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Chatbot vs. Live Chat: What’s the Difference?

When preparing to add a chatbot to your website, you will likely face the decision over when to keep the chatbot live and when to switch to live chat. But for those who are new to the world of chatbots, the differences might not even be apparent to the untrained administrator.

This post explores the differences between live chat and chatbots, plus when it’s time to switch apps.

The Benefits of Chatbots

Chatbots are best for fielding simple questions that can be answered through decision trees. The best chatbots can even interpret natural language questions. They can provide basic customer support or handle FAQs where there is a pre-filled answer mapped to those questions.

Here are the main benefits that chatbots have over live agents:

Chatbots Have a Faster Response Time

Because it does not need to think or type and is preprogrammed with responses, a bot that understands a question can provide a response almost immediately. The bot is also not bombarded with inbound questions, so a single bot can respond to an unlimited number of students. This reduces the overall workload and keeps inquiries from piling up over nights, weekends and holidays.

Chatbots Are Always Available

A bot can respond to students any time, seven days a week, including outside of normal business hours. That way, parents and students can get the information they need without having to wait on hold. They can also help your team identify the most qualified leads on your website to enhance your office’s efficiency. 

Chatbots Can Answer More Accurately Than Humans

While humans need to memorize dozens of facts related to the institution, a chatbot just needs to pull that content from a single source of truth, to know the right answers. Bots are ideal for fact-based inquiries such as deadlines, procedures or relevant stats. As long as the bot’s library of knowledge is up-to-date, it will never provide inaccurate information.


Blog: How User Ratings Improve Chatbots in Higher Education

The Benefits of Live Chat

Despite the fact that there are several strong use cases for chatbots, they should not be used as a stand-alone solution. Live chat fills the void chatbots leave by offering intervention when chatbots alone aren’t enough.

With live chat, visitors can ask more complex questions that a bot can’t answer. Humans are typically more equipped to understand specific queries relevant to your school and that require problem solving. 

But beyond the obvious human connection, there are some obvious advantages that live chat has over chatbots. Here are the main benefits of live chat:

Live Chat is More Personalized

Chatbots are limited in their ability to show empathy or make judgement calls. In a more nuanced situation, such as granting a deadline extension for payment, live agents are more appropriate. Another advantage with live chat is that an agent can escalate the situation to a phone call or video chat if the student isn’t getting the information they need.

Live Chat Can Help Students Problem Solve

Throughout the student lifecycle, students will need consultative problem solving, but they might prefer text to calling the office. Live chat can assist students in making decisions such as whether or not to drop a challenging class or how studying abroad might affect their graduation timeline. These are problems that are too complex for a bot, but excellent for an agent to handle over live chat.

Students Might Prefer Talking to a Live Person

Most students don’t have an opinion on whether they prefer speaking with a bot or a person, but some will prefer a human connection. If you make students chat with a bot all the time, they’ll get frustrated and be turned off. Give your students the option to chat with a live person if they feel that a bot isn’t sufficient to answer their questions.


Chatbot vs. Live Chat: Which Gets the Best Results?

Both chatbots and live chat are valuable to improving the student experience. While it may be tempting to choose one or the other, the truth is that higher ed institutions need both. In fact, they actually make each other work better.

Look at chatbots as the initial gatekeeper. It will answer basic questions and handle inbound inquiries after hours. This gives agents more time to provide consultative service while guiding students with more recommended responses to create a faster, more consistent delivery.

The handoff between a chatbot and live agent helps higher ed institutions gain a superb ROI, which allows employees to perform more meaningful work.

To learn more about how live chat and chatbots can work in tandem, read the case study from University of Wisconsin, which discovered critical student insights with