What’s a chatbot and why your business needs one

What are chatbots? Why are they such a big opportunity? How do they work? How can I build one? How can I meet other people interested in chatbots?

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]S[/su_dropcap]ince I was introduced into the concept of chatter bot commonly known as chatbots, it fascinated me knowing that these concept would make and take interaction to a whole different level of communication through messaging.

90% of our time on mobile is spent on email and messaging platforms. So it makes sense to build applications where consumers hang out!

So, What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a service, powered by artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc).

If you haven’t wrapped your head around it yet, don’t worry. Here’s an example to help you visualize a chatbot.

For example, if you wanted to buy shoes from Just Select online, you would go to their website, look around until you find the shoes you wanted, and then you would purchase them.

just select chatbot

If Just Select  makes a bot, which I’m sure they will, you would simply be able to message Just Select on Facebook. It would ask you what you’re looking for and you would simply… tell it.

Instead of browsing a website, you will have a conversation with the Just Select bot, mirroring the type of experience you would get when you go into the retail store.

Examples of chatbots

Buying shoes isn’t the only thing chatbots can be used for. Here are a couple of other examples.

  • Weather bot. Get the weather whenever you ask.
  • Grocery bot. Help me pick out and order groceries for the week.
  • News bot. Ask it to tell you when ever something interesting happens.
  • Life advice bot. I’ll tell it my problems and it helps me think of solutions.
  • Personal finance bot. It helps me manage my money better.
  • Scheduling bot. Get me a meeting with someone on the Messenger team at Facebook.
  • A bot that’s your friend. In China there is a bot called Xiaoice, built by Microsoft, that over 20 million people talk to.

See? With bots, the possibilities are endless. You can build anything imaginable, and I encourage you to do just that.


But why make a bot? Sure, it looks cool, it’s using some super advanced technology, but why should someone spend their time and energy on it?

Why chatbots are such a big opportunity

You are probably wondering “Why does anyone care about chatbots? They look like simple text based services… what’s the big deal?”

Great question. I’ll tell you why people care about chatbots.

It’s because for the first time ever, people are using messenger apps more than they are using social networks.


People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media, and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future, and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.

So, logically, if you want to build a business online, you want to build where the people are. That place is now inside messenger apps.

[su_quote cite=”Aaron Batalion, Partner: Lightspeed Venture Partners” url=”https://medium.com/@abatalion”]Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.  [/su_quote]

This is why chatbots are such a big deal. It’s potentially a huge business opportunity for anyone willing to jump headfirst and build something people want.

[su_quote cite=”Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director at General Catalyst” url=”http://generalcatalyst.com/team/niko-bonatsos/”]There is hope that consumers will be keen on experimenting with bots to make things happen for them. It used to be like that in the mobile app world 4+ years ago. When somebody told you back then… ‘I have built an app for X’… You most likely would give it a try.Now, nobody does this. It is probably too late to build an app company as an indie developer. But with bots… consumers’ attention spans are hopefully going to be wide open/receptive again![/su_quote]

But, how do these bots work? How do they know how to talk to people and answer questions? Isn’t that artificial intelligence and isn’t that insanely hard to do?

Yes, you are correct, it is artificial intelligence, but it’s something that you can totally do yourself.

Let me explain.


How chatbots work

There are two types of chatbots, one functions based on a set of rules, and the other more advanced version uses machine learning.

What does this mean?

Chatbot that functions based on rules.

  • This bot is very very limited. It can only respond to very specific commands. If you say the wrong thing, it doesn’t know what you mean.
  • This bot is only as smart as it is programmed to be.

Chatbot that functions using machine learning.

  • This bot has an artificial brain aka artificial intelligence. You don’t have to be ridiculously specific when you are talking to it. It understands language, not just commands.
  • This bot continuously gets smarter as it learns from conversations it has with people.

Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end, but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience. So much work to be done. Analytics, flow optimization, keeping up with ever changing platforms that have no standard.For deeper integrations and real commerce like Assist powers, you have error checking, integrations to APIs, routing and escalation to live human support, understanding NLP, no back buttons, no home button, etc etc. We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years to create an amazing experience in this new browser.

Bots are created with a purpose. A store will likely want to create a bot that helps you purchase something, where someone like Comcast might create a bot that can answer customer support questions.

Messaging is where we spend a ton of our time and expect to communicate. It is ridiculous we still have to call most businesses.

chatbot shopping

You start to interact with a chatbot by sending it a message. Click here to try sending a message to the CNN chatbot on Facebook.

CNN chatbot

Artificial Intelligence

So, if these bots use artificial intelligence to make them work well… isn’t that really hard to do? Don’t I need to be an expert at artificial intelligence to be able to build something that has artificial intelligence?

Short answer? No, you don’t have to be an expert at artificial intelligence to create an awesome chatbot that has artificial intelligence. Just make sure to not over promise on your application’s abilities. If you can’t make the product good with artificial intelligence right now, it might be best to not put it in yet

[su_quote cite=”Josh Elman, Greylock” url=”https://medium.com/@joshelman”]Everyone going after AI to try make this scale seems a little too soon. Texting to a computer that doesn’t understand many things you are saying can be very aggravating. So be careful early not to over promise, and give users guard rails.[/su_quote]

However, over the past decade, quite a bit of advancements have been made in the area of artificial intelligence, so much in fact that anyone who knows how to code can incorporate some level of artificial intelligence into their products.

How do you build artificial intelligence into your bot? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered, I’ll tell you how to do it in the next section of this post.

How to build chatbots

Building a chatbot can sound daunting, but it’s totally doable. You’ll be creating an artificial intelligence powered chatting machine in no time (or, of course, you can always build a basic chat bot that doesn’t have a fancy AI brain and strictly follows rules).

 The difficulty in building a chatbot is less a technical one and more an issue of user experience. The most successful bots will be the ones that users want to come back to regularly and that provide consistent value.

You will need to figure out what problem you are going to solve with your bot, choose which platform your bot will live on (Facebook, Slack, etc), set up a server to run your bot from, and choose which service you will use to build your bot.

[su_quote cite=” Dmitrii Dumik,Chatfuel” url=”https://www.linkedin.com/in/ddumik”]We believe that you don’t need to know how to program to build a bot, that’s what inspired us at Chatfuel a year ago when we started bot builder. We noticed bots becoming hyper-local, i.e. a bot for a soccer team to keep in touch with fans or a small art community bot. Bots are efficient and when you let anyone create them easily, magic happens.[/su_quote]


kivuti kamau

Data Modelling, Design & Development

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