Intro to The Modern Chatbot

Driven by advances in conversational AI, the modern chatbot provides a simple, effective, and friendly interface to augment your existing client outreach efforts. While still an emerging technology in many ways, the industry topology indicates that chatbot adoption is on the rise among Fortune 500 companies – by some projections, on track towards saving businesses some eight billion dollars over the next five years. Coupled with an increasingly savvy consumer market demanding ever more dynamic experiences, there is a clear opportunity for service differentiation and diversification.

Given the competitive advantage afforded by the proper utilization of chatbots in your business strategy, it is imperative to have a sense of the basic technology and fundamental concepts at the heart of these tools. In the following sections, we’ll address these in detail to provide context for evaluating available vendor platforms.

Types of Bots

For the sake of clarity, we’ll separate the notion of bot ‘type’ with its ‘application’, as this is a distinction often misunderstood and overlooked. More on bot ‘application’ soon.

At their core, there are really two ‘types’ of bots:

1) Rules-based bots
2) “Intelligent” bots driven by Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)

Here, the first of these is indicative of the ‘traditional’ chatbot we’ve seen as a staple for some time, while the latter represents a sea change in chatbot architecture emerging in response to the growing complexity of business need and consumer demand.

Fast, informative, and personalized experiences are the hallmarks of great chatbot interactions – and accomplishing this reliably – should likely include a consideration of a hybrid approach between these types.

Bot Usage and Application

As chatbots continue their rapid growth trajectory, it is important to take note of the trend toward domain-specific implementation. That is, current chatbot platforms are not typically taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach when developing strategy in collaboration with stakeholders.

In fact, we see the major players in the vendor landscape pushing a few key segments that fundamentally suit radically different business needs. And, given the aforementioned cost savings touted in recent reports, it is no surprise that these general chatbot varieties do tend to serve as analog for core business tasks
previously requiring large investment in human and financial capital.

Personal Assistants
A large and established category, the personal assistant bot is widely used for business tasks involving scheduling, confirmation, and basic task automation. Initial market stratification has been moving to more homogenous platform offerings from the Big Three.

Customer Support
As AI/ML bot architecture becomes more robust, this already critical subset of the bot market is gaining traction with companies seeking to develop authentic personae, reduce customer churn with the help of sentiment analysis, and interface with existing customer service pipelines (i.e., CSAT, knowledge-base articles, real-time chat-to-call triage, etc).

Marketing and Commerce
In one of the most promising applications of chatbots, sales and marketing teams are fast becoming aware of how bots can transform both their brand and product offerings. Their value proposition rests in providing targeted product placement, insight into customer behavior, and cultivation of meaningful interactions that faciliate lead generation. When applied in conjunction with cross-platform advertising campaigns, marketing chatbots provide a necessary competitive edge and the potential to drive direct sales transactions.

Technical Considerations

The pressing question then is what should a team be looking for when considering choosing a chatbot vendor? What questions or criteria should be used for evaluation?

An ideal and successful vendor partnership should be one that reflects the nuances of both your product domain, as well as the way in which your business strives to forge business-to-business relationships. When considering emerging technology – chatbots or otherwise – for your business needs, it pays dividends to know your vendor can be counted on to communicate early and often. At the pace with which chatbot technology is developing, its especially important that the type of chatbot is in alignment with your long-term goals.

Following from this, an ideal vendor is one that has demonstrable knowledge of the technical challenges specific to the type of chatbot your team needs. Don’t be afraid to jump on a call, or webinar with your vendor – many in the chatbot space are well-equipped to guide you through their work, case studies, and tailored demos for your business.

The ideal vendor should also be able to provide a chatbot platform architecture that is responsive to the dynamic nature of brand strategy trends and techniques. There’s nothing worse a chatbot that feels outdated, ineffectual, or frustrating to an eduser. Vendors stymied by ineffectual means of platform updates or those following an antiquated and adversarial customer-supplier model are an unlikely  long-term partner in helping your business achiveve a collaborative and successful chatbot deployment.

A holistic technical baseline then for a successful vendor may be articulated in the following five-point criteria:

 (1) provides reliable client access and content editing capabilities
 (2) supports robust reporting and analytics (via integrations or otherwise)
 (3) communicates technical challenges early, often, and honestly
 (4) understands established and upcoming chatbot architecture trends
 (5) delivers a ‘white-glove’ standard in their relationship with clients

Risk Exposure and Mitigation

Any introduction of emerging technology into your business offering should ideally be made knowing the potential for risk and/or challenge.
While not unique to the development of chatbots, these risks and considerations are doubly important when evaluating any vendor working in emerging technologies.

Typically, your primary risk exposure is likely to be financial – whether due to scoping miscalculations, ongoing maintenance fees, or
practices like feature gating. These variable costs can add up quickly, particularly with an ill-prepared vendor.

Secondary risks are those essentially indirect costs relating to the utilization and performance of chatbots within the overall consumer conversion pipeline.

Mitigation of risk exposure should include but may not be limited to:

 (1) Conduct vetting of vendors’ technical skills and industry reputation
 (2) Solicitation of fee structure at project outset for any likely/intended features over the near-term (i.e., 12-18 month timeline)
 (3) Hold discussion of potential security risks and vendor response protocol to known attack vectors
 (4) Define support terms for vendor relationship – including topics such as on-site visitation, communication availability and frequency, etc.
 (5) Establish vendor capability and commitment to progressive enchancement – choose a vendor that wants to improve their product offerings as underlying tech evolves

Recommended Vendors

Below are some vendors we love. Each offer different benefits, pricing models, and licenses. Check ’em out!