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A Look Back: 2018 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

We live in an always-on world with instant access to information and news and trending hashtags always at our fingertips. There have been numerous studies done about the effects of digital devices and the growing need to always feel connected. As I’m writing this, I have no electricity or internet access thanks to the power of mother nature which, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, is giving me a good bit of anxiety about the percentage of battery left on my smartphone – my one connection to knowing what’s going on in the world without actually having to leave my house!

It’s certainly no secret that this new normal of constant digital connection and instant access to information in our personal lives has also changed our expectations for our engagement with businesses and brands. Organisations are facing the challenge of delivering a quality support experience over a growing number of contact channels. Messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WeChat, and smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, have been added to existing touchpoints, like the phone, website and social media, instead of replacing them. On top of that, many organisations are struggling with lots of disconnected information sources making it difficult to keep content updated and deliver the right information to customers on all channels. So how can organisations bring this all together to create a consistent, convenient and efficient customer experience?

Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join Engage Customer on Tuesday, 27 November for a webinar to address this question, Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. Through a series of live demonstrations and practical tips, attendees will learn:

  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management control and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of artificial intelligence and human input to reduce support costs whilst improving conversational engagement

Register now for the webinar Orchestrating a Seamless and Efficient Customer Experience. Can’t attend the live event? Don’t worry, a recording will be sent to all registrants after the webinar.

You can also request a personalised demo to see how our technology can help you deliver seamless, consistent support and increase customer satisfaction scores.

Showcasing the Perfect CX Power Couple: Humans & AI

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Move over Beyoncé and Jay-Z, George and Amal, Will and Jada. There’s a new power couple in town: Humans and Artificial Intelligence. While you’re not going to see them on the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine or walking the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere, the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and humans is already making a mark on the world of customer experience (CX).

With the growing emphasis customers are placing on CX when making purchasing decisions and the growing challenge companies are facing when delivering service and support on more contact channels than ever before, this powerful new approach has arrived on the scene at just the right time. Humans and AI make the perfect power couple for meeting CX expectations – they both bring something to the table, learn from each other, support one another and build together.

On Thursday, 6 September Chris Ezekiel, Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, will feature the combination of AI and human input during the company’s sixth annual CRMXchange Technology Innovation Showcase webinar. He’ll give an inside look at bringing together humans and AI to provide quality self-service options, improve live chat and contact centre performance, and increase customer satisfaction scores. Through a series of live demonstrations, attendees will learn:

  • Best practices for implementing chatbots, virtual agents, and live chat to provide accurate and seamless omnichannel engagement
  • The benefits of centralising knowledge management and using a single orchestration platform to deliver consistent support across contact channels
  • Ways to leverage a hybrid of machine learning and human curation of content to reduce support costs while improving conversational engagement

Register now for Humans & AI: The Perfect CX Power Couple to see how organisations around the globe are already using the combination of humans and AI to provide successful customer service and how your organisation can leverage this new power couple to deliver a positive CX. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Tech Showcase will be sent to all registrants after the event.

Live Demonstrations of Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

No longer a thing of fantasy or science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) is finding a place in our homes, schools and businesses, helping to automate tasks and make our lives easier. For organisations striving to improve their customer experience (CX), implementing AI has become vital. The contact centre must play a key role in digital transformation initiatives around AI, automation and customer self-service in order to avoid creating silos that will damage CX.

On Thursday, 14 June 2018, Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO of Creative Virtual, will join the expert panel of speakers for CRMXchange’s Tech Tank Roundtable Artificial Intelligence in the Contact Center. The live webcast, scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm UK time/ 2:00 pm ET/ 11:00 am PT, will feature insights on how to use machine learning and natural language solutions to make an immediate and positive impact in the contact centre.

Chris will give an inside look at how Creative Virtual’s intelligent solutions help contact centres build better relationships with customers through centralising knowledge management, integrating chatbots and live agents, and combining AI and human input. He’ll explore recent statistics, discuss industry predictions, and share live demonstrations of current implementations. Chris will also provide some practical tips for implementing natural language virtual agents and chatbots to enable seamless customer engagement and help your contact centre improve through lower costs, reduced staff turnover, and more engaged, skilled and happier agents.

Register for the Tech Tank now to learn more and see live demonstrations from Chris and other industry experts from CallMiner and NICE Nexidia. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Roundtable will be sent to all registrants after the event.

It’s Time to be Realistic about AI, Chatbots and Live Chat

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Recently I had the opportunity to present a webinar with Engage Customer titled ‘AI, Chatbots and Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth’. I’m sure we can all agree how hot the market is for all things artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and live chat at the moment. It really is exploding out there! We’re also seeing a lot of confusion, false claims and inflated expectations. My goal during this webinar was to separate the truth from the myth by showing some real-world customer examples and, through a series of live demonstrations, share best practices in deploying chatbots and human assistance for customer support.

I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of when AI goes wrong, such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which became sexist and racist because it learned from the way people were interacting with it. This is the simple reason why artificial intelligence on its own is not the answer for customer support. Companies like Microsoft and IBM have been responsible for setting false expectations in regards to how AI can be deployed for customer service, so you need to be very careful there. Companies need to be realistic about chatbots and virtual agents, but also make sure they select a system that fits with their roadmap for implementing this technology. And, just as important as the technology, is working with a team of people who are highly experienced in deploying these solutions.

Right now we’re in a digital and artificial intelligence revolution, and there’s no doubt that the contact centre in its current form is finished. Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation initiatives and, of course, the contact centre needs to be a key part of that. All too often the contact centre is still siloed and we’re seeing them being left out of those discussions, though. In the future, there will be a paradigm shift and the contact centre will go from dealing with repetitive inquires to being the centre of excellence for knowledge and playing an important role in keeping self-service chatbots up-to-date.

