Posts

The Generic ‘Chat Now’: Virtual Agent or Live Chat?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

A couple months ago I had a question about an online order I had placed several days earlier. After searching through the information on the website in an attempt to self-serve with no success, I started a live chat session. I was connected to a live chat agent relatively quickly, but then spent over 30 minutes in a chat that felt like it was lasting forever and, in the end, delivered no real resolution to my question.

It immediately became obvious to me that the live chat agent was juggling multiple – and likely too many – chat sessions simultaneously. To try to fill the long gaps between his responses, I received canned ‘sorry for the long wait’ messages with random small talk questions about my day and comments about how much I was going to love the item I had ordered. This quickly became tiresome – I wasn’t there because I wanted to chitchat. I just wanted to an answer to my question!

I certainly don’t blame the agent for creating such a poor experience or for ultimately not having access to the information I needed. When implemented properly and with realistic internal expectations of agents, live chat can be a great digital support option. Unfortunately, I know my frustrating experience isn’t a fluke or an uncommon occurrence. That is one reason why customers looking for a quick answer may shy away from starting a conversation with a live chat agent.

This is something that organisations implementing a self-service virtual agent or chatbot should keep in mind, regardless of whether they are integrating it with live chat. Why? In the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor, conversational AI expert Laura Ludmany explains:

“Be sure your virtual agent is prominent on your pages. Make it obvious that it is a digital, automated tool with wording such as ‘Please ask our Virtual Agent’. Avoid using confusing or vague terms such as ‘Agent’ or ‘Chat Now’ as these can make users think it is a live chat tool and may prevent them from starting a session when they are trying to self-serve.”

Customers are more comfortable with and increasingly seeking out digital self-service options. In response, organisations are also increasingly deploying conversational AI tools. However, if those tools aren’t easily accessible or clearly identified as the place to self-serve (without having to engage with a human) then both customers and businesses are missing out on their benefit.

Rest virtual agentLet’s take a look at the successful virtual agent implementation at Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, as a great example of Laura’s recommendation in action. Rest understood their large customer base of digital natives were most often starting their experience on the website. In order to enrich the experience for those digitally savvy customers, they added virtual agent Roger to their website in 2016. This not only gave Rest the distinction of being the first Australian superannuation fund to service members’ enquiries online 24/7 with a virtual agent, but also resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback from their members.

If you visit the Rest website today, Roger maintains a prominent spot on their homepage and throughout the website. They make it easy for users to self-serve as they navigate around the site. Rest has also always communicated clearly with users that Roger is a self-service tool, not a human live chat agent, with both the user interface (UI) and Roger’s welcome informing users they are interacting with an automated virtual agent. This means that the expectation is immediately set for Roger as a self-service option.

It can be tempting to use a generic ‘Chat Now’ as a way to try to engage users both looking to self-serve and chat with a human agent, but customers don’t want to feel tricked. They appreciate the transparency of knowing what kind of support they are going to receive – automated or human-assisted – before initiating the engagement. It sets the tone for the experience and gives customers more control over how they get the information and support they need.

Interested in more conversational AI expert insights and tips? Download the full Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience and check out this collection of posts from the 2021 Customer Service Week & CX Day Blog Celebration.

Will Old Internal Systems Destroy your Conversational AI Dream?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Microsoft announced this week that they will stop supporting Windows 10 in 2025, with no new updates or security fixes being released after 14 October. This news comes as the company plans to reveal a new Windows operating system later this month. Screenshots of the new Windows 11 have been leaked online ahead of that virtual event – you can check them out here.

Whether you’re a Windows user or not, this type of announcement can highlight the need for wider discussions about the technology and systems being used internally at your organisation. Are you one of the many companies that relies on old or out-dated solutions? These legacy systems can have a knock-on effect, sometimes creating issues when the restrictions they create aren’t acknowledged at the start of a digital project or even keeping organisations from embarking on new projects at all.

