Over the past six months, we’ve been toying around with developing several different chatbots. For those who don’t know, chatbots are applications that use algorithms to simulate the experience of talking to a real person via a “messaging” type interface. Simply put, a chatbot is a piece of software, specific to a certain brand or company, that you text back and forth with - either for entertainment’s sake, or to accomplish a specific task related to the brand or company’s offerings.
For example, a company that offers a rideshare service might have a chatbot that allows you to request a car to come pick you up by sending their chatbot a text message. Or, a sports news network might create a chatbot that lets users text in to retrieve the latest football stats. There really is no limit to what you can do with a chatbot!
Until recently, we had mostly developed chatbots for Slack, such as the one we created for our office’s Wellness Challenge. The OsedeaBot was the first chatbot we developed for the Facebook platform.
As a marketing professional at a tech development firm, I usually don’t have much to do with the finer details involved in building solutions for our clients, but this was different, as it was going to be a tool to promote Osedea. This blog post will tell the story of developing our chatbot from a marketing perspective, but soon, Adrien will be sharing his biggest takeaways from the process through the eyes of a developer.
We started by researching the “why” behind chatbots. We discovered there are many compelling reasons to have a chatbot developed for your brand or business:
- Chatbots are one of the biggest trends in tech right now. Brands such as CNN, KLM, and the NBA (just to name a few), are already using chatbots to interact more effectively with their viewers and customers.
- If you take a look at what the average person is doing on his or her phone on a given day, the majority of that time is spent using messaging apps (and text messaging is the crux of the chatbox experience).
- The average American consumer downloads 1.5 apps a month, pointing to a trend of “app fatigue”. Launching a chatbot is a fresher, more exciting idea than simply creating a mobile app for your brand.
- Forward-thinking tech publications are saying that messaging apps will soon be the new browsers, and chatbots will be the new websites.
After completing our research, we were convinced that creating a chatbot for Osedea would be highly beneficial for us. We wanted to be able to use our chatbot when presenting our company to potential clients, so we dove right in!
For your reference, here are the steps we went through when building our chatbot, adapted so that you can use them for your own purposes:
1 - Identify an objective for your chatbot
The idea of having your own chatbot might be appealing, but if you don’t know why you’re creating one, it may become useless soon after launch.
One obvious objective for all chatbots is to engage your customers with your brand/company. But in addition to this, we wanted OsedeaBot to serve as a humorous, interactive introduction to our company, while simultaneously showcasing our technical chatbot-building skills. Your secondary objective might be similar, or it might be something else entirely!
2 - Determine the “flow” of your chatbot
A chatbot’s “flow” is essentially the storyline or journey that the user will experience. For us, this was the most challenging part of creating our chatbot. You’ll probably need to spend considerable time figuring out what you want your chatbot to say (i.e. what content the messages sent to the user will contain, including images, links, emojis, and maybe even videos) in order to meet the objectives you’ve identified The hard part is mapping out the various paths the chatbot user can decide to follow. You have to make sure there is an appropriate, pre-programmed response for any choice users can make when engaging with the chatbot, and that it leads them to the right place in an organic, seamless way..
Here are a few crucial points to consider when constructing your chatbot flow:
- It helps to think of your chatbot as an AI-based member of your team. The tone you use for your chatbot should have a similar personality to your brand. That way, it will feel more conversational and fun for the end user. But we don’t recommend that you try to fool users into thinking they’re talking to a living, breathing person. Sooner or later, they’ll clue in to the truth, and it could permanently damage their trust in you if they think you were trying to fool them.
- Don’t make the flow too repetitive, or your users will quickly get bored and start doing something else on their phones. It’s important to craft a flow that will mentally stimulate the user, with a variety of options to explore.
- When developing your chatbot, it’s a good idea to program in specific interaction events that require the user to react to something in order to progress to the next step. However, you don’t want to make users feel trapped in the chatbot flow. You need to make sure it’s easy for them to exit the conversation. The bottom line is that you want your users to be both informed and entertained as a result of using your chatbot.
- You can’t possibly pre-program into your chatbot the answer to every question your users will have, so it’s wise to build in an opportunity to exit the flow and interact with a real human being if a user needs additional help. For our small team at Osedea, this was easy to coordinate. We programmed OsedeaBot so that we can just jump right into the conversation when someone has a specific question that isn’t addressed in our chatbot flowt. But if you have thousands of conversations with users happening at once, you may need to consider using a chatbot management platform to facilitate the transfer of a user to a human support agent.
- Finally, when working on your chatbot flow, be aware that this is not the time to cheap out. By all means, have a professional copywriter check your copy to ensure it has the right tone, and that it’s free of errors. Not only will perfecting the copy in your chatbot flow make the programmer's job simpler, you’ll also avoid unnecessary back-and-forth with the development team, saving you time and money on the project (because you won’t need to rework the copy a bunch of times).
3 - Enlist others to test the chatbot before going live
Once you’ve completed work on your chatbot, we recommend having it tested by colleagues, friends, and family. This is how you you’ll uncover small bugs or issues with the flow of your copy. It’s both an opportunity to improve your chatbot, and a chance to impress the hell out of your friends, who will think you’re the ultimate tech guru! It’s a lot of fun to introduce a chatbot to someone who’s never used one before.
4 - Don’t forget the post-launch
One your chatbot is live, you can easily use the launch announcement to promote your company. This will enable you to generate activity on social media platforms, and depending on how well-known your brand is,, there’s the potential for some great PR, too.
By all means, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from creating and launching your own bot, but be warned: your work isn’t done yet!
You’ll need to keep your existing chatbot flow up to date, and adding entirely new content from time to time is important, too. Remember, your chatbot is an extension of your company, so don’t let it languish, or it will reflect poorly on your brand.
Curious to experience a chatbot for yourself? Get inspired by trying out OsedeaBot at https://m.me/osedea - and let us know what you think!