Chatbots vs Virtual Agents

What’s a Chatbot?

Chatbots typically have a text-based interface and can be either inbound or outbound. Chatbots can be utilized on a company’s website, on SMS or messaging platforms like Facebook and What’s App, or in mobile apps. Simple chatbots use structured dialogs that can’t handle a request outside of the specific script, they are based on key words and focused on simple tasks. More intelligent chatbots are integrated to enterprise backend systems like CRM and ERP. They are able to handle natural language conversations, deal with multiple topics, can switch topics in one interaction, and are based on Conversational AI.

Virtual Personal Assistants

Personal assistants can help you do things like play music, schedule meetings and check the weather. Consumers who have become accustomed to speaking to their Google Home or Amazon Alexa, now expect the same type of interaction when they phone a business for service or support. The proliferation of these devices is being supported by a transition of the underlying Conversational AI technologies into the cloud. At the same time speech recognition, text-to-speech and NLP is improving as the cloud-based services are trained by the data generated through millions of consumer conversations. Personal Assistants also appear to be highly intelligent because they can make use of a lot of contextual data. For example, Siri can access the data in your phone to help it schedule meetings and place calls. In the future, your Virtual Personal Assistant may actually interact with a company’s Virtual Agent to fulfill your request to take care of an issue, for example, to pay a bill or order a product.

Intelligent Virtual Agents

Intelligent Virtual Agents are software programs that can emulate human customer service or sales personnel, often based on AI platforms. Virtual Agents use either a speech (spoken) or chat (written) interface to “talk” to customers. Virtual Agents automate repetitive tasks and transactions like allowing a customer to check balances, pay bills, authorize a credit card or schedule an appointment. This allows your most valuable asset- your people- to focus on solving more complicated problems, saving you money while improving your customer’s experience.

The Rise of Virtual Agents - Why Now?

Virtual Agents (VA) often work closely with your human employees, offloading repetitive tasks. The technology has been around for over a decade but is just now exploding. What is driving their current popularity?

  1. Rising Customer Expectations — Today’s customers demand personalized answers fast, on demand, and delivered in a way that is most convenient to them. If you don’t meet their high expectations, they may turn to your competition who delivers a better experience.

  2. Demand for Self-Service — More and more, customers now prefer self- service; in fact, Gartner predicts by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human. While this may be an ambitious forecast, it highlights an important trend will continue as the millennial generation buying power grows.

  3. Technology Improvements and Growing Comfort with ConversationalAI— Consumers are now conversing daily with AI based assistants, such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Home. As they get comfortable with this, they
    are expecting to use similar technology in other areas. At the same time, AI technology and speech recognition capability are also rapidly improving, leading to wider adoption of the Virtual Agent technologies.

  4.  Massive Focus on Digital Transformation — Startup companies are using new technology centric business strategies to disrupt legacy markets. The taxi business is facing competition from Uber and Lift, brick and mortar retailers are under pressure from Amazon. Even banking is facing competition from new digital first lenders. Almost every segment of the market is facing new competition and are racing to develop new digital business models to defend their businesses. Improving automated self-service is a key pillar of many organizations’ strategy to improve the customer experience and build a more direct relationship with their customers.

Richard Dumas