Virtual agents are a step above chatbots because they work for brands and organizations to help guide customers and employees through business-related tasks. When you think of virtual agents, think of them as digital customer service agents, hotel concierges, mortgage processors and insurance agents.
Anyone who has ever chatted with a brand online, either via a company’s website, Facebook Messenger or Slack, or the phone has more than likely chatted with a virtual agent, depending on the company. Virtual agents have traditionally served low-level support roles guided by rules-based scripting. If you use Keyword A, the virtual agent replies with Comment A. If you use Keyword B, the virtual agent replies with Comment B. They provide basic triaging of customer queries, either by guiding customers to FAQ pages or by escalating more complex conversations to human agents.
The Intelligent Virtual Agent
Today’s cutting edge companies have shifted from low-level virtual agents to more capable and compelling Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs). By empowering virtual agents with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), digital labor has been able to take on more challenging roles. Instead of following simple scripts, IVAs can connect to back-end business systems to provide personalized and unique answers to a specific customer’s questions.
“Increasing enterprise focus on customer experience has resulted in a shift towards higher quality of services delivered,” according to new research from Everest Group. “While rule-based chatbots were able to offer automation of simple jobs in the contact center setting, the technology has had limited success in enhancing the overall customer experience.”
Whereas virtual agents do a good job telling you where to find information on shipping rates, IVAs are able to tell you exactly what the shipping rate will be for your exact address and/or package size and weight. Even more impressively, they can help you choose a product, make a payment and then access a company’s supply chain to process the order for shipment.
“IVAs are AI-powered conversational bots that have potential to offer high value in various business functions such as contact center, F&A [finance and accounting], HR, and IT & helpdesk through superior customer satisfaction, round the clock support, and reduction in service costs for the enterprises,” according to Everest Group. “IVAs go beyond solving basic customer queries and are becoming capable of handling much more complex interactions such as sales and marketing, payment collections, employee support, and customer acquisition and retention.”