Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of buzz around chatbots and how they can help (especially eCommerce websites) drive real enterprise value. Fast-forward to 2019, and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be interacting with an artificially intelligent chatbot (at least half of the time).
However, it’s still early days, and most of us can distinguish the difference between a chatbot and a human. But you can’t deny the fact that chatbots are quickly becoming ubiquitous across industries.
Companies are leveraging chatbots for marketing activities, to generate leads, to entertain their target audience, and for customer service. Consumers are also aware of the benefits of interacting with smart bots.
Why Are Enterprise Chatbots Important?
Chatbots play an important role in a digitally transformed world. According to the 2018 State of Chatbot Reports, customers listed the following as key benefits of engaging with bots:
- 24-hour service (64%)
- Answers to simple questions (55%)
- Direct responses (55%)
The chatbot market is going through a period of exponential growth at a compound annual rate of 24.3% and is forecasted to be worth as much as $1.25 billion by 2025. This can be attributed to significant strides made in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning (DL).
With the emergence of smart speakers like Amazon Echo, smart voice assistants (like Alexa) have also become extremely popular. When it comes to leveraging voice assistants to help you out in the real world, you can already see them making an impact in the retail and banking industry.
According to the study called Conversational Commerce, approximately 35% of users have purchased products like clothing or food with the help of a voice assistant. Another 44% of users would like to initiate bank transfers with the help of voice assistants.
About 56% of users are also interested in ordering food with the help of voice assistants at restaurants. The same study found that users who used voice assistants a few times were highly satisfied it when it came to making financial transactions (87%), ordering food (87%), purchasing products (86%), and ordering taxis (83%).
“While there’re many DIY platforms available for chatbot development these days, if you want to dive deep and replace your customer service department with highly intelligent bots that can take your business to the next level, you’ll need a development team to build it from scratch and maintain it as it evolves with each customer interaction,” says Vlad Potapenko, CEO and Co-Founder of 8allocate, a software dev outsourcing consultancy that built a couple of AI-based chatbot solutions for clients in FinTech and eCommerce.
So if you’re interested in leveraging chatbots to better engage with your customers, what’s the best way to approach it? There are a few ways to incorporate chatbots into your enterprise offering.
We will explore two of them briefly below:
- DIY development, and
- Custom development of a chatbot as a technology solution.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Bot Development
There are already many popular DIY chatbot frameworks available in the marketplace. These are designed to help business rapidly customize and deploy bots across a variety of chat applications.
Some of these platforms include the following:
- Facebook Messenger
It makes sense to build bots to interact with consumers through these applications as much as 91% of teens and 80% of adults use messaging apps daily. 53% of people who use messaging apps are also more inclined to shop with businesses they can message. In fact, over 8 billion messages are exchanged between consumers and businesses on Facebook Messenger every month.
DIY bot frameworks were developed to make it easier for businesses to enter this space. However, they aren’t designed to achieve the same objects.
Let’s explore some of the chatbot frameworks currently available in the marketplace:
Microsoft Azure Bot Service enables companies to develop highly intelligent bots that can be connected across multiple channels. This means that you can build chatbots that can engage your customers across the following:
- Social media
This platform also allows developers to test, monitor, and manage bots during its lifecycle. An open source version is available on GitHub, and there’s a wealth of SDK, samples, tools, and libraries to take advantage of when developing an enterprise bot. So it’s no surprise that over 100,000 developers are registered on the bot framework.
When it comes to chatbots, Microsoft’s offering is highly intelligent and is capable of understanding intent and natural language processing. However, it’s not citizen coders or beginners, you have to be a developer to use this tool.
Botmock has a free version, so there’s an opportunity to try it out and work on a project before making an investment. The editor is a bit limited, and sometimes things can look quite complex. However, when you use it, it’s pretty straightforward.
Although the platform doesn’t boast many dialogues, they are all connected in one way or another. The bot is designed to understand natural language input to some degree and can add items into the basket and help you check out or return to the main menu.
To get an eCommerce chatbot engaging with your customers on Facebook Messenger or Telegram, Chatfuel provides a fast and simple solution. You can even build it by yourself without hiring a development team and throwing a bunch of money at them.
Chatfuel follows a no-code “drag-and-drop” approach with its highly user-friendly platform, so you don’t need to be a software engineer to get it up and running.
It’s so easy to use that you can even build a chatbot and deploy it within 15 minutes. However, the drawback here is that you have to keep it pretty basic and general.
What’s great about Chatfuel is the fact that it supports approximately 50 languages and performs data analytics. However, with its simplicity, you also have to contend with very limited natural language processing.
Having said that, it’s also good to note that as much as 46,000 bots have been deployed using this platform. Some of their past customers include industry giants like Adidas, Bloomberg, and British Airways.
Custom Development of AI-Based Chatbots
As you can see from the above, the right bot framework is relative to your specific business needs. If you’re only looking to engage with your customer base at a basic level, for example, by collecting contact information, then prebuilt platforms are a quick and cost-effective solution.
However, if you want to dive deep and replace your customer service department with highly intelligent bots that can take your business to the next level, you’ll need a development team to build it from scratch and maintain it as it evolves with each customer interaction.
In fact, if your company has a long-term plan to incorporate and scale chatbots across the business, you should avoid DIY chatbots and opt for custom chatbot development which, in its turn, implies that a substantial budget is allotted to backup the endeavor.
DIY Chatbot Builders Are Just Limited
As mentioned earlier on, using these DIY platforms can be very easy, but also very limiting. For example, if your marketing team comes up with a highly engaging idea, you’re just not going to be able to achieve it with a DIY bot.
This is because you’ll be limited to the things you can do and only have access to functionalities that are available on the platform. So if you want creativity, you’re just not going to find it in a prebuilt chatbot framework.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that AI technologies used on these platforms aren’t complex enough to help you stand out from the competition and meet your business goals.
Denied Access to the Source Code
When you’re leveraging DIY chatbots, you’ll never have any kind of access to the source code. So, you really won’t have an idea about the technical side of things.
This may not mean much to you if you’re not a developer, but it should. When you don’t have access to the code, you don’t have ownership of any of the bots you build. This also means that you can’t edit or add to the functionalities already on offer.
Because the platform will own all the code and the data, you won’t be able to simply transfer it to another platform. Instead, you’ll have to start from scratch if you decide to move.
When you don’t have access to the code, it’s also near impossible to fix mistakes. Most of the time, when non-tech people build bots, you can expect rookie mistakes. These can then snowball across the entire build and become a real problem.
What can be fixed within minutes by editing the code won’t be possible in a drag-and-drop scenario. So you can’t expect the same level of support you would typically get from an outsourcing partner.
When the Platform Goes Down, It’ll Take Your Bots with It
At the moment, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to custom chatbot platforms. However, it’s safe to assume that not all are going to make it.
So when some of these businesses go down, what happens to your bot? The simple answer is that the chatbots will go down with them (and there’s nothing you can do about it).
In this scenario, all the time you spent building a highly cost-effective bot would have gone down the drain. In fact, it’ll end up costing you a lot more to rebuild from scratch and maintain business continuity.
In other words, if you’re serious about using chatbots to drive enterprise value, you just can’t take the uncertain route of a DIY bot platform. There’s too much risk and not enough return to justify such an investment.
And do you think DIY chatbots are able to benefit enterprises as much as custom-built AI-based chatbot solutions? Please share your opinion and experience in the comments below!
Why Chatbots Are Critical to Driving Enterprise Value was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.