- Virtual agents are sophisticated software programs that understand human language
- Virtual agents assist human agents by answering easy questions quickly
- There are six benefits virtual agents offer contact centers, including greater efficiency and a better customer experience
There’s a good chance that in your personal life, you use virtual agents frequently. You probably think of them as chatbots, but virtual agents are more sophisticated than that.
What are virtual agents?
A virtual agent is a messaging window that pops up in the corner of a website when you visit.
It’s software that follows certain rules to provide answers or directions based on customer questions.
What’s the difference between virtual agents and chatbots?
Chatbots are much simpler than virtual agents. A chatbot gathers information from a customer, deals with basic questions, and can carry out simple tasks like scheduling a callback.
A virtual agent, on the other hand, makes use of natural language processing (NLP). NLP is a field of artificial intelligence that gives machines the ability to read, understand, and derive meaning from human language.
With NLP, a virtual agent can actually understand what a customer says, rather than just scanning for certain phrases. Virtual agents can comprehend a customer’s intent and provide personalized, relevant responses.
Here’s an example of a virtual agent in action: Lucy orders a picture for her new apartment. During the order process, she accidentally enters her old address. Lucy only realizes her error after leaving the site, so she goes back to the site and asks the virtual agent about how to update the address on her order.
The virtual agent understands exactly what Lucy wants to do and is able to carry out the request.
Will contact center virtual agents take away jobs from humans?
The media has made a great deal of how AI will lead to people losing their jobs. When it comes to contact centers, that’s just not the case.
Contact center virtual agents supplement, not replace, human agents. They free up human agents to deal with more complicated interactions. For example, a human agent doesn’t have to handle password resets – a virtual agent can easily and quickly give a customer that information.
Benefits of contact center virtual agents
Virtual agents can provide a number of benefits to your contact center, including:
- 24/7 availability
- Assist human agents
- Better data gathering
- Better lead generation
- Improved customer experience
- Constantly-improving AI
Virtual agents are available 24/7
One of the biggest benefits of virtual agents is that they’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Your customers won’t always access your website during business hours. That doesn’t mean you should miss out on opportunities to help them, though. A virtual agent will always be ready to answer customer questions.
Virtual agents assist human agents
As mentioned earlier, contact center virtual agents won’t replace human agents; rather, they assist them.
There are times when contact centers can experience much higher volume (to wit, the events of 2020 had people cancelling or rescheduling trips en masse). That puts a great deal of pressure on agents to handle interactions effectively, while ensuring a positive customer experience. Virtual agents bridge the gap; they answer easier questions that are still critical to customers, so human agents can deal with more challenging queries.
Virtual agents offer better data gathering abilities
Every time a customer interacts with a virtual agent, the virtual agent gathers information. That information can be analyzed in aggregate, to give decision makers greater insight into the customer experience.
We’ll illustrate with an example: the virtual agent has been fielding a high volume of customer inquiries about a new feature. From all of these interactions, contact center supervisors can see a pattern – there are common questions and complaints. In addition, supervisors can also tell where people are contacting them from, what time of day they’re sending messages, and how long the average interaction lasts.
That information helps business leaders make the right decisions for the company. It might be that the new feature of a product isn’t working, and it should be refined in future releases.
Virtual agents enhance lead generation
Because virtual agents are so good at gathering information, they can play a critical role in lead generation.
Let’s say Alison wants to buy a new car. She browses the site of a local dealership to get a sense of what’s on the market. The dealership has a virtual agent on its site. It greets Alison and asks her how it can help her today.
Alison tells the virtual agent she’d like to buy a new car. The virtual agent learns what Alison is looking for in a vehicle, and it gathers her contact information. It passes off her information to a salesperson, who can reach out to Alison personally to help her find a new car.
Virtual agents improve the customer experience
Over 60% of American customers prefer an automated self-service option to solve simple issues. They don’t want to waste time waiting on hold for information they can find on their own.
Virtual agents improve the customer experience by making it faster and easier for customers to get the information they need. That creates a much more pleasant experience, and boosts the odds that customers will come back to you in the future.
AI is constantly getting better
During every interaction, a virtual agent learns something new. The AI that powers virtual agents is always gathering new information and attempting to make new connections. That means that it’s always trying to do better.
With every interaction, there’s a chance for the virtual agent to progress and offer an even more satisfying customer experience and better data.
Originally published Jun 16, 2021, updated Dec 30, 2022