5 differences between chatbot and virtual assistant

chatbot and virtual assistant

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We talk with chatbots and virtual assistants almost every single day. Think about your last request from a call centre or when you had a problem with Facebook assistance, or even when you decided to order from that delicious new fusion restaurant. In all these cases, you probably faced a chatbot, or maybe a virtual assistant, who knows?

Today we will talk about the differences between chatbots and virtual assistants, because yes, they are two different things, and we need to know where the differences are to use them in the best possible way!

What is a chatbot?

Let’s start with the basis – we use them almost every day, but what is a chatbot, exactly? Investopedia describes it in this way:

“A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats or both. Chatbot, short for chatterbot, is an artificial intelligence (AI) feature that can be embedded and used through any major messaging applications. There are a number of synonyms for chatbot, including “talkbot,” “bot,” “IM bot,” “interactive agent” or “artificial conversation entity.”

Customer experience and interaction are crucial nowadays. Especially since last year, when digitalization has become more and more popular.

Chatbots are automated programs. They can easily interact with customers and give them the impression they are discussing with a human being. The best part is, you can train them, and they cost little to nothing to engage with. 

Chatbots are always there for your clients: they don’t need any rest, and they are ready to answer any questions, anytime.

There are two main types of chatbots:

  • Rule-based Chatbot. In this kind of chatbot, its conversations and capacities are limited, because it only responds to a set number of requests. Its intelligence ends where the data set ends. It reacts to specific requests and only to specific answers.
  • Machine Learning Chatbot. This type of chatbot is, as the name suggests, machine learning-based. It means that it has an artificial neural network, and it can learn by itself when it discovers unknown elements – new words, for instance. They are usually referred to as Virtual Agents, or Virtual Assistants.

They seem perfect, right? They have one particular issue, which is that they can solve one and only one specific problem at a time.

Moreover, now we are going to discover another tool, similar yet different – the virtual assistant.

What is a virtual assistant?

Again, let’s start with the most precise definition of a virtual assistant possible, which comes from Wikipedia.

“An intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) or intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. The term “chatbot” is sometimes used to refer to virtual assistants generally or specifically accessed by online chat. In some cases, online chat programs are exclusively for entertainment purposes. Some virtual assistants can interpret human speech and respond via synthesized voices. Users can ask their assistants’ questions, control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal (spoken?) commands. A similar concept, however with differences, lays under the dialogue systems.”

Be careful not to confuse them with… real people! Even if the name may be misleading, there is a good reason for it. The reason is that they took inspiration from humans!

They can better “understand” emotions, adapt more easily to different situations and new elements. They were born back in the Nineties, but only in recent years technology has been powerful enough to make them part of our daily lives.

5 differences between chatbot and virtual assistant

So, now that we discovered the definitions of chatbot and virtual assistant, which are the differences between the two of them?

Let’s see five elements that make them unique!

  • Virtual assistants use AI and NLP. They are based on Artificial Intelligence and understanding of Natural Language. It means they can understand and “speak” fluidly and can also understand variations and different contexts.
  • Rule-based chatbots don’t understand language and context variations. They are, in a certain way, less “humans” than virtual assistants, and there are some things that they can’t perform. They can only understand and act according to the set of data programmers gave them, as we were saying before.
  • Virtual assistants improve the Customer experience. They are more sophisticated and can cover some chatbots’ activities, thanks to their AI base, like our MAX. It makes them more useful for Customer Experience because they can assist clients and customers more deeply and completely all across the path.
  • Chatbots have fewer functionalities. This is a consequence of the previous point. If you have a chatbot, you can only program it to solve one task, which makes them very efficient and productive, but also quite limited.
  • Virtual assistants can self-teach themselves. They can actually “learn” from the new elements they see, like new words or answers. Thanks to their understanding of the context, they can also divert from their usual path and add knowledge to their database. 


Now we better understand the differences between virtual assistants and chatbots! In this way, we can choose properly which one works best for everybody’s needs and integrate one of them in any business.

Do you already know them? Do you use them and, if so, which one?

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