A virtual agent is a program based on artificial intelligence (AI) that provides automated customer service. To break it down, if you have ever used online customer support to resolve an issue with your phone bill or chatted with a service desk agent at your job to reset a password, then you most likely interacted with a virtual agent. Essentially, this technology can provide basic information to customers or employees, help guide the users through questions, and automatically reroute complex conversations or issues to an actual human agent if needed. 

 However, it should not be confused with call center agents that work remotely, who can also be called “virtual agents”.

 

Virtual agents vs Chatbots

This might not be a simple answer. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is still a debate amongst industry analysts, experts, and the technology community on the definition. And it is important to note that although there isn’t one definition everyone can agree on, we can still look at both concepts in terms of their functionality. 

According to Chatbots Magazine, a chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. This makes a lot of sense since the word itself is composed of “chat”, which would indicate a conversational or chatter function, and “bot”, which can refer to an application that can be programmed to automate tasks.

On the other side, if we look at “virtual agent”, the composition of words makes it seem that the functions should go beyond “chatter”. Which would also make sense since an “agent” is someone (or something) that can act on a person’s behalf.

However, even though chatbots have been present from decades ago, they have certainly gone beyond a simple chat interface with scripted responses and, like virtual agents, can also benefit from AI technologies like ML and NLP. 

No matter how you define these terms, both technologies should have the capability to identify keywords, access knowledge articles for relevant information, and provide a list of results for the users. But one thing that could help differentiate both concepts is that a virtual agent might go beyond just searching through a knowledge base. The next section shows other capabilities that you should consider.

 

Use in customer service

It is no secret that one of the main uses for virtual agents is to automate processes and reduce workload for support agents. From providing insights about a product order to automatically canceling a financial transaction and issuing a refund, agents can provide customers with all the information they need so your customer service agents can dedicate more time to work complex issues. 

Many retailers are now using virtual bots to assist customers during the buyer’s journey. Through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), which we will discuss later in this blog, the agents can study the customer’s behaviors and dislikes to personalize the experience during the buying process. They can then give customers product suggestions or recommendations and assist with tasks.

For more about AI in customer service, head on over to the below this blog post: Unlock the power of customer service AI for the better

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