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Chatbot vs. Live Chat: Which is Better for your Customer Service?

Customer service has long been a slow-moving piece of the broader business landscape, and it’s not hard to see why: business owners are reluctant to experiment with customer service channels they’re unfamiliar with. As a result, they stick with the channels that have worked for them in the past, without putting much thought into whether that channel is also right for their future. 

Nowadays, though, a good customer service experience can be the deciding factor between two competing brands. That is why both chatbots and live chats have been on a steep incline of adoption by online businesses since they both offer unique benefits that email and phone support don’t. Chatbots represent automation, efficiency, and logic. On the other hand, live chat represents human warmth, understanding, expertise, and the ability to connect. Each has its upsides and downsides so, today, we’re going to be comparing both to help you decide if you should choose one over the other – or perhaps both. 

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a computer program that interacts with your site’s visitors to help them find what they’re looking for. In other words, they’re essentially a way to attend to different types of customer needs automatically. Imagine this: a visitor has been browsing your website for a while looking for something in particular that they can’t find. They reach out for support and the chatbot automatically responds and directs them to the product they’re looking for, and boom – the chatbot has solved the problem, secured a sale, and left a good impression on that person. That’s what chatbots are all about

Why are chatbots relevant today?

For customers

61% of customers feel that being serviced by chatbots is the way of the future. Why do they feel this way? Because 70% of millennials have had great experiences with chatbots. The truth is that, in most cases, chatbots are of great help to customers because they’re reliable and are simply logical. A user simply says that they need something specific, and the bot does it; no waiting in a queue or being left on hold. 

Regardless of whether the customer’s query is dead-simple or somewhat complex, chatbots will almost always have an answer. If it doesn’t, it’ll direct the user to a knowledge base article or to a live agent who can help. 

Be it one way or the other, a well-built chatbot is always there, no matter the day or time, to solve customer queries. 

For companies 

Chatbots can save your company money by reducing operational and labor costs while boosting agent morale and creating more satisfied customers. But chatbots don’t not only save money. When implemented properly, they can become an income-producing asset for your business, generating new leads with little upkeep or additional investment required. And the benefits of chatbots don’t stop there. Chatbots are also tools that increase efficiency and automation and positively impact customers’ perceptions of a brand. 

Let’s give you one example of how chatbots are used effectively. Many companies run blogs due to their cost effectiveness, though by not interacting with those blog readers, they’re leaving valuable engagement opportunities on the table. Sure, a live agent could handle these interactions, but what if they’re not available? Or, what if there are simply too many requests? Chatbots can still attend to an infinite number of customers simultaneously, even during off-work hours and holidays. 

Now that we’ve covered why chatbots are important, let’s talk about their human counterpart, live chat, and why it’s just as important. 

What is live chat?

Live chat is simply the act of communicating via chat with a person, live. In the context of customer service, it refers to a real person attending to customers’ needs in real-time through synchronous direct messaging. However, it’s so much more than that since it represents the ability to connect to a person who can help or solve a customer’s problem. It’s simple, it’s fast (when used properly), and it’s personal. 

Out of all the channels of customer service, live chat is the one customers prefer the most. In fact, according to techjury.net, up to 79% of consumers prefer live chat over any other channel of customer service. 

Why live chat will (probably) never disappear

For customers

Simply put, live chat is an accessible way for customers to get answers and engage with a real person quickly. Any customer can ask for live chat support, get in a virtual queue and do something else while waiting for a live agent to come to the conversation. 

The nature of live chats also helps customers feel less burdened to contact support. Some people simply don’t like to get in a call and prefer the impersonality of live chat while at the same time appreciating the human touch that comes with it. Back in 2020, it was shown that 84% of customers who used live chat were satisfied with their experience, while email and phone support reached only 61% and 44%, respectively. 

Live chat represents a way to offer help to customers that’s almost unrivalled by any other type of human customer service. Visiting a website, asking a question, and getting an accurate answer in less than five minutes is exactly what customers expect nowadays. 

For companies 

Customers love live chat, and at least 63% percent of them have said that they’re more likely to return to a website that has it. On top of that, out of all the customers surveyed by techjury.net, 79% of customers prefer using live chat over any other customer service channel.  

In terms of costs, live chat is 17 to 30% cheaper than other traditional support channels such as phone support. It all has to do with the fact that, for customer service agents, live chats are easier to handle than a live call. That enables the so-called chat concurrency, where experienced agents can hold multiple chats simultaneously, thereby increasing the efficiency of their work. This cannot be done with a phone call. 

