Tailored online experiences that reflect relationship-dependent brands

Part 3: Tailored dialogue: chatbots vs live chat

January 30, 2020 • 8 minute read

This is part three in a four-part series exploring how relationship-dependent brands need to tailor their customers’ online experiences as they would in “real life”. During the four parts, we explore trends of content customization, live chat and chatbots, as well as methods of disseminating content to provide more personalized, meaningful experiences for clients on digital platforms.

Continuing the series, we move from discussion around tailored content to how dialogue is being used on digital platforms to create more efficient user journeys and more positive client experiences.

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While personalization and customization of digital platforms generally apply to the content served up to visitors, they are static experiences. Let’s now consider real-time, transitory digital moments between a brand and its audience – or between a business and its client – ie. the dialogue that can be used to strengthen the unique experience of a brand.

The fundamentals of brand dialogue begin with the translation of values and attributes into personality and a tone of voice. Since dialogue is a two-way interaction, it should demonstrate empathy for the individual on the other side of the conversation.

Two common examples of tailored dialogues that enhance an individual’s brand experience are chatbots and live chat.


  • A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. (Chatbot Magazine, 2016)
  • Live chat is typically an online conversation with another human, via a similar messaging interface.


Whilst these are unquestionably different mechanisms of conversation, they often get blurred in execution, which can result in user confusion, frustration and negative experiences. It’s therefore important to clearly communicate to the user who they are interacting with (a chatbot may encapsulate the brand personality, whereas live chat operators may use their own real-life profile photos).

It’s also important to express why your brand is using this tool. Primary uses for both methods of dialogue include diagnosing issues and providing support to clients and prospects, others include answering FAQs and linking the user to external information.

Similar to tailored content, neither of these forms of brand dialogue are better – one may be more effective for some brands, in different contexts and with different audiences. Let’s begin by looking at some examples of effective use of each.

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The benefits of chatbots

Of the two, live chat is the more straightforward and cheaper to execute, however in the longer term, a chatbot is much less expensive to maintain – simply because the AI answering user questions is cheaper than a human on a payroll. That said, with a good understanding of your audience, their possible questions and journeys through sales and support traffic flows, a chatbot doesn’t have to be a big investment. It is also on path to become the most used AI application being used by businesses.

While retailers and technology companies are leading the way in using chatbots to facilitate entire customer journeys, from acquisition to purchase and delivery of a product or service, we are seeing a wider range of uses for chatbots across B2B brands – from asking for directions to the nearest office or what the weather’s like in a city, to scheduling a meeting.

For professional and financial services, the adoption of chatbots is also growing. A recent FT Money feature talks to financial services industry leaders on the capacity of chatbots to provide financial advice. Although agreeing that the technology cannot provide complex advice beyond triage surveys and basic guidance, businesses (especially in the US) are “moving away from the dichotomy of face-to-face advice versus robo-advice. A hybrid form is becoming increasingly common” – allowing human experts to continue providing personal client experiences.

“AI can complement a human adviser and allow them to spend more time focusing on both the client relationship, as well as more specialised financial needs such as complex business and trust structures.”

‘Would you talk about your finances with a chatbot?’, FT Money, November 8 2019

For online services, recent examples include the Sage chatbot called Pegg, a digital assistant to manage your business transactions, and Bank of America’s Erica, one of a number of successful personal banking chatbots. Vodafone has seen some incredible success metrics as it uses its commerce-enabled chatbot TOBi to drive a change in client experience.

Fundamentally, one of the most effective chatbot uses in B2B firms is as a website triage tool, to quickly identify why the user is visiting today and to provide them the quickest route to the information they seek. In many businesses, this may be as simple as providing the user with contact details to the most appropriate support person or department, or it may be directing them to a page of information around a specific legal matter.

The important thing here is understanding your users’ journeys and knowing where on the journey a chatbot would be helpful and relevant. Research and expert opinions agree that chatbots are best used for a narrow purpose – that they fail when “attempting to tackle too broad a domain”.

