How do payments for virtual assistants work?

Intelligent virtual assistants: an overview

Customers today are used to companies responding to them immediately - be it to get an answer to their question, to buy something, or to reach customer service. Studies show that customers are clearly frustrated before they even contact customer service. If you then get into long waiting loops, if misunderstandings occur in the communication and no solution is found for the customer, the probability is high that the customer will complain about your brand and go to the competition in the future.

While customer service should be a top priority for businesses, it may seem obvious, but the importance of efficient customer service cannot be repeated enough. This is particularly relevant when customers have found automated customer service to be frustrating because they repeatedly had to outsmart the automated systems in order to finally be able to speak to a “real employee”.

Fortunately, there is a better way to provide your customers with automated, yet highly effective customer service: Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA).


In today's digital age, virtual assistants are nothing revolutionary. We already live in a world of Siris and Alexas and are used to being supported by technology in our daily tasks. While it is undeniable that Siri and Alexa are intelligent, our virtual friends are not to be equated with intelligent virtual assistants for customer service.

So what's the difference? Siri, Alexa and other similar assistants live in the same universe, but are so-called "personal virtual assistants". Intelligent virtual assistants, on the other hand, are usually used by companies to communicate effectively with their customer base and to provide highly functional self-service.

Intelligent virtual assistants give customers both a personal and a human experience. They can speak in their own words and will be understood regardless of their accent and background noise across all channels. The intelligence behind this technology is capable of learning, can think logically and understand the customer - three elements that play a central role in customer service. This type of customer service improves the brand experience and at the same time offers customers an easy way to communicate with companies.

For companies, this means that their customer service staff can now concentrate on tasks that require their specific expertise. For executives, it means that customer service costs are significantly reduced. The most important point, however, is that intelligent virtual assistants are in principle future-proof. They also meet the needs of the new generation of consumers who expect customer service to be effortless and fast - two areas where intelligent virtual assistants shine.

Depending on the application or solution provider, intelligent virtual assistants can have different names, e.g. B. "Virtual Personal Assistant" (VPA), "Virtual Customer Assistant" (VCA), "Virtual Digital Assistant" (VDA) and "Virtual Agent". Even if the names and definitions differ slightly, they are all based on the same principle.

Smart virtual assistants can be used across many different channels, including voice, chat, SMS, messaging platforms, and more. This enables the IVA to accompany all phases of a buyer's journey - from incorporation into the brand to solving problems directed at customer service. Another important point is that intelligent virtual assistants can mimic human interaction in a very practical and unobtrusive way. Unlike traditional automated customer service solutions such as B. Voice dialog systems (IVRs, Interactive Voice Response Systems) with intelligent virtual assistants can speak naturally and in their own words instead of being forced to choose a menu option or to follow a certain path. And unlike Alexa or Siri, who can help customers with general questions, intelligent virtual assistants have the intelligence to handle brand-specific questions by accessing the brand's back office systems and applying business rules. This enables intelligent virtual assistants to better understand customers and provide a personalized and effective customer service experience, becoming an extension of the brand's persona.


... not the same as a speech dialogue system (IVR). A speech dialogue system is a rule-based system that reacts to speech or tone dialing. In the age of hands-free and mobile phones, speech dialog systems are outdated and ineffective. Intelligent virtual assistants, on the other hand, offer companies a far more modern approach that is cost-effective, digitally capable, and intelligent.

Smart virtual assistants are also often confused with chatbots. Smart virtual assistants and chatbots are not synonymous. In contrast to intelligent virtual assistants, chatbots are mainly offered via text-based channels and can only perform a limited number of tasks. Not all chatbots can understand natural language and dynamic intent, or work across all customer service channels.


Before we get into the basic technologies that will enable IVA to triumph, we have listed some of the “must-haves” of an ideal IVA below.


Tremendous advances in language technologies have been made over the past few decades. An ideal IVA allows customers to speak in a completely natural way - not in a robotic and unnatural tone. An ideal IVA can understand and respond to questions asked by customers regardless of language or accent.


Modern customers expect the freedom to determine for themselves where, how and when they want to interact with companies. Often they start an interaction on one channel and expect a seamless transition to other service channels. Regardless of the time of day, customers expect companies to be ready to answer their questions around the clock and to be there to help with problems around the clock. Intelligent virtual assistants make it possible to offer high-quality customer service around the clock and to record the history of all customer transactions across all channels.


