The contact centre is finished in its current form,” said Chris Ezekiel, founder and CEO of Creative Virtual, and winner in the Medium-to-large Business category at The Wharf Innovation In Business Awards 2016. His company is a global leader in providing virtual assistant technology for corporate websites.
If you’ve used Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s new Echo, you will know how this technology works.
It enables users to access information and carry out basic commands using a vocal or text-based interface.
Born and bred on the Isle of Dogs, where he and some of his family still live, Chris went to the local Cubitt Town and George Green’s schools and later Queen Mary University, before forming the company in 2003 and trading out of Cannon Workshops adjacent to Canary Wharf.
Creative Virtual has since opened offices around the world and become a global leader in the fast-growing world of virtual assistants.
The company has developed a customer engagement platform designed to sit on top of an organisation’s existing infrastructure – creating a chatbot for customers to get instant answers to their questions by talking to a virtual person (V-Person).
V-Person is based on natural language and artificial intelligence and can be used across a multitude of social media platforms, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as websites and mobile apps.
The V-Person become a multi-platform product expert, salesperson, voice and window to a company, responding to anything from transaction requests to FAQs, as and when a user sees fit.
Take for example “Ask Lisa”, the virtual assistant found on National Rail’s website and one of Creative Virtual’s products.
She can answer questions about whether you can take your dog or cat on the train, tell you the price of parking at a particular station, or inform you about your chosen journey via a conversational interface.
America’s Chase Bank uses the company’s technology too. Ask about your annual interest fee and it will ask you which account you’re referring to, provide you with an answer and even follow up by asking, for example, if you would like to make a payment?
The Commercial Bank Of Dubai is even installing Creative Virtual’s agent in its kiosks. And the client base is growing, with other customers including the RSPCA, HSBC, Time Warner, Sainsburys and E.ON.
So with such high-profile converts, does this mean the end of the call centre? Well, yes but only in its current form. According to Chris it will simply evolve and even become more valuable.
“Call centre agents will become consultative knowledge experts, playing a key role in improving the customer experience by keeping the self-service virtual assistant up to date,” he said.
“When the virtual assistant doesn’t understand a question, it can hand over to a real person for follow-up or a call back.
"We’re using those call centre agents as part of a feedback loop to make the virtual assistant more intelligent over time.”
This mimicking of the way people interact with each other, integrated with voice technology, is only one part of the platform’s success.
Once trends in information requests become apparent, the virtual assistant can be programmed to personalise the knowledge they offer to display for the user on the phone, or keyboard.
And this leads Chris to propose another reason for his company – and this technology’s – success, namely the Millennials’ resistance to the old ways of doing things.
“We’re seeing a generational change: millennials don’t even talk to each other – they prefer texting,” he said.
“The last thing they want to do is actually call a company. They certainly don’t want to get into lengthy email conversations.
“They want an instant, personal response, on the channel of their choice, and that’s what our V-Person technology provides.
“And it’s a wonderful feeling growing a world-leading business, that’s transforming the way companies interact with their customers, in the area where I grew up and love.”
A recent report by technology research company Gartner found 30% of our interaction with technology by 2018 would be conducted via conversations with smart machines.
Having seemingly predicted that trend in 2003, perhaps Chris also has a virtual assistant that can forecast the future.
We can’t wait for that to hit the market.
Follow The Wharf on Twitter @the_wharf .
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook .