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Virtual Agent

Maheen Kanwal
Last Updated April 17, 2024 5:04 am

A virtual agent (VA) is an artificial intelligence (AI) program that mimics human conversations. Learn more in this definition.

What Is a Virtual Agent?

IBM defines Virtual Agent Technology (VAT) as automation that helps end users by combining AI technologies, machine learning (ML) capabilities, natural language processing (NLP), robotic process automation (RPA), sentiment analysis, and optical character recognition (OCR) to automate dialogue.

Virtual Agents vs Chatbots

Though the terms are often used interchangeably, virtual agents and chatbots are somewhat different. Chatbots follow predefined instructions to simulate human conversation through voice or text. For a chatbot to qualify as VAT, it must integrate machine learning and natural language processing.

Both chatbots and virtual assistants can offer customer support. Chatbots are the more simplistic and common type of VA used for lower-level tasks such as providing information or answering simple questions. Virtual agents are more complex and utilize AI to provide a more personalized customer experience (CX).

How Do Virtual Agents Work? 

Virtual agents follow pre-programmed instructions to take customers through workflows. With NLP capabilities, VAs go beyond simple chatbots and interactive voice response (IVR) to understand human intent and generate personalized responses to queries

With ML functionality, VAs analyze historic patterns and predict outcomes. Based on these results, virtual agents either answer queries or pass them to customer service agents.

Virtual agent use cases

Some common virtual agent uses cases include:

  • Customer service: Virtual agents answer customer queries, respond to complaints, help with order tracking, and offer suggestions based on customer likes and dislikes.
  • Employee support: Virtual agents can help employees understand workflows for resetting passwords, accessing accounts, and onboarding new employees.

Benefits of Using Virtual Agents for Customer Service

Shorter response time

Customers don’t have to wait for human agents to respond to their routine queries. VAs significantly reduce the first response time (FRT).

24/7 availability

It’s challenging for businesses to employ full-time staff for 24/7 customer service. With self-service options, VAs respond to queries and route them to human agents for more complex issues.


Rather than hiring new staff, VAs can scale up or down based on demand. While VAs do not replace human agents, they can remove team roadblocks and increase efficiencies.

Better customer experience

By reducing response time, providing personalized support, and automating repetitive tasks, VAs ultimately increase customer satisfaction and maximize ROI.

Learn more about virtual agents and other business applications of AI in this Artificial Intelligence Cheat Sheet.