Wednesday, Jan 08 2020

The Differences Between a Chatbot vs. Virtual Agent

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The Differences Between a Chatbot vs Virtual Agent

When people discuss conversational technology, it isn’t uncommon for them to use terms like chatbot and virtual agent interchangeably. Even though they all let the user gather information or request specific actions using a natural discussion approach, those terms actually describe different kinds of tech.

By understanding the differences between the technologies, you can discuss them with more accuracy. With that in mind, here’s a look at what chatbots and virtual agents are and how they differ from one another.


With a chatbot, the user is engaging in a single-turn exchange. While the experience may feel like a conversation, it is actually a series of independent questions and answers.

For example, you might contact a chatbot to buy a ticket to a conference. When you start the discussion, you may have multiple choice options that navigate you through the process, or you might be able to ask simple questions to get the task handled. For example, you might be able to tell the bot that you’d like to sign up for the conference. Then, the chatbot follows up by requesting your name and contact details. Once you submit them, it moves onto the payment portion.

The process itself seems conversational, but it’s actually incredibly linear or, at least, highly limited. You are asking one question and getting one answer (or providing one piece of information and advancing one step further in the process). The conversation isn’t any more complicated than a basic tree diagram.

Virtual Agents

When a user engages a virtual agent, the experience has a bit more depth than a chatbot usually offers. The technology is designed to dig deeper, looking beyond the initial question to gather potentially relevant details before providing a solution. Essentially, it has the ability to work the problem.

Once a user provides a piece of information, a virtual agent assesses what is shared to determine if other data is required. If so, it will ask a relevant follow-up.

Additionally, these technologies often have the ability to use machine learning to become more capable. A virtual agent can draw on past conversations, both with you and others, to develop new responses or anticipate your needs. In a way, it makes choices, relying on not just one piece of input but many to further the discussion.

Now, it should be mentioned that the capabilities of any chatbot or virtual agent can vary. It all depends on how they are programmed, so some are more robust than others. However, chatbots are nearly always more simplistic and limited than their virtual agent counterparts. Chatbots serve a particular purpose and aren’t intended to dive deeper or extrapolate. Each prompt results in a specific reply. In contrast, a virtual agent may be able to consider several pieces of input, ask intelligent follow-up questions, and adapt based on past conversations.

Interested in Learning More? Connect with The Armada Group

Ultimately, both technologies have their place and can certainly be valuable. But their capabilities can differ, so it’s wise to keep that in mind. If you’d like to learn more, the team at The Armada Group can help. Contact uswith your questions today and see how our technical expertise can benefit you.