Voice Assistants vs Chatbots - A Marketers Quick Guide

With the amount of artificial intelligence (AI) powered platforms, applications, and assistants available, it’s easy to confuse even some of the most common pieces of technology we interact with on a daily basis. While the goals of voice assistants and chatbots may be relatively the same; helping the user at the point of need in a variety of situations, there are plenty of distinctions that set them apart on the way there. 


As you probably know, voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri, are pieces of software that use a combination of voice recognition, language processing algorithms, and voice synthesis to be able to receive given voice commands and respond with a particular function in a conversational way. Many of the most popular voice assistants are integrated into devices we use nearly every day, including computers, tablets, phones, and smart speakers. Chatbots follow suit in that they are constructed with programs that simulate human conversation through text interface, and are generally found as user assistance pop-ups on websites and platforms. 

These different iterations of AI enabled applications mark key technological advancements in user interfaces, but they are vastly different in their level of sophistication. Often intended for integration in messaging applications, chatbots are programmed to reply to only a limited set of questions or statements from the user. Voice assistants, on the other hand, represent a much more interactive platform, deriving not just the language but also the meaning from a certain voice command. 


Context of use

Customers will likely only come across a brand-specific chatbot when perusing its website or mobile application. These technologies aren’t always sought, but often appear to offer a helping hand to potential customers in lieu of a real employee. They’re programmed to provide specific responses to keywords and can provide very basic information or a connection to an escalation point within the system (like connecting you to a live technical support individual).

Voice assistants offer a more robust experience, serving as an at-the-ready resource whenever the user wishes to seek out information from a variety of end-points. With more complex artificial intelligence (AI) at play, voice assistants like Alexa, Google, Siri and Cortana are able to make recommendations based on previous user behaviors, branch to different options for the user, collect data at the point of engagement, perform an action ) like scheduling meetings, ordering products, providing feedback, or simply provide more targeted information about a product or service. 

Quality of customer experiences

Chatbots have become increasingly prevalent on businesses’ digital platforms so as to provide a form of basic customer support around the clock. These AI tools interact with customers through pop-up chats, emulating the dialog of a human representative to anticipate their questions. While the convenience and cost-efficiency of a chatbot is an attractive option for businesses without the budget to have employees around the clock, these programs can only help answer frequently asked questions (FAQs) or solve anticipated issues. As a result, there is a limit to the resourcefulness of chatbot technology, marked by the extent to which the company has mapped out predetermined answers.

Voice assistants are simply engineered with more complexities in mind. Their broader capacity for task completion–whether searching for the best product, offering product comparisons, or even making purchases, collecting robust data–exemplify voice assistants’ ability to perform with more personalization. A brand can use their spokesperson’s voice, or insert their jingle, and provide a personalized path for the user to engage with the brand in a conversational way. In short, voice assistants are able to work with more open-ended requests than chatbots, and do so in a much more interactive and engaging manner. 

Depth of user engagement 

Due to their scope of design, chatbots are not programmed to actively respond to more complex inquiries. Instead, their structured dialogue leaves very little room for long, continuing human interaction or learned behaviors from previously given commands.  Voice assistants, on the other hand, employ Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Understanding (NLU) to be able to derive the meaning and task from a more complicated voice command. This is how your Alexa or your Google Assistant can interpret nuances in your requests and act accordingly. As expected, this makes NLP-advanced technologies more conversational than virtually all types of chatbots. 

Better yet, voice assistants are not only viewed as a valuable resource at one’s disposal, but also a goldmine of entertainment. Having the personable quality inherent to voiced communication is unique to these kinds of technologies, making them an excellent tool for brands to connect on a deeper level with new markets. 

Employed by brands to create a more active presence in the lives of consumers, both chatbots and voice assistants have made strides in reimagining the accessibility of information. While chatbots feature one kind of human interface system, voice assistants have revolutionized what it means to have an engaging brand voice through a literal, verbal response.