Intelligent virtual agent: Definition, benefits and uses

Explore the differences between virtual agents and chatbots and find out ways to leverage virtual agents for improving your customer service.

Sprinklr Team
October 15, 2023
9 min read

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What is an intelligent virtual agent?

An intelligent virtual agent (IVA) or virtual agent is AI-enabled software with a custom-designed script to engage users in a human-like interaction. They can comprehend human speech and simulate answers like human agents, providing instant gratification to users and enhanced customer satisfaction to businesses.

With AI and NLP at their core, virtual agents are easily able to understand routine, recurring questions and resolve them intelligently, much like live agents.

You've likely encountered IVAs on website homepages, advertisement pages, eCommerce and other online platforms.

Intelligent virtual agents can assist your customers with a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Providing product information

  • Facilitating order placement

  • Scheduling appointments

  • Raising support tickets

  • Troubleshooting common IT issues

Intelligent virtual agents are equipped with logic to escalate complex problems to human agents when required. Their ability to provide consistent and personal round-the-clock support, coupled with cost-saving benefits, makes them a valuable asset for your business.

How does it differ from a chatbot?

Chatbots and virtual agents are often conflated because of their similar functions, overlapping technology and similar contexts and applications. However, both are different, with virtual agents often having more advanced capabilities and being used in more complex scenarios. Here’s a quick example:

Customer query


Intelligent virtual agent

Can I change my flight reservation

to a different date?

You can change your reservation to a different date by logging into your account on our website and selecting the 'Manage My Booking' option. Follow the on-screen instructions to make the desired changes. If you encounter any issues, feel free to ask for assistance.

VA: Could you please provide me with your booking reference or confirmation number for verification?"

{Customer provides the required information}

IVA: Thank you for sharing the details. To change your flight reservation to a different date, I've already checked availability for you.

Here are a few options:

Please let me know which option you'd like to proceed with, and I can assist you in making the change right away.

Now that you have a high-level idea of the difference in response, let’s check out how the two differ.



Intelligent virtual agent (IVA)

Response pattern

Robotic, impersonal, predefined answers based on keywords in the questions

Contextual and personalized

simulates human responses

Response workflow/logic

Picks keywords and offers solutions from a pre-designed script.

Built to mimic human interaction and can understand context and intent more effectively.

AI capabilities

Chatbots are often rule-based and lack the ability to learn or adapt beyond their programmed rules.

Leverage advanced natural language processing (NLP) and cognitive process automation (a subset of AI).

Learns from user interactions and adapts over time, becoming more intelligent and context-aware.

Conversational depth

Have limited understanding of the context and cannot modify answers in real time. It often focuses on short, transactional exchanges.

Engages in deep, multi-turn conversations and asks follow-up questions.

Maintains context over extended interactions for meaningful engagement.

Complexity of tasks

Handles repetitive and straightforward tasks, like collecting user data or routing inquiries to the appropriate department. Struggles with more intricate queries.

Handles complex tasks, such as assisting with product research, troubleshooting IT issues, understanding the intent behind conversations, assessing sales potential and providing extended customer support.

Improvement scope

Chatbots cannot learn on the go. Refining the script and FAQs can update its knowledge base at the backend.

IVAs use deep learning to widen their knowledge base and vocabulary with every customer interaction.

Customization and complexity

Chatbots are generally quicker to deploy.

Developing IVAs typically requires significant resources, expertise and time due to their complexity.

The choice between intelligent virtual agents and chatbots depends on the specific needs and complexity of the tasks you want to automate in your business or customer service operations.

How can an intelligent virtual agent benefit your business?

An intelligent virtual agent helps your business operations in many ways, including customer support, lead generation and IT troubleshooting. From a support perspective, here is how IVAs positively impact your business:

Reduces operational and hiring costs

An intelligent virtual agent helps you resolve customer queries at source, routing them to live agents only when beyond scope. Hence, it lets you streamline customer interactions and reduces dependency on a large support team. Your resource allocation becomes optimized as agents focus on complex, high-intent queries where human touch is vital

Watch: Automate customer care with conversational AI bots [On-demand webinar]

Provides always-on customer support

Intelligent virtual agents provide 24x7 customer support and handle multiple queries, significantly reducing customer response times. The quicker response times lead to rapid support and enhanced issue resolution times. Moreover, with data-driven insights, intelligent virtual agents are able to provide personalized responses, which enhances the overall customer experience.

