7 Benefits of Using Virtual Agents in Customer Service

All businesses encounter challenges, but the most innovative ones are harnessing technologies like artificial intelligence to address them. AI can streamline previously manual processes and use data analysis to identify key trends that inform decision-making. According to a study by Accenture, AI could even increase labor productivity by up to 40 percent by 2035.

One of the most prevalent applications of AI in business is virtual agents. Technological advancements have allowed virtual agents to enhance customer experiences and simplify the tasks of human knowledge workers. As the prominence of AI continues to grow in the workplace, the role of virtual agents in improving organizations' productivity, efficiency, and financial performance is increasingly recognized.

To grasp the concept of a virtual agent, it's important to differentiate it from related terms. First, a virtual agent should not be confused with a virtual assistant, which refers to a remote individual performing tasks on behalf of another person. Additionally, while there are similarities, a virtual agent and a chatbot are separate entities. However, it is worth noting that chatbots are significantly limited in their ability to cater to specific customer service requests.

So, what defines a virtual agent? A virtual agent is software that uses AI and predefined rules to deliver answers, guidance, and other services to customers and prospects. Virtual agents can effectively resolve complex customer service requests through a humanized and personalized experience.

There are three types of virtual agents, each offering personalized customer experiences. Each type of virtual agent can deliver many variations of customer service to suit different business needs.

  • Virtual voice agents, also known as voice bots, which employ AI to recognize customers' keywords. For example, when someone contacts a pharmacy, a virtual voice agent will inquire whether he is a provider or customer. The response will direct him to the next stage.
  • Basic interactive voice response (IVR), a virtual agent in its most basic form, using keypad inputs to navigate through virtual menus. When someone calls a pizza place and encounters a prompt, such as "Press one to place an order," he engages with a virtual agent.
  • Intelligent virtual agents, the most advanced of all virtual agents, employ specific rule sets and AI capabilities to identify customer intentions, enabling them to provide the right services and interact via voice, text, chat, or email. The effectiveness of these agents relies on the quality of AI and the programmed rules. The level of intricacy within the rule set determines the range of outcomes the virtual agent can offer. For instance, if you schedule an oil change online, an intelligent virtual agent can discern your intention and prompt you with questions to arrange an appointment time for the required services.

Leaders need to invest time in understanding the abilities of virtual agents and their potential to enhance productivity and efficiency, thus impacting their company's bottom line. To aid in this endeavor, below is a list of seven benefits companies can experience using virtual agents.

1. Determine customer intent.

Quality customer service is more important to consumers than ever before. So much so that, in the last year, 78 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with at least one company or ditched a planned purchase based on poor customer service. Virtual agents can help companies meet these expectations by accurately understanding customers' intent and ensuring the delivery of appropriate messages at the right time. This timely and personalized experience increases conversions, customer retention and revenue.

2. Manage multiple chats at a time.

Virtual agents can manage several conversations simultaneously. This reduces labor costs and enables customers to receive faster responses than relying solely on human agents. Moreover, as virtual agents can handle common customer inquiries, human employees can dedicate their attention to more productive tasks instead of repeatedly addressing the same questions.

3. Deliver quick, consistent and compliant communications.

Customers expect quick replies, and the instantaneous response of a virtual agent meets this requirement. This is especially significant since 76 percent of consumers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. Replies from virtual agents are also always compliant, as they are based on a set of rules that consider branding and regulations.

4. Omnichannel communication.

Virtual agents can engage with customers using many channels, including text, email, phone, online chat, and integrations with platforms like Slack or Teams, depending on customer preference. Through omnichannel communication, virtual agents ensure consistent messaging throughout the customer journey, thus enhancing the overall experience.

5. Deliver 24/7 customer service.

Having around-the-clock customer service is crucial in a highly competitive landscape. Through virtual agents, businesses can fulfill customer requirements and provide valuable communications anytime.

6. Reduce stress and increase the productivity of live agents.

As the initial point of contact for customer service, virtual agents contribute to alleviating the workload and minimizing stress for live agents. At a time when 59 percent of customer service agents are at risk of burnout, easing that stress is crucial. Virtual agents can play a pivotal role in preventing burnout and empowering employees to reach their highest potential, leading to improved employee and customer experiences.

7. Enhance customer experience.

In today's business landscape, delivering a positive customer experience is essential. It not only brings delight to customers but also fosters their loyalty and encourages repeat business. Virtual agents enhance the customer experience by accelerating response times and expediting customers toward achieving their goals more efficiently.

For organizations dealing with a high influx of customer service requests, virtual agents can be immensely valuable, benefiting both the customer experience and the employee experience. AI-powered agents have the potential to boost revenue and enable organizations to achieve more with limited resources. By offering efficiency, productivity, and enhanced customer service, virtual agents offer advantages that provide a competitive edge in today's ultra-competitive business environment.

Todd Fisher is founder and CEO of CallTrackingMetrics.