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A Look Back: 2020 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Around this time every December, I put cursor to page and fingers to keyboard to take a look back over the last 12 months and reflect on some of the highlights of the year for Creative Virtual. This is the seventh time I’ve done this annual year in review blog post, but never have I had to review a year that was like 2020. I don’t need to tell you that not everything went as planned, but there were still some bright spots for us and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry.

Creative Virtual started 2020 celebrating the company’s Sweet Sixteen. Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel shared his pride in ‘building a successful, world-leading company over a sustained period of time with an amazing group of people’ in our first blog post of the year. As an organisation that has been in the industry since the infancy of virtual agents and chatbots, we really understand the past, present and future of these solutions and bring a wealth of experience and expertise alongside our technology.

It is that experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team that took centre stage this year. As physical offices and business locations were closed to comply with lockdown and stay-at-home orders around the world, our customers were faced with a surge of incoming queries from their customers and new challenges in supporting their employees while also dealing with rapidly changing information and guidance. They turned to our team for advice and assistance in keeping their virtual agent and chatbot solutions updated and proactively relieving pressure from their contact centres. Laura Ludmany, one of our experienced Knowledgebase Engineers, wrote a two-part blog series about helping some of our financial customers with their 24/7 customer support tools during this time. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Several months later, AI Time Journal approached us for a contribution to their upcoming ebook featuring ‘Conversational AI Success Stories During Times of Pandemic’. We were happy to share the experiences of one of our international financial services group customers using our V-Person™ virtual agent to provide customer support. You can read more here and download the full ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, here. For this organisation, their virtual agent was the best way to keep up with rapid content changes and deliver accurate information to customers. With the support of our team, they were able to successfully push their virtual agent to the forefront of their CX strategy.

Neutrino release of V-PersonThe consultation and guidance that we provide is also key to the Neutrino release of V-Person which we introduced to the market in June. The localised support, international insights and best practice expertise of our team are combined with our virtual agent/ chatbot technology (V-Person) and orchestration platform (V-Portal™) for the conversational AI industry’s smartest solution yet. With Neutrino, organisations can leverage their existing knowledge to power chatbot, virtual agent and live chat solutions for improved customer and employee experiences.

2020 was a record-breaking year for use of our virtual agent and chatbot implementations. With the help of Creative Virtual Analyst, Lester Lane, we took a look at the usage spikes and trends across different regions and sectors in two blog posts. Our initial look in April showed a spike starting at the end of February and beginning of March that surpassed anything we had seen in the 16+ years of the company’s history. When we reached the halfway point of the year, we again crunched the numbers and discovered that those virtual agents had already recorded approximately 75% of the total transactions from the previous year.

This explosion in usage of virtual agents and chatbots wasn’t surprising given the closure of physical locations and long call centre wait times that many businesses experienced. However, offering these digital self-service tools delivers no benefits to customers or companies if they don’t provide a consistently positive and accurate experience for users. That is what inspired us to publish a new whitepaper this year titled, Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience.

virtual agent & chatbot guideOn the surface, it may sound like something else crazy happening in 2020 – a technology company saying to forget about the technology! The reality is that it doesn’t matter how great the technology is if you don’t have the skill and know-how to implement it in a way to achieve success. In this whitepaper, Creative Virtual team members once again put our knowledge and expertise in the spotlight, explaining the six essential areas of experience your virtual agent vendor should have and why each is important to the success of your solution. We highlight expert tips from ten members of the team – Rachel F Freeman, Laura Ludmany, Claudio Chico, Rachael Needham, Len Power, Maria Ward, Rob Foster, Peter Studd, Ridhi Mathur and myself – who combined have over 83 years of experience specifically in the virtual agent and chatbot field.

With travel and in-person events unsafe for much of this year, we couldn’t attend and join our partners at industry conferences as we normally do. Instead, after attending CCW 2020 in Berlin with our partner Sogedes in March, we focused on producing content that could be shared, read and watched virtually over digital channels. We held a webinar, Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents, which can now be viewed on-demand. Mugdha Desai, Head of Operations for Creative Virtual India, and Shantanu Purandare, Executive Director of Creative Virtual India, each presented in virtual AI and chatbot events. Founder & CEO, Chris spoke for a sixth time at the Hong Kong Customer Contact Association (HKCCA) Symposium at the invitation of our partner Continuous Technologies, but this time virtually. We are sponsoring one more webinar this year with Customer Contact Central on 17 December, The Future of Contact Centers: A New Paradigm for Superior Customer Experience.

The team also produced our annual blog celebration of Customer Service Week (5-9 October) and CX Day (6 October) with insightful tips and recommendations that reflected the new customer service challenges that 2020 brought to businesses. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

Founder & CEO, Chris may not have been able to do his usual travelling around the world to spend time with our team, partners and customers throughout the year, but he did take part in a podcast and two online interviews. In February, Chris participated in the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s podcast alongside one of his heroes, Sir Geoff Hurst, to discuss leadership. In AI Time Journal’s interview series AI vs COVID-19: Sharing Sessions with People in AI, he talked about turning the remote work challenge into an opportunity to learn more about each employee, how technology may impact our need for in-person interactions and the difference AI is making in combating the virus. Chris also took part in Startup.info’s Innovators vs COVID-19 interview series where he discussed Creative Virtual’s approach to innovation and the pandemic’s effect on the conversational AI industry.

100 SmartTech Innovators 2020This year we celebrated being named to the Top 100 SmartTech Innovators List. We continued the five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017, and Chris continued to tell everyone about going to Buckingham Palace with our CTO, Peter Behrend, to meet the Queen – see the photographic evidence here! We grew our Global Partner Network and added new technology integration partnerships, including those we announced this year with Spitch and Semafone’s Cardprotect Relay+.

