Since the beginning of time, we’ve developed various forms of communication. From non-verbal cues such as eye contact and facial expressions to modern methods of remote chat such as Slack and WhatsApp, communication continues to evolve. And just as the way we communicate has evolved over time, so have the methods we use in our communication— writing a letter has advanced into sending an email, and picking up the phone to talk to a friend has evolved into answering a FaceTime call.
Today, conversational technology is widely considered one of the most effective ways for an organization to offer 24/7 support to customers. With the rise of communication tools, the terms “virtual assistant” and “chatbot” have recently become buzzwords in the tech industry. But ask 10 people what a virtual assistant or chatbot is, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. Some people use these terms interchangeably when talking about conversational technology, while others claim these tools have two unique purposes.
Yet, when looking at the foundational makeup of both a successful virtual assistant and a successful chatbot, the similarities are obvious. For example, both virtual assistants and chatbots harness the power of AI to become increasingly intelligent and universally conversational. Simply put, they both provide information the user needs to make a decision or complete a task. This is why there is so much ambiguity around the specific use case for each tool.
The evolution of communication
For us to really understand the differences between chatbots and virtual assistants, we must look at the big picture by exploring how our methods of communication have evolved over time and the role technology has played in the process.
If we think of the evolution of communication as a pyramid, then conversation is at the base. When we refer to communication, we are referring to the human-to-human way of communicating that we’ve been using for thousands of years. In our digital era, this form of chat has evolved from just our standard face-to-face interactions to include communicating over the phone or even virtually through solutions such as Zoom.
When we think of this from a business standpoint, the foundation of conversations includes customers coming into a physical building or picking up the phone to speak to a representative. Yet, as our lives are more intertwined with our devices and instant gratification is more of an expectation, these “old-school” methods of communication have become a less favorable option. Long wait times are the biggest frustration for one-third of customers according to research from HubSpot, resulting in fewer and fewer people wanting to pick up the phone or come into the store—if there even is one. To combat these issues head-on, businesses had to evolve their processes to better meet their customers’ needs and match their communication preferences.