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Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: Who Wins?

In 2023, we find ourselves at an exciting crossroads in the realm of small businesses. As the wave of artificial intelligence surges, the discussions around its implications for the traditional office landscape have sparked more than just curiosity as a sometimes frightening new tool. With the rise of automation tools that have been streamlining tasks for businesses since the advent of Excel VBA scripts, it’s clear that optimizing business operations is a goal within reach. However, the proliferation of virtual assistants in many companies begs the question: automation or human touch — which way to go?

Do I hire a virtual assistant, or should I automate my process fully?

These inquiries are critical because automation and virtual assistants, while seemingly competing, can complement each other. A virtual assistant equipped with the latest in automation and AI tools can increase their efficiency and help businesses tackle their workload effectively.

However, businesses currently leveraging virtual assistant services or considering hiring them might wonder if it’s time to wave goodbye to their trusted VAs and embrace the relentless efficiency of automation. Should we hang up the virtual helpdesk headset in favor of lines of code? Let’s dive deeper into the debate of automation vs. virtual assistants: who wins, by how much, and where their strengths lie in 2023.

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: The Case For Automation

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: The Case for Automation

Automation is that efficient business worker who never sleeps, doesn’t ask for weekends off, and is always there to take care of the tedious stuff that businesses don’t want to bother with. It’s like having an army of invisible robot workers handling everything from posting your latest promo on social media to analyzing chunks of customer data. These tools were previously inaccessible to many small businesses until plug-and-play tools like and Zapier came into the mix back in the early 2010s and revolutionized businesses and mentalities like the 4-hour work week.

There are a bunch of business automation tools out in the marketplace that focus on many different business use cases, but the most common one for small and large enterprises is Zapier. Zapier connects your favorite apps and gets them talking to each other instead of you hopping and moving your data around your tools.

Automation tools like Zapier move your data between your online tools so that you don’t have to, saving you hours of time and avoiding countless mistakes. However, they can also do much more by transforming your data into other formats like pdfs and emails so that you can automate your workflows.

But why should you care? Well, because:

  1. Efficiency: Zapier speeds up tasks, freeing up your time for more important things (like growing your business).
  2. Cost-effectiveness: It’s generally cheaper than hiring more humans to do the same tasks. The starter plan for Zapier costs only $20/month.
  3. Consistency: Automation doesn’t have off days, ensuring the work is done the same way every time, without hiccups.

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: The Case for Virtual Assistants

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: The Case for Virtual Assistants

On the flip side, you’ve got virtual assistants, cost-efficient business professionals from countries like the Philippines who are experts in handling a variety of business tasks. They’re real people who work 100% over an internet connection, and they can handle anything from admin duties to customer service, and even some savvy digital marketing.

So, Why Stick With a Virtual Assistant (VA)?

  1. Flexibility: Unlike automation, VAs can adapt to new tasks and challenges as your business evolves. Setting up a new automation workflow can take days or hours, but a virtual assistant can handle new simple workflows quite fast.
  2. Personal Touch: VAs provide a level of human interaction that automation and AI just cannot match in 2023. Maybe in the future this will be able to happen, but as of now, it’s just not 100% there yet to have the emotional intelligence and capability to handle a variety of tasks.
  3. Variety: VAs can handle a wide range of tasks that need a human touch, creative thinking, or decision-making. For example, handling what to do when a complex client problem comes into your support inbox is something that AI and automation tools just cannot fully support at this time, and it probably cannot in the near future.

What About Automated Virtual Assistants Like ChatGPT?

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants: The Case for AI Virtual Assistants

And then you’ve got AI tools like ChatGPT, which is the evolution and future of virtual assistants. Developed by OpenAI, it’s a whizz at generating human-like text and amazing content for business. It’s like having a VA who can answer a lot of questions and is available 24/7 when you’ve got access to the interface; however, there are a lot of positives and negatives to using this tool.

So, Why Go With an AI Personal Assistant Like ChatGPT?

It’s Multifaceted: One of the beauties of ChatGPT is its versatility. Need to draft a blog post? Check. Looking for quick answers to some pressing queries? Check. Want to tutor in a specific subject? Heck, ChatGPT can handle that too. In the world of text-based tasks, this AI tool is a real jack-of-all-trades.

It’s 24/7: Unlike human VAs who need their beauty sleep (and coffee), ChatGPT is an around-the-clock assistant. Got a brilliant idea at 2 am? No worries, ChatGPT is up and ready to help you draft it out.

It’s Ever-Evolving: As a language model based on machine learning, ChatGPT learns and evolves over time and even has growing connectivity with plugins like Zapier to handle your workload. The more it interacts, the better it gets. Within 2 to 3 years, AI tools like ChatGPT will be fully integrated with process management and automation tools to automate a lot of business processes.

Automation vs. Virtual Assistants? Who Wins?

Winner: Depends → Automation for Repetition. VAs for Personalization.

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Both automation and VAs bring things to the table, but the smartest businesses are making the most of both worlds. Businesses should be using automation for the repetitive stuff that can be replicated easily, and they should hire virtual assistants for tasks that need a human touch and are too complex and costly to set up with automation tools.

In essence, the aim isn’t to choose one over the other but to use both to your advantage. Understanding your business needs and figuring out how to get the best out of both can help you run a more efficient, productive, and cost-effective operation. So, don’t worry, it’s not time to call the Terminator just yet!

Want to learn more about virtual assistants?

We help businesses decide on how best to automate and outsource their processes.