Thanks to prominent names such as SIRI and Cortana, many of us have become familiar with how it feels like to interact with machines. 2016 saw the rise of the Chatbot to much greater prominence. Chatbots are, for the most part, automated scripts that respond to queries.
Take for example CNN’s Facebook Chatbot.
When you message CNN on Facebook, you’re greeted with a welcome script inviting you to ask the Chatbot about things that are happening. Once you type something in, the Chatbot extracts related news links for the topic requested that have been posted on CNN. This adds a new dimension to CNN’s capability on the social media space, in terms of usage, interaction as well as speed.
At this point you’ll probably already be thinking about the million and one possibilities that this might open for you and your business. Quick response to customers – yes; Automated procedures – check; you might even be able to get a Chatbot to help you sell your products – hell, YEAH!
But just a second before you run off and start hitting Google. Consider this first:
What is the objective your Chatbot will have?
Chatbots today are highly versatile and can do practically anything. In fact, some are so good that they’re able to learn on their own and increase their capabilities on the fly. Yet with great functionality comes greater difficulty (and often a higher price tag).
Keep in mind the basic premise of having the Chatbot, and that is to act as a support unit to your business. The Chatbot is there to assist your customers, be in in providing faster support, greater customization, or by extending your outreach.
The best part of this supporting role is that it greatly scales up your business. You’ll be able to have the Chatbot responding to multiple customers simultaneously at any time of the day.
Having put that thought to you, let’s have a run through of three popular Chatbots and their providers. We’ll share with you some basic information as well as what areas each of these Chatbots are best used in.
Chatfuel is perhaps one of the most popular and easy to use Facebook bots. It’s also free to use if you don’t plan to have more than 500,000 active users per month. The free version unfortunately has a Chatfuel ad that asks your users if they’d like to use Chatfuel too. Removing that comes with the PRO plan that costs US$30 per month.
How Chatfuel works
Chatfuel ties in to your Facebook account and only allows you to work with Pages that you have access to. Once you’ve selected which Page you’d like to add a bot to, it creates a basic template that consists of a welcome message and default answer.
These messages are listed as what Chatfuel calls ‘blocks’. Each block is a pre-set response to a potential question that a user might ask. Which ‘blocks’ are shown to the user is defined in ‘Set up an AI’. This system makes up the base of your bot and can be used to set up a basic question and answer system.
What else can Chatfuel do?
Aside from this, Chatfuel also allows you to broadcast messages to fans of your Page. These messages can be immediate, or timed for delivery at specific points. You can also use Chatfuel to create a persistent menu of what it can offer, for example.
The final part of Chatfuel lies in its analytics system. This is similar to your Page insights, except that it shows the levels of interaction with your users that your Chatfuel bot is helping you handle. Information that might be useful here includes words that users type, popular buttons and even which blocks are called most frequently.
Despite its limited functionality, Chatfuel is an extremely competent and functional basic bot. Amongst its many users are large names such as British Airways, Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal.
This seems to be a bit of a grey area where Chatfuel is concerned. The system seems to lack any direct assistance and relies on links to a knowledge base that (hopefully) will resolve your problem. The owners of Chatfuel have apparently outsourced their support to Intercom.
ManyChat is very similar in nature to Chatfuel, albeit in slightly greater detail. It comes with an extremely basic tutorial that guides you through setting up a welcome message. It is available for free but limits the number of certain functions unless upgraded to a PRO version. Prices then scale following the number of active users you’re expecting it to handle a month, starting from US$5 per month for 500 subscibers.
How it works
Basic bot functionality here is much the same as with other similar ones in which it relies on pre-set messages you provide. These are then presented to your users following sequences which are pre-determined by you. A good point here is that there are several basic templates for messages and sequences to guide you along.
What else can ManyChat do?
For most business Pages this is an area in which ManyChat would probably shine. As a business support tool, ManyChat offers growth tools that can help you generate and capture leads.
Instead of relying on just a standard welcome message, you can make use of these tools to segment out your users and offer them more relevant information right from the start. Each growth tool that you create and deploy can also be individually tracked to see how they perform.
For advance planning, the bot also comes with message sequencing. ManyChat takes this one step further by enabling you to auto-post messages from other channels including YouTube and Twitter.
One interesting feature of ManyChat is the ‘Live Chat’ which enables you to see exactly how your audience is interacting with the various sequences that you’ve set up. It also provides profile images and some other information that Facebook makes available.
ManyChat is yet another popular Chatbot that’s easy to use. It’s quick to set up and link to your Page and provides good information insight so that you can easily optimize your bot.
ManyChat works on the standard knowledge base system as a first line of support. If you can find what you’re looking for it then falls back on a ticketing system through which you submit your request. Responses can take up to 3 days and even then, might take a while to resolve as messages go back and forth.
Gupshup is perhaps one of the oldest and most comprehensive Chatbot platforms available today. From early days as a messaging platform, Gupshup now provides everything from code-free bot creation all the way to developer tools that will let you fool around with self-coded bots.
How it works
It does extend functionality further than standard Chatbots in the sense that it’s able to provide support for such things as the setting of appointments. The standard building block in Gushup offers more than just the average question and answer format, even going as far as to offer a polling system.
What else can Gupshup do?
In many ways, Gupshup is interesting because it adds this dimension even while retaining a clean and simple to understand interface. The pre-set template at this point of time is limited to a top-level menu for a restaurant – you’ll still have to build the rest of it.
For analytics, Gupshup works top-down as well. It gives you a snapshot of the performance of all your bots in table format. From there, you can select certain items and drill it down to see how your bot’s specific functions are performing.
Gupshup’s main distinguishing factor seems to be the ability for users to upload self-coded bots. It’s also extensive in that it supports a wide variety of platforms such as WeChat, Viber, Twitter and much more.
While Gupshup offers the standard tour that shows popup help boxes and a video guide, there seems little else in the sense of support. This is unusual since it’s apparently being used by many big names such as SAP and Flipkart.
There are so many Chatbots out there today that offer basic support functions for businesses at no charge. These bots are easy to create and use even with little to no programming skills. It does take some time and dedication to work out a proper flow of logic that will serve as your bot’s ‘intelligence’.
Yet given the potential for lead generation as well as customer insight, this effort might be a very small price to pay. Aside from that, once established the bot will enable you to greatly scale up your business in ways that were not possible before.
Article by Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.