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A Look Back: 2019 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is just around the corner, which means it is once again time for our annual look back over the past 12 months. 2019 was another busy and exciting year for Creative Virtual and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry. It’s always difficult to condense a whole year into one blog post, so here are just a few of the highlights.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 as we also celebrated the 15th anniversary of Creative Virtual. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, took a look back at the changes in the company and the industry since he started Creative Virtual in London’s East End in his blog post, Fifteen Years & Counting: Navigating the chatbot, virtual agent and AI revolution. During the year Chris also participated in industry interviews, including one with the AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative and one for the Executive Interviews website, where he shared more insights into the myths and realities of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI).

This year we have also been celebrating another impressive recognition for the company: Frost & Sullivan’s 2019 AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leadership Award! In selecting us for this award, the analysts at Frost & Sullivan evaluated chatbot and virtual agent vendors across two key factors, each with five benchmarking criteria. Creative Virtual was rated as ‘Excellent’ across these categories. You can download a copy of their full independent report here. I had the honour of joining Andy Madge (Head of Technical Services) and Liam Ryan (Sales Director) at the Awards Dinner in London to accept our plaque and meet other Best Practice Award winners from all over Europe.

Special congratulations also go out to Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer, for being shortlisted for the 2019 Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Role Model of the Year (SME) – Tech Industry’! You can read more about Maria’s journey from Creative Virtual customer to partner to team member in her Meet the Team interview. Maria was also one of our Team Animal runners in our charity runs for the RSPCA this year, joined by Laura Ludmany, Rachel Freeman, Björn Gülsdorff and Chris Ezekiel. Instead of all meeting up to run a group race together, each runner registered for a local race instead and took part in runs in Hamburg, London, Ipswich and Dublin. This was the fifth year we fundraised for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a cause we feel passionately about as a company of animal lovers.

The team was also involved with our annual blog celebration of CX Day (1 October) and Customer Service Week (7-11 October), making this year the best one yet. Authors based in four different countries covered topics ranging from customer expectations to chatbot creation to managing stress for better customer relationships. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

We were also excited to be featured in the Wharf Life Newspaper during Customer Service Week. You can read the full article here.

While 2019 saw an increase in the adoption of chatbot and virtual agent technology, we also saw more companies struggling with poor performing tools or projects that never came to fruition. Founder & CEO Chris explored some reasons for this in an article for the AI Time Journal, “Virtual Moron-Idiot!”: Why Chatbots Fail and the #ChatbotRescue Mission Saving Them. As a successful pioneer in the chatbot and virtual agent space, Creative Virtual is in a unique position to help these companies save their investments. That’s why we launched our Chatbot Rescue Mission, offering organisations a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to get their projects back on track.

This year we sponsored, attended and joined our partners at a variety of industry events around the world, including ones in the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, India, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Thailand. Team members presented, participated in panels and gave demos at many of these events, including several keynote addresses. We also welcomed some new organisations to our growing Global Partner Network and expanded our V-Person™ Family with new deployments around the world.

Our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel continued his monthly Virtual Viewpoint column for the Wharf Life Newspaper this year. You can find all of his past columns here. He also saw his name in print in the 6 October edition of The Sunday Times where he was quoted in an article about British entrepreneurs and their tech giant competitors. Subscribers to The Times can read the article online here – and we also have a copy available here.

As we head into 2020, Creative Virtual is preparing to celebrate the company’s Sweet Sixteen – 16 years of helping enterprises deliver better customer and employee support and of bringing new innovations to the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat market. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring!

Be sure to check out our 2019 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. As we do every year, we’ve compiled photos from industry events, company celebrations, fundraising runs and group activities. There will be more photos added over the next couple of weeks, so make sure you’re following us so you don’t miss any.

Preparing Contact Centres for the Impact of AI

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s that time of year when shopping centres are transforming into Christmas Wonderlands, children start to worry about being on the Naughty List, and industry analysts make their predictions for the impending new year. It’s only natural to want to know what the future holds – whether it be what you’ll find in your stocking on Christmas morning or what challenges and changes your business will face in the coming year.

There have been lots of predictions over the past several years about the impact artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot technologies will have on customer service. In particular, there has been a fear that automated self-service tools like chatbots and virtual agents would completely replace the contact centre and eliminate the need for human agents. Those with a real understanding of the capabilities of these technologies and the needs of customers know those predictions are far-fetched and not going to be a reality any time soon.

