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Virtual Agent Usage Spikes as Self-Service Rescues the Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Making a call to a customer service contact centre can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience on a regular day. Throw in a global pandemic and all bets are off. Many organisations are struggling with an overwhelming increase in calls and the closure of call centres. Customers are taking to social media to complain about being unable to get through to call centres and being disconnected after waiting on hold for hours. Companies are asking customers to avoid calling them and adding notifications about long call wait times on their websites.

More customers are turning to company websites and apps for support, in some cases out of sheer desperation because they can’t get through to a contact centre agent and in other cases because they have been proactively directed there by the business. Companies with existing online support and easy-to-use self-service tools are at an obvious advantage. These organisations can ‘rescue’ the customer experience by guiding customers to the information they need online while at the same time relieving some of the pressure from their contact centre so agents can better serve customers with questions that need human support.

In a recent blog post, my colleague Laura Ludmany talked about the sharp increase of traffic Creative Virtual’s banking virtual agents had experienced over the previous month. As she pointed out, it’s not unusual for us to see an increase in usage during significant events. However, this sudden spike surpassed anything we’ve seen in the 16 years of the company’s history. With the help of another colleague and analyst extraordinaire, Lester Lane, I took a closer look at our recent virtual agent traffic.

The graph below shows virtual agent traffic globally and across multiple industries for the period of 1 January 2019 through 12 April 2020. Starting from late February, you can clearly see the number of transactions trending sharply upwards and peaking at the beginning of April.

virtual agent traffic

To put this in context a bit more – by 12 April 2020, these virtual agents had reached nearly 50% of the total traffic they recorded for all of 2019, despite being only about a quarter of the way through this year. During the approximately month and a half between 1 March and 12 April 2020, these installs completed 30% more transactions than during January and February of this year.

It’s also interesting to break down the virtual agent traffic by region. The graph below compares traffic from our Europe-based installs and those from North America. Spikes in usage of our European virtual agents start showing up earlier, a reflection of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders becoming more widespread there before North America. The traffic increases also correlate with the timings of announcements about government schemes and stimulus packages in the UK and the US, two of the main countries where Creative Virtual has virtual agents deployed.

virtual agent usage

I’m curious to watch how virtual agent traffic changes over the coming months as coronavirus-related restrictions are eased – and potentially reinstated – and the world continues to transition. Will customers having their first virtual agent experience during the pandemic make those self-service tools their go-to for future support questions, thereby raising average usage figures? Only time will tell.

Hungry for more stats? Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service which delves into survey responses from customers on their customer service preferences and business leaders on their usage of self-service technologies.

The Impact of Customer Experience Developments on the Future of Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

There is always an element of uncertainty we must take into account when planning for the future. This has perhaps never been truer on a global scale than right now as we face the unpredictable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be the right time to book your next beach getaway or send out invitations for your extended family reunion, smart companies should be looking towards the future impacts of customer experience (CX) developments and consumer expectations.

In the recently published report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service (available for download in a UK version and in a US version), ContactBabel takes a deep dive into the current status of CX self-service technologies, use cases and customer preferences. Each version of the report breaks down the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 consumers in that country on their expectations of a good customer experience. The report then compares those responses with survey responses from organisations on their current and planned self-service offerings and investments.

The last section of the report analyses responses from business leaders on the future of CX, self-service and the contact centre. This includes a question on how important various CX developments will be on their organisation in the next two years. The two graphs below summarise their responses – the first is responses from the UK, the second from the US:

ContactBabel Self-Service GuideContactBabel Self-Service Guide

In the US survey, 61% of respondents identified AI/self-service as being very important, up from just 51% in 2018. The UK survey found a similar noteworthy increase in responses from the 2018 survey for AI/self-service. This reflects the significant developments made in the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer service space over the past several years. The hype around AI-powered self-service tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, has evolved into a more practical and realistic view giving organisations more confidence to pursue the technology.

It also reflects the increased adoption of digital self-service by customers over the same period. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using self-service chatbots and virtual agents. They appreciate being able to get help and support instantaneously at any time of day or night. In both the UK and US customer surveys cited in the ContactBabel reports, respondents identified website self-service/mobile app as their preferred method to contact a company for a high urgency interaction. Nearly half of all respondents selected self-service over other options such as phoning the call centre or sending an email.

