Virtual Agent vs Real Agent – When is a real agent the better option?

Virtual Agent vs Real Agent - When is a real agent the better option?

Before we know it Virtual Agents will be responsible for handling the majority of requests your organisation is presented with, but at what level does it become more beneficial to have an actual agent doing the work?

Before we can answer that, we need to first define what we mean by Virtual Agent and how it differs from a Chatbot. The Chatbot vs Virtual Agent topic has been covered many times across countless blogs (And by countless, I mean at least the 20 I saw on the first page of Google!) so I’m just going to keep it brief for this comparison.

A Chatbot is a program designed to simulate conversation with a person. Chatbots will search for keywords and will only work when the keyword returns a pre-defined response.

A Virtual Agent goes beyond just simulating pre-defined conversation. A Virtual Agent adjusts its response based on how the conversation is going, it understands intent, and more importantly, it can actually “do” what the customer needs. Reset a password, provide access to a system, the list goes on.

Now we’re clear that a Virtual Agent is a more complete product with much higher capabilities, let’s see how that compares with an actual real-life person sat in front of a computer. We’re going to be making this comparison based on the following factors: Cost, Productivity, Availability, Accuracy, Scalability and Skillset. For the sake of consistency, we will be using the KIA Virtual Agent for all of our comparisons.

Real AgentKIA Virtual Agent
 Cost £21,000 + / Year From £6,000 / Year
 Availability 37.5hrs / Week 24×7
 Productivity 1000 Interactions / Month 1000 Interactions / Month
 Accuracy Variable 100%
 Scalability Limited Endless
 Skillset Variable Limited
 Multilingual Rarely – typically a more expensive resource Yes


Let’s start with cost. By far the biggest driver of any decision a company makes. The average salary in the UK for a service desk agent is £21,000 per year. This number does not take into account the additional costs associated with hiring employees, recruitment fees, pension, overtime, equipment, training, and all the rest that goes along with it. A £21,000 per year employee can comfortably run-up to a number much greater than just their salary.

Now let’s compare this to the cost to run KIA Virtual Agent once implemented. The base version of KIA costs from £6,000 per year with no worry of any supporting costs such as pensions, holidays, overtime etc and this cost can be split and paid monthly, just as you would with a real employee!

Productivity and Scalability

The base version of KIA will facilitate 1000 interactions per month. Based on an internal review carried out with one of our customers, their service desk agents were responsible for roughly the same amount of interactions per month split across email, phone and tickets in their queue.

If we take these base numbers it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to scale accordingly without the use of a Virtual Agent. The only way to handle more tickets is to hire more staff, which then need to be trained and also comes with the additional costs discussed in the previous section. An additional 1000 tickets into your service desk per month could set you back £30,000 minimum to hire a new employee to handle those requests. The same increase could be covered with a maximum cost of £6,000 should you utilise a virtual agent for those requests. You could always try and ask your agents to pick up those extra 1000 requests, but then you risk overstretching resource which comes with a whole heap of issues: missed SLAs, rushed customer service, and most importantly, an unhappy workforce.


When we’re discussing the benefits of Virtual Agents compared to real agents we’re doing so with one thing in mind, the skillset of the Virtual Agent is always going to be limited. It can’t troubleshoot advanced issues, and it can’t determine the severity of a ticket based on the possible reputational damage. All of these things can only be achieved by a highly-skilled individual. What the Virtual Agent can do however is consistently repeat simple, time-consuming tasks that your real agents shouldn’t need to spend their valuable time on yet currently account for roughly 80% of their workload.

Real vs Virtual Agent

The question here is when is a real agent the better option? The answer to that is simple. When your Virtual Agent is not capable of providing you with your desired outcome. This will create a culture of increasing the skill set of your current employees to deal with more complex issues while providing a better, faster experience to your customers for the rest of their simple requests.

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