The Definitive Guide to Virtual Agents

What You Need to Know Before You Buy

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Virtual Agent Overview

Something that you have probably realized in your research is that virtual agents come by a wide variety of names including virtual agent, virtual support agent, virtual assistant, virtual employee assistant, and more. For the purpose of this document, we are standardizing on “virtual agent” to refer to an AI-based method for employee self-help.

Gartner defines virtual agents (or assistants as you will see in this definition) as follows:

“Virtual assistants (VAs) help users or enterprises with a set of tasks previously only made possible by humans. VAs use semantic and deep learning (such as deep neural networks [DNNs], natural language processing, prediction models, recommendations and personalization) to assist people or automate tasks. VAs listen to and observe behaviors, build and maintain data models, and predict and recommend actions. VAs can be deployed in several use cases, including virtual personal assistants, virtual customer assistants and virtual employee assistants.”

It's important to point out that a virtual agent is very different from a chatbot in capabilities. Gartner defines a chatbot as follows:

“A chatbot is a domain-specific conversational interface that uses an app, messaging platform, social network or chat solution for its conversations. Chatbots vary in sophistication, from simple, decision-tree-based marketing stunts, to implementations built on feature-rich platforms. They are always narrow in scope.”

Repetitive Questions Monopolize Your Help Desk

  • Password reset
  • Guest wi-fi
  • Software access
  • VPN information

For years help desk agents have been monopolized by employees asking the same questions over and over again. When that happens, it negatively impacts budget, mean time to repair (MTTR), and workforce productivity, plus the most strategic initiatives don’t get the attention they deserve. While that has been an ongoing issue, help desk automation might not have been on your priority list. But everything has changed since the pandemic with cost containment and employee experience as top issues.

A virtual agent brings the ease of consumer virtual assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, into the workplace giving employees the kind of self-help experience they have come to expect from their consumer lives. The virtual agent automates resolution of employee questions, issues, and requests with personalized experiences that should result in employee adoption of 80 to 85% and reduced help desk call volume of 60% or more.

The virtual agent should scale to meet the most demanding increases in call volume, enabling organizations to support their workforce through any crisis situation. Because the virtual agent can eliminate an outsourced Tier 1 team, organizations save valuable budget dollars while keeping the workforce productive.

Key considerations when selecting a virtual agent include:

Conversational AI Requirements

Language Model and Accuracy

Content, Automation, and Resolution

Integration with ITSM Tools

Omni-Channel Strategy

What’s Driving Help Desk Automation

The pandemic brought seismic shifts to organizations, the economy, and the world, impacting both employees and employers. Three trends have emerged as frontrunners that will continue into the near future and beyond:

  1. We’re evolving from a “work from home” to a “hybrid workforce”
  2. We’re evolving from a recession to a focus on cost containment and optimization
  3. Digital transformation and conversational platforms are being prioritized

Trend #1: Hybrid Workforce

In 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKinsey and Company found that 62% of employees were working from home. While 41% felt more productive, one in three were struggling. That’s not surprising when you consider that, according to HR Executive, nearly 7 out of 10 workers claimed the pandemic was the most stressful time of their professional careers.

What contributed to that level of employee stress? It was a combination of concerns around both health and income, as well as trying to be productive in a work from home world.

Now that we are entering a phase where vaccines are becoming available, Gartner asked HR leaders about their plans to allow work from home to continue:

  • 90% will allow work from home at least part of the time
  • 65% will continue to allow flexibility for when employees work
  • 50% of the workforce wants to return to the office at least part of the time


The phrase to pay attention to is “at least part of the time.” Organizations are going to have to support a workforce with a mix of remote, in the office, and hybrid.

When working from home, employees can no longer shoulder tap the person sitting next to them to get help. Flex hours makes getting help even more difficult. Because of that, calls to the IT help desk after the work from home mandate went into effect were up approximately 35%.

Even before the pandemic, a Pulse Report showed that employees reported they were struggling to get help from HR, with 57% finding it too hard to use the HR portal, and 53% not knowing where to go for an answer. When they call or email the help desk, nearly half (48%) complain it takes too long to get an answer. And while this is an HR example, a Pulse Report focused on IT service management showed very similar results.

