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Creative Virtual Executive Interview

Liam Ryan, Sales Director, Creative Virtual

What proven benefits have companies been deriving from deploying intelligent virtual agent technology across a broad spectrum of communication channels?

Companies are seeing all of the usual benefits that you’ve heard associated with intelligent virtual agent technology for years – an enhanced user experience, improvement in CSAT scores, reductions in calls to the contact centre and lower customer service costs. As the number of communication channels have grown and customers have become more digitally savvy, virtual agent technology has also become more advanced and sophisticated and is helping companies increase engagement through natural language conversations.

Chatbots and virtual agents can now provide a complete omnichannel experience for those at a desk and on the move. By being able to linkup channels – web, mobile, Facebook, messenger apps (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), voice assistants (like Google Home and Amazon Alexa), etc. – companies are benefiting from delivering a consistent, accurate and seamless experience that’s available to customers 24/7. It’s important that companies looking to implement a virtual agent fully explore the benefits of deploying the solution across multiple contact channels using a single knowledgebase, and then consider that as part of their selection process. Many virtual agent and chatbot solutions on the market today don’t have this capability which means you end up with a stand-alone tool on a single communication channel and an even more disjointed customer experience.

The industry is also seeing a surge in organisations deploying virtual agents for employee support, particularly for internal service desk and HR support. By offering employees an easy and convenient way to self-serve, companies are seeing many of the same benefits as with the customer-facing solutions. They’re reducing their internal support costs, improving the employee experience and seeing increased employee productivity.  

In what ways do you work with potential clients to determine and develop the opportunities to enable customers to self-serve with reduced effort?

As part of our initial discovery process, we analyse live chat sessions and call logs to identify where the virtual agent can provide support without the need for a user to interact with a human. From this analysis, we can calculate the amount of calls that will be saved and the ROI (return on investment) for the potential client. What’s missing from that analysis are the other benefits that the organisation will see, such as increased engagement, improved user experience and a better brand perception. Some of the partners we work with will also go into the call centre and sit with the agents to determine how the virtual agent can help.

The experience and expertise of the Creative Virtual team is a definite advantage when it comes to helping our clients get the most from a virtual agent. We work with them to determine the best opportunities to reduce customer effort and improve the experience – whether that be something as small as adding a hand-hold process for completing a form or a larger undertaking such as expanding the virtual agent to an additional channel.

What are the most significant recent upgrades you have made in delivering more effective self-service and empowering live agents to provide a higher percentage of first contact resolutions?

Creative Virtual’s V-Person Live Chat™ has been an important addition to our suite of products. By integrating the virtual agent with our live chat product, the system can read users questions as they type and show live chat agents the answer automatically. This saves the agent from searching, thereby reducing average handling times whilst at the same time increasing first contact resolution. This integration also features an industry-defining feedback loop which allows agents to submit content updates and suggestions to keep content accurate for both live chat agents and the virtual agent.

Our hybrid approach to self-learning which combines AI (artificial intelligence) with human input is also helping us deliver more effective self-service. We’ve all seen the potential disaster of leaving AI on its own to deliver information – remember Microsoft’s chatbot Tay? By using human moderation of the machine learning component, we’ve enabled companies to benefit from self-learnings based on how customers interact with the chatbot while still maintaining control over the accuracy of answers and reliability of the system.

How is your growing network of partnerships enabling Creative Virtual to offer more innovation and increase the adoption of IVA and chatbot solutions in the customer service space?

Working with our partners enables us to enhance the partner’s offering by providing a self-service solution to their current customer base as well as helping them gain new customers. Our technology becomes the virtual agent part of their platform. These partners are able to provide a complete end-to-end platform package to meet companies’ customer service and engagement requirements.

Our growing partner network allows us to offer more innovation directly to our customers, by developing integrations with our partners’ technology as well as other third-party systems they work with. In some cases, these partnerships also allow us to offer more localised and specialised support.

How has the explosion of media hype and buzz around artificial intelligence and chatbots affected the virtual agent industry?

The media hype around artificial intelligence and chatbots has been dying down after the initial explosion. According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, the technology has entered the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and I agree with that assessment based on my own experience in the market. The initial media buzz has proven to be overstated, and people are starting to work out the hype from the reality. Unfortunately, some of these unrealistic expectations were set by other virtual agent vendors who jumped on the AI bandwagon by making over-inflated claims about their technology. Now the industry has come crashing down to reality and there is certainly some disappointment as people are starting to understand the technology better.

As the market is becoming more educated and the technology moves toward the ‘slope of enlightenment’ on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, companies are realising that no matter what virtual agent system they select for customer or employee support it will need proper training and nurturing. Despite the initial hype, these systems are not a black box they can sit in the corner, switch on and then leave to automatically provide reliable, accurate self-service.