This guide to chatbot software will help you understand what it is, how it can help your business and the types of chatbot software available on the market.
“I need to understand chatbot software, but I don’t know where to start.”
“I’ve heard about chatbots but I don’t understand how they can help my business.”
“I type ‘chatbot software’ into Google and most of the results are technical websites. I might understand them if I had a computer science degree.”
How can you know if chatbot software is the solution if you don’t understand what it does and how it can help you?
Knowing where to look, what’s best and what you need from chatbots can seem overwhelming when it’s new.
This guide to chatbot software will help you understand the technology, how it can help your business and the types of chatbot software available on the market.
Once you’ve read the guide you will feel confident about chatbot software and make informed decisions between options to suit your business.
Let’s start with the basics. What is chatbot technology?
It might surprise you that you’ve probably already met a chatbot. You may even have used one without realising. Chatbots, or ‘bots’, are common on websites and on social media platforms. But, what are they? And, where are chatbots used?
In short, a bot is a piece of software used to interact with humans. Companies use them to answer questions from people and help them decide.
Some chatbots are household names, including Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. Whether you use them through your smartphone or a smart speaker, they’re chatbots in action.
There are two main types of chatbot.
There are plenty of approachable chatbot solutions available which are easy to use and install.
For example, simple chatbots provide answers from keywords people use when asking a question, for example.
Basic chatbot software is quick to deploy in your business. Most basic chatbots give you ready-made templates you can use at once or which you customise to your business.
But, it relies on specific words (or keywords) you’ve inserted into its systems to answer questions.
If the bot doesn’t have the answer to a query in its database, the chatbot can frustrate people interacting with it.
What happens if someone asks it a question for which it doesn’t have an answer? What can you use instead?
This is when sophisticated bots become compelling. Advanced bots use what’s known as natural language processing or artificial intelligence (AI), hence the name ‘AI’.
We know the ability for an AI chatbot to pass it off as a human as the Turing Test. The late scientist, Alan Turing, developed the test in the 1950s.
AI chatbots learn from each time a human interacts with them. Over time, the AI bots get better at knowing how to interpret the language used by their human users.
AI chatbot technology is sophisticated enough today to be valuable to use in more applications across many businesses. Some AI chatbot software is so convincing that you won’t realise you’re chatting with a computer.
Now you know what chatbot software is, you probably want to know why you might need it.
Although chatbots might interest you, that’s no good unless you understand how they can help your business.
To put it into context, let’s say your business has many customers and you need to help them with information when they contact you.
You’ve got a team of people helping them, but you’ve got more customer queries you can deal with daily. Your customers get tired of waiting for your team to help. The customers look elsewhere for a solution to their problem.
And, you’re losing orders.
What do you do?
In the past, you’d have probably hired more staff to deal with inbound customer queries.
But, it’s common for customer questions to be similar and basic. That’s why businesses have a frequently asked questions (FAQs) section on their website; to deal with common questions.
But, the FAQ section on your website may only answer a few questions, and it relies on your customers to find what they need.
Chatbot software can help you in scenarios like the one above.
You can use a chatbot to answer the same questions asked by your customers in a more active way than a simple FAQ page. Customers get quick answers to their questions rather than having to sift through a long page of answers.
Here are some other examples of how businesses use chatbot software now:
- To help people searching for train times
- Holidaymakers or business people searching for flight times
- Answering product questions
- Insurance companies helping customers with quotes
- Doctors using bots to answer basic health questions
- Sales teams using bots to qualify leads
- Retail businesses selling products online
Using a chatbot can help your customer service team answer less of the same questions, releasing them for more complex, valuable questions or situations.
Chatbot software can help you use your human resources more efficiently. A bot won’t get bored answering the same questions repeatedly. And, it will work 24/7 to help your business.
Okay, so you have some examples of how other businesses use chatbots. But, you probably have a specific business challenge you need to solve before you decide if chatbot software is the solution.
We’ll look at that in more detail next.
The choice of solutions on the market to help many business problems is endless. Before you decide if a bot can help your business, step back and look at the ‘bigger picture’.
Here are three situations which might be familiar to you and your challenge:
- You’ve got a limited customer service team and more customer queries than you can manage.
- You’ve been asked to improve customer service levels but without hiring more people.
- Your most valuable people spend too much of their time answering basic questions and not answering enough high-value, complex questions.
In all these scenarios, chatbot software can help you.
A bot can help you scale your customer service without hiring more people, which adds to your fixed costs.
Use a chatbot to answer basic questions and act as a filter to help your top staff answer deeper, challenging questions.
You can be more responsive to your customers and help them stay with your business.
At this stage, you might wonder whether chatbot technology makes a difference to a company’s bottom line. Does it help increase sales or improve response rates?
According to Parmy Olson on Forbes.com in July 2018, chatbots make an important difference to the sales and conversion rates of some notable companies. One Swiss insurance company, Helvetia, says using bots helped them convert more customers to buy policies.
Insurance, banking and healthcare companies use bots to lower the time to help customers with queries. And, they save money on each query compared to interactions with their staff.