For example, this can be the case when deploying an internal conversational AI solution for employee support. As virtual agent and chatbot expert, Peter Studd explains in a conversational AI guide:

“It’s very important to be aware of your users’ technology when you’re implementing a virtual agent to ensure it will be compatible. For example, it’s not uncommon for large companies to have very old systems and browsers that are still being used companywide. This can cause issues if not taken into consideration when developing an internal virtual agent.”

Constraints created by old systems and browsers don’t necessarily mean you need to abandon your plans for an internal virtual agent. However, they should be identified and discussed at the beginning of your project to avoid any unwanted surprises. If not, you could find that you’ve invested time and money into a solution that can’t be properly integrated with an important legacy system or isn’t user friendly for employees using older browsers.

This is just one of the downsides of taking a DIY approach to building and deploying a chatbot or virtual agent. If you don’t have people with the right experience on this team, it will be easy to miss or overlook older systems that could create project roadblocks. You end up with a case of ‘we didn’t know what we didn’t know’ and a tool that doesn’t meet expectations.

An experienced conversational AI provider will know the right questions to ask to help you pinpoint any potential compatibility issues upfront. They’ll provide guidance on any changes or accommodations you may need to make to your plan. They’ll also be able to offer suggestions for ways to work with potential constraints based on a deep knowledge of their technology and prior experience with similar challenges.

In an ideal world, all of the systems and technologies being used by your organisation would be up-to-date and easy to incorporate into new conversational AI projects. Since that’s not likely to become a reality any day soon, the best course of action is to work with a provider that can not only help you identify potential challenges but also provide the guidance on how to overcome them. Old internal systems don’t need to destroy your conversational AI dream.

A Seamless Support Experience is Music to Your Customers’ Ears

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Every month Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO writes his Virtual Viewpoint column for Wharf Life, a local newspaper available in the area around the company’s headquarters in London. You can also read the paper online, getting an insider’s look at what’s going on in the area as well as Chris’ perspective on a variety of topics from technology developments to stress management to space exploration.

In his latest Virtual Viewpoint column, Chris shares his recent experience attending a string quartet recital. He marvels at how in sync the musicians were, each bringing their own style and sound together for a cohesive performance. He compares this to running a successful company. Each member of the team contributes their unique skills and style but must work together towards a common goal.

The same principles are true for delivering a positive customer service experience. Creating your overall strategy is similar to writing a musical score – you have to pay attention not only to the performance of each individual component but also how they interact with each other over the course of the journey. You need to ensure each element is utilised to emphasise its strengths but do so in a way that creates a joined-up, seamless experience.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that a number of my own personal customer service experiences have revealed a strategy that is out-of-sync. Way too often a company’s digital experience appears to come from a completely different strategy than other parts of the experience. While many customers were willing to cut businesses a little slack as they dealt with sudden pandemic-related changes, that’s no longer a valid excuse for the disjointed support experience so many companies are still delivering.

Recently I’ve come across some articles claiming customers, who are increasingly turning to digital channels, hate using chatbots and just want to talk to a human. However, when you delve into the real reasons behind these claims, you realise that it’s not the automated self-service tool that customers hate but rather the poor experience that some of them are delivering. If the chatbot can understand their questions, provide accurate and relevant information, and give the option to escalate to a human if needed, then customers have no issue with using a chatbot.

This highlights a failure in both the development of these chatbot solutions and their implementation as part of a synchronised support strategy. A quality chatbot must be backed by conversational AI technology that combines machine learning with a human-in-the-loop. It must be integrated with human-assisted support channels, such as live chat, for a seamless handover. It must be approached as one piece of a comprehensive customer service strategy and not as a stand-alone tool or side project. All of these elements are essential for your solution to be effective, but companies often struggle because they don’t have enough knowledge in this field.