Having branches for every possibility within a topic is practically impossible. Whenever your virtual agents cannot point at any resource for a specific query or the ask falls outside the intended scope, it can apologize, recommend articles from your knowledge base [RM16] closest to the query or route customers to a live agent. As a result, your customers never hit a roadblock and find answers to their queries sooner or later.

Learn more: Best practices for building conversational AI chatbots

Personalizes experiences

Intelligent virtual agents are invaluable if you operate globally. They provide multilingual support 24/7, allowing you to serve a diverse customer base in their preferred languages. You get the incredible value of rising above cultural barriers and delivering a tailored multilingual customer service experience anytime, anywhere.

Digital customer service software - Sprinklr

Collects and analyzes user data

You can collect and analyze critical inputs during interactions through virtual agents and get insights into customer behavior, intent, patterns and more. IVAs pass this intel to agents during handoffs, enabling them to pick the conversation from where it was left.

Automates time-sensitive and mundane tasks

From appointment scheduling to customer verification, order tracking and ticket escalation, intelligent virtual agents seamlessly help you automate frequent tasks. You can minimize wait times, reduce response times and cut out on manual workload and potential errors. As you scale, intelligent virtual agents handle increasing customer queries more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Besides, intelligent virtual agents initiate conversations based on predefined triggers like abandoned shopping carts or upcoming appointments, proactively addressing issues and increasing customer engagement.

Also read: Customer service automation: A comprehensive guide

Augments agent productivity

The intelligent virtual agent collaborates with live agents for augmented intelligence. Intelligent virtual agents can integrate with your CRM and knowledge base, excelling at automating routine tasks, such as answering FAQs and efficiently routing inquiries, saving valuable time and ensuring consistent and accurate responses.

Furthermore, insights from IVAs can help your AI engine to surface the right resources and recommendations during live interactions. This support enhances agent efficiency and ensures your customers receive the best possible service.

In addition to aiding customers, IVAs assist in training and onboarding new agents, accelerating their learning curve and contributing to overall team proficiency.

Good to know: Modern agent assist solutions can help you solve customer queries 50% faster with real-time nudges, contextual recommendations and AI-generated smart responses.

AI Agent Assist powered by Sprinklr

Analyzes customer sentiment in real-time

Virtual agents can perform real-time sentiment analysis and escalate annoyed and frustrated customers to live agents. This enables agents to be empathetic and provide better service. Supervisors and managers can also benefit from real-time sentiment analysis as it allows them to monitor the quality of interactions in real time. They can identify challenging conversations and intervene when necessary to provide guidance or support to agents.

Detects compliance oversight

Intelligent virtual agents can swiftly identify any potential violations or deviations from established guidelines during real-time conversations. For example, IVAs are programmed with a set of profanity and overtone detection rules encompassing keywords, phrases and patterns indicative of inappropriate language or behavior.

NLP algorithms further enhance the accuracy of detection by deciphering the context in which messages are expressed, enabling the IVA to understand subtle nuances.

Suggested read: How to ensure contact center compliance in 2023 (+ checklist)

How does an intelligent virtual agent work?

An intelligent virtual agent uses advanced conversational AI to offer quick, innovative resolutions to common customer queries through customer service channels like digital and voice channels.

An intelligent virtual agent uses NLP and deep learning to make customer conversations more natural and successful. Here’s how both these technologies work.

Natural Language Processing

An NLP does four major tasks for you.

1. Text classification: This enables the intelligent virtual agent to analyze the context and intents from the text the customer enters.

Intent detection with Sprinklr AI

2. Text and speech processing: This includes speech recognition and translation into machine-readable language.

3. Language generation: It includes generating clear, understandable content that resonates with your audience.

4. Interactions: It involves dialogues, chatbots and voice assistants facilitating human-machine conversations.

An NLP has three parts that empower it to accomplish these tasks:

1. Natural language understanding (NLU): An intelligent virtual agent equipped with NLU can understand user input, categorize text, translate languages and answer user queries. It also understands context, intent and semantics.

