Virtual agent guide Definition

Understand the definition of a virtual agent

A virtual agent is a code (usually an AI script) used to enable one-on-one conversations to improve service delivery. There is another definition of the term that refers to a remote or ‘virtual’ workforce. However, for our purposes, we will stick with the former.

Representation of a virtual agent

How do they work? 

Virtual agents are designed using advanced computing technologies like Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning, to process and understand the language in which the user interacts and identify the right solution to the user’s problem.  Virtual agents leverage a pre-built database, also known as a knowledge base in IT parlance.

Common misconceptions about a virtual agent

Remote call center employees as virtual agents 

The other virtual agent definition that is most common within the services industries is a remote call center. This definition includes the people who work as call center agents, usually for an outsourcing firm. The difference between the regular call center workforce and virtual call center agents is that the latter is usually a remote workforce instead of an in-house one. They essentially act as assistants or secretaries to their clients, who tend to be small-business owners.  

However, for improving employee self-service, the virtual agents we refer to are just a software program built to assist and resolve end-user queries on specific platforms like websites or messaging apps, etc. 

Representation of virtual agent vs chatbot

What is the difference between a virtual agent and a chatbot? 

This is perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics in AI for customer service. Are virtual agents the same as chatbots? If not, how are they different? To understand the differences, it is important to understand their functions. 

A chatbot, as the name suggests is a bot (or a piece of code) that is fundamentally designed to chat or converse with people. There are different types of chatbots that are currently deployed. One is the common chatbot that you see on websites e.g. e-commerce sites, there are also bots that are designed to maliciously extract information from you, known as spam bots. They are designed to engage even without a user prompting them. 

A virtual agent, on the other hand, is a slightly more advanced software program designed to chat with the customer and help resolve their problems by providing a solution immediately. If the VA cannot solve the issue, it creates a ticket for the same and assigns it to the respective human agent for resolution.

A virtual agent is essentially a replacement for a human agent and helps augment the self-service features, whereas a chatbot acts merely as a guide to an end-user.


Read the next chapter in our guide on how to choose a virtual agent for your needs.