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Open laptop with an example of live-chat or chatbots on the computer screen with a person taking inventory in a well light business in the background.

Live Chats vs. Chatbots: What’s the Difference?

March 28, 2022

By Paige Kummer

Conversational marketing is a scalable, asynchronous (and synchronous) way to engage in personal interactions with your prospects and customers. Not to mention, it’s one of the quickest ways to help move buyers through the marketing and sales funnel.What is the result of meeting prospects where they are and taking a personalized approach with live chat or chatbots? Capitalizing on the moment of intrigue.

Someone was on your site for a purpose, and a well-placed conversational marketing tool can increase your conversions. Depending on the available resources at your organization, you may be considering whether live chat versus chatbots is the right solution for your needs. So let’s dive in ,,,

What is live chat?

To oversimplify this marketing tool, live chat is like a text message thread. You will likely see the typical “...” when the other user is typing a response to your inquiry, and there may be lengthy delays and the need to investigate further and follow up on your inquiry with another method (e.g., email). There’s a real person on the other side of a device who is communicating with you—and probably many others simultaneously—via direct text-based messages.

Implementing live chat is possible just about anywhere on your website, including within mobile or web-based applications. Live chat allows for employees to assist more than one prospect or customer at a time, making it more effective than phone calls for communications—and it tends to be the method of communication with the highest customer satisfaction ratings.

It’s a versatile tool that lends itself to a perception of white-glove service and sophistication, but it comes at the cost of being limited to business hours and staff capacity, which can be a deal-breaker for smaller organizations.

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What is a chatbot?

Chatbots are predefined scripted questions and answers, oftentimes to common questions. They can be as minimal or extravagant as your imagination will allow! With chatbots, it’s possible to provide additional resources such as links to other relevant pages that may assist your user, downloadable guides, or even videos. Although it takes a significant time investment to get a chatbot up and running, they function 24/7 and serve as many people that click on them—without delay.

Chatbots can also be implemented anywhere on your website or application. Although chatbots can be frustrating for users if the logic or resources were not carefully considered before they are implemented, they’re a thing of beauty when executed well.

If you’re interested in learning more and not sure where to start, here’s a great article on chatbot basics, strategy, and best practices.

What are the pros and cons of live chat vs. chat bots?

There are pros and cons to each tool that need to be considered carefully. Before trying to select the tool, I recommend starting with some probing questions:
  • What is the goal of implementing a conversational marketing strategy?
  • What pages should this be implemented on, and why did you select the pages you did?
  • What is the goal of conversational marketing across these pages?
  • How many staff members can I dedicate and for how long?
  • What key performance indicators (KPIs) will I track to measure success in our conversational marketing strategy?

Although these seem like some pretty basic questions, they can begin to help you figure out what your resources will allow your organization to execute on effectively without sacrificing the user experience. For example, if the goal is to increase bottom-of-the-funnel conversions on your pricing page into customers, users on this page likely have high intent. Here, implementing a chatbot that prompts users with “Are you ready to make a commitment?” may be enough.

Another goal may be to understand more about your customer satisfaction. Chatbots for net promoter scores (NPS) or other basic forms are relatively quick to implement and can be extremely effective for gathering demographic data to further segment your contacts. But if your goal is to build stronger customer relationships or facilitate nuanced selection, live chat may be the wiser choice.

Resource Management for Live Chat

Being cognizant of available resources is impactful. If you are a relatively lean organization, you may not have the resources to operate live chat the way you would like to (or the way that would be best suited to your prospect and customer needs).

Mind you, where there’s a will there’s a way! Creative solutions could be considered, such as implementing live chat during business hours and collaborating with multiple team members to ensure coverage, but this has a potential impact on productivity and should be carefully considered.

Another option is to observe trends in your website traffic data and implement live chat at peak hours, and supplement with a chatbot. It’s a comprehensive solution that allows for the best of both worlds: white-glove service when it matters most, and 24/7 coverage for those who may be surfing the web after hours.

Initial Investment (Time) for Chatbots

Chatbots can be short and sweet, or complex. This is really dependent on your goals, products or services, and available supporting materials.

Mapping your buyer journey and being aware of the priority pain points will help you establish the necessary interactions that make an elegant chatbot. This is an exercise that can highlight gaps in your content strategy and also take your team’s understanding of your personas to the next level.

While the process of creating a chatbot will require significant upfront energy, once implemented it has the power to meet your customers where they are at any time of day—and any amount of them. Starting with a single question survey or addressing only one pain point will build your confidence no matter what tool you are using to create your chatbot. It’s also a great way to break down larger, more complex chatbots into smaller pieces.

Here’s an article for more information about how to boost your conversational marketing with chatbots.

  Live Chat Chat Bots
Limited to working/staffed Yes No (24/7)
Capacity for engagement Limited  Scalable
Time to build & launch  Short Medium
Install it anywhere  Yes Yes

Which is right for you when it comes to live chats vs. chatbots?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to live chats versus chatbots for your business. Consider your business needs and resources carefully before undertaking either (or both) for your website or application.

Live chat and chatbots can be quick wins when it comes to lead generation. Learn more quick wins in our guide Inbound Marketing Quick Wins for Lead Generation.


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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Marketing Automation, Conversion Rate Optimization, SaaS