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2017 is not quite half way and already this year has many of us concerned about what the future might hold after the UK general election. The volatile political events of 2016 appear to have dominoed into 2017, which has left many UK businesses in limbo – not wanting to make any drastic changes to processes or investing in new technologies - waiting to see the what impact the election results might have on the future of their business.
Another dominating topic in 2017 is AI. Like political ructions, new technology can create fear, uncertainty, and doubt, until we understand it better. But unlike politics, were we can choose who we support, or whether to cast or vote or not, we are parading inescapably into a new generation of digitally enabled customer experiences and there is no turning back. Waiting to invest in new customer engagement technology, could put you well behind the curve competing in a digital future.
Some leading organisations are already masters in this new world, already using AI to great effect or actively planning for it. But most organisations still find it difficult to imagine how AI with its hype and science fiction drama can bridge the gaps between a customer’s diverse interaction points to help improve their journey and experience with services and answers they need.
If you're reading this, there's a good chance you understand that consistently satisfying customer service is increasingly important as customer expectations are adapting and growing just as rapidly as the channels and technology consumers are now empowered to engage with.
Being open to new paths of communication, such as Virtual Agent technology, can up the personalisation and customer engagement stakes. Unlike the uncertain outcome of the UK general election and its repercussions, Virtual Agents, when deployed correctly, with a set of specific goals, can generate leads, increase sales, and grow a business in a big way, and this is only the beginning. However, just because Virtual Agents are part of the hottest topic of 2017, this does not necessarily mean it will be the right fit for everyone.
Self-service has become the long-term solution to meeting customer expectations. In a global report, ‘The Self-service Economy’, 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. And millennials especially expect companies to keep improving their levels of service, expecting everything to be just a click away - their social relationships, their retail relationships, even their banking and insurance relationships.
This isn’t a manifesto to try to convince you to invest in Virtual Agent technology, but rather to highlight how it can align with wider business objectives.
Standing still is going backwards
Synthetix are pioneers of Virtual Agent technology. However, all Virtual Agents are not created equal.
A Virtual Agent should not to be confused with a chatbot. A chatbot is mainly focussed on a single purpose, like providing simple answers in a very linear, single dimensional support. Less scalable and robust than a Virtual Agent, a chatbot might not a great option over the long term, as frequently they lack reliability, analytics, and learning.
The Chief of Facebook Messenger, David Marcus says that 34,000 bots have been created in the name of customer experience, since its launch. However, he acknowledges that many early offerings of chatbots are ‘really bad’.
So, what’s the deal with Virtual Agents?
A semblance of personal service, Natural Language Processing (NLP) - a component of artificial intelligence – a Virtual Agent can drive personalised customer experiences and increase engagement. Combined with a graphical representation, this is a powerful additional contact channel (not a replacement for human interaction). Virtual Agents can raise the online customer service effort bar, offering customers who wish to self-serve answers, in an engaging, appropriate, and conversational automated interaction.
The business case for the Virtual Agent is different to that of a humble, self-service chat-bot. A personalised, goal oriented answer engine, designed specifically, to deliver customer value in both sales and service engagements.
How can a Virtual Agent align with wider business objectives?
KPIs within the customer care usually comprise of reducing complaints, increasing the speed of response, and improving first call resolution. Virtual Agents can help achieve these objectives and more.
Just think about the tasks you could have Virtual Agents do. They can exercise predictive skills, knowing the intent of a question, and therefore predict the next. They could answer multiple questions, without getting annoyed, tired, and even with a sprinkle of humour. They can recognise the basic intent of the question and emulate human intelligence, making them capable of taking on a wide variety of tasks including to ‘decide’ to escalate or to fulfil a request.
Virtual Agents, if deployed in the right manner, can reduce support costs, encourage self-service, increase customer loyalty, and serve as a branding/marketing tool.
There’s a lot of shouting from the rooftops about how AI is the future and a lot of businesses are getting caught up in the politics – AI is killing apps, will take over jobs, change the world.
If Synthetix were in politics, we are convinced that our customers would vote for our seat in Westminster. However, we are fanatical about not just our clients, but we are advocates for the creation of exceptional customer service. In fact, with all this hype, we decided to collaborate with a trusted publication to clarify the subject of Virtual Agents in a very palatable, concise style, without the politics and drama.
