Chat bots aren’t a new concept. They’ve been around for decades in a slightly different form. But in the past few years, there was a boom in chat bots thanks to messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger which is a dominant player in the US and the UK. You can already hear “there should be a bot for it” phrase more and more often.
LETO Messenger bot
Since it looked like a fun experiment we decided to build a Messenger bot for LETO. LETO bot is simple and allows you to find out more about our services, you can ask to get in touch or talk about your potential projects. It’s simple, but you can get the idea how it works if you haven’t tried bots before. If you have a Facebook account, you can chat with our bot via https://m.me/WeAreLeto
You can distinguish between 3 types of bots – script, smart bots, and intelligent agents.
Script bots follow the script and can answer in a specific way to a specific question or request. LETO bot falls under this category. After analysing the topics our visitor might ask we implemented the conversations around them. Most utility bots that can check the weather or schedule a meeting in a conversation way are the script bots.
Smart bots are more sophisticated and can understand more topics, but still limited. They can be often used together with a human operator in case the bot doesn’t understand the request. Virtual customer reps, booking appointments, and handling customer support goes into this directory. You don’t even need to tell the user he or she is talking to a bot. The smart bot can amplify the human customer reps.
Intelligent agents (agent) are way more advanced than the bots above. Agent is a program that observes the environment, in this case, chat messages and makes actions based on the environment. You can’t easily script them and they need a large amount of data to be effective. It can understand the request and make actions based on this request. This category is more autonomous and usually work independently from the human supervisor. Personal assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana are the best example of intelligent agents.
The biggest advantage of bots is the ease of distribution. According to last year statistics, the average user installs 1.5 applications per month. But the most of the users are on chat platforms like Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat or others. By just sending the link to the user, they can start interacting with a chat bot. Additionally, you can pass extra data via the link, so on the first interaction, the bot can show the personalised content.
Another benefit is the availability of notifications on these platforms. Every user has notifications enabled for their messaging application including notifications from the bot.
Understanding the conversation (natural language processing) is a hard problem. The technology has improved in the past few years thanks to the deep learning and vast amount of data generated online, but it still isn’t there yet. Natural language processing can’t work well for everybody as each user has a different chatting style. For example, some people write short messages or don’t use punctuation. Others send ten short messages instead of 1 large message that a program would understand.
The bots work well with 1 message being a single intent. Otherwise, the bot will only do the first action or request and ignores the second one.
The other hard bit is the onboarding, so far I didn’t see a single bot that solved this problem well. Because bots have less screen estate than websites. Actually, they have none, and the user only sees the first messages sent by the bot. It’s easier if the user comes from a website that describes the bot and what the bot does. But what about if some friend tells you the name of the bot and you start interacting with it.
There are ways to solve onboarding, though, for example, you can guide the user through a conversation with different actions. You could explain how to use this bot and activate the user by asking to complete the first action. But, this would need a complex conversation structure. All chat platforms support embedding videos, so using a video to show and explain the bot would work as well.
Finally, not every chat platform allows bots. For example, WhatsApp and WeChat still don’t have bots. There are ways around it, by turning your account into a bot. But, this method can get your account banned.
Building the bot
In the past year, there was a rise of online platforms for building bots. You can program a basic bot on a website with a visual conversation builder, so technically you don’t need to program anything. If you want to optimise and provide extra content to the user you would need to integrate the bot with your server.
Since smart bots and intelligent agents are more complex you would need more than just a server. First, it needs a lot of data, but you can get it from Open Source communities. Or, you could analyse your own database and try to use it for training the bot.
Also, you would also need a lot of processing power, either few servers or powerful GPUs to analyse the data. Although, a single processing step for a large dataset might take few days. You would also need a team of who can combine the data and processing power to create a usable program.
Integrating your product offering
All chat platforms allow you to connect the bot via API. You can host it on the same server where you host your digital product or e-commerce website. This allows you to integrate chat bot with your user information or the interests of the user, so the bot can show personalised content.
For example, you can notify the user about the delivery or appointment. If the user added something to the card but haven’t bought the item you can poke the user about it.
Since it gets harder to get your own application on user’s phone the chat bots make a great alternative. It does have some limitations, but also provides an opportunity to getting more consumers. If you don’t overcomplicate your bot and focus on the main area of your business it will work great.
Say hello to LETO bot and get in touch with us if you have any questions about the bots.