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Setting Realistic Expectations for AI-Enhanced CX Technologies

By Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer

On 31 October I joined my colleague Liam Ryan at the 2019 CXtech Conference & Technology Showcase, which was co-located with the AI & Robotics Conference, in London.  Even though it was the fourth year Creative Virtual sponsored the joint events, it was my first opportunity to represent the company, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Liam and I chatted about what the day held in store while attendees started to arrive. The day was packed with presentations from experts in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry, aimed at advising participants who were looking to find out more about this ever-growing technology. Liam was due to present at 10 am on the “Evolution of Customer Experience”. I could tell how much he was looking forward to it!

I was manning the Creative Virtual stand for most of the time so didn’t get to see many of the presentations, but I did join the audience for Liam’s presentation.

He reminisced for a short time about the olden days when phones were smart if you could send a text and computers couldn’t be popped in a bag to take to work, before talking about the high expectations of customers of today. He outlined Creative Virtual’s top tips for implementing chatbot, virtual agent and live chat technology. He went on to talk about how Creative Virtual are combining the technological advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence with the human touch to create customer experience solutions that deliver on the promises made.

After Liam’s presentation came a Q&A session and I was happily sitting as an anonymous participant, when Liam kindly put me on the spot to answer a question about how the deep learning works. That moment seems like a bit of a blur now, and I hope my reply was coherent! I explained how the deep learning, (based on a rather complicated algorithm!), works alongside customer intent, which is ultimately being overseen by a human to ensure a controlled evolution.

This was quite apt as it’s apparent that many companies are being given unrealistic expectations about what AI can achieve for them. In fact, we are finding that many companies either have struggled or are currently struggling with unsuccessful, and often very expensive, chatbot projects – some which have gone live, only to disappoint and others that never got off the ground. (Did you know that Creative Virtual is offering a free workshop to help companies who find themselves in this position?)

I spent the remainder my time at the conference talking to people who had been impressed with Liam’s presentation, and who’d come to find out more about what we do at Creative Virtual. It was interesting to see the varied reasons people were exploring the world of AI and what questions they had. These discussions made it obvious that companies are approaching chatbot and virtual agent technology as a must-have for their customer experience and employee engagement strategies. However, often they are being cautious because there are so many options in the marketplace that can’t deliver positive results.

The day made me feel quite privileged to work in such a fast-moving and exciting arena. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our stand to learn more and to the event organisers for putting together an insight day for both the sponsors and attendees.

If you missed the event or Liam’s keynote session, be sure to download our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent.

CXtech

We’re Coming to Rescue Your Failing Chatbot Project!

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In my role leading a global company, I have the opportunity to travel all over the world speaking at conferences, meeting with enterprise executives and collaborating with other industry experts. Everywhere I go, I hear stories from organisations that have started on chatbot projects which is exciting for the industry. Yet all too often that excitement turns to disappointment in these stories as we are seeing many of these projects failing or never coming to fruition.

I’m not alone in seeing this common theme. I’ve had many discussions with industry analysts this year who have echoed this same concern, and we’ve encountered this issue first-hand with some of our most recent customers who came to us for help after struggling with other chatbot products. Failing chatbot projects have also garnered negative press coverage for companies. Telecommunications company Telstra was in the news when their virtual agent Codi, a joint project with IBM and LivePerson, was branded a ‘virtual moron-idiot’ by customers. Failing to answer even basic questions, it left users frustrated and sharing their negative experiences with the world. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), a government agency in Australia, was criticised for spending more than $3.5 million AUD on an IBM Watson chatbot project that never even reached the testing stage. It’s not uncommon today to find enterprises with more than 10 internal chatbot projects in progress – and none of them actually delivering on their potential.

As someone who has been involved with virtual agent and chatbot technology since its infancy, I felt passionately that it was time for my company to act – and the expert team at Creative Virtual agreed. We know intimately how well this technology can work for enterprises and don’t want them to continue to miss out on those benefits. That’s why we are now on a Rescue Mission!

The goal of this mission is to rescue organisations struggling with poor performing chatbots and projects that never got off the ground. Instead of abandoning their failing projects, we are helping companies save their investments by leveraging what they already have and building on that to create a successful chatbot. We’re offering a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to our award-winning V-Person™ platform to get the transformation project started.

Creative Virtual is in a unique position to rescue these failing chatbot projects. As a company, we have over 15 years of experience in the virtual agent and chatbot space. Our very first enterprise customer is still a customer today – that’s 15 years of consistently delivering successful solutions for them! We’re able to do that because we have a highly experienced team that delivers best practice expertise alongside our innovative and award-winning technology.

