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What Is a Virtual Agent and Why Adding One Is the Secret to Exceptional Customer Experiences

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January 19, 2024
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 min read
The Zowie Team

Virtual agents are becoming increasingly popular in contact centers because of their ability to improve efficiency and reduce operational costs. Over 80% of businesses now use some form of chatbot or virtual agent.

If you're considering adopting this technology for your business, you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll extensively cover what virtual agents are and how to add one.

“The playing field is poised to become a lot more competitive, and businesses that don’t deploy AI and data to help them innovate in everything they do will be at a disadvantage.” Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Accenture.

What is a virtual agent? 

A virtual agent is software that uses a combination of features, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), scripted rules, conversational AI, intelligent search, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) applications – a program's ability to interpret written and spoken human language – to offer guidance and automated service to humans.

Virtual Agents are primarily used in customer service departments to handle customer requests and questions. Typically, the first point of contact, virtual agents, are relied on to recognize user intent and offer an appropriate solution. 

This solution depends on predefined workflows and can be anything from answering incoming questions to gathering vital information before connecting shoppers with a live agent. 

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Virtual agent vs a virtual assistant 

As noted, a virtual agent is an AI-powered solution, while a virtual assistant is a human working remotely. 

Both can be valuable business assets but are in charge of different tasks. A virtual agent will automate actions for employees or customers, like paying a bill or updating log-in credentials. Meanwhile, the virtual assistant will be responsible for various administrative tasks such as email and calendar management, travel arrangements, and general errands. 

Who knows, a virtual assistant might even lean on a virtual agent to automate some of their most repetitive tasks. 

Is a virtual agent the same as a chatbot? 

The short answer is no. 

While virtual agents and chatbots are similar in their ability to automate incoming questions, the main difference lies in the technology each uses. 

To better understand this idea, it's important to know the three main types of chatbots: menu-based chatbots, keyword-based chatbots, and AI chatbots. 

  • Menu-based chatbots: Use a decision-tree flow, which gives users a limited number of choices they can click on. With this type of chatbot, users can't get a response when typing in a question. 
  • Keyword-based chatbots: Allow users to type their questions but can only deliver the correct answer if it's been trained on that specific keyword. Typos and question variations are the nemesis of this chatbot because if it was trained on, where's my order but not, when will my package arrive? It won't be able to answer the latter.  
  • AI chatbots: These are the most advanced form of chatbots and use advanced algorithms to understand user intent and respond with natural conversations.  
For more on the difference between each type, check out our sister blog Chatbot vs Conversational AI: What's the Difference?

A key differentiator of a virtual assistant is its ability to understand user intent and deliver personalized communication. With that in mind, only AI chatbots have the advanced capability to hold these natural, tailored conversations.

One final point to remember: while all AI chatbots act as virtual agents, not all virtual agents are chatbots. 

Instead, they can offer support in multiple mediums. For example, you're talking to a virtual assistant when interacting with an automated telephone system or interactive voice response (IVR). 

How to seamlessly add a virtual agent (in 7 steps)

Looking to add a virtual agent to your team? Be sure to consider the following.

1. Identify your needs

Before beginning your search, you should identify what tasks or goals you'd like your virtual agent to help you accomplish. Write out your needs. Are you looking for an agent to help with product recommendations, answer FAQs, or assist with all-around customer support? It could be all of the above.

With this list, you'll be able to find the perfect addition for your unique needs. 

2. Select a virtual agent software

It's crucial to pick software that fits your needs and utilizes the latest technology (such as generative AI). For example, Zowie was purpose-built for ecommerce and offers users generative AI they control. With it, you can confidently resolve 70% of customer questions

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3. Train it using your data

A virtual agent is only as "smart" as the data it was trained on. Before you can release your virtual assistant, it needs to be trained on your internal processes, policies, and procedures. Don't forget that a virtual assistant should be an extension of your brand, so make sure it reflects your tone, style, and brand voice. 

4. Design workflows

Workflows will tell your virtual agent how to act and who the tickets should go to if it can’t answer the question. This flow will cover how the virtual assistant guides customers through finding product information and placing orders. Ensure the flow is simple and can be easily navigated. 

5. Integrate with your tech stack

Your virtual agent should seamlessly integrate with your sales automation software, order management systems, CRM, and contact center software so it can efficiently answer questions and assist your support reps. 

Additionally, it should integrate with messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger. This will allow users to engage in omnichannel conversations on their preferred platforms.

6. Test!

Before launching your virtual agent, testing and optimizing its conversation flow and functionality is essential. Confirm how it performs with different scenarios, like inquiries about shipping or products. View it as your chance to ensure everything is working perfectly.

7. Monitor, update, and improve

Finally, allow your virtual agent to collect user feedback through a rating option. The replies will help you improve. 

Advanced virtual agents can take this one step further by automatically analyzing customer feedback.

It'll detect content gaps and recommend additional automated responses to those questions. Approve the suggestions to continue growing your automation potential!

It’s time to elevate your customer experience 

Looking to bring your customer support to the next level? Zowie offers an all-in-one customer support solution to improve efficiency, reduce support costs, and increase sales. 

Discover how True Classic generated $3 million in new revenue while cutting support costs by 38% simply by switching to Zowie. 

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Ready to transform your customer service with a virtual agent built for ecommerce? Talk to a Zowie Rep today.