However, AI-powered chatbots and virtual agents are changing the role of contact centres and human customer service agents. The analysts at Forrester talk about some of these changes in their Predictions 2020: Customer Service. One trend they mention that will have a growing impact on contact centres is the need for more highly skilled customer service agents because of improvements in AI and automated self-service tools. This will impact contact centre locations, budgets and agent experience.

Organisations that have well-established virtual agents and chatbots available to their customers have already been seeing this shift in their contact centres. As more and more customers self-serve for simple questions and easy tasks, contact centre agents are freed up to deal with more complex issues that need human assistance. This means agents no longer have to deal with the monotony of repeatedly answering basic questions all day long. However, it also means that contact centres need to be staffed with agents that are highly skilled and trained to deal with complicated and more sensitive situations.

New research from CCA, The Future of Work and Automation in CX, found that 85% of executives feel future agents will need to be skilled in handling multi-channel interactions and 83% think that problem-solving skills will be more important due to this shift of simple requests to automation. Responses to this survey also highlighted the importance of agent training to equip them with the skills necessary to show empathy and have emotional intelligence in order to deal with a wide range of demographics.

Contact centre leaders are realising that the AI chatbot technology being used to deliver a quality, 24/7 customer self-service experience can also be deployed to support their live agents. When used as a tool to assist agents, a chatbot or virtual agent gives them instant access to information at their fingertips, so their focus moves from trying to retain knowledge to building better relationships with customers. This is especially important as agents transition to dealing with those more complex issues customers can’t solve by self-serving.

As contact centres put together their Wish List for the coming year, they need to take a hard look at these industry predictions and trends. If they aren’t proactive now in preparations for the changing role of the contact centre and customer service agents, they will face a difficult struggle to catch up. When you add to the mix Frost & Sullivan’s prediction that 2020 will be the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the top way companies will differentiate themselves, ignoring the impact of AI on the contact centre sounds even more foolish – and will likely put you on Santa’s Naughty List.

Is Your Customer Experience Ready for 2020?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Every one of us has a story we can share about a bad customer experience – and we love to tell those stories. In fact, a survey conducted in 2018 across six countries found that 60% of customers said they had shared their bad experiences with others, either in-person or online. And for many of us, we also love to hear or read about those experiences before we make our own purchasing decisions, meaning that a single poor experience can have a negative knock-on effect on countless other potential new customers.

It’s certainly no secret that your customer experience (CX) has a direct impact on your company’s bottom line. The results of that same survey also showed that 56% of customers had stopped doing business with a brand or switched to a competitor after a single bad customer service experience. According to Frost & Sullivan, US companies are currently losing more than $83 billion annually because of poor customer experiences. Despite being armed with this understanding, many organisations are still struggling to meet the expectations of today’s highly connected, digitally-savvy customers.

In their The Future of IT report, Forrester drives home the point that soon nearly all companies will operate as digital entities with their ability to maximise on the potential of new technologies determining their success. One force behind this change are customers:

“Digitally insatiable customers have a marginal and fickle loyalty to traditional brands, are willing to experiment, and are conditioned to switch affinity and spend based on a single poor experience. Customers have an affection for novelty brands and, notably, brands that ‘get’ and tap into their day-to-day lives.”

When it comes to service and support, tapping into a customer’s day-to-day life means providing the options to find information and resolve issues on a growing number of channels. More traditional channels like the phone are still important, but customers now also want to engage with brands on newer channels like messenger apps and smart speakers – channels that are becoming more integrated into other aspects of our daily lives.

Yet just being present on these channels isn’t enough to create a positive customer experience. As Gartner points out:

“It’s not just what channels customers use to resolve issues, but why they use them that leaders need to understand.”

Service leaders must understand the entire customer journey and the realities of what it takes to solve a particular issue in order to optimise each channel appropriately and then guide customers to the correct channel as needed. While all channels should aim to make customer resolution easier, every channel can’t be viewed with a one-size-fits-all mindset.

To be able to guide customers to the right channels and create an easy, seamless experience, organisations need to approach their digital CX initiatives with an omnichannel view. For example, adding a chatbot on a messenger app is a great way to provide customers with quick self-service, but it can’t be a standalone tool. It must also be integrated with other channels so users can be properly guided or handed over to a different channel if needed, such as live chat or the contact centre, to have their issue resolved.

