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Human or Chatbot

by Angela McIntyre  |  May 11, 2011  |  1 Comment

When I have trouble with a product, I often find myself  on the company’s website tracking down how to fix it.  Often the info on the webpages doesn’t go deep enough to help my particular circumstance.  I try on-line chat if available and sometimes wonder if the agent is virtual or a real person.  It’s not so easy to tell at first. 

Most consumers prefer to have a conversation with a person to help them resolve issues with after-sales support.  The cost to staff call centers or live chat can be prohibitive for some companies, especially in mature market countries where labor costs tend to be higher. 

Virtual agents handle many consumer questions and help diagnose problems with devices.  As with a human agent, the ability of the virtual agent to provide help depends in part on how good their knowledgebase is.  For virtual agents, their ability to understand my question in any of the half a dozen or so ways I choose to ask it is key.  Several companies are improving the virtual agents’ ability to process natural language and give a  response in a conversation-like manner.

With consumer electronics, it can be difficult to know whether the trouble is due to the device, or its connector box, or the software, etc.  Some providers of virtual assistant technology seamlessly link the virtual agent for the company that makes the device, with the virtual agent of the company that makes the connector box, with the virtual agent of the company that provides the software application, etc.  They go right through the checklist for diagnosing a problem, and it is easy not to notice the hand-off to another company.  There is no “hold” while being transferred between agents.    As a consumer if there is a problem with a device I’ve purchased, I want to get it resolved conveniently with one chat session or call, if possible.  The latest virtual agent capabilities in on-line chat are one way to improve the after-sales support experience.

Thank you for reading my blog!  I suggest you take a look at the following  Gartner reports on consumer research, emerging chatbot technology and  players pertinent to the virtual assistant market.

Findings: Press ‘0’ to Speak With a Live Agent

Cool Vendors in Emerging Technologies, 2011

Virtual Assistant Vendor Landscape

You may need to be a Gartner client to view these documents.


Tags: artificial-intelligence  knowledge-management  virtual-agent  

Angela McIntyre
Research Director
5 years with Gartner
18 years IT industry

Angela McIntyre is a research director with the Gartner Technology and Service Provider Research group. Her focus is on consumer computing hardware trends. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Human or Chatbot

  1. Angela McIntyre says:

    Johan Jacobs sent me the following description of virtual agent versus virtual assistant terminology.

    Hi – interesting blog post. I do think you are proliferating the confusion between what is a virtual agent and what is a virtual assistant. The former is in fact a real human being and the name stems from the early 1980’s where Nortel released a 5 person call center switch. This switch could hang off a main call center and the agents could log on remotely – they were call “Virtual Agents”.

    Virtual Assistants on the other hand is the term used in all my publications that describe a digital representation of an organization. This can be in the form of a poor quality non-moving cartoon graphic (generation 1) to a high quality video image of a real human being (generation 5).

    The Virtual Assistant further differentiates itself from an Avatar where the former is a digital persona of an Organization most often supported by some kind of business rules engine and a knowledge base and the latter is a digital persona of an individual (single person) without any knowledge base support and mostly found in virtual worlds.

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