When it comes to using artificial intelligence for customer service chatbots, a blended approach – not pure AI – is best. Creative Virtual’s V-Person™ technology uses a hybrid approach that allows organisations to tune how much machine learning and how much human curation of content they want to provide for the solution. Companies already know their top call drivers and machine learning isn’t needed to determine that. In fact, it gets in the way and gives a bad experience if it doesn’t take into account the learnings that the organisation already has. A hybrid approach of human curation of content and self-learning enables the system to continually improve while also allowing control over the reliability of chatbot responses.

I encourage you to watch the recording of the webinar on-demand to get a better understanding of this topic and to see the live demonstrations I shared of chatbots, virtual agents and live chat solutions that are currently being used around the world.

My thanks to Steve Hurst and Engage Customer for hosting this webinar.

AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Industry analysts are predicting a huge increase in the number of customer interactions that will involve technologies such as machine learning applications and chatbots over the next five years. Smart organisations are already setting themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating chatbots and virtual agents into their customer support strategies to meet the expectations of digital customers.”

-Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another article pushing artificial intelligence (AI) or another analyst forecasting an increase in machine learning to improve customer experience and engagement. But, if you feel like the hype doesn’t always match up to the reality, you aren’t alone.

On Tuesday, 5th December 2017 at noon (UK time), Engage Customer will host a live webinar titled AI, Chatbots & Live Chat: Separating Truth from Myth. This webinar will challenge the myths perpetuated by media hype and overpromising to walk attendees through a realistic explanation of machine learning, chatbots and live chat in the customer experience space. It will be presented by Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel and Steve Hurst, Editorial Director at Engage Business Media.

In addition to giving insights on how to realistically incorporate AI, chatbots, virtual agents and live chat into your customer support strategy, Chris will share a series of live demonstrations showing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve customer engagement and build brand loyalty. The webinar will also cover:

  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

As customers increasingly seek out digital and self-service options, organisations are facing an evolving customer service landscape filled with changing engagement preferences. AI, chatbots and live chat can help organisations meet the expectations of digital customers, but they need to be implemented correctly. Join Engage Customer and Creative Virtual as we help you separate the truth from the myth.

This webinar is free, but advance registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be provided for registrants unable to attend the live event.

Innovation Showcase: Preparing Your Contact Centre for the Future with AI and Chatbots

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

The contact centre is integral to the customer support and engagement strategies of many organisations, but its role has been changing recently as a growing number of customers seek out digital and self-service options. While chatbots and virtual agents have gotten a reputation as being threats to the contact centre, the reality is that they can have a positive effect on the contact centre and a company’s overall customer experience.

Learn more on Thursday, 7th September at 4:00 pm UK time/ 11:00 am ET as Creative Virtual takes part in CRMXchange’s Technology Innovation Showcase webcast series for a fifth consecutive year. This year’s live webinar, presented by Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, will take a realistic look at artificial intelligence (AI), virtual agents and chatbots in the customer experience space. Chris will also share a series of live demos showcasing how forward-thinking organisations are already using this technology to improve the customer experience, increase sales, build brand loyalty and reduce support costs. Attendees will get an inside look at:

  • The impact chatbots and virtual agents can have on the contact centre, including lower costs, reduced staff turnover and more engaged, skilled and happier agents
  • Why chatbots should use a combination of self-learning and human input to create consistent and reliable support experiences
  • How humans and machines can work in harmony to provide perfect customer service
  • Leveraging AI and chatbots to prepare your contact centre for the future

Register now for ‘Chatbots, Virtual Agents and Your Contact Centre’ for an inside look at how to incorporate chatbots and virtual agents into your customer support strategy and help your contact centre meet the expectations of digital customers. A recording of the Technology Innovation Showcase will be provided for registrations unable to attend the live webinar.

Breakthrough CX Innovations that Create Customer Delight

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

“Customers are increasingly starting their support journeys online and leveraging self-service options, but that doesn’t mean that the need for live agents will disappear. Instead organisations need to implement the right combination of virtual and real support and integrate those channels properly in order to provide personalised and seamless support for customers.”

– Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

On Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 7:00 pm UK/ 2:00 pm ET CRMXchange will host a Tech Tank Roundtable webinar titled Customer Delight: Live Demonstrations of Breakthrough Innovations. The live webcast will feature a panel of industry experts, including Creative Virtual’s Chris Ezekiel, showcasing emerging customer experience solutions that are beginning to impact the contact centre.

The contact centre industry needs to be constantly evolving in order to meet changing customer demands. As customers increasingly come to expect seamless and personalised omnichannel engagement, contact centres must turn to a combination of virtual and real support. During the webinar, Chis will address this change and give an inside look at Creative Virtual’s deep integration of virtual agents and live chat. This combined solution is defining industry best practice through a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents and a unique feedback loop combined with customisable workflow functionality.

The bringing together of live chat and virtual agents is a departure from the common belief that, until recently, prevailed in the contact centre industry that organisations needed to choose between the solutions. Forward-thinking organisations are now coming to understand that these two tools are complementary solutions that can play a key part in delivering quality digital support experiences for their customers. Gone are the days of the live chat vs. virtual agent debate as this shift in mindset begins to permeate the customer service industry.

Register for the Tech Tank now to learn more and see live demonstrations from Chris and other industry experts from inContact and Aspect. Not able to make the live webcast? Don’t worry! A recording of the Roundtable will be sent to all registrants after the event.

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.