Earlier this year Frost & Sullivan named Creative Virtual the AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leader. In their independent review, they praised not only the capabilities and performance of our technology but also the effective way we provide the guidance of an experienced strategic partner to our clients. That combination of people and technology is what makes us perfectly suited to lead this Rescue Mission!

If you’re struggling with a poor-performing chatbot/virtual agent or are unsure about what to do with a failing chatbot project (or 10 failing projects!), we want to help. Let Creative Virtual save your investment by transforming your failing chatbot into a successful conversational AI solution. Sign up today for your no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade.

We’re coming to rescue you!

AI, Customer Experience and the Financial Services Industry

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

When I founded Creative Virtual over 15 years ago, our very first customer was a financial organisation. Not only are they still a customer today, but they also became the first on a long list of brands our team would work with in the financial services industry. Over the years, we’ve developed an expertise in creating, implementing and maintaining chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for major financial organisations. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those insights with you in my opening keynote at the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum.

This one-day interactive event will be held on Thursday, 27 June at The Shard in London. The agenda features a combination of presentations, case studies and panel debates designed for attendees to gather insights and advice from leading experts and practitioners in the financial services space.

In my keynote, Taking Your CX into the Future with Conversational AI, I’ll explore the growing role customer experience (CX) is playing in customer acquisition and retention and address the specific challenges financial brands are facing as they look to incorporate new CX technologies with legacy systems while still maintaining compliance with strict industry regulations. Through a series of live demonstrations, I’ll show best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. I’ll also explain why a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and human input is necessary for successful and reliable CX solutions.

In today’s highly connected digital world, customers expect the same level of personalised, easy-to-access service and support from their financial institutions as they receive from companies across all other industries. It’s important for financial brands to work with an experienced team that provides best practice expertise – both specifically in the financial services industry and more generally in current and developing customer service trends – alongside innovative technology to deliver conversational AI solutions that are reliable, compliant and futureproof.

I’m also looking forward to being on a panel debate hosted by Martin Hill-Wilson, an expert in customer engagement strategy and implementation. Creative Virtual is the official sponsor of the Directors’ Forum, and we’ll have members of our team on hand to share more live demos and tips to help attendees build their business case for conversational AI.

There are a limited number of tickets still available for the AI & CX Transforming Financial Services Directors’ Forum, so reserve your spot today!

You can also learn more by downloading our Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 and see our conversational AI platform in action by requesting a personalised demo.

The Campaign to Win Over Customers

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In electoral campaigns, candidates share their ideas, come up with catchy slogans and make promises to gain the support of voters and best their opponents. For businesses, every day is like a day on the campaign trail. There is a constant battle with competitors as they try to outdo each other with a superior product or service, lower pricing and an easier customer experience. As customers, we are choosing the winners and the losers every day by deciding where to spend our money.

I wrote recently about the prediction that 2020 will be the year that customer experience overtakes product and price as the number one way companies will differentiate themselves in the marketplace. While we don’t have long to wait to see if that prediction comes to fruition, businesses don’t have the luxury of taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. If they haven’t already been putting time and effort into improvements to their customer experience and cultivating the company culture needed to make that a priority, they’ve put themselves at a great disadvantage.

I’ve also written before about the so-called ‘Amazon effect’ on customer experience expectations. Amazon and other companies that are delivering high quality experiences, including excellent service and support, are creating a customer base that is now expecting that same level of customer experience from all the organisations they engage with, regardless of industry. This is helping to push customer experience ahead of product and price in purchasing decisions.

Case in point: over the weekend I got a text from a friend that read ‘Lesson learned…I’m sticking with Amazon from now on…returns are super easy!’ She had been dealing with a drawn-out and frustrating return process for an item that, had she purchased it from Amazon, could have been sorted out in minutes on their website. That business had just lost a customer because of the poor experience they delivered; an experience that didn’t meet the expectations created by a customer knowing there could have been a simpler, quicker process in place.

Customer service and support is one area of the overall customer experience where organisations have often struggled to keep customers happy. One reason is the rapid change in how we communicate both with companies and each other, driven by technology and increased internet access. Not that long ago, businesses were only dealing with providing support in person, over the phone or via email. Now customers are looking for answers and information on websites, social media, messaging apps and smart speakers, too.

