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  5. AI Virtual Agents vs Live Agents—Who Should Serve Your Customers?

Brands around the world are well aware that customer loyalty is vital to their financial performance. Many of them use customer experience as a strategic advantage in the struggle to keep consumers happy and drive repeat sales. But as companies try to scale their teams to answer customer’s need for speed and accuracy, they bounce off budgetary restrictions.

And this is where companies often decide to outsource customer service. While they know it’s not an ideal solution, they often think that’s their only option. But there is a third way that is often falsely considered too difficult and too expensive to implement. With the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing technology, virtual agents have become a viable solution to customer service capacity problems. But many companies are afraid of the investment and operational costs of having an AI agent on their team. Is it really that expensive? Heads up: it doesn’t have to be. Here’s our comparison between in-house live agents, outsourced live agents, and AI agents.

The cost of virtual agents vs the cost of live agents

For many businesses choosing between live agents, outsourcing, and AI agents often comes down to the price. While the cheaper alternative when choosing between in-house and outsourced teams is clear, the price difference between the two and AI agents isn’t widely known. That’s because AI agent vendors have very different approaches to delivering their solutions, and the difference in pricing between them can amount to several thousands of dollars. But it is a myth that you need a big investment upfront and high operational costs to have an AI agent successfully serve customers. You can start with automating the most important volume first, spending a few thousand dollars upfront for the virtual agent setup, and then pay by the minute. The virtual agent will scale on-demand once it’s deployed to production, so you only pay for the actual conversation time. Additionally, virtual agents don’t require the costs of recruitment, benefits, PTO, hardware, sick days, breaks, office space that are necessary for live agents.

Learn more about how automation reduces call center costs.

Reduce customer wait time

The relation between wait time and customer satisfaction is clear, not only because of extensive research available online but also because we have all had to wait on hold and know how frustrating it is. In this category, we have a clear winner: AI agents simply have zero on-hold time unbeatable by neither in-house nor outsourced agents.

Improve case resolution

This criterion is less straightforward than the previous one, as it depends on how we look at it. If you serve customers from different time zones, but your team works only in one, then the resolution time will be longer than compared to outsourced teams that often provide round-the-clock support that is cheaper. AI agents also work 24/7 and are effective no matter if working the day or night shift, making resolution time shorter. On the other hand, live agents are the only ones who can solve complex cases with their broad operational knowledge and access to many internal systems.

Solve complex cases

Solving complex cases that require out-of-the-box solutions, consulting many different departments, using multiple data systems to get all the information needed is something only humans can do. Both in-house and outsourced agents can solve them. But in-house teams have more up-to-date knowledge and easier access to other departments, often needed in complex cases, making them more efficient than outsourced agents. AI agents generally shouldn’t be used for very complex, off-script cases. But they are perfect for repetitive cases, which leads us to the next criterion.

Repetitive cases

AI agents dominate here with their indisputable consistency, accuracy, and ability to answer the same question or process the same transaction a hundred times in a row. On the other hand, live agents find those repetitive cases tedious and frustrating. From frustration come mistakes and annoyance with customers that leads to poor customer experiences.

Customer experience

It’s true that in difficult cases where customers are upset or even angry, empathy is necessary to provide a great customer experience. But for a lot of cases, it’s all about time and efficiency. When returning an item, we just want to get it done as soon as possible. So, resolving our case quickly is the number one factor for satisfaction — something that a bigger outsourced team and AI agents can provide.

The hybrid approach

As you can see, while in certain categories, humans win, AI agents perform better in others. This leads us to the conclusion that the best approach is a hybrid one. While AI agents and offshoring are more cost-effective, in-house live agents are irreplaceable in resolving those tricky cases. AI agents provide instant solutions to a lot of common problems and don’t feel frustrated or annoyed while operating at a fraction of the cost of human agents. In the end, the key to success is not to pick one or the other but to make them work together to effectively serve customers while staying within the budget.

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