As a company, you should pay attention to live chat because it represents a surefire way to connect with your audience on a personal level. Customers who have a positive live chat experience with a company come away with a more positive perception of their brand, so it’s in your best interest to pursue what could lead to happier and more loyal customers. 

Now that we’ve delved into what each one of these two customer service channels represents, let’s delve into their advantages, disadvantages, and best use cases. 

Chatbot pros & cons

Chatbots have many benefits, including increased customer engagement and decreased time and money spent. However, they do have some specific advantages and disadvantages that are worth considering before making a final choice: 

Pros 

  • Chatbots can run without breaks, generating new leads and passive income 24 hours a day 
  • Reduced overhead  
  • Faster response time than human agents 
  • Effective at quickly identifying the issues that require human intervention 
  • Saves time for both you and your customers 

Cons 

  • Although chatbots can be engaging, they can be seen as impersonal to some users. 
  • Some may be subject to bugs, which lowers the quality of the user experience. You will then be dependent on fixes from the company you got your chatbot from. 
  • If your chatbot isn’t scripted well, it can leave customers with a bad perception of your customer service and brand. 
  • Chatbots aren’t autonomous beings and require tinkering from time to time to adjust their performance. 
  • Not every customer will know how to interact with a chatbot, and they might get frustrated and look for human help instead. 

Chatbots are especially useful for online companies whose customers want to reach them before purchasing their product or service. For example, an e-commerce store could use a chatbot to automate sales; it could suggest products to a potential buyer; help summarize their cart, and even execute the transaction with little input from the customer. Any other business that handles many queries that are very simple to solve will also find a chatbot extremely helpful. 

Now let’s look at the other contender. 

Live chat pros & cons

Live chat has many benefits going for it, as well as a few potential issues, both of which we’ll cover shortly: 

Pros 

  • Many users prefer to speak with a real person 
  • Less expensive than telephone support 
  • Improves engagement and has the potential to create brand loyalty 
  • Effective at identifying pain points to build a customer profile for future interactions 
  • Unlike telephone support, live chat agents can speak with multiple customers at once 

Cons 

  • Untrained agents can have serious repercussions on the public perception of your brand. 
  • Agents aren’t as cost-effective as chatbots. 
  • Human interactions between live agents and customers can end up in human errors. 
  • They’re not available 24/7 unless you hire round-the-clock agents. 
  • They can only handle a certain number of conversations at any given time. 

Live chat represents an opportunity to offer fast customer support and build relationships with them. They often work in conjunction with chatbots. Whenever a touch of personalization can be added to the relationship between a customer and your company, a live chat agent is a perfect channel to build this rapport. 

Chatbot or live chat?

With all that said, you can see that for the most part, chatbots and live chat complement each other rather than compete against each other. On the one hand, chatbots are great tools to maximize efficiency and deal with a large part of the customer service load, which are usually simpler questions. Harder situations will inevitably require a more subtle human approach from a live chat agent, which chatbots are not yet able to provide. 

Let’s not forget that customer service is really about engagement. Both chatbots and live chat are built towards that goal, but they manage it in different ways. To engage your users with a chatbot, you’ll first need to have a deep understanding of your target market to craft an effective script and chat flow. Instead, customer service representatives will have the edge over chatbots depending on their experience in the industry and with your company, and they’ll be able to adapt to each user as they chat. 

So, which one should you choose? It depends. You’ll want to start by analyzing what most of your users are asking through your current customer service channels. If you find that you have a very high volume of support requests that are simple, easy to solve issues, then choosing a chatbot to handle most, if not all, of your customer support load could be all you need. On the other hand, a small and well-trained team of live chat representatives may be what you’re looking for if you receive few support requests or if your users’ issues are typically complex and hard to explain. 

However, if both of these forces are joined together, they’ll form a customer service team that’ll be hard to beat in terms of engagement, efficiency, and availability. An optimized setup that balances the number of live chat service representatives with the number of queries that a chatbot is unable to solve automatically will provide a customer support service that will take your business to the next level, especially in your customers’ eyes. 

So, if you really want to take your customer service up a level, you’ll be served better by setting up both live chat and chatbot and see them flourish together. 

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jordan bishop

About Jordan Bishop

Jordan Bishop is the founder of Yore Oyster and How I Travel, two sites to help you optimize your finances while living an international life. He recently published his first book, Unperfect, an exploration of problem solving.