Self-Service Guide

Self-Service Guide

It will be interesting to see how these trends change over the next 12 months as companies rise to the challenges of supporting customers during and after coronavirus-related shutdowns and social distancing measures. There has already been a significant uptick in the use of self-service tools like virtual agents as contact centres struggle to respond to the sudden surge of incoming calls, chats and emails. Will this result in a more permanent increase in customers turning to self-service as their first point of contact for support issues? And will the more intense focus on digital strategies within organisations, currently driven by necessity, continue as they see the benefits of the changes they are making?

Despite all the uncertainty and unpredictability of the coming year, organisations must take action now to assess their customers’ needs and expectations in order to prioritise CX developments. Download The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – find the UK version here and the US version here – for more insights and self-service use cases.

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 2

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

As described in my previous post, financial organisations find themselves under immense pressure due to the unfolding coronavirus crisis; they have to respond quickly to rapid changes. Delivering excellent customer service is more important than ever, as it can be a real ‘make it or break it’ experience for customers looking for quick answers in these uncertain times. I’m going to describe a retail bank’s response to this demand.

In this project, we have built a successful collaboration with the product owners: the client is involved in the content curation process, adding new and amending existing questions and answers, while Creative Virtual deals with the AI related and more complicated tasks, such as NLP (natural language processing), semantics and approvals. However, this workflow can be easily altered at any time, and we can step in to manage and take care of the content completely if this is required.

The product owner of the virtual agent also works closely with their live chat department, enabling the bank to fully optimise their virtual agent content based on their live chat agents’ feedback. This is an extremely beneficial symbiosis – by this continuous cooperation, the virtual agent takes the pressure off the live chat centre and the live chat agents can improve the performance of the chatbot. In early March, after having sent the initial quick review of coronavirus user inputs, there was a very speedy and effective response from the bank. Based on the analysis provided by Creative Virtual, plus their call centre and live chat feedback, they were able to identify the most frequent (and pressing) queries and produce new FAQs for the virtual agent to cover these. This content was placed under a dedicated new FAQ category and also displayed as start content, to make it fully visible and accessible for users.

In this way, the retail bank was really successful in promoting their active ownership of the situation at an early stage. These times can be a dividing line for the marketplace, as reactivity and speed of solution delivery can really win customers’ trust; and a vague general information or a Contact us page won’t help, as each user is looking for a precise answer matching their individual needs. In these unprecedented times, I have found myself reaching out for specific information, often at odd times of the day, and even well-established companies are failing to fulfil the demand to provide effective customer self-service tools. With everything being up in the air, customers are simply not in a mindset to browse through the Help pages, which seem like a maze when searching for that tiny bit of crucial information they need.

As events unfolded, our product owner at this bank was extremely strained due to the high number of customer queries coming through their call centre and live chat departments, thus asked us to take over. This is one of the benefits of our orchestration platform and AI solutions – our clients can look after their own virtual agent, but it doesn’t have to be forgotten and left alone if they suddenly need to put their internal focus elsewhere. The Creative Virtual team can always step in and provide full-service support in these situations to keep the virtual agent regularly updated at especially critical times.

One of the other benefits of our flexible workflows, strong collaborations and close relations with our clients is that we can reduce our turn-around times significantly. As Knowledgebase Engineers work on different projects, we can bring over discoveries to other projects and work on targeted content updates very effectively. I love looking after several projects, as I always get fresh ideas and it’s never a dull day. During this pandemic period, we have created special coronavirus related knowledge packs which are quite easy to implement in multiple projects, so our completion time of required updates became very low. By being involved in and managing these different datasets, we see a more holistic view of user behaviour patterns and can suggest ways to improve customer experience accordingly.

