Virtual agents 101

What you need to know before adding them to your team
Phone with headset icon

Virtual agents are no longer science fiction. Yes, the bots are here to complement your contact center. Artificial intelligence is already widely used across multiple industries, so much so that the global conversational AI market is estimated to be worth $73.05 billion by 2033

Now, the idea of robots taking over your business might give you pause. But consider those overwhelming times when high call volume floods your contact center. Your frustrated customers wait on hold for simple inquiries while your exhausted agents juggle both low-value and high-value work. In such a demanding environment, traditional customer service often falls short, and everyone ends up stressed. 

On the other hand, a more modern approach featuring virtual agents aims to ease the strain on all parties. What’s the general sentiment toward this technological advancement? It turns out that customers are already warming up to contact center AI—at least 40% are totally fine interacting with bots for quick questions or even shopping assistance.

So, are you keen to explore how intelligent virtual agents fit into your existing teams? Meet your new batch of agents.

What are virtual agents?

First, a quick review of conversational AI.

Ever asked Siri a question or told Alexa to play a song? Then, you’ve interacted with conversational AI. This technology deciphers what you type or say and responds in a way that feels natural, much like a real human. Conversational AI can be text-based (e.g., chatbots on websites or apps) or voice-based (e.g., voice bots used in phone support).

Virtual agents fall into the latter category. They can accommodate spoken requests, take care of basic support requests all on their own, and route incoming calls to the correct department. In short, they’re non-human agents that talk like human agents.

Here are some examples:

  • Customer service representative: Forgot your password? Want to check on an order? Or make a payment? A virtual agent can handle these tasks without human intervention.
  • Help desk support: Get answers to commonly asked questions, have intelligent virtual agents open a ticket, or walk you through simple troubleshooting steps. For complicated IT issues, they’ll get you connected to the right expert.
  • Guest services agent: With the help of an AI agent, you can make reservations, update bookings, and more.

It’s like hiring thousands of home AI devices, but more capable ones. How can this be made possible? Using natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU), and machine learning. These allow AI virtual agents to understand the intent behind words, even if they don’t perfectly match programmed keywords or phrases. They also get smarter over time by learning from past interactions so they can get better at addressing inquiries. 

Why AI virtual agents are beneficial to your business

The verdict is in: 94% of business leaders surveyed in 2022 believe AI will be a success factor over the next half a decade. If you’re among those still on the fence about contact center AI, here are three reasons to consider in your decision-making.

Customers get resolutions, not runarounds

Who enjoys waiting on hold forever or navigating frustrating menus? Surely not your callers! They want answers, and 90% of consumers want them immediately. You can provide this 24/7 when you have intelligent virtual agents who never sleep and won’t ever catch a cold or go on a vacation. The result? Contact centers with AI-driven support typically experience a 3.5x annual bump in customer satisfaction ratings.

Agents focus on high-value interactions

Teamwork makes the dream work. Like so: An intelligent virtual agent handles the mundane and hands off the complex problem-solving to the best-suited live agent. This synergy helps improve agent productivity and job satisfaction. And those who are engaged and satisfied are 3.3x more likely to feel capable of solving customer issues and 8.5x more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Business bottom line gets a boost

Staffing is a major contact center expense. But when you employ virtual agents, you can cut your spending on hiring and training for tier 1 support since AI can handle basic tasks. Or, when you require extra support to manage large volumes of calls during peak periods, you can scale your operations without adding new hires. Overall, businesses that effectively implement AI could see profitability surge by an average of 38% by 2035.

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Things to consider when adding virtual agents

If you’re ready to optimize your contact center with intelligent virtual agents, you have to go about it the smart way. Let’s cover the essentials for picking the best solution.

1. Use cases: What problems do you want virtual agents to solve for your business? Look for a flexible, scalable tool that will allow you to build as many flows as you need for all the common questions and requests your contact center faces. NLU platforms like Google Dialogflow also have prebuilt agents for common use cases across industries to help you quickly get started. 

2. Customization: How many languages does it speak? What’s the cap on the number of intents it can understand? Check for opportunities to create an intelligent virtual agent with the right skills for the job. Remember, the more versatile your AI agent is, the better the conversations.

3. Integration: Think compatibility and interoperability. Will contact center AI play nicely with your current tech stack? Bandwidth’s AIBridge offers prebuilt integrations to top AI providers like Cognigy and Dialogflow so that you can test, swap, and activate voice bots in hours, not weeks.

4. Security: Make sure you’re doing your due diligence and deploying virtual agents in a manner that is compliant with local laws and regulations, including disclosures to customers and protection of their data.

5. Optimization: How easily can you iterate the customer experience? With a conversational AI solution like Cognigy, for instance, you can preview real-time flow changes and monitor live interactions to find and fix any potential hiccups in your agent’s workflow.

Future-proof your contact center with virtual agents

Virtual agents are no longer just a nice-to-have; they’re becoming a nonnegotiable. They help meet the demands of modern customers who expect fast, personalized, and always-on assistance. Wait too long to adopt contact center AI and your business will likely lag behind and be left in the past.

But to be clear: The future of contact centers isn’t about robots replacing humans. Having virtual agents on board means freeing up your team to do what they do best. So your company can continue to deliver the most delightful customer experience without sacrificing its human touch.