What is a Virtual Agent?
According to TechTarget, a virtual agent is “a software program that uses scripted rules and, increasingly, artificial intelligence applications to provide automated service or guidance.” In the past, businesses could build virtual agents by writing scripts for individual workflows; a virtual agent would look for specific keywords in an inquiry or incoming service request and respond using the designed script for those keywords. These days, virtual agents are more advanced and can leverage AI, such as machine learning, and natural-language processing (NLP).
Virtual agents are not to be confused with virtual assistants. Although the two technologies serve similar purposes, virtual assistants are intended for personal use, whereas virtual agents are designed for business applications. The term virtual agent is often used interchangeably with chatbot, though this is technically incorrect. Chatbots have a lot in common with early iterations of the virtual agent in that they spit out scripts in response to specific keywords. Virtual agents are far more advanced and are capable of holding a conversation while simultaneously performing other tasks in the background.
Finally, virtual agents aren’t to be confused with, well, virtual agents. You see, the term “virtual agent” is also commonly used to refer to live agents stationed in remote locations, such as a call center.
The Benefits of Using a Virtual Agent
Implementing a virtual agent platform in your organization is an excellent way to optimize existing business processes, provide customers or employees with fast and reliable responses, extend your resources, and more. With virtual agents, you can:
- Offer 24/7 customer service. One of the most obvious benefits of using virtual agents is that you can offer your customers service and support around the clock. This is especially useful for businesses with a global presence because they can have agents at the ready across all time zones, at any hour of the day, without having to hire additional support staff.
- Reduce hiring costs. Rather than hire additional live agents to accommodate an increasing volume of incoming service requests, businesses can create virtual agents to respond to different low-level inquiries.
- Escalate complex tasks to live agents. As mentioned above, virtual agents are capable of processing and responding to low-level requests, thereby enabling live agents to dedicate their attention to more complex tasks. However, should a virtual agent receive a complex request, it will automatically escalate the request to a live agent, so that the task at hand gets the level of care and attention it deserves.
- Provide personalized troubleshooting. Virtual agents can integrate with back-end systems, enabling them to draw from a vast wealth of information, including employee and customer data. Using this data, virtual agents can offer responses and recommendations tailored to the specific individual with whom they’re interacting.
- Adapt in real time. Most virtual agent platforms utilize machine learning to adapt to different situations in real time and thereby generate more accurate and effective responses to customer inquiries.
- Hold natural-sounding conversations. Most modern virtual agent platforms use NLP to analyze, understand, interpret, and replicate human language — all within the span of seconds. This enables them to carry out natural-sounding conversations with remarkable accuracy. Some platforms even use natural-language generation to produce long-form content or natural-language understanding to make sense of slang and misspellings.
- Automate repetitive or repeatable tasks. From qualifying leads to processing incoming service tickets, virtual agents can be used to handle tedious or easily repeated tasks. Doing so both streamlines business processes and enables employees to focus on more important things, such as making a sales pitch to a prospective client or administering a repair to a piece of IT equipment.
- Ensure compliance. Virtual agents are constrained to a set of preprogrammed rules, therefore it’s easy to ensure that all virtual agent interactions are compliant with the relevant industry regulations.
Virtual Agent Industry Use Cases
Virtual agent platforms are ideal for any industry, and for a wide variety of use cases, both internal and external. For example:
- If a customer forgot the username or password for their mobile banking application, they could use a virtual agent to retrieve their login information.
- If an auto insurance customer had a question about their policy, they could ask a virtual agent, which would either refer them to the insurance provider’s online knowledge base or transfer them to a live agent at a call center, depending on the complexity of the inquiry.
- If a patient needed to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician, they could log into their healthcare provider’s online portal, and use a virtual agent to see which appointment times were available and book one.
- If a sales representative for a software as a service company wanted to schedule meetings with prospective clients, they could use a virtual agent to send out an automated email invite. The virtual agent would also collect the data of any recipient who responded to the email, thereby saving the sales rep valuable time during the actual meeting.
- If a financial services customer wanted to understand current money market rates or to request information on different types of investments, they could use a virtual agent to inquire about these products and request a follow up with their financial advisor or wealth manager.
- If a healthcare plan participant wanted more information on how to take appropriate actions to avoid contracting COVID-19 — also known as Coronavirus — a virtual agent can provide them with helpful guidance directly from the FAQ section of their healthcare plan’s website.
What is Microsoft Power Virtual Agents?
Power Virtual Agents enables businesses to build chatbots using a guided, no-code graphical interface. Dynamics 365 Customer Service Insights provides actionable insights into performance metrics and identifies customer service trends. Together, they form Microsoft Dynamics 365 Virtual Agents for Customer Service.
D365 Virtual Agents for Customer Service is designed to transform ordinary chatbots into intelligent virtual agents through the use of AI. Here’s how it works: Here’s how it works: Users build chatbots using the Power Virtual Agents interface, which extracts valuable data-driven insights from D365 Customer Service Insights. The virtual agent uses these insights to inform how it interacts with customer and how it responds to queries. Finally, users can integrate these intelligent virtual agents with other products and services within their software ecosystem either by using prebuilt connectors, building custom workflows in Power Automate, Microsoft’s automated workflow engine, or creating complex scenarios with Microsoft Bot Framework.
Microsoft’s virtual agent offering enables businesses like yours to make more informed, proactive decisions that enhance the customer experience and drive customer satisfaction. To learn more about how you can take advantage of Microsoft D365 Virtual Agents for Customer Service, contact Hitachi Solutions today.