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5 Overlooked Benefits of Personalized Virtual Agent Software

By Mike Murphy, VP of Customer Success, Creative Virtual USA

Everyone knows that virtual agents are an excellent customer service resource. A top-notch AI virtual assistant can reduce the load on your support staff, keep your branding consistent, and help prevent tickets from getting escalated to higher levels.

Yet there are some benefits of a virtual agent chatbot that aren’t as obvious. These lesser-known benefits can bring greater success and higher performance to several facets of your business.

  1. Speed of resolution improves

Over the years, the abilities of AI virtual assistants have gotten closer to the intelligence of live agents. It’s much easier for chatbots to resolve a larger scope of issues, which historically would otherwise have to escalate to a human agent. A key difference in the customer experience between the virtual and human agent is time. A virtual agent is much faster at providing the right answer, which means greater customer satisfaction and less stress on your support staff.

  1. Support answers become more accurate

With a virtual agent chatbot, there’s no need to worry about a customer getting the wrong answer to a question because an agent was tired and at the end of his shift, just had an argument with someone, or isn’t feeling their best. Your organization decides on the “voice” of your virtual assistant and controls how customers receive help. This enhances your brand consistency and customer satisfaction levels, while controlling costs.

  1. New sales revenue is created

You might think of your virtual assistant primarily as a tool to deal with existing customers that have issues with a product or service, but a good virtual agent also contributes new revenue. By accessing your billing and sales databases, a chatbot can perform account queries, see when a customer last bought something, and suggest complementary products and services based on their purchase history. This means more sales opportunities in every customer interaction.

  1. Service reps become more skilled

When you have an AI virtual assistant handling a wider scope of issues like technical malfunctions, lost passwords and email and contact info updates, it frees up your human agents for more sensitive discussions and escalations. This means you can hire a more capable, sophisticated support team that will be more engaged with their work, since they aren’t devoting tons of time to answering basic questions about their company or its product.

  1. Public relations emergencies and unexpected events are easier to handle

Even if your organization hasn’t experienced it, you’ve heard the stories: that dreaded moment when your business accidentally publishes sensitive material, someone tweets the wrong thing, or a customer levels a serious accusation. These PR nightmares can cause a flood of new support complaints from people asking about the same topic. Instead of having your support staff bogged down by an enlarged volume of inquiries because of a one-off event, you can leverage your virtual agent to have consistent, timely, and infinitely scalable conversations with your customers.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.

 

A Vision of Seamless, Fully-Integrated, End-to-End Customer Engagement

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Today is a truly momentous day, and a very proud one, for all of us at Creative Virtual. Our vision has always been to offer organisations the technology to enable seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement, and to back that technology with the experience of an expert, knowledgeable team. Once we established ourselves as independently recognised leaders in the virtual customer assistant (VCA) space, we underpinned all our channel support with our critically-acclaimed V-Portal™ (knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence) platform. Today we realised our vision with the official launch of our newest product: V-Person Live Chat™.

Defining industry best practice

V-Person Live Chat completes our customer engagement jigsaw because it successfully blends virtual and real customer support in a way that no other vendor in the marketplace can provide today.  Our many years of experience with integrating our V-Person virtual agent technology with other live chat systems made us realise that there was a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from a deeper blending of the two technologies. This inspired us to develop our own live chat product which is now defining industry best practice through the tight integration of a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents, a unique feedback loop and a customisable workflow provided by V-Portal.

At Creative Virtual we closely monitor developing trends and the evolution of engagement touchpoints in order to provide enterprises with cutting-edge Smart Help solutions. It is clear to us that the contact centre in its current form is finished. As there is a transition to more automation, combining virtual and real customer support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will be key for organisations. We’ve addressed this contact centre shift with the deep integration of virtual agents and live chat, particularly with our unique feedback loop that allows live chat agents to help keep content accurate for both virtual and real agents just by doing their normal jobs.

A complete approach to learning

V-Person self-learningOur V-Person technology utilises a hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning to give organisations a predictable and reliable customer self-service option. We have developed this approach based on our extensive experience and our partnerships with some of the world’s largest organisations. We understand how enterprises want to use virtual agents and chatbots to deliver effective self-service today and how the customer support landscape is evolving for them in the future.

Human curation of content allows organisations to be absolutely sure that their VCA is responding to users in a predictable way. At any point in time, designated content editors have full access to the knowledgebase to make updates that can be deployed instantly to the virtual agent. Organisations never need to wait for the system to ‘re-learn’ the new information. This human element is combined with the virtual agent’s ability to become more intelligent and adapt through self-learning.

