Chatbots vs. virtual assistants: What are the differences?

In today's tech-driven world, don't we all crave a little extra help to manage our busy lives? An honest answer: we do. We all juggle busy lives, and a little extra assistance can go a long way.

That's where chatbots and virtual assistants come in – these two forms of AI are transforming the way we interact with technology. But with so much buzz around both, it's easy to get confused.

What exactly is the difference between a chatbot and a virtual assistant?

chatbots vs virtual assistants

Table of contents:


What is a chatbot?

Chatbots are typically task-oriented, designed to handle specific tasks like answering FAQs, providing customer support, or processing orders.

What is a virtual assistant?

Virtual assistants, on the other hand, are more versatile, acting as personal helpers who can manage schedules, set reminders, control smart home devices, and even hold conversations.

What are the key differences between chatbots and virtual assistants?

  • Intelligence

    • Chatbots: May rely on scripted responses or simple decision trees.

    • Virtual assistants: Utilize advanced AI-like natural language processing (NLP) to understand complex requests and respond accordingly.

  • Functionality

    • Chatbots: Specialize in specific tasks, often providing information or completing simple transactions. They're great for answering FAQs, collecting data, or providing basic customer support.

    • Virtual assistants: Offer a wider range of capabilities, acting like a personal assistant. They can answer questions, complete tasks (like setting alarms or making calls), and even control smart home devices.

  • User interface

    • Chatbots: Typically use a chat-based interface where you type questions or choose from a menu of options.

    • Virtual assistants: Can use text chat or voice commands, allowing for a more natural conversation.

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Which one to choose: AI virtual assistant or chatbot?

Understanding the differences and choosing the ideal assistant for you is a core step. Here's how you can choose:

  • If you need simple customer support or basic information retrieval, a chatbot can be a great solution, offering 24/7 availability and efficient handling of repetitive tasks.

    Examples: ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilot, Jasper, Zoho SalesIQ, Drift, Intercom, and more.

  • If you're craving a more comprehensive digital companion, a virtual assistant is your best bet, providing a broader range of functionality and a more natural user experience.

    Examples: Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Zoho Zia

Real-life use case: Reordering prescriptions with a pharmacy chatbot  

Here's a common scenario where both a chatbot and virtual assistant can be helpful:

You realize you're running low on your regular medication.

  • Chatbot 

Interaction: Accessed through the pharmacy's website or app.

Process: Guides you step-by-step through refilling your prescription.


  • Answers basic questions about your medications.
  • Checks refill authorization.
  • Might initiate refill orders (depending on pharmacy functionality).

Example: Imagine a conversation window where you type "Refill my prescription for BP tablets." The chatbot asks for confirmation and guides you through the remaining steps.

  • Virtual Assistant

Interaction: Uses voice commands through devices like Google Assistant or Alexa.

Process: Streamlined refill process using your existing pharmacy app.


  • Access your pharmacy app with your permission.
  • Handles some refill steps automatically (potentially selecting medication and confirming refill).

Example: You say, "Hey Google, refill my BP tablets prescription." The virtual assistant retrieves your pharmacy app, confirms details, and places the refill order with your approval.

Here's the key difference:

  • Chatbot: Offers a guided, informative experience but requires some manual input.

  • Virtual Assistant: Provides a more convenient, hands-free option with potential for automation.

This is just one example, showcasing the key differences between chatbots and virtual assistants.

The future of AI assistants

The world of chatbots and virtual assistants is rapidly evolving. As AI technology continues to develop, we can expect these digital helpers to become even more sophisticated, blurring the lines between the two. Imagine a future where your virtual assistant seamlessly integrates with your chatbot network, providing a truly unified and intelligent digital companion.

So, the next time you interact with a helpful AI assistant, take a moment to consider whether you're dealing with a task-oriented chatbot or a versatile virtual assistant. Understanding these distinctions will empower you to leverage these technologies to their full potential and enhance your digital life.


Empower your business with Zoho's Zia and Zobot

Zoho offers a powerful duo: Zia, your virtual assistant, and SalesIQ's Zobot, the chatbot building platform.

Zia: Zoho's virtual assistant

Zoho offers a suite of business productivity tools, and Zia is particularly adept at integrating with those apps. This allows for a smoother workflow compared to using another virtual assistant that requires more complex setups for connecting to Zoho products.

Imagine this: Zia analyzes your customer interactions across email, calls, and website visits. Based on these insights, she suggests the optimal time to reach each client, increasing your chances of connecting on the first try. This is just one example of how Zia leverages Zoho data to make you more efficient.

Zia also enhances your customer experience. When someone browses your online store, Zia analyzes past sales and visitor behavior. Using these insights, she recommends complementary products, making it more likely customers will find what they need.

Zoho prioritizes user privacy, and that extends to Zia. Because of this focus, you can expect Zia to offer robust data security features, especially important for handling sensitive business information. This gives you peace of mind, knowing your data is protected.

Zobot: Zoho's chatbot building platform

Zoho SalesIQ offers a robust chatbot building platform called Zobot. It's more than just a chatbot creator—it's a comprehensive platform designed to empower your business. Here's how Zobot elevates your customer experience:

  • Revolutionize customer support: Answer common questions, freeing your team from complex issues.

  • Qualify leads automatically: Identify promising leads, saving your team valuable time.

  • Schedule appointments easily: Simplify appointment scheduling, improving customer experience.

  • Streamline payments: Handle secure payments, increasing efficiency.

  • Focus on high-value customers: Zobot frees your team to provide personalized attention where it matters most.

  • Integrate seamlessly: Zobot easily connects with your existing in-house and third-party applications, ensuring smooth data flow and a unified experience.

  • Create flexibly: Craft your chatbot exactly how you envision it. Zobot offers a spectrum of options, from a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface for beginners to extensive scripting capabilities for advanced users. Integration with industry leaders like Watson and Dialogflow further unlocks advanced functionalities.



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