Chatbots versus traditional live chat: Pros and cons

By Marcus Robinson on January 7, 2019

By Marcus Robinson

January 7, 2019

In the age of digital proliferation, chat is emerging as the favoured channel for customers interacting with businesses. But there are a few different options for engagement, most prominently live chat and chatbots.

So what are the strengths and weaknesses of the two?

Live chat vs. chatbots – what’s the difference?

Live chat and chatbots – said quickly they sound almost indistinguishable, but there is a very clear difference between the two.

  • A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation in either message form or as a voice interface. It is essentially a virtual conversational experience usually enabled by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
  • Live chat is a website interface that allows customer support staff to chat in real-time with customers visiting the company website. Unlike chatbots, a human member of staff is conducting the conversation.

Both forms of real-time communication have some clear pros and cons for business implementation. A clear and informed understanding of these strengths and weaknesses can help you determine which is right for your business.

Live chat

Live chat is easily defined as the traditional form of chat. It’s a system that takes advantage of digital communication in real-time but harnesses paid staff members rather than AI to give advice and answer questions. It has a few key strength and weakness:

  • Human connection: By far the biggest strength of live chat is that your customers are able to connect with well-trained staff to get the answers they need. This human expertise combined with the innate ability to create genuine connections with customers can make it a valuable customer service channel.
  • Human flexibility: With a member of staff responding to queries it is unlikely that they will misinterpret questions or be unable to properly express themselves. They will also be able to adapt to the customer’s exact needs rather than be more limited to a set of assigned tasks.
  • Quick answers: The main attraction of live chat is that it allows customers to seamlessly chat and get answers to their questions instantly. It removes traditional barricades like phone queues and wait times.
  • Not always available: Human agents, unlike bots, need regular work hours, so without employing a night shift they can only be available for a limited number of hours a day. This can make it difficult for customers who are in different time zones or work an eight-hour day to access your services.
  • Expensive to scale: A live chat agent can typically handle between 2 to 5 conversations simultaneously, which means that as chat volumes increase, companies need to hire additional staff to handle the increase in load. This combined with the ongoing training that is required by a successful customer service team means that costs can quickly spiral out of control.


Sophisticated chatbots can be seen as a virtual live chat, where the human agent is replaced (or augmented) by a conversation-enabled AI. This a new technology, but it’s one that is already proving valuable for businesses across all industries. Let’s have a look at their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Scale: Chatbots can automatically handle a huge spike in demand or a small trickle of requests.
  • Need no human assistance: Sophisticated chatbots can function autonomously, so there is no need for human monitoring. This can potentially reduce your costs and allow you to be more streamlined as a business.
  • Multilingual: Chatbots can be designed to converse in any language, so they can respond to a global audience whereas human staff may be restricted to a single country.
  • Able to learn from and personalise interactions: AI enabled chatbots can incorporate machine learning, which allows them to learn from every interaction in order to perfect their performance. They can also collect and update data on individuals that will allow them to tailor their interactions to each individual’s preferences. This sort of experience would be either impossible or too time consuming for human agents.
  • Lack human touch: Chatbots can sometimes come off as very transactional in their responses and lack conversational flow. While this can, to some extent, be remedied by good conversational UX, it may still lack a human quality.
  • Bots require expertise: While there are many ‘build your own chatbots’ available, these are very rudimentary flow diagram models that do not have the sophistication required to replicate human conversation. To create a dynamic chatbot that will be able to deliver value to your customers it needs to be built using an enterprise chatbot platform and designed by experts who know what they are doing.

Chatbots Augmenting Live Agents

In our experience, the best experiences for end users is a combination of both chatbots and live agents. When building a chatbot, this is normally called Human Takeover or Human Hand-off. With this approach, you use a chatbot as the first-responder, answering as many questions as it can, but seamlessly transferring the conversation to a human operator when it encounters a situation that it’s not trained to handle.

This approach gives companies the best of both worlds: reduced support costs through the scale and 24×7 availability of chatbots combined with a human-touch for situations where only a live agent can solve the problem at hand.

If chatbots seem like the right direction for your business, get in contact with the experts at Stackchat to learn more.