Digital marketing strategists, sales development teams, and customer service agents have all learned that having real-time chat capabilities on your business site can be a huge advantage. But there are two distinct types of chat that businesses can offer to meet their needs: live chat agents and automated chat bots.
Live chat agents can interact with customers via a text chat widget on your site in order to provide personal attention, while chat bots can either offer self-service menu options or AI-powered conversational interaction. When you use a chat plugin service like Formilla, you have access to both live chat capabilities and Helper Chat Bots. So which is better for you?
The truth is, it depends. Live chat agents and chat bots have distinct advantages, and they are both at their best when combined together as part of a comprehensive chat feature on your site.
Live chat is the most popular form of business communication available, especially among young people. A study by Econsultancy found that 73% of consumers prefer live chat compared to email or phone channels. Adding a live chat feature to your site means that you are providing customers with their preferred communication method right away, which sets the stage for good customer experience, right from the start.
A big reason why live chat is a popular communication method is because it offers more immediate support than other venues. Help is always just a click away, without having to wait an extended period of time for a response through email. Phone support often has waiting periods during times of high volume, and the study referenced above also found 79% of consumers who prefer live chat do so because they receive assistance more quickly. With live chat one agent can easily multi-task to answer multiple visitors at once when necessary. The visitor can multitask too while chatting, adding to the convenience all around!
Perhaps the biggest advantage live chat has is it provides a human touch that can be lacking compared to a chat bot. Live chat provides many more conversational opportunities for relationship building with your website visitors. Live agents can demonstrate understanding and empathy, which has been shown to be critical for customer satisfaction from the healthcare industry to the Apple Genius Bar.
Live chat agents can recognize the emotional state of customers, and respond accordingly. If cues show that the customer is in a hurry, or frustrated, or angry, a live chat agent can adjust their responses – something that a chat bot isn’t capable of doing. And a live chat agent is also equipped to recognize their own limits, and the limits of the live chat format, too. They can identify when it’s time to route the chat to someone else, such as a technical support person if the problem requires one, or even if it would be best to take the text customer interaction to a phone conversation instead.
And that personal attention pays off in customer satisfaction, too. According to the 2019 CGS Customer Service Chatbots & Channels Survey, 86% of consumers prefer to interact with a human, rather than an AI chat bot. While well-trained chat bots can satisfy many customer needs, they aren’t always what customers are hoping for.
The more personal experience of live chat also means it is great for solving more complex problems. Rather than assistance limited to simple menu options or relying on a customer’s initial input, the customer support team can ask as many discovery questions as needed to resolve a problem over live chat. And a chat session with a real person will not be derailed by spelling errors or strange sentence structures that might actually impact a chat bot’s ability to answer accurately. A live person is also able to track down the correct answer while continuing to converse.
You can take advantage of that human touch for increased sales and website conversion as well. With help one click away, you have ample opportunities to upsell or cross-sell based on the sales team understanding the exact needs that the visitor has. Live chat agents can also act with the purchase funnel in mind, quickly determining how close the customer is to actually being ready to purchase (becoming a sales-qualified lead), and responding with the appropriate information to move them towards that goal. It’s no surprise that WebsiteBuilder’s aggregated live chat statistics reports that “live chat boosts conversions by 20%” and “38% of customers actually end up making a purchase because of a live chat encounter.”
As mentioned, one of the reasons that chat is a preferred communication method is quick response time. A chat bot offers the quickest response time available, immediately acknowledging the visitor and offering a response right away. A chat bot can be available around the clock, even if you do not have 24/7 live agent support. Consumers increasingly view automated assistance in a positive light, with a third of all consumers and more than half of millennials wanting to see all of their support needs handled through automated channels (Business Insider, 2018).
When a chat bot is present, it can be available site-wide and from every visible corner. This is in contrast to a contact form, which may or may not be seen from the visitor digging for ways to reach you. The average wait time for companies to respond by email is a little more than 12 hours, while a chat bot gives visitors an immediate response. Even if the chat bot is not able to answer successfully, it is still able to provide immediate acknowledgement, self-help features, and a time frame for a complete answer.
A chat bot also provides opportunities to increase sales. A chat bot can offer product suggestions via menu-based questions, even offering a few different alternatives based on visitor input. While live chat has the advantage of a human touch for upselling/cross-selling, chat bots have the advantage of never forgetting to make the attempt. They will always make the offer. Chat bots can also use marketing automation tools to target visitors with suggestions or news about promotions, , and even proactively offer assistance via the chat widget to help move visitors along the sales funnel.