V-Person’s statistical algorithm processes user journeys to return a list of related questions that is a true reflection of how users asking for similar information engaged with the virtual agent. Organisations also benefit from our statistical approach to self-learning with tightly integrated business intelligence reporting. V-Portal brings together voice of the customer feedback and user surveys with conversational data in real-time, actionable analytics that are directly linked to the virtual assistant’s knowledgebase.

Now with V-Person Live Chat, we are able to complete our approach to learning with our unique feedback loops. V-Portal enables enterprises to implement feedback loops that allow live agents to provide real-time comments and suggestions on content so that they can improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal job.

This hybrid approach to learning enables V-Person implementations to adapt in a very predictable way. The combination of human and self-learning is important for continually improving the system while also enabling enterprises to maintain control over the reliability of the VCA responses.

Where we go from here

Seeing our vision of seamless, fully-integrated, end-to-end customer engagement come to fruition is an important milestone, but certainly not the end of the roadmap for us. We are looking forward to rolling out our new live chat product to our customer organisations and experiencing with them new levels of customer engagement success. By continuing our collaboration with them, we will look to make new updates to our workflow and do more development around the self-learning aspects of our technology. Our roadmap is all about combining best practices around knowledge curation and self-learning, and integrating V-Person with best-of-breed technologies to provide a world leading enterprise level end-to-end digital customer engagement platform.

Whether you are currently using live chat and/or a virtual agent to support customers or just starting to think about implementing these tools, the best way to see how V-Person Live Chat can benefit your organisation is by requesting a personalised demo.

You can also read more about how we are combining virtual and real support with a live chat solution that is defining industry best practice in our V-Person Live Chat Overview.

Is Your Organization Mature Enough to Implement Chatbots for Customer Service?

By the Creative Virtual Team

The recent development of AI platforms has brought with it lots of uncertainty. Many companies believe that artificial intelligence tools could help their business, but are unsure if their organization is sophisticated enough to implement such a solution.

While there are some prerequisites for implementing an AI-based virtual assistant in your organization, the barrier to entry is much lower than many believe. As technological developments make AI more advanced, they also make solutions like V-Person™ more accessible to businesses in every industry.

Artificial intelligence for self-service support: past vs. present

When artificial intelligence virtual assistants were in their earliest stages, they required a significant investment of time and capital. Companies might have had to hire one or more specialists trained specifically in how to manage an AI platform. A simple artificial intelligence chat solution might require an exhaustive long-term plan with a hefty budget to match.

Things have changed. Today, a company can set up and begin using an AI virtual assistant with an average, up-to-date machine. Creative Virtual’s V-Person solution can be easily installed on any normal computer running Windows or Linux and requires just 30 MB of disk space. There is no need to purchase high-end servers or invest in a massive infrastructure upgrade just to implement an AI solution.

Further, V-Person doesn’t require any ramp-up time once it is installed. As soon as the preliminary setups are complete, it can handle as many as one million conversations per year and will continue to learn and improve upon its customer support answers. And while we recommend providing ample time for setup and testing, Creative Virtual has designed and deployed V-Person chat solutions for complex, enterprise-level organizations in less than 30 days.

Don’t wait for the “perfect” time to implement virtual agent software

While AI customer service technology is still developing, all signs point to it being the next big frontier in technology. A June 2016 report published by market research company TechSci predicts that the U.S. artificial intelligence market will grow at an astounding 75% CAGR until the year 2021.

If you think your organization could benefit from an AI virtual assistant but don’t feel completely ready to implement one, you should work with an experienced, capable provider who can help you get started painlessly. Check out our resource page to learn more about how Creative Virtual has helped all types of companies start enjoying the benefits of V-Person for customer service and brand consistency.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

Do Bots and AI Anger Customers? A Balanced View

By the Creative Virtual Team

There’s a widely held belief in the customer service field that bots and artificial intelligence are loathed by customers. Horror stories of unresponsive automated phone menus and clumsy voice recognition float around the web, leading some companies to believe that only human support agents will work for their customers.

How true is this idea? To find out, we need to consider the most fundamental elements of any customer support event.

The premise of automated chat agents annoying customers

Some believe mistakenly that artificial intelligence doesn’t yet have the ability to really understand what a person needs to solve their problem. News stories in this vein are published all the time; in some cases, bots have even made up erroneous facts in their responses to customers.

Speaking to a live customer support agent can be helpful – as long as you are working with a top-quality representative. Unfortunately, there have been some cases of neglect, mistreatment, or downright rudeness from customer support agents.

