add that extra element – the human touch – which may be a perfect ending to finding the solution. The chat and the serving of the solution with both a smart agent and a human all completed in one session – genius and still with time to exchange a “Happy Birthday” to the customer.

Learn more by watching our recent webinar, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple, on-demand or request your own live demo to see our smart tools in action. Happy Customer Experience (CX) Day!

It’s Time to Celebrate Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Happy Customer Service Week! Today starts the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service and the role it plays in successful business practice. This week we recognise all the hard work customer service professionals do to serve and support customers on a daily basis. Every good customer service professional knows that if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will – and that someone else is going to be your competitor.

Delivering excellent customer service and support is a team effort, from employees that interact with customers face-to-face to live agents working in the contact centre to those responsible for developing and maintaining self-service solutions. Customer service is a key aspect of a company’s overall customer experience, and one that often determines if customers stay or if they leave for a competitor. Customer Service Week is the perfect time to revisit some of the customer service tips, trends and statistics shared over the past twelve months with a blog post roundup:

  • The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished – Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers, but this change won’t happen overnight. Organisations need to get on-board with this transition in order to give customers the effortless interactions they demand.
  • Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016 – Forrester reported that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when self-service options proved unsuccessful. With a combination of virtual and human agents, organisations can create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.
  • 5 Questions to Ask About Digital Customer Service Improvement Plans – Digital tools allow us to serve customers better than ever before, but you need to ensure you choose the right solution and engage the right experts to help deliver on its promise. Asking the right questions before implementing a new digital customer service improvement plan will help you gain a clearer sense of how you can take better care of your customers.
  • It’s Time to Embrace Digital Channels and Build Smart Help – Traditionally companies have invested millions in their contact centres in order to build their customer support capabilities. As customers have moved to digital channels, this approach is no longer enabling them to meet customers’ expectations. Organisations need to embrace the digital channels and build smart help online.
  • Customer Service for the Millennium – There’s lots of buzz about the customer service expectations of Millennials. With this generation outnumbering Baby Boomers by nearly 8 million people, companies need to pay attention to these expectations in order to drive sales and increase loyalty.
  • Messaging Apps: Over 3 Billion Users and Counting – With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are quickly growing in popularly and provide a great new opportunity for brands to engage with their customers. Chatbots and virtual agents are perfect tools for offering self-service through both messaging apps and SMS, and can help organisations provide seamless, omnichannel support when implemented correctly.