“Chatbot” is short for “chatting robot”, that is, a robot that is supposed to chat with you. Basically, a chatbot is a piece of software that imitates human conversation.
However, this explanation does not show the wide variety of possible chatbot implementations and does little justice to the technology behind it.
Thus, let’s look at what chatbots really are and how they are made to talk to us, humans.
Before we go on, we would like to include some of the chatbot-related terminology, so that we are on the same page:
Chatbot – software specially programmed to simulate conversations with users.
Artificial intelligence – computer science studying the intelligent capacities of computer networks. AI may also mean the ability of a computer to imitate activities of a human brain.
Machine learning – method of achieving artificial intelligence by making the computer learn from the data that is fed to it.
Natural language processing – computer science studying the methods of programming computers to parse natural human speech and generate speech-like responses.
Voice recognition – the ability of the computer to understand and analyze human voice with the interpretation of individual words and phrases.
Types of chatbots
The types of chatbots range from simple rule-based bots returning pre-programmed answers to sophisticated chatbots capable of parsing free-form text and recognizing oral speech – think of Siri or Amazon Alexa.
The most advanced chatbots use artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to build conversations that are sometimes amazingly human-like.
Depending on the service type, different types of chatbots can be used. The broadest classification of chatbot types includes two categories – rule-based chatbots and AI chatbots.
We will briefly look at both of them to see their main features and possible applications.
This type of chatbots is also called “scripted chatbots”, as they operate according to a predefined script. The chatbot is trained to answer a set of pre-programmed questions with a set of pre-programmed answers.
These chatbots, while seemingly lacking the advanced functionality, can be very useful in service applications.
For example, a simple rule-based chatbot can be implemented to take customer orders from a fixed menu or to help in selecting goods from the online shop inventory.
Rule-based chatbots are often built to lead the user with multiple-choice questions.
With such chatbot, you cannot type your questions, as the bot is not going to understand them. You can only select the options that the chatbot offers.
For example, the Tommy Hilfiger chatbot, despite its rich images and videos that are available for viewing, is, in fact, a rule-based bot. It provides a list of possible options, and you only need to click the one that you need.
Other rule-based chatbots are programmed to recognize certain strings in the text and to respond with the pre-programmed phrases.
For example, you can train a chatbot to identify such phrases as “how are you?”, “how is it going?”, “what’s new?” and answer with “I’m fine, and you?”
However, any text that is outside the predefined set of strings will confuse the bot.
For example, the Accuweather chatbot can correctly parse the question “Is it going to rain tomorrow?” and returns the weather forecast.
Though, when the user wants to know “When is the next sunny day?”, the chatbot throws in the towel and suggests addressing the support service.
For most customer service businesses, such functionality is more than enough. Besides, building a rule-based chatbot is a very cost-effective way of adding this communication channel to the business’s infrastructure.
There is quite a number of easy-to-use chatbot platforms where you can create a chatbot with absolutely no coding experience.
For example, you can check Chatfuel, an intuitive tool helping you to build rule-based chatbots of various complexity.
Chatbots created based on artificial intelligence and machine learning are in a totally different league. They can learn from conversations with users and are getting eventually better in imitating extremely human-like conversations.
The best-known AI chatbots are intended to chat about anything that the user prefers. The most famous chatbot is Mitsuku that has its own platform and is also available on Facebook and other channels. Mitsuku can chat on any subject.
On the other hand, she can be sometimes evasive and mysterious and avoids answers to direct questions. Mitsuku can joke and tease using phrases that are typical for human conversation.
You can also build very basic AI chatbots with an online tool, such as Chatfuel.
Only if you want your chatbot to be truly intelligent and hold long and meaningful conversations with users, you should invest in professional chatbot development.
In this case, the chatbot will be based on AI algorithms specially written and customized for the purposes of your business and will ensure the required performance level.
Most popular platforms to build chatbots
Building basic chatbots of various complexity does not necessarily mean some sophisticated coding or employing skilled professionals.
Instead, you can use one of the chatbot building platforms that are available on the market. At a reasonable fee, you can use their functionality to create a chatbot for your business.
We recommend checking the following platforms if you choose to build your own chatbot:
- Chatfuel. We mentioned it already as one of the popular platforms for creating chatbots on the basis of Facebook and Telegram messengers. Chatfuel requires absolutely no coding knowledge and allows building your chatbot interface by dragging and dropping.
- The basic functionality is available for free, while there is also the Pro version with advanced features at $30 per month.
- Flow XO. This platform supports a wider list of messenger services – WhatsApp Web, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Twilio SMS. It offers a lot of ready-made templates and modules, and can be used by anyone – no coding is required.
- Flow XO has a free pricing plan as well as a Standard plan at $19 per month where you can create as many as 15 bots. Add $10 per month, and you will get 5 more bots to build.
- Dialogflow. This platform is intended both for people with no coding skills and for more experienced chatbot developers. With Dialogflow, you can create a basic chatbot that requires no coding.
- However, Dialogflow allows building sophisticated chatbots including voice bots, and for those, you need to write code.
- The platform has a free pricing plan with certain restrictions and the Enterprise Edition that is chargeable at $0.002 per request.
- ManyChat. Again, this is a platform that can be used even without coding skills to build a simple Facebook-based chatbot. Drag and drop the UI elements to create your own chatbot.
- Alternatively, if you have certain coding experience, use the Manychat API to build a more advanced bot with the enhanced functionality.
- ManyChat can be used for free to create chatbots with restricted functions or via the PRO plan that is billable according to the number of subscribers.