There have been lots of predictions over the past several years about how important CX will become for brands. A recent report identifies the year 2020 as the point when customer experience will overtake product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves from the competition. As we quickly approach the middle of 2019, organisations need to take the time to really evaluate their experience and identify the technologies that will prepare their customer service for the future.

Digital Growth Around the World

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

It seems like everyone is talking about ‘digital’ these days – digital assistants, digital data, digital marketing, digital art, digital footprint. We’re increasingly reliant on digital devices – smartphone addiction, anyone? – and the need to be constantly connected. On a flight recently, there was a passenger a few seats away from me having a mini-meltdown because the onboard WiFi wouldn’t be available for the entire flight.

According to the Global Digital 2019 reports from We Are Social and Hootsuite, the digital world shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the number of internet users around the world is growing by an average of more than one million new users every day! The research, published earlier this year, reports a 9.1% increase from last year, bringing the number of internet users to 4.388 billion. In areas like Northern Europe and North America, 95% of the population are online.

2019 internet users

It’s likely no surprise that of those internet users, 84% searched online for a product or service to buy, 91% visited an online retail store on the web and 75% purchased a product or service online. The growing number of mobile users (up 100 million from last year) is reflected in the fact that 55% of internet users had made an online purchase via a mobile device while only 42% had done so from a laptop or desktop computer.

With so many consumers researching and purchasing goods and services online, it’s important for companies to provide the right service and support online as well. According to Frost & Sullivan, US companies are losing more than $83 billion annually due to poor customer experiences. On the flip side, they also found that 74% of customers have spent more with a business due to a history of good service.

Organisations everywhere are taking on digital transformation projects and searching for the best way to join up digital channels with more traditional customer contact channels. Implementing and executing successful digital customer experience (CX) initiatives is crucial for companies, particularly those in regions where a majority of the population are internet users. Offering a seamless and efficient CX that delivers consistent and reliable information to consumers regardless of whether they self-serve or talk to a contact centre agent has a direct impact on a business’ bottom line. Companies must also consider the popularity of other touchpoints, such as messenger apps and smart speakers, with their target customers as they evolve their digital strategies. Some organisations like Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds, are using a virtual agent across multiple channels – including Google Home – to successfully engage a customer base of digital natives.

57% of the world’s population are now online, and the number of internet users is growing every day. Is your organisation positioned to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world?

2019 digital world

Simply The Best!

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

With chatbot companies springing up on an almost daily basis, how do companies select the right one? Well, now the work has been done for you and there’s a clear choice! Frost & Sullivan have recognised Creative Virtual as the Product Leader! And the full report is available for you to download for free. Frost & Sullivan evaluated companies across two key factors, each with five benchmarking criteria. Creative Virtual was rated as ‘Excellent’, receiving an average score of 9.00/10 across these categories. The second and third place companies came in at 8.50 and 8.25.

Frost & Sullivan Best PracticeAs we celebrate our fifteen year anniversary, I cannot think of a better way to start the year (and the celebrations!). Not least because this is the first detailed independent comparison of combined virtual assistant, chatbot and live chat technology; and especially as the competition are some of the world’s largest technology companies. This comes on the back of our Queen’s Award for Innovation, that we were honoured to receive in 2017, and which is a five-year award. I couldn’t be more proud of what our team, together with our customers and partners, have achieved.

We often get asked how we compare with our competitors, and of course we have a lot to say on the subject! – but now with this independent report, the choice for companies wanting to deliver significant business value as well as superior customer experience, is crystal clear!

As a company that prides itself on continuous innovation, we certainly won’t be resting on our laurels. Right now, in our labs around the world, we are working on even more exciting developments that we look forward to bringing to the market soon.

And in the meantime, we’re very much looking forward to shouting about this amazing achievement from the rooftops!

AI-Enhanced Self-ServiceIt’s an honour to be leading a global company that has been acclaimed as the leader, and I know it will also mean a lot to all our great people, as well as our customers and partners who have put their trust in us and worked hard with us to create amazing solutions – which I know have played a pivotal role in this award. I would like to publicly say a big thanks to all our supporters!

For more on this Frost & Sullivan Best Practice Award and why Creative Virtual was selected as the 2019 AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader: