How To Know When To Use Chatbots Vs Live Chat


Comparing chatbots to live chat a little bit like pitting email automation against a sales rep’s friendly follow-up. They’re totally different things.

Sure, there are definitely times when it’s better to use one over the other. But the most exciting thing to me? 

You don’t have to choose between them.

In this post, we’re diving into the pros and cons of these different types of chat and showing you how to get the best of both worlds. (Hint: our real-time notifications keep you alerted when it’s time to hop into any conversation.)

Why Response Time Matters

Not being able to get answers to simple questions is one of the most common frustrations that consumers deal with online.

Only 7% of B2B companies respond to leads in five minutes or less. Yikes. Part of the problem is the technology they’re using, or not using. 86% of B2B companies aren’t utilizing live chat or chatbots to help them get in touch with leads quickly.

Things get even crazier, though. 58% of B2B companies take longer than five days to respond.

This is terrible news. B2B buyers conduct an average of 12 searches before deciding to interact with any one vendor, so if someone’s reaching out to you, the chances are that they’re interested and you’ve already passed an initial sniff test.

When we compare both live chat and chatbots against email and CRMs, we can see that the chat channel provides a way to instantly respond to leads. Engaging with leads in minutes – not days – allows sales reps to get involved sooner in the buying cycle, and hopefully to book a call before the competition has even checked their CRM ?‍♀️

The Economics Of Chatbots Vs Live Chat

Now that we see the enormous value of chat (and the opportunity to beat competitors not using it) let’s double click on our two options.

Here’s the simplest way to look at the chatbots vs live chat argument: live chat simply doesn’t scale.

Depending on the complexity of the questions being answered, a live chat agent can handle two to four conversations at a time. You may have thousands of chats per month. As website volume grows, so does chat engagement, (and so does your staffing requirement).

Live chat alone isn’t going to cut it, if you want to do any of the following:

  • Scale instantly, without restraints
  • Spread live chat conversations amongst employees with other responsibilities
  • Avoid hiring to initially implement chat
  • Engage with and capture leads outside of business hours

A chat box or icon with no response is just as bad as not having one at all. Scalability becomes an issue almost right away. For many businesses, live chat isn’t even a quick-start option because of the need to either hire or take people away from their core responsibilities.

The Impact Of Human Touch For High-Value Website Visitors

Although live chat has major scalability issues, it also offers something that chatbots can’t: a human touch.

For certain conversations, leads, or accounts, you need to show up with the right person who can expertly answer questions in a snap.

High-value website visitors might be those who have purchased recently, are a known account assigned to a sales rep, or are asking questions that showcase that they are clearly ready to buy very soon.

With live chat, customers and leads expect convenience and little-to-no wait times. When you can combine the speed of live chat with quality responses from the right team member, you have the opportunity to really wow that customer or lead. The fact that 95% of consumers would accept a slower chat experience in order to get higher quality experiences goes to show you just how critical human support still is.

Availability (& The Automation That Makes It A Non-Issue)

Here’s a scary fact: 21% of live chat messages remain unanswered. You have probably taken the time to enter a question in a chat box, only to get a “we’re away” message, and never hear from the company again.

Meanwhile, chatbots are available 24/7. Even better, chatbots can work alongside your live chat agents and can answer messages when the volume is too high or when your team is gone.

Chatbots can also notify your team when it’s time to take over the conversation. This means, no one has to be constantly monitoring chat.

Chatbots can detect when they don’t have the capability to handle a question, and they can also detect high-priority leads, customers, and accounts, and then notify the correct team member. Amazing right? Imagine your sales reps knowing when one of their top accounts is on the site, and being the one to answer their questions smoothly. That is very high touch.

However, without chatbots, that wouldn’t be possible without your sales team obsessively scouring through live chat messages (not a good look).

Drift automation and innovations in AI have changed the game, and you don’t need to be available 24/7 anymore. It’s the combination of chatbots that immediately respond, engage leads, capture leads, and notify employees alongside live chat which makes a huge impact.

When Bottomline, an online payment solution, switched from responding to leads in days to responding to them in seconds, they generated an additional $4.3 million in sales pipeline.

Resolving Customer Support Inquiries

Live chat is no longer just for customer support. Sales and marketing are getting in and answering questions in real-time too. However, chat remains a critical channel for customer support. 46% of customers prefer live chat for getting support, compared with a 29% vote for email and 15% for social media.

44% of consumers say that having a live person available to answer their questions during an online purchase is one of the best features a website can answer, and 53% will abandon a purchase if they can’t get those questions answered.

While many customer support inquiries will need to be handled by a human, plenty can be handled by a chatbot that knows how to point customers in the right direction and answer common questions. Having a chatbot in place can help gaps in availability or abnormally busy times. Then a human rep can easily hop in.

The Performance Impact Of Chatbots Vs Live Chat

Is there a difference in impact?

Interestingly, 40% of consumers don’t care whether they’re helped by a chatbot or a live chat agent. It’s safe to say that some consumers might not even know that a chatbot is indeed a chatbot. Yup, 27% of consumers aren’t sure if their last chat convo was with a chatbot or a human.

A quarter of users can’t tell the difference, and almost half of users don’t even care! For businesses wanting to utilize both, that’s pretty cool.

But what about when it comes to measurable business impact? Since many businesses are using chatbots and live chat software in tandem, it can be difficult to pinpoint the difference in ROI.

Here’s what we do know about how these technologies perform:

  • 79% of businesses that implement live chat experience higher customer satisfaction, loyalty, and/or sales.
  • Visitors that engage with live chat are worth 5 times more than those who don’t.
  • Live chat can increase conversion rates by 40%.
  • Companies in the banking and healthcare sectors alone are expected to save $8 billion in customer service spending by 2022 by implementing chatbots.
  • Chat agents at companies that have chatbots spend more time solving complex problems (62% of their time on complex issues versus 50% at companies not using chatbots).

If you want to scale a chat channel, save on chat management, get questions answered by the right rep, and be available 24/7 then you need a solution that offers you both chat automation and live chat.

It’s not an “or” conversation. It’s an “and” conversation. You need chatbots and live chat.

Let AI-powered chatbots answer quick and easy questions, capture leads, and notify reps when it’s time to help out and be awesome humans.

You’ll improve lead response times before your competitors even know who’s looking at their site.

Ready to learn even more about conversational marketing? Download the State of Conversational Marketing to get access to trends and benchmarks that will help your company become more customer-centric (and, in turn, drive more revenue).