What is a virtual agent?

  • Virtual agents are AI-driven software programs designed to simulate human-like interactions.
  • They are employed in various industries, including customer service, healthcare, finance, and education.
  • Virtual agents utilise natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning algorithms to understand and respond to user queries.

A virtual agent combines natural language processing, intelligent search and robotic process automation (RPA) in a conversational UI–typically a chatbot, designed to simulate human-like interactions and provide assistance to users in real-time. It is used in various industries from customer service and healthcare to finance and education.

What are virtual agents?

Virtual agents are software applications programmed to engage in natural language conversations with users, typically through text-based interfaces such as messaging platforms, websites, and mobile apps. Unlike traditional software programs that follow predefined scripts, virtual agents leverage AI technologies such as natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), and sometimes, even deep learning to interpret user queries and generate appropriate responses.

NLP is a branch of AI that enables computers to understand, interpret, and generate human language in a way that is both meaningful and contextually relevant. Virtual agents use NLP algorithms to analyse user input, extract relevant information, and formulate appropriate responses.

ML algorithms enable virtual agents to learn from past interactions and improve their performance over time. By analysing user interactions and feedback, virtual agents can continuously refine their language understanding and response generation capabilities, leading to more accurate and personalised interactions.

Virtual agents strive to understand the context of a conversation to provide relevant and helpful responses. They consider factors such as previous interactions, user preferences, and the current conversation flow to tailor their responses effectively.

Also read: What is virtual server infrastructure?

Virtual agent vs. chatbot vs. virtual assistant

Virtual agent, chatbot, and virtual assistant are often used interchangeably due to the lack of formal definitions, but there are distinct technological differences among them.

A chatbot simulates human conversation, often following a decision tree flow, and may lack artificial intelligence, relying on pre-programmed responses. While some chatbots handle basic interactions like providing information, they may not offer true virtual agent functionality, especially in complex scenarios.

Virtual assistants typically refer to human beings providing remote assistance, but the term is also used for software like Siri or Alexa. These voice assistants automate tasks users would do themselves.

Virtual agents, or intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), go beyond chatbots with conversational AI capable of understanding and learning from user input. They automate processes to meet user needs and continuously improve their capabilities. While voice assistants like Siri or Alexa can be considered virtual agents, the term more commonly refers to organizational use and integration with enterprise systems, automating actions for customers or employees.

Also read: What are the benefits of using AI chatbots?

Types of virtual agents

Businesses seeking to enhance their operations through virtual agent technology have a plethora of choices available. Each option offers varying levels of customisation and integration, with differing requirements in terms of implementation and maintenance complexity.

Comprehensive solutions: These encompass end-to-end offerings that provide extensive professional support from vendors for managing implementation, maintenance, and integration into relevant applications, systems, and workflows.

Scalable professional development tools: These platforms offer API access and are most suitable for organisations equipped with dedicated technical resources and developers capable of directly managing intricate implementations.

Low-code and no-code Software as a Service (SaaS): These flexible virtual agent technology solutions are designed to be easily constructed and managed without the need for specialised technical expertise.

Integrated solutions: These entail complementary functionalities seamlessly integrated into proprietary enterprise tools, such as incorporating a chatbot directly into contact centre software.

Also read: What is Network as a Service (NaaS) in cloud computing?

Applications of virtual agents

Customer service: Virtual agents are widely used in customer service applications to provide instant support and assistance to users. They can handle common inquiries, troubleshoot issues, and even escalate complex problems to human agents when necessary, thereby improving efficiency and reducing wait times for customers.

Healthcare: In the healthcare industry, virtual agents are employed to offer medical advice, schedule appointments, and provide information about symptoms and treatments. They can assist patients in accessing healthcare services remotely, answer medical queries, and offer guidance on managing chronic conditions.

Finance: Virtual agents are increasingly being adopted by banks and financial institutions to enhance customer engagement and streamline banking processes. They can help users check account balances, transfer funds, pay bills, and even provide personalised financial advice based on user preferences and spending patterns.

Education: Virtual agents are used in educational settings to support students in their learning journey. They can provide tutoring assistance, answer academic queries, deliver personalised learning materials, and even facilitate interactive learning experiences through conversational interfaces.


Lydia Luo

Lydia Luo, an intern reporter at BTW media dedicated in IT infrastructure. She graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics. Send tips to j.y.luo@btw.media.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *