"All the stuff that goes into launching an enterprise class solution is no longer on my lap," said Avakian.
Avakian believes virtual assistants can one day be used to handle routine queries and free customer service reps to deal with more complex problems.
James Norwood, Kana's CMO, said virtual agents use natural language technology that can detect sarcasm, or positive and negative sentiment, but their capability depends on how much knowledge they have access to.
"The longer you have them place, the more you can feed them, the more intelligent they become, and therefore the more accurate they are in their responses," said Norwood, though he added that the technology is by no means perfect.
"Interactive chat is powerful because it allows both human and automated agents to handle multiple conversations at the same time and also provide staff augmentation," said Ray Wang, principal analyst and CEO at Constellation Research.
But Wang said virtual tools may not necessarily keep a business from adding customer service reps, because the tools may encourage more engagement, business and support.
"The problem is the service expectations then grow and the volume increases again," said Wang, who called it a virtuous circle.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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