Tag Archive for: humans and machines

Building a Cohesive Virtual Agent and Live Chat Solution

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Virtual agents. Live chat. Some of you may remember the days when companies wanting to implement customer support on their website believed they had to make a decision: either a virtual agent or live chat; either automated self-service or human-assisted web chat.

This was the common thinking a decade ago when Creative Virtual integrated their virtual agent deployment for a leading telecommunication’s company in the UK with live chat, creating a seamless handover for users within the same template. Around the same time, an online financial services company in the US collaborated with Creative Virtual to add a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents. Both of these companies were very forward-thinking in their approach to combining these technologies.

Now in 2022, virtual agents and live chat are seen as complementary tools instead of rival solutions. In fact, it’s become best practice to integrate the two in order to improve digital customer support. In the recent webinar ‘Deploy Chatbots to Meet Self-Service Demands’, Gartner analysts talked about the importance of seamlessly escalating customers from virtual agent to live chat agent to create positive, cohesive service experiences.

Instead of a conversation about which of the two technology options to implement, organisations are having discussions about how to incorporate both into their digital customer experience (CX) strategies. Companies that have already done so are seeing a variety of benefits to both their customer and agent experiences, including:

  • Customers are always supported with 24/7 access to self-service even outside of live chat hours or when all live agents are busy.
  • The most common questions are answered by the virtual agent, reducing the overall number of live chat contacts and the need for agents to answer simple, repetitive questions.
  • Virtual agents do the discovery work and pass a complete history of the customer’s conversation to the chat agent, creating a seamless experience for both user and agent.

Adding a virtual agent to an existing live chat deployment

If you already have live chat available to customers and are ready to add a virtual agent, you can jumpstart the project with transcripts from those conversations. By analysing your live chat transcripts, the virtual agent vendor can identify which questions can be answered without human involvement. This analysis can also identify the percentage of live chats that can be deflected with successful automation. It can assist you with identifying key metrics and help build your business case.

Many traditional live chat providers are now offering virtual agents and chatbots as an add-on solution. Unfortunately, often these vendors maintain their focus on driving usage of live agent support. Because of this, the functionality of their virtual agent tools is limited. It’s also not unusual for them to use a pricing structure for self-service that’s similar to their live chat, such as charging by transaction. This makes the virtual agent both poor performing and expensive.

Self-service tools from virtual agent-first vendors deliver better user experiences and more reasonable pricing models. A sophisticated conversational AI platform will support integration with a variety of different live chat providers. This means you can deploy a highly functional virtual agent with seamless handover to your existing live chat solution, providing both successful self-service and easy escalation to human-assisted support.

Adding live chat to an existing virtual agent deployment

If you already have a virtual agent available to customers and want to add handover to live chat, you should start by talking with your virtual agent vendor about your options. Confirm that your existing conversational AI platform supports integration with live chat to handover users within the same template and pass a full conversation history to the live agent. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to find a better virtual agent solution.

Ideally, you’ll already have both a virtual agent platform with flexible integration options and a vendor you trust with expert insights. If they offer their own live chat product, explore that option first. Ask them about their integration experiences with different live chat providers and how their joint solution is better. Ask them for live examples of other similar deployments and for existing client references to get additional insights.

You can use your virtual agent transcripts and metrics to assist with setting up custom rules and triggers for users to be escalated from self-service to live chat. How users have engaged with your virtual agent should inform the set-up of live chat to ensure you are adding it in a way that will deliver the best experience possible for your customers.

Adding both a virtual agent and live chat or changing providers

If you need both virtual agent and live chat technologies, begin your selection process with the virtual agent. Customer engagements will start with your virtual agent, so you want to ensure you are delivering a positive self-service experience even if escalation to a live agent is necessary. A ‘bad’ virtual agent frustrates users and makes the job of your live chat agents even more difficult.

Use the advice shared above and in this Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for selecting a virtual agent platform. If you have an existing virtual agent, either live or in-progress but never deployed, be sure to ask how a new vendor can reuse it so you don’t lose that investment. If you have live chat or contact centre transcripts, also ask about using an analysis of those to jumpstart a new virtual agent.

Then once you have found the conversational AI platform that best fits your organisation and goals, explore the live chat technologies that integrate well with your virtual agent choice. Use the expertise of the virtual agent vendor to help with your selection. They will know from experience which live chat systems deliver the greatest results for your industry, use case, etc. when integrated with their self-service tools. Test some existing joint deployments and talk to other companies using both technologies about their experiences.

Developments in conversational AI over the past decade have enabled a more seamless integration of automated self-service and human-assisted support. With the right technologies, organisations can take advantage of these advancement to deliver improved end-to-end experiences for both customers and agents. Cohesive, convenient customer service is key to building brand loyalty and reducing customer churn. It can provide real business value today and give you a solid foundation for the future.

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!

CX in 2018: Digital Transformation Means Combining Humans and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For years there was much more talk about digital transformation than any actual changes for many organisations, but that’s starting to change. More and more digital transformation projects are getting off the ground, and 2018 will be an important year for understanding the reality of the changes needed and putting plans into action.

During a recent roundtable event Econsultancy found that for many, digital transformation programmes are all about survival. Organisations are ‘trying to disrupt ourselves before being disrupted by others’. There is a fear of being made obsolete and digital transformation is a way to head off bankruptcy, particularly for those already struggling or less profitable than their competitors.

Yet well-established and profitable organisations are also moving forward with these types of programmes, particularly when it comes to customer experience. In Hong Kong, some of the biggest banks are launching smart chatbots as a way to serve tech-savvy customers as part of their digital transformations. The corporate banking unit of HSBC, Hong Kong’s largest bank by assets, launched the very first chatbot of its kind in the city. Chatbot Amy is an important part of their innovative digital banking experience and allows customers to get answers quickly and easily.

I recently read an article predicting that 2018 will see AI-enable chatbots providing a better customer experience than human-to-human chat exchanges. I would argue that in some cases they already are. While I disagree with the authors on that point, I wholeheartedly agree on their insistence that customer service chatbots should have human ‘escape hatches’ which seamlessly pass users over to a human.

When it comes to customer service and engagement, digital transformation means combining humans and machines. Organisations that ignore the importance of the human element or try to rely on pure artificial intelligence (AI) are going to see their initiatives crash and burn. Chatbots can be brilliant additions to digital engagement strategies but they need to be implemented in the right way and with the right expectations, like HSBC Hong Kong’s Amy.

One thing that has held back digital transformation efforts is coming to grips with the reality of implementing plans, which is often very different than expected. It’s important to work with an experienced, expert team – particularly when it comes to customer service chatbots. Don’t rush to deploy any old chatbot just to be able to say you have one. Be strategic about it as part of your overall digital customer experience transformation. Know how it can best serve your customers and how you want to integrate it with other support options such as live chat. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! gives some key features to look for when selecting a chatbot for customer support:

  • Personalisation – Can the chatbot be integrated with personalised account information?
  • Consistency and Accuracy – How will the chatbot help me keep my customer experience consistent and accurate?
  • Seamless Experience – Can I integrate the chatbot with other channels and support options?
  • End-to-End Support Journey – Can the tool bring together virtual and human support channels?

As you embark on new digital transformation initiatives to improve your customer experience this year, ensure that you examine them in context of your overall strategy and customer needs. And don’t overlook the importance of combining humans and machines, live agents and chatbots to best serve your customers and reach your CX goals.