What is a Virtual Agent

Chatbots are all the rage in the technology world right now, and considered the future of mobile devices. News articles spin futuristic visions of speaking to your device and having it respond to your every wish, as if it is a technological genie. But what is a Virtual Agent chatbot?

Virtual Agents are a computer-generated character with artificial intelligence that serves as an online customer service representative. It is able to lead an intelligent conversation with the customer, collect information and find solutions to the customer’s problems. While virtual agents can help customers autonomously with common problems, they are also perfect for collecting customer and issue information, probable solutions and passing all of this information to live customer service agents.

Why Virtual Agents are beneficial to Asurion and our Customers

On every call and text chat, a lot of basic information is gathered (name, account validation, questions and issue symptoms) that constitute the first few minutes of all chat or call sessions. These minutes of repetitive questions add thousands of hours and millions of dollars per year in agent time and effort. Time that is better spent by connecting customers to live agents more quickly, with more time to help customers in greater depth with their issues.

virtual agent text quote

Our agents also deal with a lot of routine issues seen over and over due to commonality, or because they are a trending issue. Calls such as helping a customer change a password, or backup their device. By leveraging virtual agents effectively, live Agents are able to assist customers with more complex issues. This in turn leads to more satisfied agents whose solutions are more pending and rewarding for both the customer and the agent, rather than forcing the customer with the complex issue wait in line. This challenge of agents dealing with simple, repetitive issues while customers with more immediate complex issues wait on hold leads both to less satisfied customers and higher turnover for customer service agents.

Virtual Agent Architecture

A Virtual Agent is only one piece of an Artificial Intelligence system — or more accurately, it is only one channel. AVA (the Asurion Virtual Assistant) is the brain of the system – the machine intelligence developed by the Asurion Labs team. It is connected to any number of Virtual Agents that each act as a voice that speaks to the customer, as well as other machine intelligence integrations that may act as the hands.

As described in our earlier article on AVA, the Asurion Virtual Assistant, the AVA component is our core system. The Virtual Agent is the piece that we integrate into a customer service environment, such as our LivePerson interface. This allows the Virtual Agent to act and help customers exactly like a live agent. Whenever a Virtual Agent is ready to pass a customer and solution to a live agent, it can be transferred instantly, along with all the relevant information.

live person diagram

As detailed in the diagram above, a Virtual Agent is the customer-facing interface that speaks to the customer. It does not contain the artificial intelligence itself. As each word of the conversation is entered, the Virtual Agent calls upon AVA to parse the issue and send back the conversation that the Virtual Agent is having with the customer as the solutions are found.

At Asurion, the Labs team built our virtual agent by integrating it with our LivePerson platform. Using the LivePerson Agent and Chat API, Virtual Agents monitor the system, awaiting the contact of any customers with an issue. Once it contacts the customer, it conveys all necessary information from the customer to AVA, which parses it and determines the likely problem and solution.

If it’s a simple issue on a topic that AVA has been directed to answer, the Virtual Agent can help the customer directly. If it’s a different issue, or if the customer wants to reach a live agent immediately, the virtual agent can then route the customer to a live agent versed in the specific skill set of that technology.

The Hybrid Approach

The key to implementing Virtual Agents is that they are there to assist our live agents and customers. There is always a live agent behind it ready to pick up once the virtual agent had collected the information, and/or when the issue is complex enough for our live agents.

virtual agents quote

LivePerson chat is only one example of a channel that our Virtual Agents can operate on. Virtual agents can also operate via many other communications channels that customers chat on, including mobile text, Facebook, Skype, and Slack. Virtual Agent chat bots can also converse out loud via text-to-voice spoken word channels such as Amazon echo, Apple Siri, and OK Google.   We’ll talk about some of these integrations in future articles at labs.asurion.com. Additionally there are many other applications in which AVA can integrate to help our Agents and customers. In a separate but related application, called Agent Assist, AVA works as a direct assistant to our live agents, monitoring their interactions with the customer and suggesting solutions and responses directly to the agent as they are helping the customer.  We will also be writing about this innovation in greater detail in future articles as well.

Pedro Hidalgo, the engineer developing the Virtual Agent notes “The Virtual Agent has a bright future because of the way it can help both agents and customers find solutions to their problems more quickly.”