A chatbot is becoming a must-have add-on for customer-facing websites and SaaS products. Their role is usually either a customer engagement tool designed to help generate leads or a cost-efficient alternative to human customer sales or technical support.
It’s fair to say not everyone is a fan of the chatbot trend. But it’s equally fair to say the technology is not going anywhere. Like the offshore call centres and tech support they often replace, which in turn replaced local in-house equivalents, the right chatbots make strong commercial sense for organizations.
There has also always been plenty of grumbling about offshore call centres. But as AI/machine-learning technology rapidly develops in terms of both its capabilities and cost efficiency, chatbots will get much better and cheaper.
It will be a few years yet before chatbots replace most call and support centre functions, but I am convinced they will. The increasingly sophisticated machine learning that powers the best chatbots are improving every month. The essence of machine learning is that it gets smarter and smarter as it is fed with an ever-growing data lake.
It won’t be long before the best chatbots can better answer customer queries than human staff who simply aren’t biologically capable of assimilating the same amount of information. Or connecting it as efficiently by joining the dots between disparate data points and facts.
If you are still not convinced, let’s throw out a few stats on chatbot predictions put together by Backinko:
- By 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will engage with chatbots daily.
- By 2022, 75–90% of queries are expected to be handled by chatbots.
- In 2021, close to 1 in 6 global customer service interactions will be handled by AI.
- Gartner predicts that by 2021, over 50% of enterprise companies (like Google, IBM, and Facebook) will spend more money each year on chatbots than mobile apps.
- By 2021, $4.5 billion will be invested in chatbot technology.
- Juniper Research believes that by 2022, chatbots will save businesses an aggregate of over $8 billion per year.
- In 2022, the banking industry could see the success rate of bot interactions reach over 90%.
- Juniper Research estimates that chatbots will account for $112 billion in retail sales by 2023.
- By 2024, the global chatbot market is projected to be over $994 million.
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Ok, I’m Convinced Chatbots Are The Future! What Are My Options?
If you have heard enough to start exploring and testing integrating chatbot technology into your organization, the first decision to make is what chatbot to use or which to test.
You have three option:
- Hire a software development company experienced in chatbot development or a qualified freelancer to custom-code your chatbox from scratch.
- Hire a chatbot specialist to develop a custom chatbot on a development framework like the Microsoft Bot Framework, Botpress, or IBM’s Watson.
- Customize an out-of-the-box SaaS (software-as-a-service) chatbot solution like Crisp or ActiveChat.
Whichever of those three directions makes the most sense; your organization will depend on what you intend to use the chatbot for and several other competing priorities.
Should I Commission A Custom-coded Chatbox Built From Scratch?
It simply won’t make sense to build their own from scratch for the vast majority of organizations using chatbots.
A very simple custom-coded chatbot developed by an established company would be expected to start at around $30,000 (you might be able to bring that down a little by working with a good freelancer, but that involves more risk) and could rise to anywhere up to a few hundred thousand dollars for a sophisticated, complex chatbot.
It will probably only make sense to invest in your own proprietary, built-from-the-ground-up chatbot if your organization has very specific or advanced requirements around its functionalities and capabilities. Stringent data security requirements would be one other reason.
And the most common reason to build a chatbot from scratch is to sell it to other users as a SaaS product.
Otherwise, it probably just doesn’t make commercial sense.
Should I Build My Own Chatbot On A Development Framework?
For large organizations that can afford it and want to build chatbots closely tailored to their needs and/or have customer data-security requirements that preclude using a SaaS chatbot, it may make sense to go halfway and develop a proprietary chatbox on one of the established frameworks.
A good metaphor for building a chatbox on a framework is modular construction, where buildings are put together from pre-fabricated components. These components can be mixed and matched to create very different spaces customized to completely different needs. But the designer and end-client are still limited to creating their space from a combination of available, pre-defined components.
For most, the balance between significant freedom to customize and some limitations to the finer details of what can be fully customized works.
Should I Use A Customized Out-Of-The-Box SaaS Chatbot?
For most chatbot users, a customized out-of-the-box SaaS solution will perfectly meet their needs and budget.
SaaS chatbots are designed to meet the general needs of a particular industry or functionality like an e-commerce site answering typical questions on things like the returns policy and procedure. If they don’t, they aren’t commercially viable products.
If you need a chatbot to do things like invite website visitors to inquire, answer common FAQs, or even memorize a huge technical user manual and serve the right information in response to queries, there’s probably a customizable out-of-the-box solution that meets those needs.
If in doubt, make sure you thoroughly research the SaaS options on the market before investing time and money in software developers to build you a proprietary chatbot either from scratch or on a framework.
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Should You Develop Your Own Chatbot On A Platform Or Customize An Out-Of-The-Box Solution? was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.