Fig. 3 – Possible opportunities for chatbots to improve the user experience at various locations along a website journey

Always keep in mind that the conversation or journey should create a streamlined user experience, not an elongated or annoying one. The idea that chatbots spring up a distracting hurdle in a user journey is sometimes misconceived (although unfortunately true). The placement of a dialogue option within the user journey should always be relevant.

Whatever the problem-solving reason for employing a chatbot, the opportunity always also exists to improve the brand experience once the user is engaged. As this Forrester report states, “aspirations to reduce operational costs alone should not drive chatbot build decisions”. Through carefully planned conversation triggers, chatbots can glean an abundance of user data points that can – with user consent – be used to customize that individual’s subsequent brand experiences.

Chatbots can easily and effectively articulate a brand’s personality, giving character to sometimes mundane triage questions.Creative Review recently wrote about writing for chatbots, which includes a perspective into the possible future for chat avatars and how they might represent brand personalities – for different audiences in different parts of the world, for example.

They can also be extremely useful within a member area or client portal – where a user is logged-in, safe with the knowledge that their personal data is secure, and wants quick access to files or records, or a quick answer to a frequently asked question.

Starting from simply designed conversation paths through to more complex integrated data acquisition models, chatbots can offer users an efficient and useful experience with brand personality – but so can live chat.

​​For more in-depth further reading, IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking Toolkit is a highly technical but comprehensive resource for anyone interested in using data and AI to enhance user experiences – https://www.ibm.com/design/thinking/page/toolkit

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The benefits of live chat

Live chat is more akin to a telephone conversation. Although younger generations are more AI-friendly than ever, for many individuals, a human-to-human interaction may feel more comfortable. So for many services and subject matters, live chat may be more appropriate than a chatbot.

One trait common across the majority of client-centric brands is responsiveness. If your business cares for its clients as much as it declares, then response time should be high on the priority list. Recent HubSpot research found that 82% of customers rated an “immediate response” as very important when asking a marketing or sales question – rising to 90% for a customer service question.

Even at the more service-led end of the scale, clients with a question want to be the number one priority. They don’t have time to listen to hold music, therefore live chat is proving to be a success for many brands. Zendesk’s comprehensive report on live chat suggests that the customer satisfaction rate for live chat beats all ticket channels at 87% customer satisfaction, above website forms (85%), email (85%), Facebook (84%) and Twitter (77%). But before we get carried away with live chat being an effective sales and support tool, let’s consider why it should primarily be a positive brand moment for your audience.

“Chat connects you with prospects, leads, and customers faster than ever. But they don’t care how fast you can say, “Hi, how can I help you?” They care how fast you can actually help them.”


Finding the right way to engage

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that not all users want to use live chat. However, Econsultancy research suggests that “live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone”. Compound this with the opportunity to exhibit deep client care through conversations and digital brand experiences will begin to mirror the physical and environmental experiences that keep clients coming back.

It’s in your interest to enable your audience to engage with you on a platform that works for them. McKinsey has looked at engaging customers in the way they want to be engaged. There are a variety of reasons businesses use live chat to enhance their customer experience – from offering a triage for support or simply to accelerate proactive conversations.

It’s important here to dwell briefly on tone of voice for live chat. Hygienic customer service etiquette and empathy is imperative, but this is an opportunity to project your brand personality and behavior in the same way as you would via email. Would your audience respond better to short, direct sentences and faster responses without the niceties – or would they appreciate acknowledgement of every message, colloquial language and small talk about their day?

Similar to chatbots, conversations and information discovered from live chat can become a valuable source of user data. Fed into a CRM and mapped against contacts and leads, conversation insights can be interpreted to provide real-time brand engagement scores, as well as typical lead generation and customer satisfaction scores.

Depending on the platform, you may or may not already have a set of traffic or acquisition flows, so a review of current analytics against any traffic flow objectives should be the first point of call. Using simple analytics, you can evaluate the brand touch points users currently experience and you should be able to identify what works well and what doesn’t.
​​Are platform visitors dropping off at unexpected places? Are user journeys to flagship content not the paths you anticipated? Is your platform just too big or complex for all audiences to find answers to their questions efficiently? Of course new technology such as live chat should not try to rectify any underlying architectural issues – these should be addressed before even thinking about further dialogue.

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