Imagine if that same report were done during COVID-19. These numbers would be heightened even further. And why do employees get frustrated when they can’t get the help they need? In addition to just wanting to be productive, according to PwC, “employees want their work organizations to provide a workplace experience that matches what they’ve come to expect as customers and in other areas of their lives.”

Trend #2: Cost Containment and Optimization

By May of 2020, Gartner reported that 55% of CEOs were not prepared for the economic downturn although 43% had reported they were worried about economic recession impacting their revenue growth in the next 12 months.

Despite that concern, many delayed taking action to prepare for this eventuality. That meant CIOs had to move into emergency cost optimization. As a result, investments were minimized and prioritized on operations that kept the business running. Initiatives that provided immediate, tangible ROI were put to the top of the list.

As we move into 2021, cost containment remains a top CIO priority since their budgets have only increased an average of 2% this year. Now in 2021 a new Gartner survey revealed that optimizing costs has become increasingly important to HR leaders as well. When asked about the top business priorities, cost optimization was #4 and had risen in importance 13% versus the prior year.

This demonstrates that optimizing costs is not just an IT concern, it’s an HR concern too. And it’s a concern for the entire year and likely into the near future.

Trend #3: Digital Transformation and Conversational Platforms

The focus on cost containment put a spotlight on automation, and that spurred digital transformation forward by at least five years. A CIO Dive study revealed that CIOs reprioritized their top initiates in response to COVID-19 resulting in a 79% increase in the amount of budget allocated for digital transformation. And of those whose digital transformation budgets increased, 26% reported they had grown dramatically.

One area in digital transformation that is growing fast is the move to conversational platforms for service management—and not just in IT. Gartner’s “Predicts” 2021 report states that by 2023, 75% of HR service management inquiries will be initiated through conversational platforms.

What’s driving this move to conversational platforms for HR?

  1. The exponential growth in HR-related questions driven by the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic along with the sudden requirement to work from home dramatically affected both personal and work lives. In addition, every county, state, and country had different policies and regulations.

  2. With sensitive HR cases, a conversational UI works better than a portal or desktop search facility. While there are cases where human intervention is required, employees are more comfortable with a conversational UI versus a portal.

  3. The HR investment in tech tools is high, but adoption is low. According to Gartner, 72% of HR technology expenses are tools, yet only 34% of employees report using core HR tools in the past 12 months. A conversational AI platform can link to or integrate with those tools making them more consumable.

    The move to virtual agents in IT service management (ITSM) is happening even faster than it is in HR. The top drivers in ITSM include:

    Cost optimization is a mandate. A hybrid workforce can work anywhere, anytime, which means they need immediate, personalized help 24/7. That is both costly and difficult for a help desk to support without intelligent automation.


    Tackling the impact of remote work on employee experience is a top priority. When employees don’t get immediate, personalized answers to their questions, their frustration is high and their productivity is low. A virtual agent delivers the consumer-like digital experience that they have come to expect in their personal lives.


    Digital transformation will not be successful if the IT help desk cannot support it. You can pick the best technology and deploy it correctly, but it will fail if your employees don’t adopt it. A virtual agent helps employees deal with change by giving them the support that they need. This, in turn, improved the success and return on investment as you deploy digital technologies.

Conversational AI Requirements

A common way for vendors to define conversational AI is to explain that their virtual agents understand employee language and answer questions or open tickets. Building a virtual agent with natural language processing (NLP) that understands employee language is no small feat, and any solution that does that well should be considered. But it goes way beyond that.

A virtual agent capable of conversational AI should be able to: (1) understand employee language, (2) engage with employees to gain clarity, (3) walk employees through troubleshooting workflows, and (4) answer questions, execute resolution workflows, and submit tickets.

There are five questions that you should ask a potential vendor to determine whether their virtual agent is truly conversational. Be sure to ask, “Does the virtual agent...”

1

Distinguish between specific and vague questions?

2

Conduct problem resolution with guided tours?

3

Ask all relevant questions for a service request?

4

Understand questions across all departments?

5

Provide real-time insight and trigger immediate actions?

