Get into ChatBots NOW, its what your customers want, but don't know it yet

OK, lets cover the basics.  What are ChatBots?  Its a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, typically via messenger apps or chat windows.  I’m sure most of you already got that, but I wanted to make sure that we all on the same page here.

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So why should we focus on ChatBots?  No one is asking for them, right? Wrong.  Companies are looking for ways to engage with their customers in a way that their customers are already familiar with.  Customers don’t want to download an extra app for the companies they engage with so in order to engage with your customers in a manner that is convenient to them, you need to use a medium that they are already familiar with.

You may have noticed that chat tools are becoming our clients more natural and preferred way to communicate.  In fact, towards the end of 2016, Facebook announced that they host over 30 000 ChatBots.  These bots can check the weather, order food, organise travel and even play games. China uses WeChat and they have over 10 million ChatBot accounts and lets face it, we are getting familiar with ChatBots thanks to Siri, Google Now and Cortana.

So companies are starting to see ChatBots as the perfect medium to engage with their clients, they are also figuring out that ChatBots are well suited for routine customer queries like:

  • Self Service
  • FAQ’s
  • Onboarding
  • Completing Forms
  • Workflow Approval

So ChatBots should be considered when:

  • Customer requests are in a specific area and the solution is well known and predictable
  • Guided steps and input parameters
  • High volume requests

Just try to avoid using ChatBots in situations where your customers are already stressed.

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So you get it right?  There's a need for ChatBots, and once your customers figure out that ChatBots are an option, there will be a huge demand for ChatBot development.  So where do you, as a developer, get started with ChatBot development?

Thankfully, Microsoft has made ChatBot development easy via:

  • Microsoft Azure – Bot Services
  • Cognitive Services
  • Louise (Microsoft’s language, understanding and intelligence service)

Here are a few tools that can help you:

  • Microsoft Bot Developer Portal (dev.botframework.com)
  • Bot Builder SDK (github.com/Microsoft/BotBuilder)
  • Bot Emulator (download.botframework.com/botconnector/emulator)
  • Visual Studio Bot Project Template (aka.ms/bf-bc-vstemplate)

chatbots

 Before you begin, you should know that the following platforms are supported:

  • Bing (the bot will appear in search results)
  • Cortana (can be deployed as self service to organisation)
  • Skype and Skype for Business
  • Web
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • GroupMe
  • Kik
  • Slack
  • Telegram
  • Twilio
  • Microsoft Teams bots support 1:1 chats (not group chats yet)

You will notice that I didn't mention WhatsApp.  Yes, WhatsApp does NOT allow ChatBots to use that platform.  Infact, WhatsApp are actively blocking accounts once its discovered to be a ChatBot. 

This is unfortunate because its the biggest and most preferred chatting tool in South Africa, and I am sure in many other parts of the world, and I dont see this changing anytime soon since FaceBook owns WhatsApp, and they are pushing for Messenger (another chat tool owned by FaceBook) to be the preferred chat tool.

If you want to build a ChatBot solution in 10 minutes with no code. Check out QnA maker, https://qnamaker.ai/, a service provided by Microsoft that converts a FAQ page to a ChatBot service within minutes.

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