If you have read my first two articles (Chatbots for SMBs and Real-World Use Cases) and are convinced that chatbots can help grow your business, this article can show you how to pick the right chatbot solution to meet your business needs.
If you look at the current market, here are the 3 common options to develop chatbot solutions:
In-house Solution: Depending on the size and skillset of the team, this can be the most expensive option. This option only makes sense for large enterprises who already have the technical resources and the know-how.
Software Company developed end-to-end solution: This type of solution is usually built from scratch and could be highly scalable. The initial set up fee can range from several thousand to $100,000 or more per chatbot, followed by monthly maintenance fee.
Do-It-Yourself Solution: Most of the chatbot self-serve platforms advertise free or low-price templates for their solutions. Here is where it can get complicated: The monthly maintenance fees can be based on number of chatbots, number of messages, or number of seats (number of staff members who can login and manage the solution). It can be challenging to figure out budget for the solution. For most of the businesses who are not technically savvy, the biggest challenge is probably the “self-serve” part. Ultimately a business might end up paying a pretty high bill for technical support.
Chatbot-As-A-Service – Fully managed solution for SMB
Most of the chatbot solutions out in the market are still aiming for enterprise customers and are probably overkill for SMBs.
So, what is the right chatbot solution model for an SMB?
What SMBs really need are simple, yet flexible chatbot solutions that fit their time, resources, and budget. They shouldn’t worry about owning any infrastructure or understanding the behind the scenes technical aspects. For SMBs, chatbot solutions should be just as simple as an add-on feature for any messaging app.
Compared to other technologies, chabots are still new. We are going to see more companies start to offer chatbot solution as a service. Chatbot-As-A-Service means all the required infrastructure and software should be fully managed and hosted by the chatbot service provider.
Choosing the right chatbot vendor for SMB can be challenging. Here are some considerations that you should be aware of:
Infrastructure hosting and managed fees:
All the necessary hardware and software should be fully managed and hosted by the vendor. Most of the solutions will be hosted in the cloud; e.g. AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, etc. These cloud service providers charge chatbot vendors monthly fee based on usage. You should only pay for the usage consumed by your chatbot. Make sure your chatbot vendor provide a detailed and itemized billing statement.
Initial Design & Deployment:
If you want to have an effective chatbot, the initial setup plays a critical part. The chatbot vendor should run an in-depth onsite interview/survey to understand your need and write up a clear chatbot use case for your business. (please refer to real-world use cases for use case examples). This should include the conversation flow and the content for your use case. Define the tone of the voice, the personality of your chatbot. The tone will have to make sense to your brand, your audience, and the product/service you are providing. This will need to be defined at the early stage and it will be used throughout the entire chatbot lifecycle. Unfortunately, this part can easily be overlooked.
Regular Evaluation and Optimization:
All the messenger Apps upgrade frequently and your chatbot infrastructure needs to be updated as well. It needs to stay compatible with your messaging apps, so not to cause any chatbot outage.
Your chatbot, just like any other artificial intelligent solution, will get smarter over time. However, you should still evaluate your chatbot regularly with your vendor. It is important to add feature for new customer demands or new promotional plans. This can be your best marketing tool so it is important to keep your chatbot on the edge. Fix this
Reporting and Data Mining:
Lastly, keep in mind that the end is not the end. Even if your customers walk away with the answers they want or place the order during the promotion, the story for you as a business owner should not just end here. A good chatbot vendor should offer regular summary reports to provide insights on the chatbot usage: e.g. the number of the conversations, Chatbot’s responsiveness, unanswered questions. Moreover, chatbot also open the door to further analyze conversations with your customers or clients. It allows you to gain more visibility on the market trends and your customer behaviors. Data analysis can help identify potential opportunities for business growth.
As of now, most of the chatbot companies are focus on Chatbot building. Do not forget you own the data collected by your chatbot. You can always leverage AI (artificial intelligent) to analyze these data and gain more visibility into your business.
There's a tremendous untapped opportunity for small businesses to use chatbots. Small business owners don’t have the time and resources to set up, deploy, and maintain a chatbot, but can really benefit from meeting their customers where they are.
Most of the chatbot software company are too costly for SMB. DIY chatbot platforms are complicated and bring a lot of uncertainties. Chatbot-As-A-Service hide all the technical complexity and allow you to turn on chatbot as a feature right on top of your messaging app. With this model, you can always add more enhancements as your business grows without committing to an oversized solution than you need.
Chatbots might not be the catch-all solution for all business challenges. However, it can easily turn messaging into the new ‘customer service,’ which drives sales, saves resources, and grows your business. If a chatbot makes sense for your business, don't let this opportunity pass you by.
By Jaz Lin
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