  1. Does the virtual agent distinguish between specific and vague questions?

    Let’s assume an employee has an issue with the VPN. The employee could provide a contextually relevant interaction by saying, “I want to setup 2-factor authentication for VPN.” This is specific enough that any virtual agent should immediately be able to provide an appropriate response.

    But what happens when an employee simply states, “VPN” or “help with Cisco AnyConnect.” For virtual agents that act like “searchbots” and rely on knowledge articles, this would lead to a frustrating experience for the employee, because the virtual agent would show any number of knowledge articles that are related to VPN.

    It is important that a virtual agent be designed in a way that lets employees interact using their natural language. It should be designed to recognize vague interactions and provide contextually relevant options based on the employee or organization, in order to ensure the appropriate help is given.

  2. Does the virtual agent conduct problem resolution with guided tours?

    If an employee asks, “Why is my VDI not working?” it will likely take more information to solve the problem. This is the type of question where a service desk agent would generally walk the employee through a series of questions in order to pinpoint the actual issue.

    So how would the virtual agent respond? If the vendor relies on knowledge articles for answers, there is a high chance that a number of potentially relevant articles would be provided to the employee, since the question was vague. From there, your employees are on their own to figure out which document or steps are right for them.

    Organizations must be able to recreate complex workflows to engage employees and launch any needed automation in order to resolve an issue. For instance, if an employee states, ‘I need my VDI to be rebooted,” the virtual assistant will skip the steps to that part of the workflow. A customer should be able to integrate the VA to initiate orchestration to reset an employee’s VDI.

  3. Does the virtual agent ask all relevant questions for a service request?

    Anyone that has built a service request in an ITSM platform knows that these “forms” generally include a number of fields that employees need to pick from in order to submit their requests. However, experience reveals that employees rarely ever understand these forms. Instead, they revert to email and phone to submit requests.

    According to Gartner, only 14% of tickets are generated by employees submitting them on their own. And when they do submit them on their own, they generally fill it out incorrectly. That means that help desk agents end up acting as human middleware between employees and forms.

    What if employees could simply ask, “How can I enroll my new phone?” and instead of being sent a form to fill out, the virtual agent asked them the required questions in real-time? Your virtual agent should be able to simply import service requests from your ITSM tool (e.g., ServiceNow), which means your employees submit their own requests without human intervention, and they don’t even know they did it.

  4. Does the virtual agent understand questions across all departments?

    Virtual agents that rely on knowledge articles have a difficult time understanding the nuance of a given phrase or topic, which means they may not know where to send a ticket if one is needed. For example, Workday authentication or access issues should go to the IT team. However, if the employee is asking about their dependents within Workday, that should go to the HR or Benefits team.

    Predicting the routing of an incident or a request is an area where virtual agents that rely on knowledge articles fall flat. Knowledge articles typically do not have organizational context embedded for useful “ticket routing rules,” which means that the service desk team needs to work with the vendor and define the rules based on specific topics (or knowledge articles). This can be a very arduous and never-ending process.

    Your virtual assistant should be able to understand billions of phrases for employee language across the enterprise. This means the responsibility is on the virtual agent to ensure every ticket is correctly handled across all enterprise departments. The virtual agent should also understand these questions across multiple languages.

  5. Does your virtual agent provide real-time insight and trigger immediate actions?

    Let’s say you are going through a significant technology change, like moving from Microsoft Office 365 to G Suite. Can you quickly determine if your employees are able to adopt the new technology and remain productive, or if they are struggling and need help with the transition? If they are struggling, can your virtual agent proactively reach out to them and provide the specific help they need on the spot?

    With most vendors, designing an interactive conversation for the purposes of collecting and acting on information is not possible, forcing you to find another tool to engage with your employees. The virtual agent should offer conversational surveys that inform decision making while triggering actions in real time. These interactive surveys can be deployed to proactively gauge an employee’s well-being during any time of change, from a crisis to a corporate-wide technology transition.

Language Model and Accuracy

While there is a long checklist of requirements that should go into your consideration set, perhaps the most important is the language model. If the virtual agent cannot accurately understand what employees are asking, they will abandon the tool and never return, and tickets will inevitably get routed to the wrong agents.