2. Natural language generation (NLG): NLG allows the intelligent virtual agent to produce natural language that resembles human speech. It utilizes text-to-speech technology to convert machine-readable content from software into easily understandable text or speech.

3. Speech recognition: NLP facilitates voice-generated customer queries through voice bots. NLP software programs vocabulary and grammar rules for each language, allowing an intelligent virtual agent to understand and communicate naturally with humans. It decodes human language into a machine-readable format, converting machine-generated text into language your customers can understand.

Deep learning

Deep learning is a branch of machine learning. It helps the intelligent virtual agent to learn from large amounts of data and polish their language abilities. With deep learning, intelligent virtual agents can spot misspelled words, slang and colloquialisms and respond accordingly.

Intelligent virtual agent use cases with examples

Today, intelligent virtual agents are extensively used by businesses and govt. agencies alike due to their ability to provide round-the-clock service, cost-efficiency, improved customer service, scalability and personalization. Let’s explore some examples of how intelligent virtual agents are utilized.

Personal assistant to your customer support team

Your customer service team can quickly respond to user queries with an intelligent virtual agent. It can handle initial processes like registration, gathering customer contact details and understanding the nature of their question. This saves time, speeds up the process and boosts your contact center metrics.

Case in point: Emma, the virtual assistant of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service department.

What does Emma do?

  • It answers user questions and directs them to the right spot on their website.

  • It can also find information based on user queries and keywords used.

The result?

This intelligent virtual agent boasts a remarkable success rate in resolving user queries posted in English.

Concierge to your sales and marketing team

An intelligent virtual agent can generate quality leads and directly address product demo or quotation requests to your sales and marketing teams.

Case in point: Vi Business was facing difficulty in managing a massive volume of customer queries pouring in daily from multiple channels

What does the intelligent virtual agent do?

  • The intelligent virtual agent filtered out the most urgent customer queries from multiple channels, including live chat, emails, social media and call centers.

  • All enterprise customer and VIP queries were addressed first.

The result?

Saved up to 30% of its employee and customer time through automated responses.

Assistant to your IT team

Case in point: The IT cell of a multinational conglomerate uses an intelligent virtual agent to get rid of the monotonous password resets and troubleshooting.

What does the virtual IT assistant do?

  • When employees encounter technical issues, they can initiate a chat with the virtual agent, which guides them through basic troubleshooting steps.

  • If the issue remains unresolved, the virtual agent helps create a service desk ticket, including details of the problem and its severity.

The result?

Efficient issue handling with faster resolution times.

Support for your ticketing department

The intelligent virtual agent can generate travel and hospitality recommendations and help customers make prompt, informed decisions.

Case in point: A premium salon employs an intelligent virtual agent for appointment scheduling and to provide personalized services.

What does the virtual salon assistant do?

It collects clients' names, contact numbers, and preferred visit times. Additionally, it records any specific requirements for personal care sessions or any allergy concerns.

The result?

Customers are warmly greeted by name, eliminating the necessity for on-site registration. Our experts are thoroughly briefed on each client's unique needs, ensuring that each session is tailored to maximize their time efficiency.

Improve your self-serve rates by 150% with Sprinklr’s no-code virtual agents

Delayed response times cripple your customer success initiatives and lead to frustration, dissatisfaction and potential loss of business.

Are you sure that your customers are assisted promptly every time they reach out and agents are not overworked?

Before signing off, feel free to take a 30-day Free Trial of Sprinklr’s conversational AI platform, which is purpose-built to complement and support your live agents with intelligent virtual agents that can solve customer queries 150% faster and take your self-support to the next level.

Humanize your bot experience by providing a conversational interface that delivers quick and personalized responses, reducing wait times, and improving customer satisfaction. Plus,

  • Deliver a unified brand experience across all customer touchpoints

  • Enhance user journeys with intelligent handling of out-of-context queries

  • Ensure a 100% success rate by testing all bot scenarios

  • Track bot performance via actionable insights

Schedule a customized demo today!

Frequently Asked Questions

To start, identify common customer queries, choose an intelligent virtual agent provider, train and test the agent, deploy it and regularly monitor its performance.

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