This article was originally published in Smart Selling Tools and is reprinted with permission by the author. The piece has since been updated to match advances in our technology.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Connectivity, data, and processing power have come together to make disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) possible. While we are just scratching the surface on what we can do with AI, we’re seeing more and more companies – from fledgling startups to large corporations – begin to offer specialized AI applications.

Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) are one type of specialized AI that has gained quite a bit of traction in recent years. But what exactly is an Intelligent Virtual Assistant?

Read on to learn more about what an Intelligent Virtual Assistant is and how businesses can leverage this technology to operate more efficiently and drive top-line growth.

What Is an Intelligent Virtual Assistant?

Intelligent Virtual Assistants are the next generation of intelligent automation helping organizations scale personal interactions that attract, acquire, and grow customers.

IVAs enable organizations to deliver a personalized touch to all their contacts, leads and customers. The ability to communicate in a human-like manner is a huge advancement from how businesses have been able to interact with contacts thus far, which up until recently has been limited by employee capacity or largely generic mass email programs.

An integral part of an Intelligent Virtual Assistant is Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and Natural Language Generation (NLG). According to Conversica Chief Scientist, Dr. Sid Reddy, this entails having a system that precisely classifies intents and entities. By intent we mean the intention of the end-user – what is the customer trying to do? The entity provides context for that intent. In other words, an entity refers to the information that is helpful in answering the user’s request.

Another critical component of an IVA is machine learning, which refers to a computer’s ability to learn without being explicitly programmed, and get “smarter” with more information it receives. Human languages are incredibly complex – whether you speak English, Spanish, Mandarin, or any of the 6,000-plus known languages in the world, language is nuanced and constantly evolving.

Just think about the different ways you can ask for information. For example, if I need to get to a specific restaurant, I could ask, “Where are you located?” or “What’s your address?” or even “Where can I find you?” The variations of this question all have the same intent, even if the entities differ. If you’re considering adopting an AI solution to deliver human-like messages, it’s a good idea to look for applications that incorporate machine learning, NLU, and NLG capabilities.

In addition, you may want to ask potential IVA providers if they:

  1. Have vast amounts of data (information shared by people in conversations). An AI solution, like an Intelligent Virtual Assistant, will use this data to improve language understanding and language generation, in addition to providing valuable analytics.
  2. Allow you some degree of control to customize interactions and conversations.
  3. Integrate with your existing technology stack. If you use a CRM system or marketing automation tool, make sure the IVA solution you are mulling over will work together with those systems, so you have a single source of information.

Intelligent Virtual Assistants in Business

Businesses ranging in sizes and industries are looking toward AI, intelligent automation and specifically Intelligent Virtual Assistants to optimize key functions. One traditional aspect of business that’s getting a technological boost is sales – rather than leaving it up to your workforce to reach out and follow up with interested prospects, an Augmented Workforce in which IVAs and people work in tandem is automating this crucial, yet repetitive task.

It’s important to note that using an IVA to handle initial contact and lead engagement does not replace workers, but rather allows them to manage their time better. According to InsideSales.com, Sales reps only spend 37 percent of their time selling. This means that most of a Salesperson’s time is spent on non-revenue generating activities such as administrative tasks (dealing with internal policies and approvals) and researching target accounts and contacts. By automating these repetitive duties, your Salespeople are empowered to focus on high-value work they actually enjoy.

As consumer expectations for prompt, polite and personalized communications continue to rise, companies must meet or exceed those needs in order to earn the customer’s business. It makes sense then, to invest in a solution that aptly provides that highly desired prompt, personalized attention at scale.

The good news is that we’ve reached a point where we can use Intelligent Virtual Assistants to help customers feel that they are being listened to and their needs are being addressed. And that’s a competitive advantage your business can’t afford to miss.

Want to learn more about Intelligent Virtual Assistants and the Augmented Workforce? Read our eBook, The Future of Work Is Now: New Research Shows the Benefits of an Augmented Workforce.