These days, visits to most websites start with a little popup appearing the bottom corner asking you if you need help. These pop up open up a chat window where users can ask any questions they have.

Chat boxes lead to one of two possible kinds of support. You either get help from a live agent or a chatbot. The concept is simple: users get quick answers to their questions, so they don’t have to wait for an email or jump on the phone.

These response times matter, as customers will bounce if they don’t get the answer they want fast enough. 92% of people prefer live chat, but chatbots streamline processes and save money as a result.

Having chat functionality on your website drives everything from sales to building brand loyalty. Choosing which is right for you depends on your specific needs.


      1. What is a Chatbot?
      2. Why Companies Choose Bots Over Agents
      3. Pros of Using a Chatbot
      4. Cons of Using a Chatbot
      5. Why Companies Use Live Agents
      6. Pros of Using Live Agents
      7. Cons of Using Live Agents
      8. Why Not Use Both?
      9. Deciding Between Live Agents and Chatbots

What is a Chatbot?


Chatbots are computer programs that simulate human interaction. They are programmed to respond to questions from users via a chat window. If someone has a question, they type it into the box and the system, in this case a bot, responds.

There are two ways that they’re able to do this.

The first method is through programming. A set of rules are established that determine how a chatbot is going to respond to the question it has been asked. They are good at providing basic levels of service, but they fall short if someone asks a question that it wasn’t programmed to deal with.

The second way is through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). All automated systems work via a set of rules to start with but when ML is used, they learn from past experiences. Chatbots are capable of increasingly complex interactions as a result of machine learning.


Why Companies Choose Bots Over Agents


chatbot answering customers


Chatbots allow companies to provide a higher level of service for their customers without a huge investment of both time and money.

The technology involved with getting these systems up and running has become very user-friendly in the last few years. This lower barrier to entry has increased the popularity of using them to help manage chat on their business’s page.

This power became powerfully public when IBM’s Watson went up against various champions on Jeopardy. The AI demonstrated an unrivaled ability to produce correct answers very fast.


Pros of Using a Chatbot


They Have Knowledge and Learn

When AI and ML are implemented in a chatbot, the program has access to all the information you have available and gets smarter with each query. This puts users in a position to get better answers from a bot right out of the gate.

There can be a learning curve, as the automated system tries to understand the nuances of the language that is used, but that’s where machine learning comes in.

Chatbots that use ML get smarter and more efficient at handling queries with each question. They gain a deeper understanding of the needs of your customers and the requests that they make. As a result, they provide better service.


They Save Money

One of the big reasons companies use chatbots is they’re more cost-effective than live agents.

These systems can be set up for as little as $2,000. They operate with about 99% uptime. They can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They don’t need vacations. They don’t take time off when they’re sick and don’t need retirement. The initial cost of setting up the system is the bulk of the price.

One chatbot can handle multiple queries at a time. Unlike live agents, who can only chat with one person a time, these bots can talk to every client making a query. You don’t need to hire additional bots when things are busy.


They’re Easy to Set Up

Chatbots are easy to set up. We’ve hit the stage with their development where anyone, even people without a lot of technical prowess can get a simple system up and running.

The more advanced you want yours to be, the more complex the set up will be.


They Provide Better Routing

In situations where chatbots aren’t able to answer a question, or they’re being used to sort calls, they’ll find the best agent available to deal with the problem.

Unlike situations where users get routed to the next available agent, chatbots can easily determine who has the skill set to properly solve a problem. This eliminates the frustration callers feel when they get bounced between agents.

They can assess the language that is being used to describe the problem and match that against the specialties of available agents.


Cons of Using Chatbots


They Lack Context

As great as chatbots are, the fact that they’re not live agents means they struggle with context.

Even if they have access to knowledge, they might not be able to apply it. If you haven’t provided the bot with all the data you have, they might not offer a good solution. If something unexpected goes wrong, they might not be able to pivot.

This creates a disconnect between the automated system and the customer. It can lead to people becoming frustrated and no longer wanting to deal with the company.

This is a bigger problem with simple bots that follow a script. But it can still exist in AI-driven bots.


Customers Prefer Agents

At the end of the day, people like dealing with other people.

Live agents tend to result in a high customer satisfaction rating. On top of that, 77% of people say they won’t make a purchase if they can’t interact with a human if they have questions.


