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Why Small Businesses Should Consider Venturing Into Chatbots Featured Image

Why Small Businesses Should Consider Venturing Into Chatbots

by: Hostwinds Team  /  June 12, 2017

Businesses are always competing for our attention and trying their best to keep up with the ever-growing changes in technology. While some (somehow) still struggle to grasp the importance of mobile or even using social media effectively, others are pulling way ahead. They've moved into the era of conversational commerce, or uh, chatbots. The stragglers will continue falling behind if they don't' catch up fast.

Instant messaging and chatbots are where you should be heading if you want to be one of the ones that pull ahead. 80% of Oracles' survey respondents, consisting of high-level sales, marketing, and strategy officials, say they're already using chatbots or plan to by 2020.

What is a chatbot?

Chatbots are an AI-powered software program that runs within an instant messaging platform. They interact with end-users utilizing natural language processing and machine learning while recognizing patterns.

Why should you care about chatbots?

Consumers today want personalized attention and solutions. And they don't want to wait on a phone or have to keep checking their email to get it. 51% of consumers say your business should be available 24/7. How much would you spend to have sales, tech, and support available around the clock? A well-made chatbot can do that. And guess what? About half of them prefer to contact a business through messaging over phone calls or email.

Chatbots aren't just for customer service, though. They can also be helpful tools for gathering information, learning about your customers, general research, lead generation, or even as a personal assistant to help you be more productive. With the many platforms, services, and programs now available to help create your chatbot, it doesn't have to be expensive either…

Affordable for just about anyone

Building a bot isn't like trying to make a mobile app. It isn't like trying to create a full-blown site dedicated to customer service. In most cases, your app's base has already been made by someone else and is just waiting for you to pick it up and run with it. Many bots-as-a-service startups are thriving. Of course, if you have just a little technical know-how, you could also create something unique hosted on your server, tied to messaging through an API.

It'll save you money.

Investing in chatbots now will likely save you money in the long run. Maybe even almost immediately. Especially if you're a small business owner with strict time and budget restrictions, you had to hire expensive talent for specific jobs before. Or outsource (which could still be costly, not to mention time-consuming finding the right freelancer). Or you could invest your own time into trying to learn how to do a particular task/job or using SaaS (time that would have been better for your business if you were doing other things). But now, there are plenty of cases where a chatbot can take over that job and significantly reduce the need for a human to be involved.

Did you know? Facebook Messenger already has over 11,000 chatbots connected that users can interact with. American Express? Not only can you buy tickets with their Facebook Messenger bot, but you can get restaurant suggestions included suitable with the receipt. Burger King? Order, pay, and find out the nearest location you can pick up your order.

How do I create a chatbot?

Whether you've never touched a piece of code or if you're a coder that's new to chatbots, there's something for you. Chatbots are big business, and there are new platforms and services constantly joining the game. Here are a few to get you started…

ChatfuelChatfuel is one of many platforms that helps you create a chatbot to use on Facebook. Maybe the most well-known. They claim you can create and launch your fully-featured bot "in seven minutes." Who uses it? They say that Adidas, BuzzFeed, CNBC, MTV, and TechCrunch have all used Chatfuel. Supposedly they have over 17 million users, and over 360,000 chatbots have been created using their platform.

BotsifyBotsify is another platform that makes it easy to create a chatbot with no coding. However, the free plan doesn't offer as much as Chatfuel, so you'll have to pay up sooner if you hit the limits.

GrowthBotGrowthBot's platform is geared more towards the marketer or startup companies. Created by Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, this bot is designed to be hooked into Google Analytics, HubSpot, and other services.

If you aren't a stranger to coding, then you might want to take the lead and develop something a little more custom-tailored. If that's the case, then this info from Cleveroad might help:

Facebook Messenger: Facebook Messenger bots use the open-source bot engine for natural language processing. With every interaction made between a bot and a human, its algorithms are updated. They offer the service for free (for now) because what better way to train their algorithms than get as many people using it as they can?

Botkit: Botkit is another open-source tool to create a chatbot. You can use it to create chatbots for Facebook and Slack, among other common messaging platforms. There's an active GitHub community around it, so there are always improvements being made.

Pandorabots: Pandorabots comes in two variations. One is the Pandorabots Playground, which provides chatbot development in an integrated environment. The second is their AIaaS (Artificial intelligence as a service). The AIaaS is where developers have access to an API for the SDKs and hosting platform to integrate chatbots with apps more easily.

The popularity of chatbots and what they're capable of doing have soared in just a few short years. What mostly started as a way to offer basic greetings evolved into general customer service bots. Now they're getting more intelligent and able to converse with consumers in a more natural and extended language that's constantly learning.

But if you're going to create one, do it right. One bad experience with a chatbot is enough to turn away most consumers. And don't try to hand it off as if they're talking to a natural person. They're more than open to communicating with chatbots to find what they're looking for or get help, but they want to know straight up that that's what they're dealing with.

What's your take on chatbots? Is it something you'd consider creating for your business? Have you had any great (or horrible) experiences using one?

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Written by Hostwinds Team  /  June 12, 2017