Alyssa Winegarden
December 15, 2017

Chatbots 101

Developing Perk’s First Chatbot

I took on the role of Associate Product Manager for NewLifeOutlook earlier this year. One of my goals for our third quarter was to build a chatbot for one of our Facebook pages. (Chatbots used specifically on the Facebook Messenger Platform are often referred to as Messenger Bots.)

At the time, chatbots were fairly new, and Perk hadn’t made one yet. I assumed that this project, like our browser extension and websites, would be built by one of our developers. However, one of the great things about working at Perk is the opportunity to get your hands dirty and develop new skills. When our third quarter was looming and it became apparent that the task of creating our first chatbot was about to fall into my lap and become my virtual baby, I was both excited and intimidated.

As someone who hasn’t built anything more complicated than a gingerbread house, I was nervous at the thought of having to create one of those techie doo-dads that appeared to be complex and out of my comfort zone. But I successfully got through the project, and am now ready to share some things I learned along the way.

Breaking Down Chatbots

A chatbot essentially automates conversations with users, so you don’t have to spend time manually replying to everyone. They are commonly used on Facebook Messenger; you may have seen the ‘Get Started’ prompt pop up on Facebook when you visit a page, or try to start a conversation with a business. These chatbots allow users to interact with your brand and receive answers to questions, or shortcuts to popular inquiries.

For example, if you run a restaurant, setting up an AI rule in Chatfuel would allow your users to automatically receive a link to your menu whenever they ask for it, instead of you having to manually reply with a link each time someone wants to order takeout or see if your restaurant has vegan options.

While chatbots are commonly found on Facebook, they can also be integrated into your website for customer service inquiries. Many of the plugins that are available via Chatfuel can also be integrated into your website.

Our chatbot interacts with our NLO Bipolar Disorder Facebook page.

For our health brand, NewLifeOutlook, I created a chatbot specifically for Facebook Messenger. I set custom queries that would pull relevant resources for those with Bipolar Disorder. For example, if a user types in a query that would indicate they are thinking of self harm, they will be given a list of crisis helplines.

How to Create a Chatbot

Chatbots can be built by anyone (if I can do it, you can do it!), using third party tools such as Chatfuel, which is specifically for Facebook Messenger bots, or Botsify. Alternatively, if you have a stellar dev team, the opportunity to build your own chatbot is also a possibility.

It’s important to note that while Chatfuel is user-friendly and has a plethora of online resources, including an incredibly helpful Facebook community, utilizing a third-party tool does run the risk of keeping you confined to its limitations. This is where DIY-ing a chatbot would come in handy.

Another thing to note: it’s expensive. Chatfuel’s payment model is based on the number of ‘reachable users,’ which means you pay based on potential, and not necessarily the number of people who engage with your chatbot. Because of this, going the ‘build your own’ route may be the better option long-term.

Why Build One?

There are several reasons why you should consider building a chatbot:

  1. Your chatbot can act as a simplistic way for your users to find information or read your content, which boosts brand loyalty.
  2. Your chatbot can directly notify your subscribers whenever there’s a new piece of content available, which leads to increased organic traffic.
  3. Your chatbot can free up resources by automating interactions and replies to user messages, so you don’t have to.
  4. Your chatbot can provide transactional information, such as order or shipping notifications.

Creating a chatbot will have positive impacts on both you and your audience.

For You

Chatbots are great for many industries, from e-commerce businesses to restaurants, news sources to realtors, and more. The ability to customize your user-experience, to serve new content as it becomes available, and keep a consumer engaged is universal no matter which industry you belong to. You have an audience, so use it to your advantage!

For Your Community

Chatbots aren’t just beneficial to your brand, they’re also beneficial to your community. No one likes to wait around for a business to get back to their message, particularly if it’s for a simple inquiry. Chatbots allow interaction with your audience automatically, which makes your response time immediate.

I hope this post has helped educate you further on the benefits of chatbots, and perhaps inspired you to conduct some additional research to see if one would be right for your brand. If you want to check out our chatbot, you can find it on the NewLifeOutlook Bipolar Disorder page.