Both human agents and artificial intelligence virtual assistants can provide excellent service, which is why deciding on one or the other isn’t the most important question to answer for your company’s customer and sales support needs.

Why the chatbots vs. live agents debate misses the point

Whatever your beliefs about AI-based customer service, it’s important to remember that there’s only one goal in every customer support interaction: solving a specific problem or answering a specific question. Every other component of customer service is a tool to accomplish this goal.

When a customer initiates a chat or dials in to a support line, they need something. It doesn’t matter whether they chat with an automated support bot, call a live agent, ask one of their friends, or look up an answer in a company FAQ. The faster the customer gets an answer to their question, the greater their overall satisfaction.

The bottom line: time matters most for customer support

No matter what kind of product or service you offer, your main goal for customer support improvement is reducing the amount of time it takes to solve your customers’ problems. Whether you accomplish this goal through hiring a full team of support agents or relying on a sophisticated AI chatbot program is less important than how effective you are at answering the concerns of your customers.

Automated virtual assistants can help you address these concerns quickly, cut down on staffing costs, and give you a better understanding of your customer support. They can also help you ensure that your customer service is consistent with your brand messaging. Thanks to sophisticated AI, advanced conversational abilities, and the option to seamlessly handoff a support customer to a live agent, today’s AI virtual assistants provide answers quickly and predictably without angering customers – as long as you choose the right technology.

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation. Sign up for a free demonstration here.

The Contact Centre in its Current Form is Finished

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I presented Creative Virtual’s fourth annual Technology Innovation Showcase with CRMXchange. As I mention every year, this is one of my favourite webinars to do because it’s mostly live demonstrations with very few slides. Seeing the technology in action is the best way to understand how your organisation can implement these solutions to improve your customer experience.

This year’s webinar, Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, focused mostly on bringing together virtual agents and live chat. I started my presentation with some recent statistics from Forrester showing the growing usage of virtual agents and live chat. They summed up this research by saying:

Customers increasingly leverage self-service and digital channels for customer service because these channels offer the least amount of interaction friction.

The bottom line is that your customers want effortless interactions with your company. There is a generational change taking place, with a new generation of customers who spend more time having text conversations with their friends and loved ones than they do actually talking to them. The last thing in the world they want to do is pick up the phone and speak to your company. Effortless also means brevity. They want to get the answers they need as quickly as possible, so the second to last thing they want to do is get into a lengthy email conversation with your company.

The call centre and contact centre as we know them today are finished. Seamless, personalised smart assistants will increasingly automate everything the current contact centre offers. Smart assistants will learn from how they are being used and adapt as the organisation learns. They won’t be maintained separately, but instead will have feedback loops that help them learn just by the organisation learning in a really seamless way.

We’re already seeing much change in this area but, of course, this won’t happen overnight. There will be a transition to more automation, and combining virtual and real support with a central knowledge management and workflow platform will give you the best way to manage that transition. Gartner is also seeing this trend, and they predict that by 2018, 30% of interactions will be via a smart machine such as virtual agent technology.

The combination of natural language virtual agents with live chat or web chat is an ideal way to give customers the effortless interactions they want. With the right integrations in place, your company can provide a seamless and personalised experience. Using a central knowledgebase and feedback loop that are linked with workflow functionality will allow you to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels.

I invite you to watch the recording of this webinar on-demand to see my demonstrations of intelligent virtual agents, the seamless integration of virtual agents with live chat and the industry-defining feedback loop that empowers live agents to consistently improve the virtual agent just by doing their normal jobs.

If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to schedule a personalised live demo to show you how this technology can help your organisation manage the transition to more automation and provide effortless interactions.

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for organising and hosting another great Technology Innovation Showcase.

Innovation Showcase to Explore Live Chat and Virtual Agent Best Practice

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Live chat and virtual agents are quickly gaining popularity with customers as their preferences shift towards online support options. According to Forrester Research, customers turn to self-service and digital channels for service because they “offer the least amount of interaction friction”. Forward-thinking organisations are not only acknowledging this customer service trend, but also taking advantage of the powerful combination of virtual and real support.

On Tuesday, 12th July, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will explore this emerging trend as part of CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series. His presentation, titled Combining the Virtual and the Real for Customer Engagement Success, features live demonstrations of current implementations and a look into the technology powering these solutions. He’ll also share recent research and developments in the industry.

In addition to seeing intelligent virtual agents in action, attendees will also hear tips for integrating self-service options with live chat. When implemented properly, customers can seamlessly escalate from virtual to live agent and live agents can seamlessly provide feedback to keep information up-to-date. The result is an improved experience for both customers and support agents.