Chat bots are masters of handling simple problems. A chat bot can offer menu-based help with frequently asked questions instantly. You can also use a bot that uses artificial intelligence to answer open-ended questions that becomes more and more accurate over time with frequent training. Customer service chat bots allow your support team to remain free to focus on issues that are more complex and require more personal attention, and of course a chat bot can always offer to connect a customer with a live person if it is unable to help.
Finally, chat bots are more scalable than live chat. One chat bot can answer an unlimited number of visitors simultaneously, at a volume that live chat would need a large team in order to handle. A chat bot using artificial intelligence will also not have answers that suffer in quality as it is responding to multiple questions like live chat can if a live chat agent is stretched too thin.
The question isn’t simply whether using live chat or a chat bot is a better option. Both can be easily used at the same time, and using one option does not exclude the other. As far as customer preference, about 40% of consumers do not actually have a preference so long as their issue is addressed. Since this is the case, the best practice is using both live chat and a chat bot together to take full advantage of the positives that each offer.
Live chat is the best venue for a quick response with a human touch, while chat bots are masters of simpler and repetitive issues, so it certainly makes sense to use both. Using a chat bot to answer the repetitive easy questions frees up your live customer support to better focus on relationship building and helping with complex issues. You can easily use both to have the most efficient options for both types of visitor needs, and you can do so at a lower cost since chat bot assistance is saving the need for a considerably larger support staff.
Chat bots can be used for pre-qualifying leads for the sales team, becoming a very efficient part of your sales funnel that leads to an improved “visitor-to-lead” conversion rate. They can likewise be used to make sure that the visitor is routed to the right person to help with a support problem, making the live chat team more efficient in turn.
Using both live chat and chats bots means that unlimited simultaneous response is no problem. Chat bots will be able to greet unlimited amounts of visitors while helping to make sure that live support is only handling chat sessions that are the most applicable. Using both also means that the live support team is always available to take over whenever the chat bot is no longer able to assist with a visitor inquiry.
The following conversation that occurred over our own support chat gives one example of how chat bots and live chat can work best as a team. In this case, our AI-powered Helper Bot gave a seemingly accurate response for what the visitor was asking:
The visitor still indicated that they would like to speak to a live person, even though the Helper Bot technically gave the right response. The visitor then chose the option to wait for a live agent, which connected them with a live person to continue the chat.
In this case, even a well-trained and technically accurate bot response still was not enough to assist the customer. A live person was able to quickly determine the issue that needed to be resolved, creating a much improved experience. In many cases, that initial chat bot interaction would have been enough to solve the issue – but in this case, having a live agent on call was necessary to provide full support.
You can also train a chat bot for better and better answers of course. In the conversation above, you can simply expand the initial bot response to include the additional information, for example. If we notice this particular interaction happening more than once, it might be worth it to expand the bot’s automated response to include the information needed to completely solve the problem in these rare cases.
As you can see in the example above, a bot and live agent working together is never a bad thing. The live agent stepping in here resulted in a positive customer experience – and positive feedback – from a happy customer. That’s feedback that wouldn’t have been shared with a bot alone. Human connection can lead to a more positive customer experience, positive reviews, or even a valuable referral.
Even so, the most well-trained bot is still going to eventually encounter a similar situation where a bit of human touch can easily solve issues that the bot itself is unable to.
Here is another example, this time with a Helper Bot responding to a visitor after hours:
In this case, the Helper Bot was actually able to answer multiple questions successfully, including the two pictured. However, it still was not able to expand on why an image upload might be distorted. A human was needed to finish up with the more complex follow-up issue.
The importance of this interaction can’t be overstated. This bot was able to successfully answer two questions, instantly, outside of normal business hours. When they had further needs, they were connected to a live agent in a short time. That’s a far better customer experience than they would have gotten waiting 12 hours for a service email reply.
As we’ve shown, both live chat agents and chat bots have their relative strengths, and both can be useful for customer service, on-site marketing, or sales tasks. Live chat agents excel when human attention is needed, responding to emotional cues appropriately or diving into complex and multi-stage problems with ease.
On the other hand, chat bots are great – and cost effective – when it comes to handling repetitive inquiries and providing round-the-clock support on your site. And both live chat and chat bots get better when they’re used together – providing the best possible customer experience on your site while also reducing the cost of your on-site service team as you scale up.
To get started with live chat and chat bots today, and to see how they can work together to offer an improved customer experience, sign up for a free trial of Formilla.