You can use existing applications, like Facebook Messenger, and other ‘off-the-shelf’ chatbot software to help you create simpler bots for your business.
It’s easier than you think to add a simple chatbot to your website. And, it’s just as easy to use your existing social media accounts with a bot.
Let’s look at an example of how one high street name uses a bot through Facebook to sell their products. And, we’ll look at some alternative solutions.
Pizza Hut in Poland decided they wanted an easier way to serve young customers with pizza using Facebook Messenger.
To order a pizza, customers send a message to the Pizza Hut Facebook Messenger account.
They can glance through the choice of toppings and dough bases, which makes it like ordering from a menu in a restaurant. Customers can ask the bot questions, get answers, choose their pizza, and then pay.
Pizza Hut also set up a bot which customers can use through Twitter to order food.
You can view the Pizza Hut Facebook chatbot here (beware — it’s in Polish!).
According to ChatFuel, companies using chatbots get better results from their digital marketing activities. Look at the increased open rates they claim are possible using messenger compared to email in the graphic below.
ChatFuel - chatbot click-through rates
“I’ve heard of bots like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Does that mean there are different types of chatbot?” you ask.
Good question. Yes. Let’s look at them.
You’d think bots are all about text.
But, voice chatbots are common, including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Voice chatbots listen for keywords or process sound searching for phrases and search the internet or an intranet seeking answers. Then they reply with the best answer to the person who asked the question.
Yet, these chatbots are for consumers.
Businesses want solutions created for companies. And it’s no different for voice chatbot solutions.
You’d expect Google to have a chatbot solution, right? The search giant has its consumer chatbot ‘Google Assistant’ which you can use on your smartphone or with a smart speaker.
Google Assistant uses natural language processing to help people get answers to their questions or to command applications.
But for business, Google has ‘Contact Center AI’. It helps companies with call centres who need to provide an option for customers to chat or call your company.
When the customer calls in, the system routes them through to a ‘virtual agent’, a bot which listens to what they ask and then either finds what they want and fulfils it automatically. Or, if the bot can’t find what the customers want, it routes them to a person to help.
Watch the video about Google Contact Center AI below
Microsoft also has a chatbot platform, namely Azure Bot Service. Developers working in a Microsoft environment can create custom bots using their bot framework and ‘BotBuilder software development kits (SDK)’,
Amazon has a chatbot for call centres too, called Amazon Lex. Using their Alexa technology for consumers, Amazon created a business version which uses voice and text.
Watch the Amazon Lex video below
To integrate chatbot software successfully into your company systems you need something else too — software developers. To customise the software to your situation, you need developers to customise and integrate it into your systems.
Most of the prime providers will help you with an SDK to make the process easier for your developers. Plus, they provide documentation and training too.
Creating a custom chatbot is possible too. Again, you need developers to build them to your specification. Here are two examples of companies that provide products to create your own chatbot:
- Oracle’s Digital Assistant is a ‘platform as a service’ (PAAS) system which enables you to create custom chatbots to use on websites, messaging apps and for voice.
- IBM’s Watson AI is another platform for creating customer service ‘virtual assistants or chatbots.
If the sound of the ‘big business’ chatbots are putting you off chatbot software, don’t worry. There are some other ways you can use chatbot software with applications you may already use.
If you’ve got a tight budget or no budget, what can you do? Read on!
“Is there a solution which sits between ‘off the shelf’ chatbots and custom chatbots?”
If you need a custom solution which you can build with no coding skills, consider a ‘chatbot builder’ option.
A chatbot builder is useful if you don’t have any developers in your business. Or, if you don’t have the budget to create a more sophisticated, bespoke chatbot. You can create a bot using either pre-set templates or customise them to fit your business better.
If you need to work with an open source chatbot platform, you’re in luck. Developers can create custom chatbots using specialised frameworks on the market.
Yes. There are several free chatbot software options on the market. Many of them give a free ‘starter’ option and then an upgrade path depending on how much usage you need.
It’s difficult to pick out the best chatbot software. Do you categorise them by numbers of users interacting with them? By how many times it’s installed on applications or websites?
An easier way to categorise them is by the number of visitors to their websites (from visitor data via similarweb.com). Here are the top 22 chatbot software solutions in descending visitor number order:
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Drift chatbot is a popular sales and marketing bot used by small, medium and large businesses to help them qualify leads.
Companies use it to help them book meetings, support demand generation campaigns, answer customer questions, and create conversational landing pages.
Customers use the Drift chatbot to integrate with applications including SalesForce, Marketo, HubSpot, Slack and LinkedIn. Watch Drift’s video about their solution:
When you started reading this article, chatbot software probably sounded alien to you. You’d heard about chatbots but probably weren’t sure how they could benefit your business.
With so much choice available, it was difficult knowing where to start.
Chatbot software can help you scale your customer service, product sales and marketing efforts without adding high fixed costs to your business.
Decide whether a simple keyword-based or a more sophisticated AI chatbot is what you need and look through some solutions above.
Use this guide as the starting point for saving your business money, helping more customers at scale and giving your business a new level of responsiveness.