Register now to reserve your spot for this Technology Innovation Showcase. A recording of the webinar will be available to view on-demand for those registrants unable to join the live event.

Knowledge Management + Virtual Assistants = Award-Winning Contact Centre Solutions

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

In 2015 Motability Operations, a long time Creative Virtual customer, was recognised with the Innovation Award for Sustainable Culture as part of the Customer Contact Innovation Awards presented by The Forum. The judges selected Motability Operations because “their approach to knowledge management builds trust and supports effective conversations, getting it ‘right first time’, optimising call length and – above all – helping advisors give customers confidence.”

This year, The Forum has generously invited Creative Virtual to their annual flagship Customer Strategy and Planning conference, which culminates with the Customer Contact Innovation Awards gala dinner. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, will present a lunchtime showcase to demonstrate the technology behind Motability Operations’ award-winning approach to knowledge management. His session will focus on the powerful uses of combining intelligent virtual assistants with knowledge management and feature several live demonstrations of current customer implementations. He’ll cover breaking down information and departmental silos to create consistency, keeping content accurate with a feedback loop in line with industry best practices, and building confidence with customers while achieving top customer and employee satisfaction scores.

Creative Virtual’s innovative V-Person Contact Centre™ solutions bring together natural language virtual assistant technology with a powerful knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform (V-Portal™). Motability Operations, and their virtual assistant Ask Mo, is a great success story of how this technology can help contact centres reduce agent training times, keep content accurate and consistent, increase first contact resolution and optimise call length.

The Forum’s Customer Strategy and Planning 2016 will be held 25-26 April in Stratford upon Avon. Chris will present his Knowledge Management Showcase on Day 1 of the conference starting at 13:10. Creative Virtual will also be exhibiting and giving individual demonstrations as part of the Conference Expo on both days of the event. More information and the full agenda can be found on The Forum website.

If you aren’t able to attend the conference but would like to learn how the combination of intelligent virtual assistants and knowledge management can help your contact centre achieve success, please request an individual demo.

Don’t be a Robot: Are Instant Replies Always Best?

By Alessandro Giordo, Web Developer and Support Technician

I’ve always loved the interaction between human and machine. No wonder I’m a Developer, used to communicating every day with computers and programs using their language, or mine.

When I started using online chats and support chats, I also started wondering about having a computer on the other end “talking”, creating a feeling like it’s a real person answering your questions.

The line between a robot and a human being is quite clear still in many areas, although we have come very far from even a few years ago. There are ways of masking the feeling of artificiality, and I’m here to talk about some of them which can be a reality today.

In a customer service environment effectiveness and accuracy, matched with speed, are essentials. Creative Virtual’s virtual agents (VAs) reply instantly to customers’ questions, providing meaningful answers and giving users a choice of related questions or actions.

What if the VA is used for a game, a social network or something less “businessy”? What if the goal is to create the sensation that there is a real person, character or player giving the response? Is providing an instant answer ideal for these situations?

Now… I do write quite fast, but if I were to answer you in less than half a second I would be Superman, The Flash or a Robot. Unfortunately I’m not Superman…

The idea here is to have a “delay” in answering the question.

Why would you delay something? The quicker the better, right? Well, it depends.  If the objective is to give a sense of reality, of interaction, between you and the AI then perhaps instant replies aren’t better.

Social networks, games and other types of online media look for interaction, community, being social. Although very useful in some applications, a robotic answer is not social and doesn’t provide the friendliness of a human when answering. If I were to answer your questions face-to-face instantly or before you even finished speaking, you would definitely be annoyed by it…

Now think of adding a “typing…” animation to the VA answer, simulating the behaviour of a human being typing – just like in many popular messaging applications – and you have a “real” person at the other side of the screen!

Recent studies indicate that this creates more involvement with the user and a more positive interaction in certain scenarios. There are more options and approaches, such as anticipating what the user might say before they even type it. The possibilities are endless, and I think we are on the right track to make interactions feel more authentic.

What do you think of the interaction between users and computers? Are you as excited as me to see what comes next in the ever-evolving world of technology?

Whether you want to discuss using VAs to provide instant answers or to act as a “real” person, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

Is Your Customer Support Team Turning into the Working Dead?

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Recently I read an article discussing the effect multichannel support is having on customer support professionals. Balancing a heavy workload, which is only predicted to increase in 2016 as multichannel support grows, has made the risk of burnout a huge challenge for the industry. With burnout comes less satisfied and engaged team members and, ultimately, a greater turnover of support staff. So what can organisations do to lighten workloads and reduce the risk of their support team turning into the working dead?