This is a fast-paced period – as things develop, more and more content needs to be amended so the virtual agent is being optimised continuously. However, this client uses a smart approach to deal with rapid changes to sustain the high level of quality answers. In cases when certain FAQs might need to be updated weekly (or even daily), there has been a switch to use reassuring and supportive language, describing the nature of uncertainty of the topic and inserting a link to the appropriate websites (both bank and government sides), where customers can keep an eye on regular updates. Our stats show a high customer satisfaction on these virtual agent answers. Being able to understand the question and deliver an appropriate link to the right section of the website is already enough to give users peace of mind.

Based on this observation, another way this retail bank is maximising their virtual agent has been using it to promote other self-service options on their website to customers. Whenever they have options such as online application platforms, downloadable dispute and refund forms and so forth, the virtual agent will deliver an answer that proactively guides customers to these sections. By updating and adding FAQs to handle these queries too, they have been able to take more pressure off their overly busy contact centres.

With these steps and high level of responsiveness, this retail bank continues to provide immediate support to their customers through their Creative Virtual powered chatbot. Available 24/7 and able to handle thousands of real time user queries simultaneously, the AI-enhanced tool is giving some comfort and peace of mind to customers in these uncertain times.

If your organisation could benefit from offering your own virtual agent, check out this Best Practices Whitepaper from destinationCRM on selecting a virtual agent for your self-service project. You can also request a personalised demo to see how Creative Virtual’s solutions can fit with your internal workflows to improve the self-service you offer.

Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

We are experiencing unprecedented times and the world is rapidly transforming with loads of uncertainty arising day by day. Our normal routine has changed, and we need to get used to dealing with coronavirus related situations and disruptions. Naturally, we are all seeking reassurance, guidance, help and support.

At Creative Virtual, we monitor our deployments continuously, and our tools are very sensitive to quick changes. We can always clearly see social patterns and trends being reflected in the usage of our virtual agents. During crisis times, no matter how big or small, the usage stats always jump up and the vast majority of the increase can often be attributed to those recent events or announcements.

In the last 4 weeks, on average, the traffic of our banking virtual agents has doubled. We could see a huge increase in usage during other crisis periods in the last 6 months (such as the Thomas Cook bankruptcy in September and Brexit related queries). However, this huge spike is unrivalled. As we kept a close eye on incoming stats, I sent a quick review to my clients of user inputs mentioning coronavirus and synonyms at a very early stage.

As the situation developed, organisations had to react quickly to changes and provide instant support and help to their customers. A quick and initial solution was to add a general FAQ for coronavirus, with high priority, meaning that single keyword would pick up any virtual agent inputs containing the word ‘coronavirus’ (even if the question contained other recognisable words, such as ‘loans’). In these times, a proactive approach by financial organisations can really make a difference to customers, as everyone wants to feel reassured instantly and see how their bank copes with the crisis. With this quick coronavirus keyword solution, customers who reached out to their bank through Creative Virtual powered chatbots, could see the responsiveness of their bank and could be guided to the general ‘Coronavirus Hub’ FAQs.

The next question organisations had to figure out was what customers were really asking for, in regard to the pandemic, to be able to provide self-service options (both through their virtual agent and other website updates). Within a few days, one of the banking virtual agents I look after had more than 3,000 recorded user queries around the crisis. All of these user queries were recognised by our high prioritised keyword and allowed me to start our analysis and content tuning. In these times, when call centres and live chat agents are under immense pressure, having thousands of customer questions being handled by an automated 24/7 service is invaluable.

I find it fascinating to work on these queries and look for patterns. After cleaning the data and removing very general inputs about ‘Coronavirus’, we could identify 9 main topics users are after. Some of these topics were expected, such as credit card and mortgage payment holidays. However, we also identified topics which we initially haven’t thought about, such as travel, holiday and flight cancellations and premium club cinema ticket expiry dates. This analysis and suggested list of FAQs/topics were sent to the client. This insight was extremely helpful and enabled them to act quickly, reaching out to all internal departments of the company in order to update both website and virtual agent content accordingly. Within 48 hours, the company’s virtual agents (deployed across multiple branded websites) were able to provide instant and appropriate guidance and support to all these coronavirus related questions and hopefully give a bit of comfort to users who are looking for answers to their questions in these uncertain times.