Forward-thinking companies understand that the future of customer service lies in automation. It’s not feasible to support customers on every communication channel with humans alone – and customers don’t expect that. Conversational chatbots and virtual agents are a smart way to deliver automated self-service for customers across multiple channels. These automated solutions can also be used to assist customer service agents in the contact centre to improve both the customer and agent experience. The key is to be smart about this automation, though. Work with a knowledgeable team to implement the right combination of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and human input to set your efforts up for long-term success.

In the relentless campaign to win over customers, it’s easy for businesses to promise a seamless, easy and positive customer experience. But as customer experience becomes more and more important in the decision-making process, it will be the companies that deliver on those promises that will come out victorious.

Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Chatbots and virtual agents have proven themselves to be quality self-service solutions, being increasingly implemented by smart organisations to provide support and being increasingly preferred by customers and employees for quick, easy access to information. Many more organisations around the world either have a virtual agent on their 2019 roadmap or are considering adding one. Yet, despite all the success stories, there are also stories of failed implementations and conflicting messages about artificial intelligence (AI) that are giving decisionmakers pause.

The explosion of interest in chatbots over the last several years helped bring attention to the technology but has left the market confused with media hype and a growing number of new, inexperienced vendors trying to break into the industry. It can be difficult to know how to select the best technology and implement it for long-term success, but organisations shouldn’t let this deter them from plans to offer a conversational self-service tool.

Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 addresses the most important items organisations should consider when evaluating and deploying this technology with eight actionable recommendations covering topics including:

  • Building your business case around the right key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Selecting a technology that fits with your roadmap and provides the necessary security and integration options
  • Collaborating with a vendor that can provide expertise beyond just the technology
  • Implementing your solution to create a seamless omnichannel experience
  • Keeping your solution accurate and up-to-date with the right combination of humans and AI

Chatbot and virtual agent technology continues to change quickly, and organisations need to keep in mind that the technology of 2019 is not the same as that of even a few years ago. Educating yourself – and others in your organisation – about the current capabilities and deployment options of these solutions needs to be the first step in your chatbot or virtual agent journey. Companies with failed chatbot implementations or tools that haven’t kept pace with more recent technology developments will also find these eight tips helpful to determine next steps for finding a replacement solution.

Download Top Tips for Implementing a Chatbot or Virtual Agent in 2019 for help with selecting, deploying and maintaining a successful self-service solution this year.

Employee Engagement and the Digital Workplace

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Organisations are dealing with the rapid pace of digital change, both internally and externally, and the ways those changes are affecting their employees. From HR to internal IT support desks, companies are increasingly placing a focus on improving the employee experience through new digital initiatives. If you’re working to improve the employee experience in your organisation, then be sure to join us at the Digital Workplace Directors Forum on 30 January in London.

The one-day conference will feature case studies, innovative digital workplace solutions and tips for improving employee communication. Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will draw on his experience in the industry to present on Conversational AI for Employee Engagement. He’ll outline the essential components for using conversational AI solutions to improve the employee experience, from best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat to using an orchestration platform for centralised, consistent information and delivery. His session will include live demonstrations of current implementations so attendees can experience first-hand how this technology can have a positive impact on the digital workplace.

The Creative Virtual team will be on hand during the Networking Breaks to provide more information on our employee-focused chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions and to share tips to help you build a business case for implementing these technologies in your organisation.

Visit the Digital Workplace Directors Forum website for the full agenda and ticket information. Hope to see you there!

Not able to attend the event in London but interested in learning how we can help you increase employee productivity, reduce internal support costs and improve engagement? We’d be happy to arrange a personalised demo at a time that works for you – request your demo here.

Employee Engagement Remains a Top Priority Alongside Customer Engagement for 2019

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

Welcoming a new year often goes along with an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ mindset, but two things that are staying hot on companies’ 2019 agendas are customer engagement and employee engagement. This was glaringly obvious at the recent AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum: AI Enhancing Customer & Employee Engagement. From the delicious smoked salmon and cheese bagels served for breakfast to the final moments of the drinks reception at the end of the day, the event highlighted companies’ increased focus on improving engagement across the board.

Customer experience and engagement has been a top priority for most organisations for years, but improving employee engagement is a more recent addition to agendas. Organisations are coming to understand the benefits of providing better and easier support for employees. They are also coming to understand that many of the same digital tools, such as chatbots and virtual agents, that they are utilising to improve their customer experience can also be leveraged to improve their employee experience.

