Chatbots vs Virtual Agents: What's the Difference?

by Joerg Habermeier
virtual agent

Chatbots are arguably one of the most talked about and polarizing advancements not just in customer support, but in all of tech. But what exactly are they? While there are many definitions out there, the word “chatbot” is essentially a virtual agent –– an application that can handle and route customer service tasks that are normally done by live agents. 

In customer support, chatbots can easily access a broad range of information and help customers quickly resolve their issues on a 24/7 basis. Many companies see chatbot integration as the next technological advancement for customer support. Some people also see the automation of customer support with chatbots as a replacement for living and breathing support agents.

Who is right? Both actually. AI advancements in contact center technology like chatbots and virtual agent are no longer forward-thinking technology – it's a standard for innovative companies. According to a study by MarketsAndMarkets, the call center AI market is set to grow by $2.8 billion by 2024, and chatbots will be the face of future digital customer service. 

Customers will experience better and faster support for well defined business processes like address changes, returns, and more. Chatbots will complete these actions without the input of live agents, improve resolution times, and increase customer satisfaction. Agents will benefit because they will be able to focus on complex and time-sensitive customer issues that require hands-on support.

Chatbots vs Virtual Agents: what's the difference?

Chatbots are beneficial but many don’t consider the full application potential. Companies want a chatbot because it’s what everyone is moving towards. But the first implementation might be an after-hours message to email support or lead to a knowledge base look-up solution.

That’s not the expectation that most people have and will often lead to less than ideal user experience. Proper implementation requires more than just a  drag-and-drop integration.

Chatbots are built with machine-learned data and natural language processing (NLP) to understand context and respond with a solution. Answer quality depends on the amount of learned data.

Chatbots should be able to respond with finely tuned answers, but many of the chatbot solutions currently on the market do not have the same human touch as live conversations. Some of the more advanced chatbots (like UJET Virtual Agent) are able to understand more complex questions and provide a similar level of service to what a customer would expect from a live agent. 

Companies must thoughtfully add chatbots into their current customer support strategy. It’s not enough to simply add a chatbot to your homepage and expect it to meet your customers' expectations. UJET understands that chatbots are a valued feature, but we also know that offering a simple call-and-response chatbot won’t increase customer satisfaction – that's where Virtual Agent shines. 

Swap your robotic chatbot for an intelligent virtual agent

The UJET platform is designed to leverage smartphone capabilities to provide a great user experience for end users and agents. Customers are able to connect through multiple channels and support options. Agents are using a cloud-native platform that unifies communication channels, offers easy-to-use tools, and presents real-time metrics.

We took the same approach towards the development of our own chatbot solution. With smartphone users more likely to use and more comfortable interacting with chatbots, it made sense that our mobile-focused mentality play a key role in how we are rethinking the role of a chatbot. It had to improve the customer experience from both sides. Rather than think of chatbots as our own exclusive feature, we saw it as a customer support standard and a strategic component of the modern contact center.

Typically, when customers contact support, they are directed towards preset queues for different issues. Customers manually select the option that matches their problem and are connected to an agent or sent to a self-service option.

Chatbots are usually deployed as the de facto first line of defense for all incoming sessions, often leading to unsatisfactory initial support experiences – but that no longer needs to be the case.

When a user contacts a your business via UJET, our advanced routing algorithm assesses the user’s current context by evaluating any number of parameters from their user profile and phone meta data. The user is then automatically routed to the most appropriate queue.

UJET’s Virtual Agent can be assigned to any of the queues with a seamless transition into the appropriate knowledge area of the agent. This approach allows for a uniquely flexible blend of sensible and controlled session assignment to either conversational AI or live agent support based on the context of each session.

Once directed to the Virtual Agent, it can begin the conversation with the customer’s context in hand, and provide a quick and effective support experience. If it’s a simple issue, the Virtual Agent can complete the entire support conversation without a live agent’s involvement.

If the Virtual Agent is unable to resolve the issue, it can intelligently route customers to the appropriate live agent, passing any new data along, eliminating the need for customers to repeat the issue.

For issues that can be solved quickly and easily, agents have the option to transfer customers to a Virtual Agent to find the solution, like updating customer information. This will minimize the time agents have to spend on repetitive tasks before moving to the next customer. The Virtual Agent can take over the conversation and with NLP or chat, update the relevant information and close the issue.

As a customer’s need gets more complex, specialized Virtual Agents prevent overlapping intents by narrowing down the potential scope to clear-cut use cases that can handle specific tasks with multiple steps, like beginning a claim, changing appointments, and processing a return.

Learn more about UJET Virtual Agent

Ready to ditch your robotic chatbot for a truly customizable AI customer service solution that not only seamlessly handles customer requests, but also detects customer sentiment, reduces live agent workload, and improves the agent experience? 

Learn more about Virtual Agent or request a demo to see for yourself how UJET can help you build lifelong customer loyalty and reduce your call center's overhead costs.