Although we are only 16 - in tech years - we are pioneers, just like the first permanent English Jamestown settlers a hundred years ago to the date. We have been creating ‘New World’ customer experiences, revolutionising online customer service with our seamless integration of customer contact channels such as Virtual Agents, FAQ search, live chat and e-mail management.
Turning sixteen traditionally marks the passage into early adulthood, so you could say that we are celebrating another stage of maturity in our sector and in AI tech society.
Our Synthetix Contact Cloud and Self-service Cloud technologies has evolved to now offer Platform as a Service (PaaS), empowering developers to create their own powerful online customer service tools using our API (SYNAPPS) technology.
Born in 2001
At the beginning of the new Millennium Peter McKean and the other co-founders of Synthetix were employed by an organisation concerned with the production of e-business solutions. Peter introduced the concept of marrying NLP technology to create a Virtual Agent to assist businesses with their online customer enquiries - an idea he got from his previous employment using natural language search to search to report old financial data.
His employer in the city, set about developing their take on Virtual Agent technology.
However, Peter and the other co-founders of Synthetix had a concept for comparable software in mind that could be deployed quicker and would be more cost-effective, but their employer wasn’t interested.
They left that firm to start Synthetix and develop their ideas into a product they could viably sell. With no salary and an early release of their new software on old laptops, they touted what they’d done around existing contacts and other potential prospects.
Luckily, someone took a chance on them and they developed six Virtual Agents for the BBC. That work won them an award and the rest is history!
Have some digital cake on us!
Since founding Synthetix in 2001, Peter has pioneered the development of AI-based Virtual Agents and Natural Language Processing for self-service, building a suite of powerful, knowledge-driven multi-channel customer service applications which are cloud-first and deeply integrated with each other to deliver great customer experiences.
Though Managing Director of Synthetix, Peter is passionate about software engineering and innovation, guiding the development of Synthetix’s products and services to ensure they are the best they can be and still likes to check in code from time to time.
Happy birthday Synthetix or rather 01001000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01111001 00100000 01000010 01101001 01110010 01110100 01101000 01100100 01100001 01111001 00100000 01010011 01111001 01101110 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110100 01101001 01111000 00100001
Synthetix are pleased to announce our progression to the final of the Digital Self-Service innovation category of the UK National Innovation Awards 2017. May is truly a month of celebration here at Synthetix as not only are we through to the final round of the Innovation Awards, 12 May sees us celebrating our 16th birthday.
This might not sound very old, until you think about the light-speed advances of technology over the last 16 years. Not only are we known as one of the pioneers of Virtual Agent Technology - creating Virtual Agents for companies like the BBC, Vauxhall, and Ford, comparable to Siri, Cortana and Google Now, before they became the norm - Synthetix has revolutionised online customer service with our seamless integration of customer contact channels such as FAQ search, Live Chat, Dynamic Web Forms and E-mail Management.
To be chosen as a finalist in the Innovation Awards 2017, Synthetix had to demonstrate the power of our integrated Synthetix online customer service technologies. Our entry highlighted enhanced customer experiences, a reduction in overall customer contact and costs for our customers from Retail, Travel and Insurance.
Jon Snow, Chairman of Directors’ Club United Kingdom praised standard of entries, “Directors’ Club are delighted the Synthetix entry was voted through to the final of the Digital Self-Service Innovation category on May 23rd. The competition from other entrants was high, as was the quality of the submissions. I am sure their live final presentation will further demonstrate the innovation at the heart of their offering. Congratulations and best of luck.”Adam Ashcroft, Marketing Director of Synthetix said “The effectiveness, efficiency and customer satisfaction results from our customers speak volumes. As customer behavior constantly adapt to advances in technology, Synthetix will continue to create cutting-edge multi-channel online customer service solutions ensure consistent and accurate information is available via every customer touch-point.
We are excited about this award entry and thank the UK National Innovation Awards 2017, for the opportunity to showcase why we are market leaders of multi-channel online customer service.”
The Digital Self-Service Innovation category final will take place live online at 11am (BST) on Tuesday, May 23rd 2017, judged by the business leaders who employ the technologies.