Implementing self-service solutions that are easy for customers to use and access is a great first step in reducing your contact centre’s workload. For example, intelligent virtual agents are proven to provide average contact deflection rates of 20-30%. Some organisations are seeing up to 80% reductions in live chat sessions by placing a virtual agent in front of their live chat system.

Self-service virtual assistants benefit your customer support team in a number of ways. They lighten the workload by decreasing the overall volume of questions and support issues that come into your contact centre. Even as the number of customer contact channels grows, the flexibility of this Smart Help technology allows self-service solutions to be deployed across touchpoints, including web, mobile, social, kiosk and IVR. By empowering customers to self-serve for transactional queries and troubleshooting common problems, your support team is freed up to assist customers with more complex issues that truly need human assistance. Not only do customers appreciate being able to get quick resolution without a call or email, but live agents also benefit from no longer having to deal with the tedious task of dealing with those basic issues over and over.

When it comes to fighting burnout, giving your support team the proper tools to do their job is just as important as reducing the volume of contacts coming in from your customers. One organisation excelling at doing this is Motability Operations. Their award-winning virtual assistant ‘Ask Mo’ is helping them achieve top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores. The virtual assistant enables their contact centre advisors to search for information in natural language and then provides answers instantly that are easy to digest and customise for the individual customer. Advisors can also provide real-time feedback on missing or incorrect content which gives them an added layer of confidence that answers are current and accurate and allows them to focus on engaging with customers. Motability Operations also uses ‘Ask Mo’ as a training tool, drastically reducing the training time needed for new advisors and creating comfortability from the beginning with the tool they will be using on a daily basis to assist customers.

When backed by the proper knowledge management platform, both self-service and contact centre virtual assistants can be deployed using the same knowledgebase which further relieves stress on customer support teams by ensuring consistent communication. You and your support team can have confidence that regardless of the touchpoint or the live agent providing assistance, customers will receive the same information to answer their questions.

With the growth of multichannel support, organisations need to be proactive in taking steps to keep workloads manageable for their customer support teams in order to reduce burnout. How are you keeping your team from turning into the working dead?

Virtual Agents and Human Agents Join Forces for Customer Service in 2016

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The New Year is here, and with it the much anticipated 2016 predictions, outlooks and trends for just about every industry and field, including customer service. With customer service a key part of the overall customer experience, every organisation should be keeping an eye on developments in the space and evaluating which can help improve support for their existing and potential customers.

Analyst Kate Leggett shared five of her top trends to watch this year in her blog post Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016. Trend number one should come as no surprise: Companies will make self-service easier. Kate reports that in 2015, web and mobile self-service interactions exceeded those over live-assist channels. Conversations with live agents were more frequently initiated as escalations when customers were unable to successfully self-serve, rather than as the initial channel of contact. In 2016, organisations will strive to make self-service easier for customers by looking at their knowledge management strategies and exploring virtual agent solutions.

The themes of self-service and human assistance – and the combination of those channels – also featured prominently when Call Centre Helper turned to their readers and contact centre experts with the question: What Will Happen to the Contact Centre in 2016 and Beyond? One contributor predicted that artificial intelligence will ‘take care of everything’ with only complaints being escalated to a human agent. Another reader looked to self-care options to handle transactional queries but not be able to replace the desire of customers to speak with a human. A third reader declared that as soon as virtual agents pass the Turing Test, ‘it will be Artificial Intelligence all the way!’

While it’s not likely that contact centres will turn to artificial intelligence ‘all the way’ in 2016, it’s important to recognise the impact that advances in natural language virtual agents are having in the customer service space today. Once stand-alone tools only able to answer basic questions, they are now sophisticated Smart Help solutions proven to improve customer satisfaction while also reducing support costs for organisations. Virtual agents are great at handling transactional queries, including personalised, account-specific questions and tasks, thanks to advanced integration options. When backed by the right knowledge management platform, virtual agents can easily be deployed across customer channels, including web, mobile and social, to make consistent, accurate self-service easier for both companies and their customers.

The virtual agents of 2016 are also designed to be complementary to live chat and other human-assisted support channels, with seamless escalation from self-service to a human agent. They are being successfully deployed within contact centres to support live agents and assure consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels. Through real-time and Voice of the Customer reporting, virtual agents are also giving organisations incredible insight into customer questions and behaviours that help improve their customer service strategies.

With customer preferences shifting towards easy self-service, there’s no better time than 2016 for organisations to explore the combination of virtual and human agents to create a seamless, personalised and convenient customer service experience.