Crowd-Based Architecture

For a virtual agent to “deliver on the promise,” it must be accurate. If an employee asks, “My guest needs internet access” and the assistant responds with instructions to reset a password, the employee will give up.

The accuracy of consumer virtual assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, has improved over time thanks to millions of user interactions each day, along with an army of data scientists and computational linguists behind the scenes who go through these interactions to improve the experience.

That is what’s required to achieve high accuracy – an immense amount of data. Unfortunately, no single enterprise has the data and resources to replicate that, which is why many VSAs have had limited success. With over 80% of employee interactions nearly identical across most organizations, it doesn’t make sense to build in-house.

Make sure that the solution that you are considering has a pre-built language model for your use case, ideally with a crowd-sourcing model that enables the virtual agent to learn through employee interactions from all customers. If the virtual agent doesn’t understand a question from a particular customer’s instance, a fully anonymized, scrubbed version should be leveraged to tune and improve the virtual agent over time, benefitting all customers.

Inherent Phrase Recognition

Many natural language processing (NLP) tools build language models based on the knowledge articles they are fed. This means the language model can only be as expansive as the language used within these knowledge articles. But knowledge articles are written by subject matter experts and don’t represent the myriad of ways that non-technical employees express themselves when interacting with a virtual agent. The result? The accuracy rate of the virtual agent would end up low unless employees knew what keywords to use.

So how can you know whether a solution will work for you? Ask vendors to analyze your last quarters worth of tickets against their language model to determine the accuracy rate. In other words, what percent of phrases would be understood by the virtual agent out of the gate. You should expect 70 to 90 percent, with a strong language model at the higher end.

You cannot expect employees to carry around a decoder ring to know what words to use when interacting with your virtual agent. The virtual agent should recognize a billion or more phrases on day one and have the ability to continue to learn and grow in recognition over time with no effort on your part. Without that, you will need to hire expensive AI talent such as data scientists and professional linguists to build a tool from scratch and then to continuously adapt the language model to changes in language patterns.

In addition, the virtual agent needs to also be able to understand the specific language of an enterprise such as proprietary applications, acronyms, buzzwords, etc. And, because you cannot expect employees to constrain their questions to only one department such as IT, the virtual agent should recognize phrases across all enterprise service teams such as IT, HR, Facilities, Payroll, as well as terms that are specific to specific industries such as retail and healthcare. Finally, if your organization is global, you should expect the virtual agent to understand and respond to inquiries in the native language of each employee.

IT

HR

Facilities

Payroll

Manufacturing

Advanced NLP Engine

An NLP engine needs to be built on an extensible architecture so that the virtual agent can understand employee language with a high degree of accuracy. If the solution leverages traditional machine learning classifiers for their NLP, it will require too much data, time, and manpower to accurately interpret the broad language of employees.

The goal is for the virtual agent to understand the true meaning behind each phrase, ensuring the highest accuracy and ticket deflection rates. As an example, if an employee types, “I have an issue with my laptop,” the virtual agent should correctly routes that as an IT incident. And if the employee reorganizes those words to type, “Issue me a new laptop,” the virtual agent should know that is an IT service request. This means employee issues are correctly categorized, and any potential tickets are opened in the correct way. This eliminates the need for agents to manually categorize and route tickets, so employees are getting help faster and help desk teams can focus their attention on more strategic projects.

Content, Automation, and Resolution

Every vendor will tell you that their virtual agent can ingest your content, automate answers, and resolve issues, so how do you determine whether a virtual agent will accommodate your needs? Here are checklists and explanations of what to look for.

Content

First, for a virtual agent to successfully automate employee self-help, it must have the ability to understand, from day one, what an employee is requesting in the employee’s natural language, even if their question is vague. Otherwise, your employees will abandon your virtual agent and never return.

In addition to understanding your employees, your virtual agent needs to accurately answer questions. Your help desk has likely already created customized content in the form of knowledge base (KB) articles. Your virtual agent should be able to leverage that investment to answer employee questions—not let it go to waste.

