How to Choose, Develop and Use Impactful Chatbot Services and 7 Notable Chatbot Service Providers.

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Chabot and chatbot services are being increasingly adopted by businesses and being integrated into custom-facing services.  Chatbots and chatbot services are usually developed in-house by the larger, more established business entities with access to a larger pool of tech talent.

The chatbot services being developed by these larger organizations can then be integrated natively into the company’s platforms. Google and Amazon instantly come to mind when considering this type of implementation, with both the tech giants’ universal “chatbots” Google Now and Alexa respectively.

But for companies with a relatively smaller IT-tech talent pool, or simply those that do not specialize in IT at all, availing chatbot services is usually the next best thing. There are certainly a lot of fundamental objectives to consider when choosing the right service. Thankfully though, there are clear-cut pointers that you can use to determine the chatbot services you would really need.

Primary Features of Chatbot Services

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Chatbot services can have almost any number of subcategories when it comes to services. They are, after all, capable of integrating themselves into any data input system or setting. But for the most part, the main features that you should expect in any basic chatbot are as follows:

Contextual analysis

Analyzing context in words and speech is at the heart of all chatbot services. While this is quite self-explanatory, we can specify it further into these subcategories:

  • Natural language processing/understanding (NLP or NLU)
  • Entity (user/customer) recognition
  • Intent (query) detection

Back-end system Integration

Chatbots are basically the perfect interfacing upgrade for any back-end system, such as a CRM (customer-relationship management) system. As such, it is one of the most basic (and usually easiest to set up) integration features for any chatbot. This is especially important for real-time customer management processes, where chatbots should be capable of handling queries of all complexities, while still maintaining consistency and availability.

Platform Integration

In today’s social media-heavy internet, having access to the most popular communication channels ensures that companies can welcome customers from anywhere. Chatbots usually have pre-designed integration features for these, be it Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, or even the live chat popup that appears on a company’s official website.

Fallback (Routing) Options

Acknowledgment of inherent service limitations (what can and can’t be done) typically comes in the form of a fallback option for a chatbot. As its name suggests, it is an “else” objective, where the chatbot smartly decides that human intervention would be the next best thing for the particular customer or user at that point in their interaction. Such features will have different methods of implementation per provider, so take important note.

Security Certifications

More than just double-checking the legitimacy of the chatbot provider’s services, privacy and security options ensure that data collected from user interactions stay secure and unexposed. If you need specifics on the provider’s security features, you may check the individual listed certifications separately.

Choosing Your Chatbot Services

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Gauging the right implementation scale for your business or operation is typically the first step in finding the right chatbot provider. After all, this connects directly to the fine balance of investment versus the cost that comes with any type of service. But obviously, this is just one part of a bigger picture. The bigger frame of getting the right chatbot provider also depends on these tips and factors:

  • Very little (or no) coding, if possible – this can virtually skip the additional requirement of either hiring a separate developer or learning how to do intermediate coding yourself. This isn’t just a matter of skill convenience. Using a chatbot builder that doesn’t need much complex coding could also potentially save you time deploying your chatbot sooner.
  • Some optimized sort of empathy-based feature – this could be as simple as a sentiment context analysis feature, or a full-blown deep learning interactive system. It could be any specific (explicitly mentioned) feature that would personalize (with good variety) its interactions with users.
  • Easy and direct access to AI – there is only so much that pre-programmed instructions can do for chatbots. This is especially true for intent recognition, where context means much more than just analyzing word combinations. Having a provider with the most AI features possible (if sophistication isn’t an option) mitigates this perceived limitation.
  • Multilingual – quite self-explanatory. Chatbots with several languages “learned” will help reach out to more potential customers when the platform is built for it. It could also potentially improve the ease-of-access with the builder itself.
  • Simple analytics and real-time reporting  – this is mostly for performance assessment purposes. After all, easily interpreting how the chatbot did quantitatively helps in knowing how it could improve next time. Of course, displaying complex data should be an option. But as much as possible, the interface should keep it to a visual minimum.
  • Versatile collected data integration – don’t just check the data yourself. The data collected by the chatbot should also be useful within other areas of your company or organization that can be automated. It helps keep track of trends, without having to constantly look at them yourself.
  • Dedicated customer service – for when anything else that you and the system were not able to anticipate. ‘Nuff said.