These are just a few examples of chatbot building platforms that are offered on the market.
Since most of them have free plans, you can try each to see whether it matches your requirements. Of course, truly advanced chatbots need professional development.
Where do you launch a chatbot?
Depending on the purpose and nature of the chatbot, they can be launched from different resources.
Since chatbots are instant messaging tools by nature, they are very often built on top of the existing messenger platforms.
This way, the chatbot uses the available messaging functionality and the features it provides. The chatbot owner only needs to create the custom interface and train the chatbot to provide correct answers.
The number of Facebook bots has already exceeded 100,000 and is still growing.
By implementing a Facebook bot, the business not only leverages the advantages of the messaging functionality that Facebook supports but also gains access to a huge base of Facebook users.
Of course, there are other messaging services that offer chatbot support – you can build a chatbot in Slack, Kik or Telegram.
Besides, a good practice is building a native chatbot application, so that to reach as many customers as possible. Needless to say, the more platforms you use, the larger your audience will get.
The Mitsuku bot that we mentioned before has about half-dozen channels where you can chat with her. In addition to the popular messengers, Mitsuku also has an Android application that can be downloaded from the App Store.
In addition to messenger chatbots, let’s also mention voice chatbots. While messenger chatbots respond to typed text or button selection, voice chatbots are trained to recognize the human voice and interpret natural human speech.
Both messenger bots and voice bots use natural language processing in their speech recognition functions, but the focus may be on different aspects.
For example, a text chatbot may be advanced enough to “understand” typos and abbreviations that are often found in written speech. At the same time, voice chatbots may be trained to distinguish different accents.
One of the main differences between messenger and voice chatbots is in their accessibility. A messenger bot is much easier to install in most smartphones, while a voice chatbot requires certain additional functionality.
Some chatbots, like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, communicate via special speakers that need to be purchased.
At the same time, while being a bit more complex and expensive to set up, voice chatbots provide new opportunities – you can use it even when your hands are full or when you are doing something else.
While for home use that maybe not too important, think of vehicle drivers, for example – they surely appreciate driving directions spoken aloud rather than retrieved by pushing buttons.
Let’s not forget the chatbot applications wholly dedicated to the chatting functionality. Just download them to your smartphone and chat with them whenever you wish. The selection of the available chatbot apps is rather broad, yet they are mostly intended for entertainment.
How do you use a chatbot?
This is, probably, the easiest question of all related to the chatbot functionality. If we are talking about messenger chatbots, usually they can be found on the brand page and are triggered with the “Get started” message.
Chatbots are meant to be as intuitive as possible. Thus they immediately greet you and suggest the possible directions your conversation can take. Would you like to browse our goods? Where would you like to travel? Please tell me your location, and I will provide the weather forecast for you.
By opening the chat with such questions, the chatbot prompts you to make the first move to which it is supposed to respond.
You can explore the chatbot functionality by clicking all available buttons or typing any questions that you might have.
If the chatbot is enabled with the language processing function, it may understand some of your questions and fail to understand others. By rephrasing the questions, you may get the answers you expect.
With voice chatbots, the trigger is usually their name. If you want to chat with Amazon Alexa, make sure you start your message with “Alexa”, otherwise she will not listen.
What is also important is that Alexa cannot respond to all requests out-of-the-box, for certain functions you need to download the so-called skills. For example, if you want to play Jeopardy with her, it requires a skill.
Advantages of chatbots
The advantages of chatbots stem from their ability to automate tasks that were traditionally performed by humans.
Even at the current stage of their evolution, chatbots are quite capable of taking over simple tasks that require no individual approach:
- Assisting with goods selection
- Answering frequently asked questions
- Providing basic information, such as order numbers, store locations, prices, opening hours
- Redirecting conversations to human operators when the matter requires a more thorough research
By assigning some of the routine tasks to chatbots, the business receives the following benefits:
- Cost reduction. With chatbots performing simple tasks, the number of personnel can be decreased.
- Continuous availability. Since chatbots can provide services 24/7/365, they can help to optimize the company’s personnel rosters by reducing the number of staff working night and weekend shifts.
- Besides, with chatbots, vacation planning becomes easier, as the company no longer needs as many staff on duty as without the robot assistants. Of course, customers also appreciate the round-the-clock service availability.
- Better customer experiences. One of the best features of chatbots is their personalized approach to each customer. By chatting with a virtual assistant, the user experiences both the convenience of online shopping and the satisfaction of personal service.
- Increased user audience. As we mentioned, chatbots based on the popular messenger platforms get access to all users of such platforms, thus giving the company an excellent channel of reaching potential customers.
- Chatbots can be used to send out promotion announcements and special offers, thus increasing the customers’ interest to the brand.
Should customer-facing businesses build chatbots now?
In fact, they should have done it yesterday.
There are lots of statistics saying that people generally tend to communicate with chatbots better than with call centers or offline stores.
Thus, creating a properly functioning interactive chatbot is now in the “must-have” league. Chatbots bring multiple advantages, and with the amount of research and development efforts that are currently dedicated to chatbots.
They may soon surprise us with some new features.
Of course, any customer-serving tool must always be of the top quality.
Customers’ patience is rather short, and a chatbot that is far from intuitive and unable to understand the simplest requests is very likely to be deleted.
Therefore, professional chatbot development is of utmost importance. We will be happy to provide expert advice on the general aspects of chatbot implementation and suggest the most optimal chatbot solutions for your business.
Browse our portfolio, and contact us to discuss your project – we’ll be glad to share our expertise!