No Decision-making Abilities

Chatbots can only help with answering questions. They’re not programmed to do anything beyond that, especially where decisions need to be made.

If you run a business where customers end up asking for opinions on something like is Product X better than Product A, an automated system isn’t going to provide an answer. At best, it will provide a list of features that each product has, but won’t be able to provide more information than that.


Why Companies Use Live Agents


live agents chatting


Live agents are similar to chatbots, but with humans on the other end answering all the questions that come in. Like bots, live agents help provide potential customers with any problems or questions that they have while they’re on your website.

Using live agents requires having people around to answer questions as they come in. 68% of people take advantage of live chat when it’s available. 63% of people are likely to return to a website because of their live chat experience.


Pros of Using Live Agents


People Like Human Interaction

73% of people prefer to deal with a live agent when seeking customer service. People prefer to deal with a live agent because it’s easier to build a relationship with one. Customers prefer to build a relationship with companies they spend their money on.

85% of people who’ve dealt with a live agent return to shop again. Customers feel a stronger connection to live agents and this connection helps the sales process along.


People Understand Context

Live agents provide a personalized level of support based on the question that automated bots just can’t do.

Live agents can help make a connection with customers that chatbots can’t provide. A live agent can look beyond the question to the people asking it and provide a level of service that customers remember.

This can be as simple as going above and beyond for a customer to the answers they need. Only human agents can provide a genuinely warm experience.


They Boost Conversions

Upwards of 83% of people need some kind of support when they’re making a purchase. When companies implement live chat, they see a 20% to 30% increase in conversions.

Live agents are like having a personal assistant when you’re shopping. They are there to answer your questions and help you figure out which product you need. Live agents make that possible without having to wait on the phone or for an email to be returned.


Cons of Live Agents


They Aren’t Flawless

People make mistakes. People expect quick and clear answers even when they use a free live chat system or a support line.

The longer it takes to get an answer, the higher the frustration levels climb for a customer.


People Have Emotions

Chat helps people mask the tone of their voice and can make it easy to appear friendly, but people can still be snappy and rude as a live agent.

This leads to lackluster service and almost always costs the company a sale. It can have a snowball effect thanks to the power of social media and reviews. It’s estimated that businesses lose an estimated 75 billion dollars every year because of bad service.


They Have Finite Bandwidth

Chatbots can respond right away because they’re programmed to. However, it can take people a few minutes to respond.

The longer it takes to respond, the more likely you are to lose a sale. Ideally, live agents should respond within five minutes or else customers start looking elsewhere.


Why Not Choose Both?

Things get really interesting when you combine both chatbots and live agents.

Combined live agents and chatbots opens you up to getting the 24/4 coverage that a bot provides along with the warmth and appeal of a live agent.

When combined, you get chatbots who can answer basic questions efficiently. This is important if your business receives a lot of easy questions in chat, like “Are you open today?” But, they also need to know when it’s time to route the conversion to a live agent.

Customers still get their questions answered fast, any time of the day. But when the answers can’t be provided, they get an agent to help.

Companies who have been using this combined approach have reported a 182% increase in qualified leads.

An unexpected benefit of using both is that this helps agents remained engaged in the work that they’re doing. The boring questions are taken off the table by the automated system, which leaves the more complex and interesting problems for the live agents.

Live agents won’t be worn down by answering the same questions all day, so they are able to provide better service for the customers that they do help.

You can also provide your customers with a choice of whether they want to deal with a chatbot or a live agent. This creates a situation where people who want to can find the answers they want through a bot. Or they can reach out to a live agent. Increasingly, consumers are in favor of self-serve options for simpler tasks, especially younger generations.


Deciding Between Live Agents and Chatbots

70% of consumers today prefer using chat over voice. By not offering chat, you’re creating an immediate barrier between you and your customers that can strongly impact sales.

To determine what is best for you and your business, take a look at what’s most important to your customers. Is it getting answers 24/7? Is it being able to reach a human?

The best way to get the answers to these questions is to ask your customers directly. Your clients are the best resource for planning your support system. Their answers can help you make the most informed decision possible.

If you want to go a little deeper into the world of chatbots, check out our comparison of the best live chat software.