IVAs vs RPAs


Many business leaders have heard of a “bot” or a “chatbot” or a computer program that can interact with customers with little to no assistance. They’ve probably also used this technology when calling an airline or bank to get information or book a flight without ever talking to a live agent – and might even want to see what it would take to apply that same type of technology to their business environment. But what’s behind that “chatbot”? It’s important to understand the difference between an Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) and Robotic Processes Automation (RPA).

RPAs use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to trigger a retrieval or delivery of complex information. They can be activated by a live agent on their desktop application or running on a server or application. Say for instance a live agent wanted to retrieve a customer’s last six billing statements for review or perhaps the AI had a process that generated customer contacts to send a followup email to a mailing list based on a CSAT threshold not being achieved. RPAs have endless possibilities for their uses.

RPAs offer several benefits. First, they can offer a reduction in the cost of performing the task with a live person. Second, because they are done with AI, they can reduce the number of costly errors associated with an inexperienced person performing a simple but repetitive operation. RPAs can perform their tasks at a much faster rate and scale for maximum efficiency. Departments ranging from marketing to finance and call center operations will increasingly deploy RPAs in the future to lower costs, enhance customer service, and increase productivity.

Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) use several technologies such as Automated Speech Recognition, Machine Learning, Rich Data Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence-powered Natural Language Processing (NLP) or Conversational AI to create self-service communication experiences with a customer. Most of these interactions are for simple, repetitive, and mundane tasks. IVAs can offer a unique and consistent experience to each customer and can do it at a fraction of the cost of the typical live human agent via voice automation, chat, SMS, or social media integration like Facebook and WhatsApp. Most contact centers employ a combination or hybrid environment of both live agents and Intelligent Virtual Agents. The live agents are typically reserved for more complex tasks such as a deep dive into a frustrated customer’s account, while the IVA is used for such workflows or tasks like password resets or status of an order or shipping status. 

Customer research has shown a strong preference for self-service options, and when thinking of using IVAs, remember that people are already happily chatting with AI in their home with Siri and Alexa. IVAs are just the business community applying many of the same technologies utilized in the home for their customer or employee communication needs. 

AI isn’t looking to replace humans. While there are many things IVAs powered by AI can do, there will always be complex tasks that still require the human touch of a live agent. However, there are significant ways IVAs can be employed, and the list is growing. IVAs can be deployed in many diverse ways. An IVA might be used to handle simple tasks and workflows, freeing up agent time for more complex, higher-value tasks. IVAs can also be used to extend service hours to offer 24/7 customer access, with agent callbacks available during normal business hours for complex items, or to extend service to multiple languages – conversational AI technology can support hundreds of languages with no additional staffing needs. IVAs can also sit in front of the call center to triage calls and deflect more calls during times of high call volume. And IVAs are a terrific way to stay compliant with PCI or HIPAA requirements, as sensitive customer data and information is never relayed to a live agent to compromise.

In the past, IVAs were reserved for only the largest of enterprise or Fortune 500 companies to deploy, due to cost. But Plum Voice has now deployed AI, speech to text, text to speech, and Natural Language Processing in an easy monthly subscription or per minute software as a service model that can make IVAs affordable for not only enterprise but mid-market and small business customers to deploy via voice automation, SMS dialogues, or chatbot.

In conclusion, both RPA and IVAs can streamline contact center processes and automate common business tasks. When combined with the power of AI, IVAs in particular can transform self-service customer experiences. If you’re thinking about deploying Intelligent Virtual Agents in your company’s customer or employee communication experience or just want to find out more about IVAs, click here to contact a Plum Voice IVA expert.