The event agenda featured presentations and panel discussions focused around practical uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the customer and employee engagement spaces. I was joined at the event by Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, who presented a morning session titled ‘Taking Engagement to the Next Level: Conversational AI for customers & employees’. He shared some insights into the expectations of customers and employees and then took an in-depth look at how organisations can bring everything together to centrally control a consistent, convenient and efficient experience for both customers and employees.

Using a single orchestration platform enables you to deliver consistent information and support across touchpoints and allows you to more easily engage users on the devices, channels and apps they are already using in their everyday lives through chatbots, virtual agents and live chat. For conversational AI to be effective, it must use a hybrid approach of machine learning and human input. The orchestration platform you put in place must allow you to manage that combination of humans and AI so you can deliver the best experience to users and maximise on your investments.

During his session, Chris shared a few live demonstrations to illustrate industry best practices. The best way to really understand how this all comes together is to see it in action, so if you weren’t at the event I encourage you to request a demo. Our team is always happy to arrange a time that works with your schedule so you can experience the ways conversational AI can help you improve your customer and employee engagement.

Our thanks to the AI & Robotics Directors’ Forum organisers for inviting Creative Virtual to take part in your last event of the year!

Integrating the Right Customer Experience Technologies

By Liam Ryan, Sales Director

It’s impossible to talk about customer experience without also talking about technology. Companies and brands are looking to provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move, deliver quality service and support to digitally-savvy customers and remain competitive as a growing number of contact channels gain popularity among consumers. All of those goals involve not only implementing, but also integrating the right customer experience (CX) technologies.

Earlier this month I attended CXtech, a new technology conference and showcase focused on what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming next in CX technologies. One major theme that came up repeatedly during presentations and my discussions with other attendees was that the truth about artificial intelligence (AI) is now been revealed after all the hype, myths and unrealistic claims. The CX industry is coming together in agreement that a hybrid approach is best – using a combination of AI and humans to deliver the best experience for customers. This is the approach we’ve always taken at Creative Virtual, and one that we’ve seen industry analysts and experts talking about more and more recently.

CXtech Chris EzekielChris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, joined me at the event and presented as part of the ‘Digital Automation, Chatbots and Virtual Assistants’ stream. His session, Digital CX & the contact centre: AI, chatbots, live chat & knowledge management, was well-received by attendees. He talked about the essential components of AI-driven digital transformation in the contact centre and then showed them how organisations are already using our CX technologies through a series of live demonstrations, including one of our customer chatbots working on Amazon Alexa. It’s one thing to listen to someone talking about the possibilities of the technology; it’s another to actually see and experience the solutions working and delivering on those promises.

We had a mix of people from different areas of organisations – the contact centre, digital CX, marketing, etc. – stop by the Creative Virtual stand throughout the day, some expressing that Chris’ presentation showcased ‘exactly what we are looking for’. There was lots of interest in discussing how to support customers on social media and messenger apps like Facebook Messenger. I also spoke with attendees from organisations that aren’t part of the industries we typically see at these types of events, such as public and emergency services. This reflects the change we’re seeing in the CX market as a wider range of industries are feeling the pressures of cultural and digital changes.

Our thanks to the CXtech organisers for putting together a successful event. It was a day of great presentations and insightful discussions, and I especially enjoyed the salmon at lunch!

If you’re interested in learning more about AI-driven transformation in the contact centre, download our latest whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre.

And if you’d like to see our chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions in action, be sure to request a live demo to arrange a personalised demonstration.

Automation Shouldn’t Force Customers to do the Work Themselves

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Customer Service Week was celebrated this week along with Customer Experience Day (CX Day) on 2nd October. These annual events got me contemplating on the future of customer service. Whilst I’m all for automation – as you would expect from someone leading a company that develops chatbot technology to automate customer service! – I wonder about removing the human element completely, especially when it involves the customer doing the work themselves.

This is why I’m not keen on supermarket self-checkouts. After a busy day, I want to switch off and walk around the supermarket with my head in the clouds – not have to scan, weigh, search for butternut squash on the supermarket’s database! And then it often goes wrong, and you have to ask for assistance anyway. It’s just such a bad experience for so many customers. The same with self-check-in at airports. Peeling off luggage labels and making sure they’re attached correctly isn’t my idea of fun.

Getting instant answers to questions instead of having to call or email a company is a great example of where technology does make for a better customer experience, as long as the system can quickly and seamlessly escalate to a human when it doesn’t have an answer. Deploying technology to automate tasks needs to be a win-win for the organisation and the customer: reducing customer service costs whilst improving the customer experience at the same time.