Unlike other years, we don’t have a 2020 in Review photo album to share with you since we weren’t able to gather much in-person for group activities or events – and no one wants to look at a whole album of grainy screenshots of video conferences! Be sure to check out the Creative Virtual Facebook page though for a few photos and virtual company celebrations.

And now we head into 2021 with a year of overcoming professional and personal challenges under our belts and a deep sense of pride in knowing that the experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team helped our customers and partners survive their challenges, too. It’s impossible to know what next year will bring, but we’re looking forward to finding out!

Happy Holidays from the Creative Virtual Team!

As we come to the end of the year – and the decade! – all of us at Creative Virtual want to extend a big thank you to all our blog readers, customers and partners for being a part of our 2019!

We kicked-off the year with our 15th anniversary celebrations and soon followed that with the announcement of our Frost & Sullivan AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leadership Award.  We are ending the year with the news just announced this week that we are part of AI Time Journal’s TOP 25 Artificial Intelligence Companies 2019! You can check out more of our highlights from the year in our 2019 in Review blog post and our 2019 in Review photo album. Then stay tuned in the new year as we celebrate Creative Virtual’s Sweet Sixteen.

On behalf of the entire Creative Virtual team around the globe, best wishes for a very Happy Holiday Season!

A Look Back: 2019 in Review

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The new year is just around the corner, which means it is once again time for our annual look back over the past 12 months. 2019 was another busy and exciting year for Creative Virtual and the chatbot, virtual agent and live chat industry. It’s always difficult to condense a whole year into one blog post, so here are just a few of the highlights.

We continued our five-year-long celebration of our Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation 2017 as we also celebrated the 15th anniversary of Creative Virtual. Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, took a look back at the changes in the company and the industry since he started Creative Virtual in London’s East End in his blog post, Fifteen Years & Counting: Navigating the chatbot, virtual agent and AI revolution. During the year Chris also participated in industry interviews, including one with the AI Time Journal as part of their Conversational AI Initiative and one for the Executive Interviews website, where he shared more insights into the myths and realities of chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI).

This year we have also been celebrating another impressive recognition for the company: Frost & Sullivan’s 2019 AI-Enhanced Customer Self-Service Product Leadership Award! In selecting us for this award, the analysts at Frost & Sullivan evaluated chatbot and virtual agent vendors across two key factors, each with five benchmarking criteria. Creative Virtual was rated as ‘Excellent’ across these categories. You can download a copy of their full independent report here. I had the honour of joining Andy Madge (Head of Technical Services) and Liam Ryan (Sales Director) at the Awards Dinner in London to accept our plaque and meet other Best Practice Award winners from all over Europe.

Special congratulations also go out to Maria Ward, Account Manager/Knowledgebase Engineer, for being shortlisted for the 2019 Women in IT Excellence Awards in the category of ‘Role Model of the Year (SME) – Tech Industry’! You can read more about Maria’s journey from Creative Virtual customer to partner to team member in her Meet the Team interview. Maria was also one of our Team Animal runners in our charity runs for the RSPCA this year, joined by Laura Ludmany, Rachel Freeman, Björn Gülsdorff and Chris Ezekiel. Instead of all meeting up to run a group race together, each runner registered for a local race instead and took part in runs in Hamburg, London, Ipswich and Dublin. This was the fifth year we fundraised for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a cause we feel passionately about as a company of animal lovers.

The team was also involved with our annual blog celebration of CX Day (1 October) and Customer Service Week (7-11 October), making this year the best one yet. Authors based in four different countries covered topics ranging from customer expectations to chatbot creation to managing stress for better customer relationships. If you missed any, be sure to check them out:

We were also excited to be featured in the Wharf Life Newspaper during Customer Service Week. You can read the full article here.

While 2019 saw an increase in the adoption of chatbot and virtual agent technology, we also saw more companies struggling with poor performing tools or projects that never came to fruition. Founder & CEO Chris explored some reasons for this in an article for the AI Time Journal, “Virtual Moron-Idiot!”: Why Chatbots Fail and the #ChatbotRescue Mission Saving Them. As a successful pioneer in the chatbot and virtual agent space, Creative Virtual is in a unique position to help these companies save their investments. That’s why we launched our Chatbot Rescue Mission, offering organisations a no cost consultation workshop and initial chatbot upgrade to get their projects back on track.

This year we sponsored, attended and joined our partners at a variety of industry events around the world, including ones in the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, India, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Thailand. Team members presented, participated in panels and gave demos at many of these events, including several keynote addresses. We also welcomed some new organisations to our growing Global Partner Network and expanded our V-Person™ Family with new deployments around the world.

Our Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel continued his monthly Virtual Viewpoint column for the Wharf Life Newspaper this year. You can find all of his past columns here. He also saw his name in print in the 6 October edition of The Sunday Times where he was quoted in an article about British entrepreneurs and their tech giant competitors. Subscribers to The Times can read the article online here – and we also have a copy available here.

As we head into 2020, Creative Virtual is preparing to celebrate the company’s Sweet Sixteen – 16 years of helping enterprises deliver better customer and employee support and of bringing new innovations to the virtual agent, chatbot and live chat market. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring!

Be sure to check out our 2019 in Review photo album on the Creative Virtual Facebook page. As we do every year, we’ve compiled photos from industry events, company celebrations, fundraising runs and group activities. There will be more photos added over the next couple of weeks, so make sure you’re following us so you don’t miss any.

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.