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Customer Service Week Musings: How does a machine know if it’s wrong?

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

There are many comparisons dealing with the main differences between humans and machines. One of the recurring points is while humans have consciousness and morals, machines can only know what they are programmed to, hence they are not able to distinguish right from wrong unless they are provided data to make decisions based on that information. There have been many discussions on the self-awareness of robots, which is a topic as old as Artificial Intelligence, starting from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics, continuing to the Turing test and nowadays AI ethics organisations.

One thing is commonly agreed – bots need to be ‘taught’ morals, and to achieve this there could be two approaches, both having their advantages and disadvantages. The first one contains a loose set of rules, but plenty of space for flexibility; this system could always reply to questions. However, it could also result in many false positives cases and could go wrong on many levels. The other would mean more rules and a narrower approach. The system could answer a limited number of queries, however, with very few or non-false judgements.

What does this mean from the customer service and customer experience (CX) view and for virtual agents answering real time customer queries? If we narrow down our conditions, bots would deliver the right answers at most times. However, they could not recognise many simple questions, making users frustrated. The same can happen with the loose set of conditions: the assistant would easily deliver answers but could misinterpret inputs, resulting again in annoyance.

To solve this problem, we must use a hybrid approach: an AI tool can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs. While we can add our well-established set of rules based on previous data and set a vague network of conditions, the bot will learn day-by-day by discovering new ways of referring to the same products or queries through user interactions. Half of a virtual assistant’s strength is its database, containing these sets of rules. The other half lies within its analytics, which is an often-overlooked feature. What else could be better training for a CX tool than the customers leaving feedback at the very time an answer was delivered? Conversation surveys are not only important to measure the performance of the tool. They are also crucial for our virtual assistants to be able to learn what is wrong and what is right.

Our approach at Creative Virtual to reporting is to follow the trends of ever-changing user behaviour. We offer traditional surveys, which measure if a specific answer was classified as helpful or not by the user and if it saved a call. Sometimes, the specific required action or transaction cannot be performed through self-service options and the customer must make a call, or else, the answer has been slightly overlooked and needs to be updated – for these cases there is a designated comment section, so users can express themselves freely.

We all know from personal experience, that we can’t always be bothered to fill out long or detailed surveys – we are on the go and just want to find the information we were looking for without spending extra time to leave feedback. This is typical user behaviour, and for this we came up with different options for our clients such as star ratings and thumbs up and down, keeping the free text box, to make the rating simpler for users. The solutions deployed are always dependent on the requirements and preferences of our clients, which are in line with the nature of their business and their website design. For example, financial organisations usually go with the traditional options for their customer-facing self-service tools, but internal deployments often have more creative user feedback options.

What if, during a conversation, a virtual assistant delivered the correct answer to five questions, but two answers advised the user to call the customer contact centre and one answer was slightly outdated? Does this rate as an unsuccessful conversation, due to three unhelpful answers? To solve this dilemma, we have End of Conversation Surveys, which ask customers to rate the whole conversation, on a scale to 1-10 and choose what they would have had done without the virtual assistant. As always, there is a free text box for further communication from the customer to the organisation. These surveys show high satisfaction levels as they measure the overall success of the conversation, which can have some flaws (just as in human-to-human interactions), but still can be rated pleasant and helpful.

Let’s take a step further – how can the virtual assistant learn if it was right or wrong if none of these surveys have been taken up by the user? Is this valuable data lost? Our Creative (Virtual) analytics team have levelled up their game and came up with a solution! During voice interactions, such as incoming calls to customer contact centres, there is a straightforward way to understand if the conversation wasn’t successful, even if it wasn’t stated explicitly, as the tone might change or the same questions might be repeated. But how can we rate a written communication with our customer? There has been a specific platform developed, which sits on the top of our previously described survey layers. This platform classifies the whole conversation, with a carefully weighed several-factor-system, which can be tailored to our client’s needs, containing factors such as if there has been more than one transaction, whether the last customer input was recognised by the virtual assistant, if there have been negative user responses recorded, etc.. The primary ‘hard’ indicators remain the user-filled surveys, so this is just a nice icing on the cake, as our mature deployments show over 80% of successful conversation rates.

With our proactive approach and multi-layer analytics tool sets, we can be sure that our virtual assistants will learn more and more about what is right and wrong, to increase the customer satisfaction level continuously. However, I think no machine will ever be able to answer all questions correctly, as this would mean that deployments have stopped being fed up-to-date real-life data. Our world is changing rapidly as are our user queries. These cannot be fully predicted ahead, just analysed and reacted to appropriately. As long as AI tools serve customer queries, they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.

As we celebrate Customer Service Week this year, we need to recognise the role customers play in helping to teach our AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants right from wrong and the experts that know how to gather, analyse and incorporate that data to help train those tools. Check out our special buyer’s guide that explains why experience matters for using this hybrid approach to create reliable and always learning bots.

Finding a Clear Path Forward for Digital Customer Experience Priorities

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

It’s the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A question that should be easier for companies to answer – and one that has become increasingly important this year: If your customers expect support on digital channels and you aren’t there to provide it, do you lose those customers to competitors who are?

A new survey conducted by Econsultancy and Marketing Week with marketers around the world found that, among customer-facing organisations with £50 million or more in annual revenue, 63% of respondents said they observed a “strong trend” of consumers adopting digital features more quickly as a result of COVID-19. An additional 33% saw “some trend’ of this happening.

Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ virtual agents and chatbots certainly experienced this trend, setting a record-breaking spike in usage during the first half of 2020. Using these digital self-service tools gave customers an easy way to find the most up-to-date information quickly during a time when contact centres were struggling with long hold and response times, reduced staffing and rapidly changing situations.

Often this trend towards using digital channels has been linked to Millennials and younger generations. However, the Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey found 40% of participants had observed a “strong trend” and 55% had observed “some trend” towards digital adoption among older consumers. This further highlights the importance of, and makes a stronger case for, digital transformation within organisations.

Regardless of whether this move to digital options is due to customer preference or out of necessity – physical locations closed, contact centres inundated, etc. – smart organisations know they need to pay attention and take action to support customers where they are. Digital customer experience (CX) projects can feel overwhelming – a massive undertaking without a clear path forward – during this time when so much seems overwhelming and uncertain.

Forrester analyst Judy Weader talks about CX prioritisation in a recent blog post as an important way for companies to make sound decisions. Not having a structured, consistent approach to prioritisation can lead to making poor choices on where to apply budget and staff, wasting critical time and under-delivering for customers. To help focus efforts and keep from being overwhelmed, Judy recommends prioritisation of CX improvement projects should be a conscious action, based on fact, and grounded in what matters most.

Some organisations may have actioned decisions quickly as a result of COVID-19, moving forward with digital projects initially thought to be temporary solutions to a temporary situation. Those projects should be re-examined and potentially prioritised as more permanent initiatives. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of digital tools and features, your CX might need more of a digital focus to give them the options and support expected on those channels.

If you are considering adding a chatbot or virtual agent to your list of CX priorities, the on-demand webinar Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents is a useful resource. The webinar covers questions to ask when adding a self-service solution to your digital CX strategy, tips for selecting the right technology and a series of demonstrations showcasing live implementations across a variety of customer touchpoints.

As digital adoption among consumers across all age groups continues to trend upwards, you must take the proper steps to prioritise and focus your efforts to find the best way forward for your company and your customers. If you aren’t providing the digital tools and support customers expect and need, chances are they will leave you for a competitor that does.

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.