February 24, 2021

What is the Difference Between IVR and Virtual Agents?

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Your call center is a place of opportunity. Customers reach out to your contact center for many reasons. They may need information, have a problem with their account, or need to pay a bill. No matter the reason they call, it is an opportunity to win repeat business. 

The service you provide in your contact center has a trickle down effect. It can influence customer loyalty and referrals. In fact, 33% of customers say they will consider switching companies after just one bad experience. 

Many bad experiences can be nipped in the bud with accurate call routing, first time call resolution, and efficient service. IVR and virtual agents are two tools that can improve the customer experience from the start. Here we explore what they are and how they differ. 

What is the Difference Between IVR and Virtual Agents?

1. Firestarters

There are a few sources of friction in the contact center. Too much friction and you’ve got a fire on your hands. In the sections that follow we’ll look at two front-end solutions that can reduce the amount of friction in your contact center, and maybe even put out some fires, too. 

2. High call volumes

High call volumes threaten customer experience standards. They lead to long wait times, overworked agents and sub par customer service. To mitigate the effect of high call volumes you need to incorporate a system that can handle some of the workload. 

3. Long wait times

Long wait times lead to lower customer satisfaction, higher rates of call abandonment and high levels of friction. A study by arise found that 66% of surveyed customers are willing to wait a maximum of 2 minutes. After that you begin to see higher rates of call abandonment, a sure sign your customer service is lacking. Reaching out to your contact center is part of your customer’s day but, it isn’t their whole day. Shorter wait times demonstrate that you understand your customers’ time is valuable. 

4. Limited hours of support

A call center that is limited to set business houses limits when customers can get help. Not all problems happen within business hours. This can be frustrating for customers who can only call outside of business hours. Establish a system that can meet these customer’s needs and you increase the amount of customers you can keep satisfied. 

5. Overworked agents 

Agents are prone to being overworked when they have to carry out tasks that are repetitive and not engaging. To keep your agents engaged you need to provide them with work that requires a bit of creativity now and then. If you can automate the drudgery out of the call center, your agents, and customers, will be better off for it. 

These problematic areas in the call center can be mitigated by the use of a voice response system. Voice response systems reduction friction across the board. They can: 

  • Automate tasks, reducing the amount of calls live agents must handle
  • Leave engaging tasks to agents
  • Ensures calls are answered quickly 
  • Always available 
  • Streamline the customer experience by correctly routing customers

Currently, there are two options for a voice response system: Interactive voice response system (IVR) and virtual agents. The two are often confused, and for good reason. They are similar in many ways. The difference lies in personalization, effectiveness, and ability to handle complex problems. Let’s take a look at each and highlight what sets them apart. 


Many people are familiar with this type of system. When customers call in, they are met with a series of automated options. By working their way through an IVR menu, customers can service themselves or be routed to the appropriate live agent. 

But, each of these actions can only be carried out within the boundary of preprogrammed options. In order for your IVR system to correctly route your customer to the right agent, it must be told customers calling about “x” are routed to “y”. There is no room for variety with this kind of “if/then” logic.

This makes IVR systems impersonal and a bit clunky. You can modernize your IVR to be more conversational incorporating natural language processing. Advances in this technology make IVR systems more accurate. They can understand accents and other speech variations, albeit to varying degrees. 

However, their capabilities are still limited by the confines of pre-programmed logic. IVR systems that use natural language processing are more advanced than those that use automatic speech recognition or option trees. But, for a true level-up that mimics human agent encounters, look to the virtual agent.

Virtual agents 

Virtual agents can mimic live agents with ever-expanding ability. A virtual agent uses scripted rules and AI to provide automated service and guidance. By leveraging natural language processing and conversational AI, virtual agents provide a more human-like approach to CX automation. 

The options for interaction are broader with virtual agents. By way of machine learning, AI enhanced virtual agents can learn from past interactions and improve over time. Virtual agents can learn that a request for account information can sound like many things. One customer may ask “Show me my balance,” while another might say “What’s my account like?” Both are asking the same question in different ways, and to machine learning your virtual agents can interpret both accurately and provide information about their account or ask for clarifying information to provide a more specific answer. 

AI-enhanced virtual agents are not limited to pre-programmed tasks or options. The more your virtual agent interacts with your customers, the more data it has to improve upon itself. To have a successful virtual agent, integration with your CRM system is necessary. Access to your CRM makes your virtual agent more robust and can carry out tasks more accurately while feeding that information back to you. 

IVR or virtual agent?

IVR and virtual agents are two points on the continuum of automated experience. When deciding whether to use IVR or a virtual agent as an alternative to a live agent you need to consider what kind of experience you want to give your customers. 

Virtual agents cater to call centers that promote self-service options. They can adapt quickly and make the customer service journey smoother where the IVR system might stumble over input during self-service. 

IVR systems are better for intelligent routing and are useful when you need to connect your customers to the right agent. Most services customers call about are within a programmable set of options. IVR systems can take your customers’ input and accurately send them where their problems can be best resolved. 


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About LiveVox

LiveVox (Nasdaq: LVOX) is a next generation contact center platform that powers more than 14 billion omnichannel interactions a year. By seamlessly unifying blended omnichannel communications, CRM, AI, and WEM capabilities, the Company’s technology delivers exceptional agent and customer experiences, while helping to mitigate compliance risk. With 20 years of cloud experience and expertise, LiveVox’s CCaaS 2.0 platform is at the forefront of cloud contact center innovation. The Company has more than 650 global employees and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Atlanta; Columbus; Denver; New York City; St. Louis; Medellin, Colombia; and Bangalore, India. To stay up to date with everything LiveVox, follow us at @LiveVox or visit livevox.com.

To stay up to date with everything LiveVox, follow us at @LiveVox, visit www.livevox.com or call one of our specialists at (844) 207-6663.

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