Chatbot vs live chat: a false debate


You’ve likely encountered the chatbot vs live chat debate. This debate implies a necessary choice between the two chat-based service channels: it’s one, or the other.

Do you opt for the availability and hype-factor of a standalone chatbot? Or go with a tried and tested approach, offering agent support through a live chat channel?

The problem is, this notion of clashing corners is where many chat deployments suffer. The entire premise of setting up traditional live chat software against chatbots is flawed. Here, we dig a little deeper into the falsity (and redundancy) of the chatbot vs live chat debate.

The entire premise of setting up traditional live chat software against chatbots is flawed.

Chatbot vs live chat

73% of consumers say that live chat is their most preferred contact channel. It offers real-time, human support at the click of the button. This means that customers aren’t stuck in an infuriating phone tree or sending emails into the void.

Chatbots are available 24/7. They can talk to any number of customers at once. They turn static FAQ pages into an interactive experience. They help lost visitors find the right page of your site, and they keep queuing customers busy. Indeed, chatbots have clear value. But not as standalone contact channels.

Herein lies the falsity of the so-called chatbot vs live chat debate. Suggesting that chatbots are an alternative to live chat is simply incorrect. It falls foul of the classic chatbot pitfall: thinking they’re a replacement for humans.

Chatbots have clear value —but not as standalone contact channels.

Building relationships

For a start, a standalone bot won't build customer relationships. It's not smart, it’s not empathetic and it’s not flexible. It lacks the human touch.

This isn’t to say that a standalone chatbot will hurt your customer relationships every time. They don’t get weighed down by repetitive questions or require breaks. Plus, they’re substantially cheaper when compared to employing a dozen agents. As such, chatbots can offer a smooth, speedy, consistent service. This is an experience that can, in the right circumstances, raise customer satisfaction.

But this is reliant on the customer asking the chatbot a question it can answer.

Conversely, a live chat channel and a human team will build those relationships. Your agents can build a connection with your chatting customers through empathy and human flexibility. This creates a sense that you care about your customers, rather than funnelling them off to a bot.

But the payoff is that you also need to prepare for the added resource drain it signifies. Your agents need salaries, time off, sick pay and so on.

Modern chat and chatbots should be two facets of the same solution

Solving problems

The falsity of the chatbot vs live chat debate also shines through in functionality. The two tools enable different problem-solving capabilities.

Chatbots boast 24/7 availability. So, even if your customer wants to ask a question at 3am, they can get a real-time response. But they’ll only get a useful answer if it’s a common question. If the question calls for understanding nuance or fixing complex issues, a chatbot will fall short.

Live chat, on the flip side of the coin, offers less availability, as it’s subject to your office hours. But, it enables a much wider scope of problem-solving. Unlike the bot, a human can handle complex and abnormal queries.

In short, a chatbot won’t offer much functionality beyond that already offered by self-service tools. (Such as a website search function or online FAQ materials.) Live chat, meanwhile, offers less availability, but more functionality to help support customers.

A chatbot won’t offer much functionality beyond that already offered by self-service tools.

‘And’, not ‘vs’

The falsity of the chatbot vs live chat debate, then, comes from the fact that realistically speaking, you’re best off with both. That is, the most efficient use of chat is when you integrate a bot into a live chat channel.

Combining chatbots with live chat gives you something of a tag-team. The bot takes the grunt work, answering routine FAQs and powering 24/7 real-time help. Meanwhile, the more complex, high-value queries get relationship-building, flexible human customer service. The kind that the bot can't supply.

This is more laborious than trying to use a chatbot like a silver bullet — a standalone one-channel-wonder that can solve all your problems. So, when it comes to chatbot deployment, be sure to question whether you generate enough online queries to justify the investment.

In short, when you want a chatbot, you’re looking at a chatbot and live chat situation. (Not a chatbot vs live chat debate.)

A hybrid chat interaction

Self-service vs human support

Choosing between a chatbot vs live chat is akin to choosing between self-service and human support.

The differences between the two channels make pitting the two against each other a laboured comparison at best. Both have strengths and weaknesses — and they complement each other far more than they clash.

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