Your virtual agent should also include curated content for commercially available apps, such as Office 365, where the answers are consistent wherever you work. With curated content available right out of the gate, your help desk can focus on things that are unique to your organization.

Automation

Next, your virtual agent should support automated workflows to keep commonly asked questions like, “How do I reset my password?” from monopolizing your help desk. Your virtual agent should also be able to take proactive actions, such as prompting employees to update a password that’s about to expire.

However, it’s not enough just to automate requests—some require approvals. If an employee asks, “Can I order a new laptop?” there is likely an associated cost with this request, and you don’t want employees to be able to order whatever they want through your virtual agent. Therefore, your virtual agent should take corporate protocols into consideration, making sure approvals happen first before the request can be completed.

If you have already built workflows into your IT service management (ITSM) catalog, you will want to make sure you can seamlessly integrate those into your virtual agent, maximizing value. The virtual agent platform should also optimize integration with robotic process automation (RPA) platforms, enabling the virtual agent to go deeper into the types of use cases that can be automated.

Resolution

To bring intelligent automation to the help desk you need to resolve issues in a smart way. Your virtual agent should help employees identify the root cause of the issue they’re experiencing. If an employee says, “My laptop is running slow,” the virtual agent should run diagnostics to automate issue resolution.

Even with all this, some tickets will still need to be created. The virtual agent should leverage machine learning to automatically categorize tickets and route them to the correct team. This eliminates ticket ping pong, ultimately minimizing your mean time to resolution (MTTR) so employees get the help they need when they need it.

Integration with ITSM Tools


IT Service Management (ITSM) tools, like ServiceNow, have focused on transforming IT back-office processes, including a ticketing system that has helped service desk agents be more productive. Paying a premium for an ITSM tool makes sense given the breadth of the platform and the opportunities they present.

However, while ITSM solutions are great for backend service support agents, they do not engage directly with employees. Organizations often want to increase the value of their ITSM investment by making it relevant to employees as well. One way to achieve this is by embracing a self-service capability, which can be done with a virtual agent.

Integrating a virtual agent into an ITSM tool is critically important in order to drive self-service. Virtual agents can lower help desk call volume by providing employees immediate answers to their questions. However, the only way to deliver a consumer-like experience that will help you maximize the value of your ITSM tool is if your virtual agent has a deep integration with your ITSM platform.

When looking at the various options for a virtual agent, you will need to evaluate which type of ITSM integration the virtual agent offers. There are two types of integration: lightweight and deep.

Lightweight Integration

Many virtual agents fall into the lightweight integration category. Their approach is to integrate with as many ITSM tools to maximize their available market using the lowest common denominator.

What’s wrong with that? Lightweight integration has limited value and creates an environment where employees need to use multiple tools in order to get the help they need, causing a break in the experience. For example, employees will start with a modern, engaging experience by asking the virtual agent their question. But when a ticket needs to be created, they will need to leave the virtual agent and revert back to a legacy ticketing experience, usually email based.

Another example can be seen when employees need to order items, such as hardware or computer accessories, from an ITSM service catalog. A virtual agent with a lightweight integration will take the employee to the legacy service catalog in order to browse and order what they need. This again causes a break in the employee experience.

Deep Integration

A virtual agent that is deeply integrated with the ITSM platform should provide a single place for employees to leverage all of the capabilities of the ITSM tool, without having to deal with the complexity of the tool. Employees should be able to interact with the virtual agent for a single, unified experience, limiting the number of tools they need to consume in order to resolve their issue or request.

In order for there to be deep integration, the virtual assistant should be able to:

1

Provide a seamless handoff from virtual agent to live agent

2

Distinguish between service requests vs. incidents

3

Consume an existing knowledge base

4

Eliminate ticket ping-pong

5

Trigger service catalog automations and approvals

  1. Provide a seamless handoff from virtual agent to live agent.

    The virtual agent should give employees immediate, personalized answers to their questions. If the virtual agent doesn’t have an answer, a ticket should be automatically generated and routed to the appropriate service team, providing a seamless handoff from virtual agent to live agent. From the agent side, deep integration means they are able to continue to update tickets and communicate with the employee using the ITSM tool, while the employee can continue to respond through the virtual agent. This promotes a better collaboration between the employee and the live agent.

