AI Assistants vs Chatbots

Published in
5 min readJul 25, 2019

What’s the difference between AI Assistants and Chatbots, and which would suit your business best? Hopefully, some clarity will help your decision making.

Technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace and those who are the first to embrace it are enjoying the early benefits. Among the most rapidly advancing technologies is artificial intelligence. Although more primitive versions of artificial intelligence have existed since the 1960s, the dream-potential of artificial intelligence is finally becoming a reality.

There are unending use-cases and scenarios that artificial intelligence can address. Among these intelligent solutions are AI Assistants and chatbots. However, many are confused about the difference between the two. Let’s uncover their differences and similarities.

The rise of AI Assistants

According to a study conducted by Capgemini (2019), voice assistants are set to become a dominant mode of consumer interaction in the next three years. As many as 24% of those surveyed said they would prefer interacting with chatbots and voice-bots over a website. The surge of voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri is transforming customer relationships dramatically and businesses are being forced to consider how they can be leveraged.

Chatbots and AI Assistants are both cut from the same cloth- artificial intelligence (AI). AI is being leveraged at a large scale by various companies to automate many of their functions. The ROI has been massive too with AI benefitting not just businesses but their customers’ personal lives as well. However, these two ‘intelligent’ applications of AI are often conflated.

Key differences in Chatbots and AI Assistants

With a host of solutions available on the market, it is important to understand the scope and role of both these applications. For example, one of the key differences is that a chatbot is a program that interacts with humans via text or audio while AI assistants converse with the user to perform daily tasks like setting appointments, doing banking transactions or getting directions.

AI Assistants are able to provide a more human-like experience when used for customer service and have the ability to learn from experience.

It is crucial for a company to understand the nuances of the two to be able to effectively use them.

Chatbots can only go so far

Chatbots are essentially text-based software designed to respond to a given set of questions and hence cannot comprehend questions that are not pre-fed into their systems. They cannot perform long, human-like conversations and do not have the ability to process languages. They pick certain words and provide programmed answers accordingly. Chatbots fail to respond accurately if the question or statement is complex. Essentially, chatbots have limited use and do not have enhanced algorithms that can be used in areas of sophisticated customer support.

When it comes to chatbot technology, there are two types of models — generative and selective. The generative model has a lot of layers and manages to come up with a suitable response based on what the user has requested. In the selective model, the information provided by the user is ranked into a sequence to come up with the best response. Chatbots can be easily created using Node.JS, JavaScript and Python.

The case for AI Assistants

Contrary to chatbots, AI Assistants have a more sophisticated and interactive platform. They understand the language as well as the intent of the user. AI Assistants can learn from instances to predict future occurrences which ensures that they can have long human interactions.

AI Assistants are mainly powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU). Substantial research in NLP has allowed for the building of advanced capabilities in virtual assistants. Now, AI Assistants can understand slang used in everyday natural conversations and analyze sentiments to achieve an even better set of communication skills. When it comes to tasks, they are more ‘sentient’ and thus mature gradually with use.

Why adopt AI Assistants?

New technologies are coming up at a fast pace and companies are scrambling to adopt them. The motto ‘customer is king’ applies to every single brand and hence it is important for companies to adopt technologies that help improve the customer experience but at the same time reflect the brand persona. It also helps them retain talent as customer service agents are no longer burdened by an onslaught of mundane, repetitive tasks and can thus enjoy a higher level of job satisfaction and less burnout.

Interestingly, using AI Assistants that are powered by conversational process automation not only increases customer satisfaction significantly and has smoothened the operational process but also contributes to employee morale. With the rapid pace at which AI is growing, we can expect newer disruptions at a shorter turnaround time. Our job is now to understand the applications of these technologies and to figure out how they may be used in tandem so as to gain the best results.

3 tips to consider when developing an AI Assistant

  1. Understand the Intent. It is important to understand intent both at a macro and micro level. What is the main function of your AI Assistant and how will it bring value to your customer? These are important questions to ask yourself when starting to develop an AI Assistant.
  2. Stay on brand. AI Assistants excel by having a conversation with the end-user and performing tasks to make their lives easier. It’s important to consider your brand voice. Be sure to reference brand guidelines when creating your AI Assistant architecture. You can read more about designing a chatbot here.
  3. Place nice with other data platforms. It’s important for your AI Assistant to be able to talk to other data systems your company using (CRM, MarTech, Support, etc.). For example, if you're setting up a sales AI Assistant, make sure the data captured is being captured into your CRM.

Look out for my next blog

Still on the fence whether to adopt an AI Assistant? In my next blog, I will be highlighting use cases for AI Assistants in various industries like Healthcare, Manufacturing, Government, and more.

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