What is a virtual agent?
AI-powered virtual agents — which are common in customer service, employee assistance, and sales — can serve customers without human interaction. Virtual agents can track a package, reschedule an appointment, reset a password, and more.
Outside of customer interactions, virtual agent AI has become popular for personal use. Just think about the common smart assistants from Amazon, Apple, and Google.
How do virtual agents work?
Virtual agents use natural language understanding to recognize the way humans engage in common conversations. A typical virtual agent, such as a customer service function, can then engage with people in a similar and natural way.
This natural flow is important because customers demand a positive experience — regardless of who or what answers the call. It’s important to add customer-specific insights by integrating virtual agents with back-end systems. This allows for more personalized responses. Just like when a human is reached, a virtual agent will automatically know the purpose of the customer call. Also, virtual agents have learning capabilities to expand their capacity and address more tasks or requests.
Voice- or text-based
Natural language understanding
AI- and machine learning-powered
Benefits of using virtual agents
Customers have needs all day, every day. Virtual agents help companies to:
Operate at scale: A new product, feature, or benefit offering is sure to generate questions. You can be prepared with virtual agents that use natural language understanding to immediately address customers (and more of them).
Offer 24/7 customer service: Customers are no longer tied to store or office hours. That’s because a virtual agent can quickly answer frequently asked questions 24/7.
Reduce overtime costs and staff stress: With virtual agents handling common tasks and initial triage, human staff can enjoy normal work hours. This provides the dual benefits of less stress and lower costs.
Free up staff to address more pertinent matters: Since virtual agents can minimize the customer queue, this allows staff to better focus on customers with more complex tasks.
Boost the experience with speed: It’s no secret that customers want faster resolutions — and virtual agents are up to the challenge.
Benefits of using human agents
There are instances when humans simply are better, especially when you need to:
- Boost the experience through empathy and understanding: The ability to look, listen, and learn is huge. Just as important, a calm and comforting voice can do wonders for the customer experience.
- Handle complex issues: There are issues that only humans can properly address. This is where emotional intelligence can save the day.
- Offer creative solutions: Humans can think creatively and remove themselves from a linear script, which helps them to thoughtfully problem solve.
- Cultivate and maintain customer relationships: Over time, humans naturally develop a history and points of reference. These are invaluable when building all-important customer relationships.
Why virtual agents and humans work better together (BFFs)
Virtual agents and humans share obvious differences. Some of these feed into the fear factor of AI eliminating jobs. But by working together, virtual agents and human agents can form a classic complement on a collaborative team.
That’s because both share the same goal — to elevate the customer experience.
And elevating the customer experience should start with the basic customer desire to be engaged and understood. This often begins with being present. But if humans are inundated with work, it’s difficult for them to even reach the customer.
Virtual agents help by taking care of high-volume, simple, and repetitive tasks. And they do this around the clock, which boosts efficiency and strengthens customer relationships. Automation also streamlines the staff’s workflows, so they produce their best work by providing personalized customer service.
Virtual agents work 24/7, so human agents can deliver five-star service. They’re BFFs in the customer experience world.
What the future holds for virtual agents
As consumer demands continue to grow, so will the need for 24/7 service. Given the popularity and usage of AI-enabled engagements, interactions with virtual agents will also increase.
That’s why it’s important to embrace AI technologies now, so that you can monitor customer usage. This helps you identify where AI can help and where the human touch is most needed.
Equally important is emphasizing the connection of AI with your staff. After all, AI is only as smart as the humans who train it. For example, with a little training to define requirements, desired outcomes, and metrics, what was once deemed a complex request can be initially handled by a virtual agent. This further streamlines the workflow, which allows your team to dedicate even more time to in-depth tasks.
How to start implementing virtual agents for your business
With the omnipresent AI chatter and benefits, your business may be ready to dive in. Or you might be overwhelmed and unsure how to move forward.
But an all-in (or nothing) approach is a huge undertaking and perhaps not necessary. That’s because you can ease into AI and virtual agent integration. And Vonage is here to help.
Our low-code conversation designer empowers developers and non-developers alike to create and deploy AI virtual agents that operate in natural language on multiple channels. This enhances the multichannel experience across voice, SMS, WhatsApp, website chat, and more.
AI Studio allows you to communicate with customers across various channels by creating and deploying end-to-end conversations in real-time. This relieves the pressure on agents during high-demand times. Some of the more prominent use cases include:
Virtual agents: Enable inbound and outbound conversational AI capabilities over text and voice, all powered by proprietary Vonage technology. With the help of a virtual agent, businesses can automate many interactions across their operations, which reduces the average handle time and costs — while increasing human agent productivity.
Automated campaigns: Turn notifications into conversations to deliver optimized, personalized experiences while maximizing customers' long-term value.
Fallback to channel: Use various rules to switch between different communications channels across voice, SMS, WhatsApp, website chat, and more.
User segmentation: Implement semi-supervised or unsupervised user segmentation capabilities. These can be defined and assigned to end users from various data sources.
Integrations: Add third-party services through webhooks or a dedicated service.
Industries, companies, and departments
AI Studio provides automation to multiple industries, such as airlines, hotels, retail and ecommerce, education, utilities, healthcare, banking, and insurance, just to name a few. Our solution is also scalable for different company sizes and departments, for example:
Contact center: Track packages and returns, check product availability, or book or reschedule appointments
Human resources: Automate onboarding, including training and development; and support performance management, recruitment, compensation, and benefits
IT services: Manage service requests, such as password resets, installations, and incident support; create tickets; and provide status updates
Marketing: Broadcast outbound campaigns, send reminders and surveys, and support lead generation
Vonage AI Studio uses our in-house solution to interpret messages, classify intent, and capture conversational context. This includes multi-language support and leverages seamless voice conversations through text-to-speech (TTS) and automatic speech recognition (ASR). In addition, you can integrate custom code to allow tailored conversations — which is helpful when seamlessly transferring the virtual agent call to a human agent through call routing (across the voice and text channel).
Ready to start?
Customers can start using Vonage AI Studio on a self-service basis for no additional charge. And thanks to our simple drag-and-drop interface, you can quickly create your first virtual agent with complete control.
Vonage also offers:
Service packs and fully managed options for those who require assistance with creating multiple agents to automate different areas of their business
A managed service for your own contact center or a fully managed Virtual Assistant for Vonage Contact Center customers
Frequently asked questions
Yes. Virtual agents are only as smart as the humans who train them. This begins with the training to define requirements, desired outcomes, and metrics. A similar approach, to fully define these parameters in advance, can be helpful for human agents.
It’s important to place human agents where they can do their best work. This means assigning repetitive tasks or common questions to virtual agents, which then frees up your staff to address more complex and individual matters.
Companies can start using Vonage AI Studio on a self-service basis for no additional charge.
Vonage AI Studio features a simple drag-and-drop interface to quickly create virtual agents with complete control. Vonage also offers service packs and fully managed options for multiple agents to automate different areas of your business.