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A Look Back: 2018 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

As 2018 is quickly coming to an end and planning for 2019 continues to move full steam ahead, it’s time once again to take a moment to slow down and look back over the past year. It’s been another exciting year not only for Creative Virtual as a company, but also for the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat industry, with lots of new developments and innovation. So, as per our annual tradition, let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the past 12 months.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 by publishing more Meet the Team interviews and pushing forward with our Innovations Roadmap. In September, we added a new recognition to our growing list of accomplishments when we won a place on The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 as one of Britain’s fastest-growing private technology companies. Rachel Freeman (Operations Director), Peter Behrend (CTO) and Chris Ezekiel (Founder & CEO) attended the awards ceremony in London to accept our award and spend an interesting evening mingling with other Tech Track 100 companies. This year we also had the opportunity to share our story in The Parliamentary Review as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector. It was exciting to see our article in print – there are still copies of the publication available in our London office – and talk about our journey from a small industry pioneer to a global leader in our space and our company culture based on innovation, teamwork and ownership of which we are very proud. You can read our full article here.

We can’t mention recognitions without a special shout out to the Transport for NSW team and their chatbot RITA on having an exceptional year. RITA was in the news in January for giving commuters access to voice-activated information with a new integration with Amazon’s Alexa. The team also brought home three separate awards this year: ‘Most Innovative and Intelligent BOT for Customer Experience’ at the AI Conference Awards, ‘Best Multichannel Customer Experience’ in the EY-Ashton Media 2018 CX Awards, and a win in the Solutions category at the Transport Recognition Awards for “A new frontier in customer information”. Congratulations!

There were also some other noteworthy and news making announcements for individual members of the Creative Virtual team this year. Maria Ward, Andre Matthews, Dinah Clarke, David Barker, Chloe Tooley, Tracey Biela, Björn Gülsdorff, Steve Smith, Rachel Freeman and Chris Ezekiel completed the Virgin Sport Westminster 10K in July and exceeded their fundraising goal for the RSPCA. This was the fourth time a group of runners from Creative Virtual did a 10k in support of the RSPCA. Jeff Clifford was invited to speak at Milton Keynes College during Digital Day in February to share insights on chatbots and virtual agents with students (read our interview with Jeff here). Rachael Needham had her ‘Meet the Team’ interview featured in her local newspaper, the Cameron Citizen-Observer, in September (read the article here and our full interview with Rachael here). Liam Ryan was featured in CRMXchange’s Executive Interview series, sharing his thoughts on self-service technology and recent industry developments (read his full interview here).  And I was honoured to be named ‘Most Influential Marketing Manager 2018 – UK’ as part of the 2018 Business Woman Elite Awards for my work at Creative Virtual.

We once again celebrated Customer Service Week (1-5 October) and CX Day (2 October) with a special series of posts on the Creative Virtual blog. This year we explored the evolving role of chatbots and combining automation with a human element to better support customers with special contributions from Laura Ludmany (Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity), Rachel Freeman (Are We Chatting or are We Serving? – The balance of chat and getting the solution quickly) and Chris Ezekiel (Automation Shouldn’t Force Customers to do the Work Themselves). We also shared our annual blog post roundup (Five Stars for Customer Service Week) to kick off the week and released a brand new whitepaper, A Chatbot for Your Contact Center, which shares tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform to support agents and provide an omnichannel customer experience. It includes 12 specific questions to ask when deciding what solution will work best for your organisation.

In September, we presented our sixth annual Technology Innovation Showcase webinar with CRMXchange, this year titled ‘Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple’. Chris Ezekiel shared a series of live demonstrations showcasing how to bring together artificial intelligence and human input to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance and increase customer satisfaction scores. You can watch the recording on-demand here. Then at the end of November, he presented another webinar, this time with Engage Customer titled ‘Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience’. He again shared live demos along with eight recommendations for organisations either looking to implement chatbots, virtual agents and live chat or who want to improve any of those tools they already have in place. Within minutes of finishing the live webinar, Chris received an email from an attendee that read, “I would like to say thank you for the best online presentation in my life.” Luckily you can also watch that recording on-demand here to experience it for yourself!

As always, we were busy sponsoring and joining our partners at industry events around the world during 2018 – Hong Kong, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, India – and were grateful to deliver thought leadership presentations and/or sit on expert panels at many of them. In addition to presenting at four of these events, Chris Ezekiel also penned an article for CRMXchange, Are You Ready for the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Your Contact Center?, which identifies three areas contact centres should focus on when it comes to developing and implementing digital initiatives and AI projects. We released two new Customer Success Stories this year: Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, who use virtual agent Roger to provide 24/7 support for customers on their website and Google Home; and a large Government Department that is reducing internal service desk costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent.

This year we celebrated the launch of a brand new Creative Virtual website that better reflects our company, brand and technology. We welcomed a number of great organisations to our expanding Global Partner Network, and our V-Person™ Family continued to grow with new deployments in a variety of languages and additional features and functionality being added to existing installs.

November marked the 15th anniversary of Chris Ezekiel founding Creative Virtual in London’s East End, and January will be the anniversary of when the company first started trading. As we finish out the end of 2018, we’re looking forward to celebrating our 15th anniversary next year!

Don’t forget to check out our 2018 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. We’ve compiled photos from our official events and presentations as well as our fun group activities, company celebrations and fundraising activities. There will still be more photos to come, so be sure to like our Facebook page so you don’t miss any.

Jumping on the Bandwagon isn’t the Same as Following Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Every industry has best practices – guidelines, methods or techniques accepted as the most efficient and effective way to accomplish a desired result. Sometimes when something new comes along or starts to get industry attention, the hype can make it easy to confuse jumping on the bandwagon with following proven best practice. This is particularly true when it comes to technologies that are thrust in the spotlight through mainstream media buzz.

The explosion of media hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots over the past few years – and the subsequent confusion in the customer experience (CX) space – is one of topics Creative Virtual discusses in our article for The Parliamentary Review. The Parliamentary Review is a series of independent British publications which aims to share best practice among policy makers and business leaders. They combine commentaries from award-winning journalists with innovative thinking from industry experts. Creative Virtual was invited to contribute this year as a Best Practice Representative for the technology sector.

Partially spurred by Facebook’s introduction of bots for their Messenger Platform, the media buzz around AI and chatbots has created a renewed interest in the technology over the past couple of years. While this had a positive effect in garnering more attention for using chatbots and virtual agents to deliver automated self-service, it also played a role in creating industry confusion. Some vendors tried to jump on the AI bandwagon, but ended up overpromising and creating unrealistic expectations for AI chatbots.

Based on our experience, we at Creative Virtual knew that pure AI was not the right option for automated customer service, and so we continued to present our hybrid approach of self-learning and human curation of content as industry best practice. This involved us working to educate the marketplace about the realities of the technology and using chatbots to provide a predictable and reliable self-service option, instead of jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Now the initial hype has died down and those unrealistic promises have turned into chatbot pilots that are failing or never got off the ground at all. The decision to stand firm in our hybrid approach to implementing our chatbots and virtual agents in spite of the buzz has strengthened our position as thought leaders and trusted consultants in the industry. It has also allowed the organisations we work with to take advantage of recent AI advancements while also continuing to provide quality self-service experiences for their customers and employees in line with industry best practice.

Be sure to check out our full three-page article in the 2018 Technology Review to learn more about Creative Virtual’s story, how we created a company culture of innovation, teamwork and ownership, and why our future looks bright.