Chatbots vs. Virtual Agents: Customer Service Tools That Are Disrupting the Industry

Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) ability to give machines human-like qualities continues to be a transformative technology for the customer service industry. It’s changing customer service as we know it and in-turn has elevated customer expectations. Pre- and post-purchase experiences are a major brand differentiator and directly impact customer retention and loyalty. 

Salesforce data states, “80% of customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services.” In order to stay on top of the industry’s technology evolutions and customer expectations, business leaders must be educated on and utilize the latest technologies. Two of the most buzzed-about customer service technologies that we will define and compare here are Chatbots and Virtual Agents.

Chatbots

Chatbots are, as wordstream defines, “software applications that mimic written or spoken human speech for the purposes of simulating a conversation or interaction with a real person.” Comparing their early stages of inhabiting Facebook Messenger to today’s advancements such as helping humans read the news, search for restaurants, book flights and more — chatbots have dominated the customer service industry and beyond.

Since their introduction, chatbots have been the first tool that comes to mind when we think of AI and customer service, due to breakthroughs in Natural Language Processing (NLP). SAS explains that NPL “is a branch of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand, interpret and manipulate human language.” NPL allows chatbots to understand text and respond in a conversational, human-like manner that makes these interactions with machines flexible.

With an array of implementation tools available, chatbots are easier than ever to create. Chatbots allow businesses to expand their service teams quickly, save valuable time and are cost-effective. They’re designed to be fast problem solvers and can help customers with Tier-1 issues such as returns, exchanges and payment problems.

Chatbots lighten the load of mundane, repetitive tasks for human agents and allow them to focus on complex customer cases. This can improve job satisfaction by letting human agents know their problem-solving skills are being utilized in situations where it’s truly needed.

Chatbots offer consistent, 24/7 service providing a 1:1 agent to customer ratio. Customers in any time zone can talk to a chatbot even when human agents are away, lending peace of mind to your team. Chatbots can be programmed to respond in your brand’s tone and if they can correctly understand what the question is, they provide accurate solutions with no human error.

After reading these facts and viewpoints you may be convinced to bring a chatbot onto your team. Chatbots, however, can have flaws despite advanced AI. I’ll outline an example in a personal experience:

I started messaging with a chatbot over an issue signing into an account. I immediately saw its programming defaults when it sent links that didn’t answer my question repeatedly as well as being asked if it solved my problem again and again. I wanted to chat with a real person, but it sent me a phone number instead, of which I used to ultimately solve my problem after waiting on hold and being transferred.

An article by IBM states that chatbots can answer 80% of routine questions. If your team is lacking human agents to refer customers to, that extra 20% and any non-routine questions can easily frustrate customers, sometimes resulting in loss of trust completely. Even with chatbot advancements there has been a need for improved virtual agents, and the latest tools are using Voice AI to do so.

Virtual Agents

Virtual Agents are made possible by NPL that allows humans to use their natural voice as an interface to ask questions of, give commands to, and perform tasks to communicate with machines (also known as Voice AI). With advancements in speech recognition, a.k.a Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), machines can now convert spoken words into text. ASR is the cornerstone of the entire voice experience, allowing computers to finally understand us through our most natural form of communication: speech. With voice being the fastest way to communicate with customers, it’s no wonder the industry is advancing in this direction.

In regards to ASR, Descript states, “It’s an exciting time: the technology recently crossed a threshold that sees it trading its longstanding promise for remarkable utility, and it’s only getting better.” From Apple’s Siri to Amazon’s Alexa, voice AI is seamlessly integrating and will continue to become part of our daily lives.

Virtual Agents have the same capabilities as chatbots explained above: they expand your service team quickly and cost-effectively, increase job satisfaction for human agents, are on 24/7 providing a 1:1 customer to agent ratio, and can be tailored to your brand voice. Contrary to chatbots, virtual agents are a faster, more personal, and interactive experience and can handle problems on calls end-to-end like a human agent.

Verbit explains the steps “hands-free” voice technology goes through in merely seconds:

  1. A human speaks
  2. Voice AI software detects the voice
  3. The device then creates a wave file of the words it hears
  4. The wave file is cleaned to delete background noise and normalize the volume
  5. This filtered waveform is then broken down and analyzed in sequences
  6. The automatic speech recognition software analyzes these sequences and employs statistical probability to determine the whole words and then complete sentences
  7. Some technology providers check the ASR’s work with professional human transcribers who correct any errors to achieve greater accuracy

With the knowledge that virtual agents powered by voice AI are the next evolution, we decided to build our customer service virtual agent, the “Thinking Machine”, with engaging conversational AI abilities that improves upon itself over time. Replicant Voice has been carefully designed to be fast, accurate, expressive and overall a machine that customers enjoy speaking with. We are the world’s leading conversational AI platform that makes guided self-service possible for every customer experience, starting with the phone.

Integrating AI into customer service creates a more positive experience for customers, agents and business owners. In a world where speed is a necessity and consumers are communicating with companies more than ever, it’s time technology caught up with their needs. We know that AI is disrupting the customer service industry, but it’s up to you to choose the tools for your unique service strategy. Visit our homepage at Replicant.ai to experience the “Thinking Machine” for yourself!

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