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Chatbot And Live Chat: Should it be a Competition or a Collaboration?

Chatbots and live chat are two complementary tools that work together to provide a stellar customer and agent experience. Collaboration, not competition, is the answer to your customer service problems in 2022.

We’ve all been there as a customer: frustrated with a delayed order, unable to find a contact number to speak to a real person, and left battling with an automated script on a landing page. Struggling to get a simple answer from a chatbot has become an all too familiar experience for consumers.

And it’s easy to understand why. Chatbots rely entirely on artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to answer questions; they are only as good as their programming allows. One of the primary benefits of chatbots is that they can add a personal touch to your communications and increase the level of customer engagement. These chatbots can be used on your website, or Instagram automation can be used on your Instagram account to generate the same effect.

The alternative, live chat, is software that connects your customers with your customer service agents via a real-time chatbox. Slower, more expensive for businesses, but ultimately better, right?

Well, no. Despite potential frustrations, chatbots are great for dealing with simple problems which can dramatically reduce the time and energy a company (and its customers) spend dealing with long customer service lines.

Contrary to popular belief, it shouldn’t be a chatbot or live chat. If you’re asking yourself: “do I need a chatbot or live chat?” then you’re taking the wrong approach.

Here’s why.
What is live chat software?
Live chat is software that simply connects customers with support agents who can assist them with any queries. When a customer opens a chat box to initiate a conversation, they are connected with a real person from the company’s customer support department.

‘Real person’ being the key here.

Compared to chatbots, live chat offers the human touch that can transform customer experience: even following a rapid digital transformation over the last few years, it’s safe to say that most of us prefer talking to a real-life customer service representative. Especially when it comes to complex problems.

Live chat is notably better for complex queries and customer problems that are beyond the scope of what an AI chatbot can resolve from a database. Live chat avoids the soul-destroying ‘I don’t understand, please try again’ cycle often associated with chatbots. And it goes down well with customers. I’m sure we’ve all felt that pang of relief when you get hold of a real person, who can fully understand your issue, and act on it.

It also enables agents to assist different customers at the same time, whereas phone support requires agents to assist just one customer at a time. With customer service expectations higher than ever before, as companies have developed higher standards of digital care during the pandemic, this ability to serve customers quickly is vital.

What is chatbot software and how does it differ from live chat?

So if live chat is great (and it sounds great) — why even consider chatbots?
Three reasons: efficiency,cost and staff satisfaction,

Unlike live chat software, chatbot software doesn’t connect customers with human agents. Chatbot software uses AI and machine learning to provide natural language answers to learned questions, enabling companies to reduce their average response time, and provide customer service 24/7 without paying for customer service representatives.

By answering commonly asked questions and resolving simple questions — ie how can I  change my address? Where’s my order? Can I cancel my subscription? — chatbot solutions can also free up real people to focus on more complex issues, i.e. my flatpack furniture arrived with a very specific 3mm screw missing and I’d like to send you a picture of my box. Or similar. 

Not only does this benefit your customers, it benefits your agents. In the midst of the great resignation, holding on to valued customer service agents is harder, but more important than ever before for a contact center provider

Agents don’t want to spend 8 hours per day answering questions that can be handled by artificial intelligence, especially if they feel overwhelmed. Freeing up your agents to deal with real problems, while clearing the cue of simple problems relieves the stress, and makes the job more meaningful. This alone could save you money, in the long term, by reducing staff turnover. 

Live chat vs. chatbots: finding the middle ground 

Customer expectations

One of the selling points of chatbots is the fact that they allow for immediate responses. Now, don’t get us wrong, live chat solutions also help companies reduce their response times, but not to the same degree. 

In the modern landscape, speed is everything. It’s a pain to have to block out an hour (or more) just to get in touch with a customer service agent for a simple query – chatbots can find customers’ answers immediately. Without chatbots, it would be very difficult for agents to consistently meet this immediacy — and even if possible, it wouldn’t be great for your staff churn rate in the long run.

How happy would you be if 90% of your job was telling people to turn things off and on again? With a chatbot, customers can get an answer as soon as they’ve asked it. – saving them, you, and your agents valuable time.

Chatbots are designed specifically to pull information from databases to answer common questions, learning from previous examples. And this works, for the basic queries. 

As mentioned earlier, for uncommon questions or complex queries, a chatbot won’t be sufficient: many of us will have been failed by the limited directory of a chatbot. At that point we need to speak to a live agent, highlighting the need for an agent ready to take over. 

Now, this isn’t a bad thing. The use of a chatbot to even collate the initial information about the problem, complete security steps or weed out the customers that don’t need that extra care and attention can reduce the amount of work on customer service agents profoundly.

Middle ground: chatbot tries, chatbot fails, a customer with a complex query is re-routed to a customer service agent who is able to take the case quickly as they aren’t dealing with low-level problems.

Human touch 

While chatbot apps can help reduce customer service wait times and the amount of representatives you need to have on any one shift, there’s no getting away from the fact that customers just like speaking with a person. 

Even with an excellent chatbot, many folks would rather interact with a human agent. End of. Chatbots have come a long way toward replicating natural language and determining customer intent, but they also have a long way to go. 

Even the most advanced chatbots can fall short of a real person when it comes to delivering the human touch. This doesn’t necessarily mean businesses should be running to invest in cloud PBX systems or ramp up the customer service department roster.

An alternative to chatbots is self-service chatbots.

Rather than trying to conduct natural language conversations, self-service customer chatbots will point users towards a knowledge base with resolutions to allow customers to perform tasks to help themselves. There is no facade that customers are talking to a person, simply an AI-informed self-service menu to point users in the right direction. 

Middle ground: chatbot initiates, chatbot provides self service options, customer solves query themselves, agents continue to work on complex queries.


Chatbots have unique advantages when it comes to delivering consistent and accurate responses to customer queries. They are excellent at delivering consistent, on-brand messaging. This is because they are programmed to follow templates or scripts to provide a consistent customer service experience. This means there are no off-script tangents or risks.

When working with human customer support agents, a high degree of consistency can be more difficult to achieve. Companies run the risk of providing a different level of service based solely on the mood or attention span of the human customer service agent. On the flip side, support agents can easily determine the intent of the customer they are assisting. 

For example, spelling errors may confuse chatbots, whereas a human customer support agent can overlook and progress. 

Middle ground: chatbot tries to help, chatbot fails due to spelling error, the agent takes over, adds spelling error to the database for learning.

Combine automation and human interaction for the strongest customer experience

Human touch is critical for many customers, but ultimately automation will continue to take pride of place in the customer service process. Used effectively, chatbots will not only use fewer resources, but they can improve customer service at the human level too.

While customers want to speak to a human person, they want to solve their problem — and solve it quickly. In many use cases, this can be done in the most efficient way by chatbots. For others, live chat is non-negotiable.

With this in mind, it’s not chatbot vs live chat. It’s two complementary tools that work together to provide a stellar customer and agent experience. Collaboration, not competition, is the only commercial proposal you should be considering to solve your customer service problems in 2022.

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John AllenDirector, SEO, 8×8

John Allen is a driven marketing professional with over 14 years of experience, an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs across SEM, SEO, paid media, mobile, social, and email, with an eye to new customer acquisition and increasing revenue


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