  2. Distinguish between service requests vs. incidents:

    When tickets come in, an ITSM tool needs to distinguish if the ticket is a service request or an incident in order to accurately route them. A virtual agent that deeply integrates will know the difference based on the employee question and will be able to gather specific data from the employee in order to correctly classify the ticket.

  3. Consume an existing knowledge base:

    ITSM tools often come with their own knowledge base, such as Confluence for Jira Service Desk. For organizations that have a strong knowledge management practice in place, the virtual agent should be able to consume and improve upon the work that is already done—not let it go to waste. A deeply integrated virtual agent will also leverage knowledge articles across multiple sources, even non-ITSM ones, such as from Confluence and Microsoft SharePoint.

  4. Eliminate ticket ping-pong:

    In traditional ITSM tools, 30–40% of IT tickets are not created correctly or routed to the right team, resulting in a ticket ping ponging across teams. A smart, deeply integrated virtual agent can use machine learning to look at historical ticket data from the ITSM tool, along with current tickets and agent corrections, in order to accurately populate and route tickets the first time.

  5. Trigger service catalog automations and approvals:

    If your organization has invested in building workflows into your ITSM catalog, you should be able to seamlessly integrate those into your virtual agent, maximizing value. Deep integration means your virtual agent would gather the right data from the employee and trigger the automation you have already built. In addition, some employee requests will require approvals, such as ordering new equipment. Your virtual agent should take corporate protocols into consideration, making sure approvals happen before the request can be completed.

Case Management for Departments Outside of IT

IT departments have sophisticated ITSM tools such as ServiceNow, Jira Service Desk, and Ivanti that work for them, but might be too expensive and complex to deploy across the enterprise. Other internal service providers, such as HR, Payroll, Facilities, etc., need a case management system (i.e., ticketing tool) to improve the efficiency, experience, and quality of support they offer to employees, but need something less expensive that non-technical staff can use.

It is important for a virtual agent vendor to also offer a case management system to fulfill this need. The IT team can continue using their ITSM tool, while other departments can stop using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and shared voice mailboxes to facilitate service management.

Omni-Channel Strategy

Employee adoption is critical for the success of a virtual agent. Having cutting edge technology will only get you so far—if employees do not adopt, it will fail. For employees to adopt a virtual agent, you shouldn’t force them to learn something new. Instead, make sure the virtual agent can be accessed through multiple channels so that employees can select the one that works for them.

When employees need help, they will default to the channel that has yielded them the best results in the past. For some, that’s calling or emailing the help desk. Others will prefer to go through a browser or mobile app. And if an organization is fully invested in a collaboration tool, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, many employees will prefer to go there to ask their questions. The virtual agent you select needs to be able to meet employees where they are across all of these channels.

Channels Overview

When selecting a virtual agent, you should make sure it can be accessed by employees where and how they already work. Here are some questions to ask a vendor to verify a virtual agent’s accessibility.

  1. Collaboration Tools: Is the virtual agent available as an app for popular collaboration tools like Slack or Teams? Can the virtual agent be configured to monitor public channels in order to answer common employee questions? Can employees check the status of their tickets within a single view?

  2. Desktop Icon: Can the virtual agent be pushed to employee desktops for both Windows and Mac?

  3. Mobile App: Is the virtual agent available as a mobile app for your employees to download? Is the app available for both Android and iOS?

  4. Browser: Can your employees access the virtual agent through their preferred browser (e.g., Chrome, Safari, etc.)?

  5. Service Portal/Intranet: Can the virtual agent be featured as a widget on a service portal or intranet page? If you have already encouraged employees to go to your portal on these pages, you don’t want to lose that adoption.

  6. QR Code: Can your employees scan a QR code and automatically launch the virtual agent? This is especially useful for reporting issues with shared resources, such as a conference room or an office printer.

  7. Email: Can the virtual agent intercept an email going to your help desk, read it, and either answer it or create a ticket?

  8. Phone: Can the virtual agent be integrated with an interactive voice response (IVR) system in order to intercept calls going to your help desk?