Rachel F Freeman, a conversational AI expert, started working with chatbots and virtual agents in 2000. She has experienced first-hand the evolution of the technology, and today collaborates closely with organisations on the development and implementation of their solutions. She shared this important piece of advice in a chatbot vendor selection guide:

“You should feel comfortable saying to your vendor, “we don’t know what we don’t know and are looking to you as the experts”. This applies to everything from possible use cases to suggestions for conversational flows to UI design tips. If you don’t have confidence they will guide you in the right direction, you’re working with the wrong team.”

This is sage advice for companies as they make conversational AI a part of their customer service strategy. If you don’t want your customers to hate your chatbot, then give them a chatbot that delivers the experience they want. That requires working with knowledgeable experts to ensure your self-service tool is properly developed and integrated with your overarching support strategy, goals, and customer needs.

While engaging with a company for customer support will likely never be as enjoyable as listening to a professional string quartet recital, the experience should be just as seamless and in sync. This is certainly not an easy feat, but is one made easier when you work with the right experts. And when you are able to deliver a seamless, omnichannel support experience, it will be music to your customers’ ears.

Content Repositories and Party Menus Mean Nothing if You Aren’t Serving Your Guests at the Right Time

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding, a surprise birthday party, or a family reunion knows how difficult it can be to get everyone and everything involved coordinated. All the pieces are interconnected, and good communication is essential to putting your plan into action. Often, even seemingly small details can be key in making sure all the moving parts are in sync.

The same is true for customer service strategies. Those that achieve real success are part of a bigger customer experience (CX) approach that is designed to create an integrated, coordinated strategy. Every piece is important and must be linked together to create a cohesive, seamless experience.

Within many companies, the digital customer service experience has evolved slowly and separately from other pieces of the support puzzle, such as the contact centre. For many years, when having a static set of FAQs on a website was enough for online self-service, organisations could get away with that siloed approach. Today that’s not the case. Customers expect a connected and more sophisticated digital service experience.

It’s not unusual for companies, especially large enterprises, to struggle with delivering an integrated customer support experience. Often, they have many of the pieces they need but aren’t sure how to link those pieces – or silos – together.

A good example is an organisation that has built up a robust content repository to house all of their customer help information. This was an important step in their journey to create a more consistent experience because it established a single place for them to manage content. They even enabled visitors to their website to leverage this repository by adding a simple search tool on the help page.

Now the company acknowledges that forcing users to scroll through a list of search results and read through long information articles is not delivering the online self-service experience they want to give existing and prospective customers. It’s the same as selecting a caterer and deciding on a menu for your party, but not making arrangements for the food to be delivered to the right venue at the right time. Despite all the effort you put into the food, you end up with a poor experience – and hungry guests! – because you haven’t put together the pieces of the puzzle behind the scenes.

Rob Foster, Knowledgebase Engineer and a conversational AI expert, shares a way to deliver a better self-service experience with a virtual agent that utilises an existing repository of help content. He explains:

“If you already have an existing content repository in use, consider integrating with it rather than spending time transferring all the data to a separate knowledgebase. With this option, your virtual agent recognises the user intent and makes an API call to retrieve the relevant information directly from the repository. This simplifies content management for you because you aren’t juggling multiple systems. It helps ensure accuracy because when content is updated in the repository, the changes are instantly reflected in the virtual agent. The integration also removes the danger of having conflicting information between the virtual agent and other online help pages since everything is managed in a single place.”

In 2017, a large Telecommunications Company took their first steps to do just this. They had already invested in an Oracle Knowledgebase that housed about 3,000 information articles. They wanted to provide a better user experience for their online help by adding a virtual agent to their website but did not want to move or replicate their help content. Their solution was to set a challenge as part of their conversational AI vendor selection process: 24 hours to build a working integration with their existing content repository.

You can find more details about that 24-hackathon and how their conversational AI solution currently works in the full Customer Success Story. Their approach is saving them an estimated £3 million per year from reductions in support calls and delivering better insights into their customer needs. It is also helping them make the most of their CX investments by linking up the pieces of their customer service strategy for a consistent, seamless experience.

You wouldn’t let your party guests go hungry, so why would you let your website visitors struggle to find information you could easily serve to them with the right tools?