1) In customer relationship management (CRM), a virtual agent (sometimes called an intelligent virtual agent, virtual rep or v-rep) is a chatterbot program that serves as an online customer service representative for an organization. Because virtual agents have a human appearance and respond appropriately to customer questions, they lend automated interactions a semblance of personal service. Combining artificial intelligence (AI) with a graphical representation, virtual agents are increasingly used in CRM to help people perform tasks such as locating information or placing orders and making reservations.
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Customer response to the use of virtual agents has been largely positive. Typically, people talk to a virtual agent longer than they do to an actual person, perhaps because talking to a responsive, personalized computer program is a novelty. Virtual agents are usually scripted to respond to a wide variety of questions and remarks. (For example, they occasionally receive proposals of marriage.) If a customer becomes frustrated by the scripted responses and is rude, a virtual agent, like its human counterpart, may appear to lose its patience. For instance, when a customer calls a virtual agent stupid, one of the possible responses is: "I'm an inanimate object. You're hurling insults at an inanimate object. Which one of us is more likely to fit Webster's definition of stupid?"
According to eGain, a virtual agent provider, an automated representative can reduce support costs, encourage self-service, encourage customer loyalty, and serve as a branding tool for the enterprise.
2) Virtual agent is also used to refer to a human agent who works over the Internet at some distance from the employer's organization.
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- CNET Tech Trends provides links to some active virtual agents in their article, "How Virtual Agents Make the Web More Human."