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Creative Virtual Executive Interview

Patrick Gallagher, Managing Director ANZ & North Asia, Creative Virtual

Two-thirds of customers prefer to use online self-service. What steps should companies take to ensure their customers can resolve issues with minimal effort?

Over the past three decades, companies have invested millions in their contact centers, offering support to their customers that call to purchase, enquire, complain, apply or just need assistance. Traditionally this has been the ‘tried-and-tested’ option as companies continued to invest in their contact center in order to build their customer support capability. But as their customers move into digital channels (and the majority have already moved there), what are companies doing to ensure they are continuing to support their customers in the new digital channels and offer true online support to their customers? They now face a pressing need to be prioritizing investments in online customer service tools, communicating and supporting their customers where they now live, in the online channels.

As organizations work to embrace these new digital channels, it’s key for them to recognize that it’s more than just support that their online customers want. Customers expect that they should be able to purchase, enquire, complain, apply and get help effortlessly online. So what can companies do to address this? Well, it is about embracing the new digital channels and building ‘smart help’ online. The first step in determining how ‘smart’ your online help truly is, is to really test it out. Some common pitfalls that companies fall into (that customers really hate!), are having an online search tool that either returns pages and pages of results that require the customer to spend long amounts of time sorting through or returns zero results because customers didn’t use the exact terminology or search terms. Another big pitfall (and this is my pet hate) is to give answers that say ‘To find out about this product, please call the contact center’. This really creates a poor online experience for your customers.

Deploying virtual agents and smart help solutions that include Natural Language Processing (NLP) that can effortlessly understand and answer customers is enabling companies to take a step in the right direction. These self-service tools allow customers to ask questions in natural language (no more guessing the right search terms) and return a single, consistent answer to the query. Truly smart solutions can also be integrated with other support options to provide an effortless experience. For example, a customer can be seamlessly escalated from virtual agent to live chat agent should they need or want to move from self-service to a live agent.

Smart help should understand what your customer is asking, maintain the context of the conversation, and above all, be able to deliver personalized answers to your customers. It’s official: customers want their interactions to be about them, and they expect technology to know who they are, how important they are, what their preferences are and what products and services they have from your company. They want online smart help that knows all of this and provides them with the appropriate answers that are personalized to them. Companies should already be delivering effortless, smart help for their online customers today, and planning how to make these customer interactions personalized in the near future.   

How does employing the combination of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology improve the customer support experience?

A natural language virtual agent mimics the way humans interact with one another, seamlessly integrating simple question and answer pairs with decision trees (for disambiguation and multistep solutions), keyword matches, and conversational responses. These systems are engaging and accurate, responding to questions as well as taking initiative, combining first-line support with ‘live’ branding, simple and intuitive customer service with proactive sales support.

Unlike a traditional search engine or FAQ tool, the virtual agent presents content that is relevant to the specific query at hand, and does not overwhelm the user with tenuously-linked information. A single answer is linked to each user query through a sophisticated natural language processing technology.

But a word of caution about the ‘pure’ AI solutions on the market that are being promoted as virtual agents. While these technologies have a definite place in driving quantitative analysis of large volumes of data, they are not ready to be deployed for a support and service experience for customers. Virtual agents should employ self-learning capabilities, and deliver benefits from this, but in a way that gives companies control over the reliability of the responses. Combining self-learning with human curation of content allows organizations to be absolutely sure that their virtual agent is responding to users in a predictable way.    

Why is it important for intelligent virtual agent (IVA) service to be available across all contact channels now commonly used by customers?

Technology and the availability of that technology, in particular the widespread adoption of smartphones, has changed the way customers want to engage with your company. Whether they are looking for self-service on your website, your Facebook page or your mobile app, or are talking with an agent on the phone or live chat, customers expect to receive consistent and accurate information. Utilizing IVA technology across all contact channels gives your company the ability to present consistent branding and messaging to customers and makes it easy for customers to receive reliable information regardless of the channel they choose. The key to successfully creating this consistency is to use a single IVA knowledgebase to power all channels. Using a central knowledgebase allows for content updates to be made quickly and easily across all contact channels. This not only means your customers are getting the most accurate, up-to-date information but also creates efficiency and cost savings for your company. The ability to customize IVA responses by channel – giving a shorter answer on a mobile device or a more informal answer on a social channel, for example – can also improve the customer experience.   

In what ways does your technology enable businesses to leverage their collective knowledge and provide personalized experiences to their customers?

Creative Virtual’s technology is designed to be complementary to the systems and processes already in place, to sit on top of your existing infrastructure and integrate with existing company assets. We’ve taken this approach because we know that the key to leveraging your company’s collective knowledge is to integrate your existing ‘silos’ of information and make that information readily available to customers and employees. There’s no need to throw out what you’ve already spent time and money putting in place and no new lengthy and expensive development commitments with our solutions. V-Portal™, our knowledge management, workflow management and business intelligence reporting platform, is what enables us to bring all of your content together and quickly create customer conversations. Personalization is the most important aspect of creating true value in the user journey, and so our technology integrates with personal account information. Combining the understanding of the customers’ intent with their individualized customer information delivers a superior support experience.  

How can an IVA solution complement the knowledge capabilities of a live agent? 

Having an IVA will improve the digital experience your company can deliver across multiple channels and will give your customers access to effortless, smart help, but the benefits don’t not stop there. Deploying the IVA into your contact center allows your organization to use the same knowledgebase to increase the efficiency of your agents. The IVA will understand questions asked in natural language and instantly provide agents with the information they seek, reducing average call handling times by up to 40% and increasing first contact resolution. You also build confidence with customers by assuring consistent communication from all agents and across contact channels.

In addition, an IVA can be integrated into your company’s live chat solution to provide seamless escalation from virtual to live agent. Creative Virtual offers a deeper blending of these two technologies so that the virtual agent will automatically suggest answers to the live agent, and a real-time feedback loops enables agents to keep content updated for both virtual and live agents just by doing their normal jobs. 

Today’s IVAs can help automate your contact center and increase the efficiency of your live chat agents while driving compliance and consistency.