Internet technology investment remains a concern for many firms, even in this day of cloud services and low-cost hardware. For a company focused on the bottom line, and not necessarily staffed by technology experts, there is great interest in adding a chatbot to a site or app, but concerns remain over the potential costs of this new trend in digital communication.
Chatbots are the current pin-up heroes of web technology and social media. They appear on the homepages of huge numbers of websites, and are available on Facebook Messenger, Skype or other social media services for brands big and small. They help businesses with customer support, sales and other tasks.
Yet, for those businesses looking for their first chatbot, there are plenty of questions over cost and accessibility, as well as the technical skills to build one.
In fact, thanks to the growth of the cloud and simple design services it is possible to build and operate a chatbot at no cost at all. Or, you can pay for expert help and support, as businesses invest in serious technology to drive their bot and integrate it with other services.
Your starter for free
The good news is that chatbots can be acquired for free, with a little work on the script that drives it, with free deployment and analytics. There are a number of companies that provide these chatbots from the likes of Israeli startup Snatchbot where the only cost is the time you need to develop your script, fine-tuning it to your business and helping your customers with their specific needs.
Snatchbot offers a range of templates to get your business or department started and up to speed fast. Most companies can evolve their scripts from the live examples on show in the Snatchbot library. One of the joys of chatbots is that most of them perform a similar function, so you can customise an existing one with a little effort and be up and running with no need to learn coding or advanced web skills.
There are other chatbot services that let you create your bot for free, although these then require payments for various options once the chatbot goes live. Thus the free-with-upgrade Californian firm Chatfuel lets you build the bot for free but can charge for extra services, depending on your needs. They can also recommend bot building partners who can create the bot for you if you lack the time or need specific features.
Chatbots for specific needs
If you have a particular use case in mind, there is probably a chatbot available that will cater for it, at a cost. For example, Drift is designed to automatically turn your website traffic visitors into qualified sales meetings. It can do this by focusing on the customers’ sales needs and providing the right information.
Again, there’s a free version to try out, but all the good features are in the paid for packages. They range from $50 a month to $2,000 for the enterprise version that offers Salesforce routing, Marketo integration and automated meetings, among other features.
It is also easy to find particular chatbots for a specific industry or vertical. If you work for an airport, there’s a dedicated chatbot service for you in the guise of Hong Kong firm Skychat. It is designed to handle all the specific tasks associated with public air travel including flight status, departures, gate changes, luggage collection and so on.
The developers can tailor the service and linked app to the airport’s specific requirements and deliver a project in weeks, rather than the usual months or years that IT projects used to take.
Whatever line of business your company is in, there is likely a dedicated solution accessible, or you can build your own using a general chatbot service, it all depends on the time and resources you have available.
At the executive end of the chatbot market
At the top end of the market, any business can access the mighty power of IBM’s Watson AI service. This technological marvel has beaten humans at quiz shows, board games and is helping to solve complex medical and science problems around the world.
There is, as you’d expect by now, a free offering. But most of the advanced features come at a price, which is set according to the number of enquiries handled by the chatbot. Or you can pay $0.0025 cents per conversation for unlimited API enquiries, up to 20 workspaces for different chats and up to 2,000 intents all on shared public cloud infrastructure. This can add up if your chatbot is being kept busy by thousands of interactions daily.
In the world of chatbots, there is a service out there to suit every type of business and customer need. Given the level of benefits they provide, chatbots are possibly the lowest-cost, highest-potential-reward development we have seen in technology in recent years.
The fact that a sole trader or major corporation can do all of this for free with only a small investment in time shows how much chatbot technology is impacting all businesses. And with more bots popping up on sites and apps every day, the trend still has a lot of room to grow, and for new features and benefits to emerge.
Whatever your need or experience, start investigating chatbots now to see how easy they are to create and use, and what benefits they can bring.