Skip to main content Skip to footer Skip to menu

Your Fast and Easy Guide to Customer Service AI Terms

If you’re beginning to explore artificial intelligence (AI) for your customer service strategy or simply need an educational refresher, we invite you to read our non-scientific guide on a few of the industry’s top AI terms.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence (AI), in its most simplistic terms, is an area of computer science that gives machine’s the ability to mimic human intelligence and behavior. Whether it’s through using speech recognition to communicate, visual perception to recognize objects, or predictive analytics to identify and understand patterns in data, AI aims to simulate human-like qualities.

As Forbes author Bernard Marr wrote, “It’s no longer a primary objective for most to get to AI that operates just like a human brain, but to use its unique capabilities to enhance our world.” AI is not meant to just mimic human capabilities, but to improve them as well.

Voice AI

Voice AI allows humans to use their natural voice as an interface to ask questions of, give commands to, and perform tasks to communicate with machines. Today, voice activated machines can intake voice dictation, interpret it and execute short commands to reply to users. Humans are becoming more comfortable using their voice to interact with technology as devices like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Home Assistant gain traction. Voice is also the fastest and most interactive way to communicate with customers when it comes to customer service, but it’s difficult to scale as it usually means relying on call centers for high touch customer service. See how voice AI provides an opportunity to reimagine customer service for call centers with greater efficiency and scale.

Conversational AI

Conversational AI is often used interchangeably with Voice AI and typically describes chatbots. Chatbot magazine states, “A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface.” Chatbots are generally designed with a defined purpose, whether that be helping a customer purchase a product, scheduling an appointment, or simply having “someone” to chat with.

We like to think of conversational AI as much more than just chatbots. Conversational AI is voice AI plus more – the more being the added element of natural, human-like conversations that make interactions with machines flexible. In order to have a conversation, a machine must be able to discuss back and forth with many turns, express thoughts, understand multiple intents and share contextual information. These qualities are what make human to machine communications “conversational”.

Digital Assistants

Digital assistants, otherwise known as “intelligent assistants” are computer programs designed to assist a user by answering questions and performing basic tasks. Humans can place an order, check the weather, or set a timer with digital assistants. Some examples of digital assistants include Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant for consumers and Microsoft Cortana for enterprise users. Voice assistants built into our mobile experiences such as Apple’s Siri or Android’s Mycroft can also be labeled as digital assistants.

In a study conducted by PwC, it was discovered that 18-24 year-olds have been the fastest to adopt and experiment with new voice technology features. Surprisingly, 25-49 year-olds utilize voice technology the most, and 65% of this demographic use voice devices once per day. Digital assistants have become widespread in our consumer lives and are setting the stage for fast adoption of voice AI and conversational AI in other areas of our lives like customer service.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Interactive Virtual Assistants (IVA’s)

IVR’s are computers that use menu dialog systems to assist humans through voice and keypad recognition. Oftentimes they’re used in customer service calls and attempt to direct customers to the right agents, sometimes offering limited self-service capabilities. IVA’s are an evolution of the IVR with slightly more emotive characteristics. IVA’s make it “easier” to talk to the computer as you would a person by using aspects of conversational AI and voice AI. These solutions have come a long way but still have limitations when it comes to meeting the expectations of customer service which is why we’re so excited about upcoming advancements in conversational AI.

Virtual Agents

A virtual agent is an AI technology that’s designed to mimic the abilities of a human agent. This form of conversational AI is widely used for customer service. This term is occasionally used to describe a human agent that works remotely, but in the AI industry, you will almost always see it referring to a machine agent.

As UCtoday describes, virtual agents “go a step further by performing advanced customer service functions like giving customers recommendations. They can even answer FAQs, and help them find information needed to satisfy the reason they contacted support in the first place.”

Key benefits of virtual agents:

  • Cost-efficient
  • Provide 24/7 service
  • Relieves human agents of overload by solving repetitive, Tier-1 customer issues
  • Understands and records customer data
  • Uses conversational AI for a human-like effect
  • Trainable and consistent
  • “Learns” and becomes more efficient over time

Essentially, this technology can provide basic information to customers or employees, help guide the users through questions, and automatically reroute complex conversations or issues to an actual human agent if needed.”

AI is a cutting-edge technology that’s quickly integrating into our daily lives, especially when it comes to digital assistants and customer service. With every new breakthrough comes new industry terminology, and we’re here to help you keep it all straight. If you have any questions on industry terms or want to learn more about our own conversational AI technology, feel free to visit us at

design element
design element
Request a free
call assessment
Schedule a call with an expert