Live Chat and Chatbots: What is the Difference?

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Engaging your website's visitors effectively is a critical discipline to master for every company. Getting it right is vital to the health of your overall brand.  It's crucial to use your website as a marketing tool to turn interested leads into partners willing to do business with you. One way in which many organizations increase the effectiveness of their company's lead generation is by using a live chat feature via their website. Others use chatbots. So what's the difference between live chat and chatbots? 

Let's take a look at live chat vs. chatbots — how they work as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

Live Chat and Chatbots

Live chat and chatbots ultimately both have the same goal: field customer queries in a timely manner by presenting the visitor with the option to ask a question as soon as they log onto your website. While they fulfill a similar purpose, there is a distinction. 

Live chat uses an actual human to monitor questions. They are typically notified when a customer asks a question — they are then tasked with responding. It's on that person to satisfy the visitor's questions or concerns. 

Chatbots also answer user questions, but are programmed with pre-defined logic workflows to inform their responses. They can also be programmed to qualify your site's users as to what their goals may be and then direct them to the appropriate content area on the site, though this capability isn't a necessary component of using a chatbot. 

Live Chat Increases Conversions


One advantage of live chat? It can help increase your conversions. Data on live chat shows it helps move the needle toward increasing website conversions — one study found it can increase online leads by up to 40%.

Why is this, exactly?

A live chat can better help your visitor take the next step in the process. They can prompt them to fill out a contact form. Or perhaps a live chat operator can ask them to answer a question about the services you offer or the service they've received. 

Those applying for jobs find live chat extremely helpful in navigating a company's website or helping them find the information they need. Some chat tool subscriptions enable your company to opt in for different operators based on the specific section of your website people are asking about. 

Manning a Live Chat Requires Planning and a Dedicated Operator 

One reality of monitoring a live chat is that it involves having dedicated staff members to fill the role. They'll need to be able to expertly answer visitor questions while also providing value to those users.

A challenge companies often face is that the experts with the best answers don't have the time to be a chat operator. Conversely, those with the time to be an operator don't have the needed expertise to add value or be efficient in their responses.

Determining the right person to fill this role can be challenging. You'll also need to consider that the individual will need to undergo a training period where they get to know the software and how to operate it. This will ensure they can have more timely responses, which is the most important aspect of your user's chat experience. 

With these challenges in mind, you may feel hesitant to opt for a live chat program. But that's where a well-executed chatbot comes in to help alleviate those obstacles. 

Chatbots Were Made to Address the Challenges of Live Chat


With a chatbot, you get all of the responsiveness and friendliness of live chat without having to dedicate a full-time employee to the position. Chatbots were literally created for this purpose — to serve all the needs that a live chat operator would, without having to designate someone as the actual operator. 

A chatbot uses the commonly asked questions your visitors ask and collects the answers to those questions, creating a streamlined experience for users. This will require having an intimate understanding of your website visitor and their needs— if you don't know that person yet. Think of it in terms of a flowchart. You can create questions with multiple choice answers that then guide the user to the place on your site they need to be. Perhaps the answer is simple, or it can require visiting another page of your website. Whatever the case, you can program a chatbot to guide your visitors in the right direction. 

It's the definition of a "win-win" scenario. Your visitors get fast help answering the questions they need. Your organization gets them the help they need, moving them closer to your desired end result without having to use a staff member to monitor the live chat. 

Chatbots Get a High Level of Engagement 

There are numerous platforms on which you can use a chatbot. You can set one up on your website using tools like Intercom, Drift, Olark, or HubSpot, or sponsor one via a LinkedIn ad. Either way, they get high levels of engagement for online visitors looking to find out more about your company. One company saw its engagement levels grow by 75% when they switched from live chat to a chatbot. One study found that 62% of U.S. consumers like interacting with a chatbot. 

The level of engagement will vary depending on the type of website you operate, what products or services you offer, and the types of buyers to which you cater. Regardless of the answers to these questions, a chatbot is going to help improve the way you engage your visitors. It greatly increases your website's user experience. This will resonate with your visitors in a way that elevates your brand. 

Chatbots Risk Being Impersonal (at Best) and Frustrating (at Worst)  

That's not to say that opting for a chatbot can't have challenges. Depending on your specific company's values and audience, a chatbot may not be exactly what your brand needs. Consider how it might align with your company's mission and objectives. For companies in the IT space, it may seem like a forward-leaning way to embrace cutting edge technology. If you have an industry that specializes in client consultation, a chatbot may appear as impersonal or off-brand. However, if you understand your customer well and are able to program a chatbot that is adept at answering frequently asked questions, you can increase the value your organization will get out of a chatbot. 

Interested in further exploring how live chat and chatbots can help revolutionize the way you engage your website visitors? Reach out for more on how we can help.

William Crane

William Crane

Adept at communicating and connecting with people of all backgrounds, William brings more than 10 years of experience leading, developing, and implementing digital marketing solutions for B2B clients. He’s worked with a variety of clients, from large multinational corporations with multiple business units to local small businesses. William previously served as the Director of Digital Strategy and Insights for a Portland, Oregon-based B2B marketing agency, helping it grow from a team of 3 to a team of more than 40. In addition to leading analytics, marketing automation, SEO, paid media, and business intelligence, William also focused on mentoring and providing team members in his department with a clear professional development path.