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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.
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."