Wouldn’t it be nice if all customer support could be reached instantaneously? After all, no one enjoys typing up an email of your problems or waiting ages on the phone for a response.

A decade or so ago, this was the norm. But thanks to social media’s global popularity and substantial advances in AI learning, you’ve got more options than ever when it comes to customer support.

The two new biggest contenders that have taken the support world by storm in the last few years are website live chat and website chatbots. Both can provide enormous benefits for your website and support team while helping to increase overall customer retention rates.

But what is live chat? What is a chatbot? How do they differ? And most importantly, how can they benefit your online business?

What is live chat?

Have you ever visited a website and noticed a little pop-up box in the bottom right corner? Maybe it’s even opened on its own after a few seconds with a message asking if you need help with anything?

Well, behind that text box is a person, just like when you’re texting or on Facebook. That’s all website live chat is, somebody on the support side of the website dropping you a quick message to see if you need help with anything.

Website live chat is simply a form of customer messaging software that allows you to have direct communication with another person with minimal wait time. You can type any query into the chatbox and get an instant response from someone who is knowledgeable in that area – just like the live chat we use on our website!

The benefits of live chat

  • Instant and simple communication
  • Easy way to talk to a person who can help
  • Can increase returning customers if used well
  • Can be programmed to work how you need it to
  • Works on mobile devices

Live chat for website support allows you to have near-instant communication with someone on the support team. No signing up for anything, no lengthy unread emails, and certainly no wasted hours listening to elevator music on the phone.

Website live chat proves just how much we prefer talking to a human. It’s consistently rated as the most satisfying way to contact customer support and tends to be the preferred method of contact for customers. Data even suggests that a good website live chat experience can increase the likelihood of return visits.

Besides giving customers a direct link to a person with the knowledge to solve their problems in minutes, you can also tailor it based on their habits. If you know customers prefer to browse your site undisturbed, then you can just program your website live chat to remain closed until clicked on. Or you can have it pop open in a proactive manner if customers are typically coming to the site for your support services.

Best of all, live chat for website support works great on mobile devices, making it easy, convenient, and particularly popular with recent generations. It’s easy to implement, even when using simple software like our Website Builder.

The downsides of website live chat

  • A negative chat experience can be harmful
  • Would ideally be operated 24/7
  • Requires more staff to manage messages

While the benefits of live chat are clear and powerful, like all customer support systems, it has its downsides.

For one thing, it only takes one negative website live chat experience to drive a customer away from your site. If your staff aren’t properly trained to handle certain scenarios, your live chat might do more harm than good.

And speaking of staff. Perhaps the biggest problem associated with using a website live chat is the necessity for it to be staffed 24/7 with people knowledgeable in all areas of the business. And to offer a 24/7 support service, you’ll need to employ a lot of support staff to avoid wait times.

What is a chatbot?

So, we’ve seen the benefits of live chat. But how do chatbots compare?

A website chatbot is an automated system that fulfils a similar role to that of a website live chat. The key difference is that it’s a bot. It’s capable of answering questions and advising customers on the right course of action if they have a problem.

Chatbots allow you to have early, engaging customer support to assess if a customer’s problem is serious, and then transfer them to a human operator if the bot is not capable of answering their query.

Chatbot benefits

  • An advanced technology that can answer complex questions
  • Instantaneous responses 24/7
  • Doesn't require extra support staff
  • Can free up support teams to focus on more difficult issues

Using a website chatbot used to come with a lot of negative stigma attached to it. Many old chatbots could only respond with preprepared phrases pulled from an answer database. This would be fairly unhelpful if a user had anything resembling a complex issue. But technology has come a long way since then.

For one thing, many modern website chatbots are now powered by AI learning. This gives them the ability to answer numerous questions that would have baffled earlier chatbots.

A website chatbot also offers literally instantaneous response times and is capable of answering multiple users at once while being available 24/7, provided the website doesn’t go down – something unlikely to happen with web hosting that has 99.999% uptime, like ours.

But where chatbots really shine is their capacity to free up large portions of the customer support team. This allows them to be more productive with their time and focus on the complex customer problems that need that human touch.

The negatives of using a website chatbot

  • Can be obvious to customers they're not talking to a human
  • Could be off-putting to users
  • Aren't suited for complex problems that need human knowledge to solve
  • Not 100% reliable – customers using incorrect spelling can throw them off

Of course, like the benefits of live chat, chatbot benefits are matched by their negatives.

For one thing, even when powered by AI tech, it’s still relatively obvious when you’re talking with a website chatbot. This alone can turn customers away due to the lingering reputation of chatbots and their lack of human touch.

AI-powered chatbots are also still in their infancy, meaning plenty of complex questions can still get the better of them. And unless you plan on spending a long time training your chatbot, you might be forced to use a premade response database.

Spelling errors have also been known to throw chatbots off, and a lot of the time they can’t solve a user’s issue at all. This means the user has to make use of the live chat function, only after wasting their time.

Website live chat or website chatbot: which is better?

Based on the pros and cons of both live chat and chatbots, you might be feeling inclined towards one or the other. Both have clear and distinct benefits, but live chat tends to be the more favoured option due to human interaction.

You might also be wondering if you can gain all the benefits of both while avoiding the majority of their downsides. Why not use both and get the best of both worlds? After all, they’re not all that dissimilar and will only enhance your website.

Here at Fasthosts, we always offer you expert 24/7 UK support whether that's by phone or live chat. From WordPress Hosting to Domain Names, we’ll aim to get it sorted as soon as possible.

And if you enjoyed this article and want to read more like it, then head over to the Fasthosts blog. We've spoken a lot about AI in this post so why not read our pieces on neural networks and whether AIs could replace humans now you’ve finished this one?