The increases in virtual agent traffic our customers are seeing isn’t only coming from coronavirus questions, though. Due to lockdowns, stay-at-home measurements and customer care centres’ increased waiting times, people are more likely to reach out to virtual agents generally – and here comes a personal story!

As I was chatting with my brother last weekend, he was complaining that he couldn’t get to speak with a live chat agent either on the banking app nor the website, and he needed his IBAN urgently (I would say, typical user behaviour – an IBAN is badly needed, 9pm on Saturday!). He happens to be a customer of the very same financial organisation this blog post is about, so this is an insight into a real-life customer. I explained to him, with great care, that live chat agents are very likely to be not working at this time of day, and then I proudly guided him to the virtual agent I’ve been working on for years now. After asking ‘What’s my IBAN’, he was overly impressed as he managed to find it immediately. I have encouraged him to use the virtual agent frequently, without sparing good feedback. Also, this was the first time I could demonstrate my actual work as a Knowledgebase Engineer to my brother!

The recently added Coronavirus FAQs are triggered thousands of times weekly (sometimes daily), but there is also a general trend of people increasingly interacting with our virtual agents for help with a variety of topics, which continues to prove their value. We keep monitoring performance to discover more and more topics, so we are able to better help people as we are all in this together.

For some more information about the benefits of using virtual agents to support customers during this uncertain time, check out Part 1 of this blog series on self-service. You can also request a personalised demo to see first-hand how this technology, and Knowledgebase Engineers like myself, can help your organisation improve your self-service.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 3: Supporting Employees

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

So far in this series we have discussed using chatbots, virtual agents and conversational AI to offer easy-to-use customer self-service (Part 1) and as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents (Part 2). In this third and final instalment, let’s explore how this technology can be used to deliver a positive employee support experience.

Organisations of all sizes and across all industries are being faced with difficult decisions as they work to keep employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting employees has become more important than ever before and, at the same time, more challenging than ever before. With new regulations and policies around social distancing and quarantines, companies are suddenly faced with entire workforces working from home, reductions to just essential employees and the temporary suspension of in-person interactions.

Luckily there are digital tools organisations can put in place that will help employees navigate this ‘new normal’ and improve productivity and efficiency. AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents empower employees to self-serve when and where they need support. This both improves the experience for employees and reduces the pressure of staffing human-assisted channels, such as internal support desks and helplines, to deal with increased demand.

The flexibility of conversational virtual agent technology lends itself to a wide range of successful employee support use cases. Here are a few that are especially relevant to support employees in the current uncertain situation:

  • IT supporthelp desk requests, system access and password resets, application support – Employees transitioning to working from home will inevitably have questions, especially if they are using technologies with which they are unfamiliar. There are lots of entertaining stories about technical fails circling the internet, like this story of a boss accidently changing herself into a potato during a videoconference. Finding the humour in these very relatable situations brings us together and is important during such a stressful time. What is not funny for employees is when they can’t get the technical support they need to do their jobs. A chatbot or virtual agent gives them 24/7 access to self-service so regardless of when they run into problems, they can find information and step-by-step troubleshooting guides to help resolve their issues.
  • HR support company policies/procedures support, time-off requests, payroll questions, expense report assistance – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have put new policies and procedures in place for employees or made updates to existing ones. With so much new information – combined with new working and family routines – employees can benefit from a way to easily get their questions answered. Virtual agents remove the need for employees to search through an entire policy document for a specific piece of information by instantly pulling out the relevant content for them. The technology can also be set up with a handhold feature to guide employees through the completion of forms and HR-related requests.
  • Staff support documentation support, staff training, product guides, device/machine support – This third category covers a wide range of specialised use cases. Organisations are being faced with the challenge of supporting employees digitally – in some cases for the first time ever – and should explore how an internal-facing virtual agent may be able to help them do that. Everything from training programmes to product guides to documentation assistance lend themselves well to intelligent automated support. With options to integrate with Single Sign-On (SSO), employee profiles, knowledge management platforms and other backend systems, these tools can provide an extremely personalised experience for employees.

Take a look at this Customer Success Story from a large government department that has been reducing their internal service desks costs and improving employee productivity with a virtual agent for several years.