Other lesser, but still quite important, priorities for chatbot services include:

  • Office app integration
  • Variable speech modes (for voiced systems)
  • Straightforward user access control
  • API/SDK can be open source
  • CMS integration (e.g. can work well with WordPress and such)
  • Simplified workflow configuration

Notable Chatbot Services and Providers

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Credit via Zendesk

For actual chatbot services and providers that we can recommend, there are certainly a few on the list. Do take note though that these aren’t exactly the best or the cheapest. But they provide certain quirks that you might just want or need for the specific chatbot you are trying to build.

(NOTE: This list is in no particular order.)

1 – Freshdesk – this customer-service optimized chatbot provider may not be the best by any standard, but it is one of the most convenient entry-level choices for building your custom chatbot. Conversations are made simple and direct, but still with a tinge of personality that makes it easy for potential customers to interact with. Perhaps more notably, Freshdesk also offers a zero-code chatbot builder, so you can just go straight to optimizing your chatbot’s workflow visually.

2 – Chatfuel – another chatbot provider known for its zero-coding policy, Chatfuel opens up a very simple platform where smaller-scale entities can engage customers. It is simple enough (to use) to the point the company even claims that a complete, fully-featured chatbot can be designed with its builder in just mere minutes. Its simplicity also comes at a very affordable, what-you-pay-is-what-you-get cost. Again, this is for significantly smaller scale applications (such as restaurants), so don’t expect anything enterprise-level from this.

3 – Amazon Lex – is not directly a chatbot service itself per se, but more like a platform that can make chatbots function. It uses the same deep learning options available with Alexa for Business and can be integrated into any system using AWS. It is most often advertised with a focus on support operations or implemented as an underlying system for a custom chatbot. This is as opposed to Alexa, which by itself is offered as a consumer product (the chatbot itself). One notable disadvantage of Amazon Lex is its language options, which so far is only English.

4 – MobileMonkey – This is yet another good chatbot provider that doesn’t require too much technical knowledge. With a prime focus on marketing, its features greatly help with lead generation, where it takes the interactive initiative of broadcasting information to related users. Think of that annoying spam announcement mail, but crafted way more systematically for engagement. Even better, it offers a balanced introductory price for its services.

5 –Aivo – originally Argentina-based, this provider has since extended its reach into international territory. In fact, it is currently one of the best-known multilingual chatbots (English, Spanish, Portuguese), serving big players within the global industry sphere such as LG, Sony, and even Visa. Its development platform is intuitive, but there’s a learning curve to its optimization. However, when utilized properly, its advanced AI-powered automated customer service features can be set up to create flexible responses in real-time.

6 – Microsoft Bot Framework – also known as Azure Bot Service, the most obvious benefit of this chatbot is its integration with everything and anything Microsoft-related. So you have an entire suite of applications that you can connect directly with your chatbot, such as Skype, Messenger, heck, even Cortana itself. Aside from deep learning AI, it also uses a host of other technologies that are not directly related to chatbots, such as image recognition, to enhance its overall user experience (from either the developer or customer side).

7 – Zendesk Answer Bot – being a customer service firm itself, none is perhaps more clear-cut and optimized when it comes to customer interaction than Zendesk and its Answer Bot. The chatbot can instantly redirect users to either a knowledge base or a human agent using its slew of AI analytics and NLP features. Coding is required, but its builder is straightforward. It has adequate options for alternative channels and is as multilingual as the industry’s top-tier players.

Chatbot Services Galore

Needless to say, there are far more specific features, and even more providers out there, than we can ever discuss in this basic guide. But hopefully, the information provided here will guide you in the right direction when choosing the chatbot that you truly need. At the very least, this article serves to enlighten potential users about the importance of chatbot services as an investment.

Remember, the key is human interactivity. Automate, but let the system innovate. Personalize, but let the system hand the task over whenever appropriate. You can then start to follow the budget trail from that direction.

All sources as provided as links within the article.

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