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Creative Virtual Executive Interview

Mike Murphy, CEO, USA, Creative Virtual

As more customers start their support journeys online and take advantage of self-service options, does that translate into a declining need for live agents?

 In the traditional sense of “live agent” (phone agents), yes. And that’s a really great thing! Every company needs great customer service representatives, and always will. The conversational content that gets leveraged in intelligent self-serve solutions has to come from somewhere. The best source of great content for your business is from the mind/mouth of a front-line rep. They should have their own virtual assistant helping them out, and have an integrated feedback-loop on content that pushes out to the rest of your self-serve channels (with an approval layer). Improved self-serve solutions don’t eliminate the need for live agents, nor should that be anyone’s goal. It’s simply a solution that allows businesses to invest more dollars in really good representatives and better leverage their customer service expertise. Let’s get those great agents out of call centers and have them messaging with customers like every other personal communication these days!

How can businesses benefit by driving greater collaboration between virtual agents and front-line customer service representatives?

Maybe you were anticipating my answer to the previous question when you wrote this one? :) Simply put, those great front-line reps are the key element to success. You want to emulate the experience the talented ones are delivering to your customers. Find tools that incorporate their learnings into the self-service solution in a low-effort way. If a rep figures out a better way to explain a fee, it should take one click for her to get that into an approval queue.  

Many organizations do not fully understand the definitions of virtual agents, chatbots and avatars: can you elaborate on the differences between them?

No thanks! Who’s to say I’m right? It’s actually the best and worst thing about our emerging space...no rules (yet)! Call it whatever you want. Eventually the market will settle on a consensus, but these are early days. More important than what these things are called is the results. Whatever you’re being pitched, make sure you get a customer reference that closely mirrors your own business. There is a lot of “big hat, no cattle” marketing for these solutions out there. If it isn’t delivering great customer conversations, move on.  

Can you explain the concept behind your Omnichannel Smart Help and how it helps personalize the customer experience across a variety of touch points?

What isn’t a channel these days? I’m pretty sure in another 3 months I’ll be able to ask my couch to book a flight for me. Our philosophy has always been to stay outcome-focused. Getting the conversation right so that customers can get accurate and personalized answers with as little effort and personal time invested as possible is always our goal. So we ensure that conversational structure stays in place, while we keep entry and exit points flexible enough so that we can take an existing client’s content and demo a new channel the day something new is released to the market. If they release that couch API tomorrow morning, we can demo it providing a customer’s account balance and payment date by the afternoon.

Creative Virtual has experienced success in the UK and other international markets: what type of impact have you had in the US and North America and what are your expectations for growth over the next several years?

Our global presence has been a wonderful asset in helping us evolve our solutions in well-informed ways. There are a number of regional and cultural differences in how companies are leveraging this technology. Maintaining product flexibility in order to deliver globally has kept us prepared for the rapid advances in capabilities. Perhaps the biggest contribution from the US deployments has been scale. We don’t do things small here! While the average enterprise chatbot deployment around the world handles about 100,000 conversations a year, several of our US deployments do that volume in 3 days! We mostly service the top-end of the enterprise market across telco, banking, and hospitality. These are industries with substantial security, scalability, and quality requirements that push a vendor to extremely high standards. As far as growth expectations, we measure our success by how well we help our clients succeed in their goals. We’ve got several clients sharing their digital transformation stories today, and expect many more of those stories in the coming years.  

I always find these discussions enjoyable and interesting.  But I’ll happily acknowledge that my answers to most of these questions are no more likely to be correct than anyone else’s. Any “correct” answer I give today is often incorrect before the milk in my fridge expires. My best advice is to place less value in “how” these solutions work and more in “what” they are actually accomplishing in the real world in the form of actual customer conversations. While I’ll admit there are some pretty cool super bowl commercials out there for this stuff, look past the marketing to the actual customer experience. Get a demo that is customized to your business and try it out for yourself. Ask how many conversations the solution provider has shifted to the chatbot and it’s like-to-like success rates for similar deployments in your industry. Simply put, channel your inner “Where’s the Beef” lady. The providers getting these solutions right should have several clients that will personally tell you how the product transformed their business, shifted significant percentages of live contacts, and improved customer experience. Ask for proof, not just concepts. Otherwise, you could find out you’ve purchased the idea of a solution rather than the real thing.