Collaboration Tools

A virtual agent should be able to integrate with both Slack and Microsoft Teams. This is usually done through an app that employees can download within the collaboration tool. Employees should be able to get help within the tool in two ways:

  1. Support for Private Channels: An employee should be able to send a direct message to the virtual agent, and the virtual agent should be able to answer or create a ticket when needed. The ability to enable direct, private message is particularly important for departments that manage highly sensitive content (e.g., HR, Payroll) where employees should not ask questions in a public forum.

  2. Support for Public Channels: Help desks often have designated public channels within collaboration tools where employees can ask questions and get support. However, agents can become monopolized monitoring these channels and there is a loss of visibility to metrics. A virtual agent should be able to monitor these channels and answer employee questions with metrics, so help desk agents don’t have to.

A virtual agent should also have a designated spot within the app, such as a homepage, that employees can go to and see their pending requests. If they need to provide more information or reopen a request, they should be able to do so from the homepage, without ever having to leave the collaboration tool. A homepage can also be a great way to communicate to employees about important updates, such as announcements and approvals.

IVR Systems

A virtual agent that can integrate with an existing IVR system can help deflect calls going to a help desk, freeing up time for both help desk agents and employees. Employees calling the help desk can receive a response from the virtual agent in seconds, instead of waiting minutes to hours on hold to speak to an agent, resulting in higher productivity and less downtime.

Integration with an IVR system should enable the virtual agent to be triggered by the employee simply being placed on hold, or through a deeper integration that enables voice prompts to take specific actions.

For example, if the employee hears, “Push 5 for password reset” and selects this option, the virtual agent could send a notification via push, text, Slack, Teams, or email. The employee could then click the notification to be taken to the virtual agent interface or even into a specific workflow based on their selection.

QR Codes

A virtual agent that can be launched via a QR code can enable quick and easy problem reporting. This is especially important for shared resources, where problems often go unreported since there is no designated owner. Here are three use cases:

Office Use Case: If an office printer is out of ink, an employee could scan a QR code near or on the printer. Once scanned, the QR code would identify the printer type and location. The employee would answer a few questions and the ticket would be submitted

Retail Use Case: Retail employees, who are often paid hourly, are less likely to report a problem with a shared resource if they are experiencing it at the end of their shift. A QR code would fix that, as it would only take a few minutes for them to report the issue.

Healthcare Use Case: Medical workers can also benefit from shared resource reporting. A QR code that can store location information can be pivotal in places like hospitals, where there is often the same type of shared resources (i.e., hospital beds) on multiple floors and in multiple rooms.

Conclusion: Achieving Success

This definitive guide has covered a wide range of topics to help provide you with what you need to know before you select a virtual agent for your enterprise. When you deploy a virtual agent, you should expect to achieve:

  • Fast time to deployment with ROI on day one

  • High ticket deflection with strong global adoption

  • Increased employee satisfaction and productivity

  • Higher adoption of all digital technologies


Keep in mind that effective automation requires a comprehensive approach. We encourage you to evaluate Espressive Barista, our AI-based virtual agent. Barista is the only virtual agent to deliver these things to help ensure your success:

Highest Deflection Rate

Our customers experience 50 to 70% ticket deflection.

Enterprise Service Management

Barsita delivers self-help across 14 departments and in 9 languages.

Employee Adoption Program

We help you address change management to ensure success.


It’s always best to learn about a solution from customers who have experienced it. Here are three case studies that should help.

“As an enterprise, we’re continuously hiring to keep up with our growth. With Barista, I don’t need to add help desk agents at the same rate because employees are going to Barista for help.”

– John Jacobs, Head of IT Desktop Support, Dexcom
Read Case Study

“We had 40% fewer agents on our IT service desk versus the prior year when the work from home mandate brought a 292% increase in call volume. Barista scaled to do 99 agent days worth of work in one month.”

– John Powers, Head of Client Support Services, Solar Turbines
Read Case Study

“By introducing Barista, we’ve been able to cancel our outsourcing contract and improve employee satisfaction at the same time. We’re already seeing an ROI.”

– Head of the Unified Endpoint Management Team
Read Case Study

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