I mentioned in Part 1 that chatbots and virtual agents are not only cost-effective tools for providing digital self-service, but that they can also be deployed quickly with a high-level of performance. That quick timeline is hugely important for organisations now as they rise to the challenge of delivering quality service and support. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Do your homework – It’s natural during stressful, uncertain times to act on feelings of panic. Unfortunately, that can lead to decisions that aren’t thought out and ultimately compound the problem. Even if you are moving forward with a virtual agent project quickly, still take the time to do your homework. Make sure the solution you are selecting will work for your organisation’s goals and internal structure. A basic or off-the-shelf chatbot may sound good because it’s super fast to deploy, but will it be able to accurately and consistently answer the questions your customers, agents and/or employees are going to ask? A DIY solution may have an attractive price tag, but do you have the internal expertise and time to build a tool that will provide a positive experience for users?
  • Look at the bigger picture – Even if you’re starting with a small, very specific chatbot deployment you still need to consider how it fits into your larger digital strategy. Select a solution that you will be able to expand and can be integrated with other channels and systems (such as live chat, voice technology, personalised account information, ticketing systems, etc.). Even if you aren’t looking to create a scalable and robust tool right now, you want to have the ability to easily do that down the road. Failure to identify the role of a virtual agent in the overall customer or employee experience often leads to organisations wasting time and money on a project that they end up replacing. If you have an existing tool that isn’t performing well in the current situation or doesn’t fit with the new digital reality of your company, now is the time to upgrade it. The good news is, you won’t have to start a new project from scratch. And that brings me to my third tip. . .
  • Use what you already have – The best way to jumpstart the development of a new chatbot or virtual agent is to use data that you already have as initial training data. This may be live chat transcripts, call centre transcripts or existing chatbot projects. When you are selecting a vendor to work with on your project, make sure to ask if and how they can leverage your existing data to fast-track the development process and give the virtual agent a high level of accuracy from day 1.

If you are looking for industry research to help you with your business case or strategy, be sure to download the recently released ContactBabel report The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service. It is a long report but provides valuable insights from consumers on their preferences and usage of self-service channels as well as use cases and results from organisations currently offering self-service options.

When you’re ready to get started on your own chatbot or virtual agent project, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.

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.

Digital CX Challenge: Humanising Your Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

For as long as virtual agents and chatbots have been used by companies to provide customer self-service, they have been criticised for removing the human touch from interactions and taking away the opportunity to build an emotional connection with customers. While some organisations have used that as a reason for not providing automated tools for customer service, they are now facing the reality that more and more customers want – and expect – self-service solutions. This is putting more pressure on organisations than ever before as they try to figure out how to bring together self-service with the human element.

On 3rd October, a new event is coming to London that is focused specifically on this challenge. The Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference is a one-day event being held at the Museum of London Docklands. Creative Virtual is proud to be an event sponsor, and Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel will present a session titled ‘Conversational AI & the Human Touch’. As someone with many years of experience working with enterprise executives and industry experts, Chris understands the challenges companies face when implementing self-service as part of their digital customer experience strategies:

“This conference is addressing an important aspect of today’s customer experience – keeping the human element even as organisations transition to more digital and self-service solutions. Offering intelligent chatbot and virtual agent tools should never mean a removal of humans from your customer service and support strategy.”

During his presentation, Chris will share industry research and live demonstrations as he explores best practices for combining conversational AI and self-service with the human touch for a seamless, omnichannel customer experience. He’ll help attendees gain a better understanding of:

  • Current challenges companies face when implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat
  • Reasons why conversational AI and self-service solutions need a combination of self-learning and human input
  • Tips for selecting, deploying and maintaining successful digital self-service tools

More information and a full copy of the event programme can be found on the Humanising Digital & Self-Serve Conference website. As an event sponsor, Creative Virtual is able to offer our blog readers a discount on tickets – use code Partner150 when booking your pass online.

If you’re unable to attend the event or just want to learn more about how you can bring together humans, AI and self-service in a way that creates reliability and consistency for your organisation and your customers, request a live demo with a member of our expert team.

