What is an intelligent virtual agent?

Imagine revolutionizing your customer service with a tool that's available 24/7, requires no salary and continuously improves its interactions. Welcome to the world of intelligent virtual agents (IVA) - not just a futuristic concept but a present-day reality reshaping businesses. This blog will delve into what IVAs are, how they function, their advantages over traditional chatbots and the challenges they present, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of this innovative technology.
What is an intelligent virtual agent? | Probe CX

What is an intelligent virtual agent??

You're on the quest for a stellar customer service rep when an unusual application catches your eye. The applicant? Available 24/7, demanding no salary, boasting a photographic memory and ready to start without any training. Sounds like a dream candidate, right? This isn't a person we're talking about but an intelligent virtual agent (IVA).

Unlike traditional chatbots, IVAs operate on a whole different level. They're not just scripted responders; they're dynamic learners. Using cognitive process automation and natural language understanding, IVAs mimic human interactions, providing personalized insights based on a deep analysis of data. 

Using technology such as natural language processing, pattern recognition, image processing and, most importantly, contextual analysis, IVAs can make more intuitive leaps, perceptions and judgements for better speech recognition. Through machine learning and deep learning, they can also grow their vocabulary, understand colloquial formations and give precise answers to enquiries.

 How does an intelligent virtual agent work?

At the core of an IVA's functionality is its ability to process and interpret large volumes of data in real-time. Here's a breakdown of how they work:

  • Data input and interpretation: IVAs receive inputs through voice or text, which they interpret using natural language processing (NLP). This technology helps the IVA understand human language, including slang and colloquialisms.
  • Contextual understanding: unlike basic chatbots, IVAs can understand the context of a conversation. They remember past interactions and can use this information to provide responses that are not only relevant but also personalized.
  • Learning and adaptation: through machine learning, IVAs continuously improve. They learn from each interaction, enhancing their ability to respond more effectively in future conversations.
  • Action and response: IVAs can perform a range of actions, from answering questions to executing tasks. They can integrate with other systems and databases to retrieve information or trigger actions, providing a comprehensive service experience.

IVAs can grow their vocabulary, comprehend informal speech and deliver precise responses, thanks to their ability to analyze context and learn from interactions.

Chatbots versus intelligent virtual agents

While both chatbots and IVAs are designed to facilitate interactions, their capabilities are markedly different. Chatbots are typically rule-based and limited to predefined responses, making them suitable for straightforward, repetitive tasks. In contrast, IVAs boast advanced artificial intelligence (AI) features, allowing them to handle complex queries, understand nuances and provide more dynamic, context-aware responses. This advanced functionality makes IVAs ideal for scenarios where understanding and personalization are key.

Advantages of an intelligent virtual agent

The advantages of IVAs extend beyond mere operational efficiency:

  • Enhanced customer experiences: IVAs provide immediate, consistent and personalized service, significantly enhancing customer satisfaction.
  • Operational efficiency: by automating routine inquiries and tasks, IVAs free up human agents to focus on more complex and value-added activities.
  • Cost reduction: deploying IVAs can lead to significant cost savings by reducing the need for a large human customer service team.
  • Data insights: IVAs can collect and analyze data from interactions, providing valuable insights that can inform business strategies and improve service offerings.

IVAs are also revolutionizing the IT helpdesk. Take the issue of password resets. Despite being a seemingly easy problem to solve, the sheer volume of requests for resetting passwords – up to 40% of all IT helpdesk calls according to Gartner1 - has seen Forrester Research determine large organizations are collectively spending up to $1 million each year on staffing and infrastructure for that problem alone. Allowing users to engage with IVAs to reset a password or gain access to a locked account can be a quick win for IT service desks and deliver huge savings on repetitive tasks.

Given the business world’s increasing focus on customer experience, IVAs are proving to be an invaluable tool in not only meeting but exceeding callers’ expectations. Introducing Intelligent Virtual Agents enables the streamlining of processes, with callers no longer forced to wait in long queues to speak with a human agent or manage their time to phone during opening hours. Interconnected AI is also helping machines analyze data and provide tailored experiences to individual customers, track their previous behaviors and deliver a level of service that cannot be matched by a human agent.

Challenges of an intelligent virtual agent

Implementing IVAs isn't without its challenges:

  • Complexity of development: creating an IVA that understands and responds accurately across a wide array of scenarios requires substantial investment in AI technologies and expertise.
  • Integration issues: ensuring that IVAs seamlessly integrate with existing systems and workflows can be challenging and may require significant customization.
  • User acceptance: customers and employees may be hesitant to interact with IVAs, preferring human interaction, especially for complex issues.


Just as every business’s needs and pain points are different, every IVA can be designed and programmed to provide unique services. It is simply a matter of working with your teams to access and understand the data that will help identify the areas of your business that will best benefit from deploying an IVA. The one thing that businesses can agree on is that IVAs are the perfect tool to help improve productivity, reduce costs and deliver a better customer experience.

To explore how intelligent virtual agents can change your organization for the better, check out how this retail giant reduced contact center service efforts by 41% with a virtual agent.

[1] How password-less security benefits helpdesks

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