I also wonder about what effect removing the human element altogether could have on our society – who will us Brits have to moan to about the weather?! Luckily customer service chatbots can have a personality and engage in small talk – anything from talking about the weather to politely declining a date.

Yet, it’s not uncommon – or unreasonable – for organisations to worry about losing the opportunity to build human connections with customers as more and more of the experience becomes automated. They need to understand their customer journey and be smart about how they implement automation. In some situations, there is no substitute for engaging with a real human.

As Customer Service Week comes to a close, the challenges of delivering positive customer service experiences will stay top of mind for organisations. There’s no doubt that automation has an essential role in meeting those challenges in our digital, always-on society, but it should be in conjunction with the human element.

If you want to learn more, be sure to check out our newest whitepaper, A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre, and my most recent webinar presentation, Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple.

Leverage Your Chatbot to Its Full Capacity

By Laura Ludmany, Knowledgebase Engineer

Chatbot technologies are becoming more and more common in the business world, but I think most companies have not realized yet how interdisciplinary these artificial intelligence (AI) tools can be. When talking about the obvious benefits of implementing a virtual assistant, organisations look on the short-term and middle-term goals, but long-term objectives can often be overlooked. Some of the quick advantages are taking the pressure of customer call centres and live chat agents, thus reducing operational costs; FAQs and other guidance content are instantly accessible for the customers, in an engaging, interactive way.

But what about the long-term pros of having a chatbot? As your chatbot matures, so does its “knowledge” and content, and the ability to recognize and analyse user inputs will be paired by a higher rate of accuracy, making it possible to keep your customers in the loop of the conversation. Once a virtual assistant reaches this level (the more work both provider and client put on it- the sooner it happens), it can be used as a strong marketing and even sales tool reaching customers within minutes. Plus, it will be providing up-to-date data, collected straight away from users.

Promotional offers, new products and services can be added to chatbots in a centralised place such as a related FAQ section, where they are automatically shown to customers in their very personal environment – while they are in front of their PC or even on their mobile phone.

A couple of weeks ago I had to book an appointment in my local bank branch. When I got to talk to the advisor, she looked into my data and explained to me that based on my balance and banking activity, I qualified to an account upgrade. Wow! – good to know I thought. My original query was something totally different. That made me think – for how long would I have been able to upgrade my account?

What if I could have just logged onto my personal banking online and while having a basic conversation with the chatbot, it would have suggested to me the same upgrade right at the time when I got qualified? No hassle of booking an appointment, travelling to my local branch, waiting for the queue and spending a good amount of time during my busy day? I guess this could have been an outstanding customer experience. When using logged in versions of chatbots, this can be reality, besides making transactions, balance queries and a bunch of other banking features.

Long-term benefits go beyond that. Interacting with users through a virtual assistant is a 2-directional flow – as organisations provide latest information to their customers, their customers provide feedback to the company. Customer surveys, trends, and analysis are important in today’s competitive world – but why totally outsource these tasks to an outside provider, when you can listen to the voice of your customers in real time?

Imagine having 50,000 conversations monthly available at any time, coming straight from your customers; imagine you can learn what they asked the most times and even see what they asked word by word; imagine knowing what your customers are after at this very moment. Sure, call centres and live chat agents keep records, but it’s time and cost consuming analysing conversations, and it’s hard to systemize raw data. Therefore, it can take a long time to answer to the demand of your customers, and it might take you even longer than your competitors.

Not long ago, a digital marketing manager from a financial organisation that is a Creative Virtual client, got in touch with me asking about all the questions asked to their chatbot having “abroad” or “holiday” in and the answers delivered to those questions. It took me approximately 4 hours to create a standardized, systematized report containing all of the user entries with those above 2 words and the corresponding answers. The report had about 3,000 word-by-word customer queries – providing a real insight to customer intentions, in a form of instantly accessible, completely free of charge, organized, systematic data.

To sum it up – AI technologies cannot only be used in reactive ways, but they can and should be used in a proactive way as well: to inform, advertise, and promote and to analyse customer trends and demands. Many organisations are still in a phase where they are deciding to deploy a chatbot as a response to common market practices and as a solution to take the pressure off live chat agents and call centres. But you can get so much more out of your AI solution, if you realize how powerful of a tool you have in your hands, you are able to detect issues and, most importantly, prevent them before they would even occur – what’s a better customer experience than this in the long-term?

I’ll leave that with you to ponder as we celebrate Customer Service Week. I also recommend watching our Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple webinar on-demand to see how organisations are already leveraging their chatbots for long-term success.