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.

Supporting Customers and Employees in the Digital Age

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Every organisation is going through a digital transformation, particularly in regard to their customer and employee experiences. Virtual agents and chatbots are ideal for supporting both digital customers and employees with a reliable and consistent self-service option that also helps reduce support costs and improve efficiency.

At Creative Virtual self-service solutions are our specialty, and we’re honoured to be named ‘Best Self-Service Solutions Provider 2017’ by Corporate Vision Magazine’s UK Corporate Excellence Awards 2017. For over 14 years we’ve delivered bespoke virtual agents and chatbots designed to provide a quick, easy way for users to get information and troubleshoot issues.

Once viewed as a novelty or ‘cool’ thing to have, virtual agents are now a key component of many customer engagement strategies. Smartphones, social media and a variety of other technological advancements have changed how we communicate with each other and how we want to communicate with brands. The traditional ways of providing customer service are no longer meeting the expectations of digital customers. As a society, we’re more inclined to seek out self-help options and are becoming increasingly more comfortable with using chatbots and virtual agents.

Despite most organisations being focused on improving their customer experience for a while now, an emphasis on improving the employee experience is relatively new for many. Yet organisations are starting to feel more pressure to make internal changes to better engage a digital workforce and lower costs. Virtual agents are proving to be a great fit for internal service desk and HR departments, giving employees an easy way to self-serve in a variety of situations. By giving employees the tools to troubleshoot and solve common problems anytime, anywhere on their preferred device, organisations can reduce costs and improve productivity.

Check out this recent webinar AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth, now available to watch on-demand, for a look at how organisations are already using virtual agents and chatbots to improve engagement with digital customers and employees.

Our thanks to Corporate Vision Magazine and the UK Corporate Excellence Awards for this honour!

Navigating the Chatbot Confusion in 2018

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

The new year is here, and with it has come much of the confusion from last year about chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) and how it all fits with your organisation’s business goals. It’s easy to get swept up in the media hype. For some that means approaching chatbot and virtual agent projects with inflated expectations, and for others that leads to a scepticism about it all being a passing fad.

At Creative Virtual, we’ve always taken pride in the relationships we’ve built with our customers, guiding them through best practices for implementing this technology and keeping their solutions successful year after year. Recently we’ve seen our ability to act as expert consultants become more important than ever.

I’m proud to share that our industry expertise has won us two awards as part of Corporate Vision Magazine’s 2017 Consultancy & Advisory Awards: Best Self-Service Solutions Advisory Firm 2017 and Digital Marketing Consultant of the Year 2017 – UK. Congratulations to the whole Creative Virtual team!

There are several different aspects to our consultancy role in the industry. One part is general education about the technology to help dispel the confusion created from the media hype and overpromising of some industry vendors. This involves speaking at industry events around the world, presenting on webinars and publishing educational materials. A few resources I recommend you check out:

  • AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth – In this webinar, which is now available to watch on-demand, I dive into the confusion, false claims and inflated expectations to separate the truth from the myth. I share a realistic look at machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space and present a series of live demonstrations of the technology.
  • Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! – This educational whitepaper walks readers through the various names and terminology being used in the industry, tips for selecting a system to meet your objectives and current use cases for conversational self-service.
  • AI, Chatbots and Virtual Agents: The Threat to Mankind and the Contact Centre – In this whitepaper, readers will get a realistic view of AI and chatbots in the customer experience space and how this technology is impacting the contact centre. It also covers ways you can leverage chatbots and virtual agents to prepare your contact centre for the future.

Our team also provides one-on-one advice and guidance for organisations. We’re passionate about helping businesses select the right solutions, guiding them step-by-step through the implementation process and then ensuring their deployments continue to meet the changing needs of users. We also continuously look for new and innovative ways our technology can be used to meet business needs. For example, we were helping organisations deploy virtual agents for employee self-service long before industry analysts were talking about that as a potential use case.

I firmly believe that just as important as choosing the right technology is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions. Contact us to learn more about how the expert Creative Virtual team can help you navigate the chatbot confusion as you look to implement your 2018 support strategies.