Human interactions are influenced by context, which determines the words, sentences and feelings we describe. When interacting with an automated system, customers expect the same. Smart virtual assistants must understand and maintain the context of the conversation and be able to deliver a personalized experience as the customer navigates diverse channels.


Smart virtual assistants need to understand the customer's intent, but should also understand certain keywords or nouns that are specific to the brand. Examples of this are product names, abbreviations or jargon used by customers. Intelligent virtual assistants harmonize with the voice of the brand. Unlike Alexa and Siri, an IVA lets you automate customer service without sacrificing your brand or specific data.

Customers are used to a personalized experience everywhere - from shopping to customer service. They therefore expect companies to take their personal preferences, previous interactions and demographics into account when engaging in dialogue.

The importance of data and identity protection today cannot be overstated. An IVA protects the customer's private and personal information, such as: B. Health or Credit Card Information (PCI). It encrypts all stored data and carries out regular penetration tests and vulnerability scans.


The main purpose of an IVA is to provide effective self-service to customers. However, if a customer wants to speak to an employee, an IVA is able to connect the customer with the right employee and give them all the necessary information so that the customer does not have to repeat his problem again.


For an IVA to work efficiently and accurately, certain technologies must be integrated. Here are a few core technologies that will help the IVA understand what customers are asking for and provide them with truly effective self-service:


Intelligent virtual assistants can use several AI technologies (e.g. NLP, ASR and TTS) to understand what is being said, process it and formulate a factual answer. This technology enables customers to speak in their own words rather than following a particular path.


ASR, one of the basic AI technologies, is the fundamental technology that enables computers to understand spoken language. Today's automated speech recognition systems can be trained to understand languages, accents, and dialects. This makes them an important aspect of an IVA


NLP is a collective term that covers natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG) and dialogue management. Because human language is very complex, words can have different meanings in different contexts. NLP enables an IVA to understand a customer's language, recognize their intent, and formulate a response.


As we have already explained in detail, machine learning is a combination of algorithms that are used to train a computer to perform certain tasks without being explicitly programmed for them. Intelligent virtual assistants use machine learning and neural networks (DNN) to keep learning and becoming smarter with every transaction they process.


The functionality of an IVA goes well beyond traditional customer service solutions, enabling it to solve complex, customer service-related problems in a number of industries.


From support inquiries when the internet fails to upgrades to the latest smartphone: communication providers often receive customer service-specific inquiries. It is therefore important to offer a seamless customer experience across all channels. The following examples show how providers can simplify self-service with an IVA:

  • Service management- Activates devices, classifies a service problem, updates preferences for account settings, enables participation in programs and provides information without the involvement of an employee
  • Invoices and direct debits- Reminds customers of upcoming or overdue payments, arranges and posts payments, sets up automatic or digital invoices, and displays account balance and due dates
  • Plan management- Participation in the plan, modification, access authentication, review and update, special promotions

Can be used in various industries

In the world of finance and banking, the safety of their customers is a top priority for companies. With an IVA, banks and financial companies can offer their customers a personalized banking experience that is quick, easy and available on multiple devices:

  • Banking transactions- Query of account information and account balances
  • Loyalty and rewards- Participate in loyalty programs for new members, replace cards and reset passwords, offer redemption options and fulfill requests
  • Fraud Alerts- Enabling authentication procedures, proactive fraud warning messages, multi-channel options for displaying and notifying of fraudulent activities

A healthcare provider's top priority is always their patients. With an IVA, healthcare professionals can ensure that patients are at the heart of their customer experience:

  • Recipes- Issuing new prescriptions, issuing repeat prescriptions, address of the nearest pharmacy
  • Program participation and plan selection- Collection of alphanumeric information, answers to frequently asked questions, automatic admission of new members
  • Invoices and direct debits- Reminding patients of upcoming payments, making and debiting payments, setting up automatic and digital invoices, displaying the account balance and due dates
  • Practice information- Directions via SMS, e-mail, chat, opening times, scope of services, telephone number, availability of products, other medical practices nearby

Many policyholders change their insurance provider year after year. It is therefore important for insurance providers to inspire their customers. An IVA can help customers get served quickly:

  • Admission to the insurance- Collection of alphanumeric data, answering questions, instructions for collecting and submitting data
  • Benefits and eligibility- Personalization of the policyholder's experience with account-specific information, declaration of benefits, insurance data and balance sheets

Customers expect perfect customer service when shopping online or in a store. An IVA can provide buyers with a great customer service experience that creates satisfaction and brand loyalty:

  • Shopping and special promotions- Answering questions about products or services, detailed information on special promotions and special offers, receiving and processing orders and payments
  • Rewards programs- Access and update of account balances, inclusion in programs, replacement of lost cards and resetting of account passwords, examination of redemption options
  • Order management and returns- Status updates, changing or updating orders, processing returns and exchanges, updating shipping options

An IVA provides an easy and stress-free way for travelers to manage their travel plans. This creates a customer experience that increases customer loyalty:

  • Reservations and booking- Find preferred hotels, check availability and reserve rooms, check flight times and rental car prices without having to speak to an employee, pay securely, confirm, change and cancel reservations
  • logistics- Provide information on hotels and facilities, flight status, gate and service, logistics for ground transport, timely upgrades and special offers, react to travel interruptions with automated alternatives
  • Loyalty and rewards- Retrieve loyalty program points, request travel rewards, add new members, replace cards and reset passwords, answer questions
  • reception- Optimizing processes for registering guests and checking out, fulfilling equipment requirements in rooms, personalized recommendations for restaurants and sights
  • Travel warnings and information- Send timely and personalized warnings, enable customers to change reservation dates or cancel a reservation, inform about changes or delays, provide information about local attractions

For utilities, an IVA can increase customer satisfaction and the efficiency of the service center while lowering costs:

  • Start / stop service- Record data, check relocation dates, plan new appointments, shorten call times, enable upselling
  • Invoices and direct debits- Remind customers of upcoming payments, book payments, set up automatic or digital invoices, display account balances
  • Registration with a program- Receive personalized offers as well as information on costs and registration procedures, determine eligibility to participate in a program, register for programs, complete satisfaction surveys
  • Reporting problems- Record information on failures, register customers for updates via voice or text, updates on failures and restored electricity / gas / water supply, notification of necessary repair work and approximate dates


  • To order- Order food before you arrive at the restaurant
  • Reservations- Receive reservations, confirmations and changes
  • information- Inform customers about opening times, the menu, nutritional values, catering and more


One of the challenges for companies when deciding whether to introduce an IVA is: “Who owns the solution” or “Where does the budget come from?”. In short, companies should ask themselves, "Who is responsible for the customer experience?" As a rule, the answer provides the names of the departments that should have a say in the selection or introduction of an IVA. Executives responsible for service centers, customer experience, digital transformation or even marketing often form a decision-making body and involve the IT and development teams in later phases.

Another big challenge? Companies are considering where to start. When introducing an IVA, companies have to decide whether they want to build an IVA themselves or buy one. In order to build an IVA yourself and keep it up to date, a team of experts consisting of developers, designers and scientists is required, which may not be feasible for all companies. Buying a solution requires a deep understanding of the marketplace and vendor evaluation so the company can choose vendors who can evolve with it. The above-mentioned features of an intelligent virtual assistant as well as the basic technologies are important details that must be taken into account when assessing internal know-how or selecting an external provider.



Intelligent virtual assistants will cover more and more customer contacts and take on more complex tasks than ever before. With advances in basic technologies and the possibility of automation, more and more use cases, intelligent virtual assistants will undoubtedly revolutionize the customer service industry as well as other industries. Below are a few upcoming trends that we expect in intelligent virtual assistants:

Intelligent virtual assistants will become more and more intelligent, process more complex requests than ever before and learn independently. Ultimately, they will be able to make their decisions automatically based on the dialogue with the user and generate dynamic responses without human intervention.


When customers start navigating channels to complete a transaction, intelligent virtual assistants need to adjust their behavior. Intelligent virtual assistants synchronize the context and information across all channels and deliver a seamless result.


Ultimately, customers will only want to use one device or only a few selected devices to communicate with companies. This will result in intelligent virtual assistants working closely with desktop devices such as B. Amazon Echo or Google Home and personal virtual assistants such as. B. Siri work together. We expect seamless handovers and a close exchange of information between various virtual assistants.

Ingo Brod - Interactions