Chatbots, chatbots, and one more time – chatbots! Everybody talks about them. They’re increasingly part of our daily lives, and many businesses are getting on board.
We recently argued for 6 reasons to use chatbots over applications. Most significant among these reasons is that people are sick of apps. Bots can help you grow your business because with them your business can easily scale and they are able to deal with sales and marketing. And they’re easier to develop than apps, requiring far less development time and fewer funds.
Small startups and large enterprises alike may be interested in chatbot development cost. That’s why we’ve written this article to try to give you an idea and also provide you with a list of solutions. But first, let’s talk in general about what kinds of bots are out there and what differentiates them.
How to Choose the Right Chatbot for Your Business
Before we offer an overview of options for building a bot, let’s consider a list of questions you should answer:
- Who’s your target audience, and where are they found? (i.e., what messenger platforms do they use?)
- What do you want your chatbot to do?
- What business need(s) will your bot meet? (Some bots respond only to specific commands, while others use machine learning)
- How much will it costs to make a chatbot? (we’ll discuss this below)
- How will you market your bot?
How to Build a Chatbot
There are already a lot of easy-to-use and cost effective options to create bots. Here’s what you can do if you need a chatbot for your business:
- Buy a ready solution – a chatbot that already fits your business needs – or even try it out for free;
- Use self-service platforms to craft a chatbot within a framework;
- Create a chatbot from scratch.
Let’s consider further these three options for how to build a bot, and figure out what makes the most sense for your business.
Use Ready Solutions
There already exist dozens of ready solutions on the market that solve specific business needs. Just as there’s an App Store for iOS and the Google Play Store for Android, there are also marketplaces for bots. Currently, you can find tbots on the Telegram and Kik Bot Stores. Slack doesn’t have a so-called ‘Bot Store,’ but they do list all their bots in their App Directory together with all other tools.
Facebook, Viber, and Line don’t have bot marketplaces yet, but we expect they will in the near future. And you can search for chatbots across all current platforms and categories using Botlist, a catalog of bots. Some bots listed on Botlist serve multiple purposes and run on multiple platforms. So you can try this way to look for a bot that will fit your business needs.
Now let us tell you about the pros and cons of using a ready chatbot solution:
- Chatbots can be found in one central location;
- There’s a decent chance you can find a suitable chatbot for your business;
- You don’t need to spend time and money on chatbot development.
- It’s hard to find a bot that will meet 100% of your business needs;
- You can’t customize ready-made chatbots.
Build a Chatbot with a Self-service Platform
With self-service platforms, you can easily build a bot by yourself. Some platforms require a degree of technical knowledge, while others let you craft a bot without writing a line of code. We’ll take a look at the second type.
Designing a bot is actually pretty simple. On Chatfuel, for example, all you need to do is write use cases and user stories, follow tutorials, and run some testing. Chatfuel lets you build chatbots for Facebook Messenger and Telegram, set up AI algorithms, and integrate your bot with a number of third-party services. And all of this is free up to 100,000 messages per month.
One more platform we’d like to mention is Motion.ai. Just like with Chatfuel, even non-programmers can create bots with Motion.ai. Creating a chatbot with Motion.ai is simple – they claim that ‘if you can draw a flowchart, you can create a chatbot.’ You can then integrate your bot(s) with various messenger platforms: SMS, FB Messenger, Slack, and Smooch. This platform also lets you create web-based bots and bots for mailing. Motion.ai offers a free trial, but it’s limited to only 2 chatbots with 1,000 messages per month. There are three monthly packages if you decide you like their service:
- 5 bots/ 5000 messages – $15/ month;
- 25 bots/ 20,000 messages – $50/ month;
- 50 bots/ 50,000 messages – $100/ month.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Pandorabots platform that allows you to create bots for customer support, advertising, marketing, and many other business needs. You can run these bots on popular messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Telegram, FB Messenger, Twilio, Kik, and Line. Pandorabots has a set of features for building bots, including many integrations – and they provide AIaaS (AI as a Service).
Nevertheless this platform is mostly for the developers, Pandorabots also provides a free playground for beginners and tutorials with Gifs for learning how to program their bots. While it’s more difficult to create chatbots on Pandorabots that on Chatfuel or Motion.ai, you might consider this option if you like but cannot code, or you’re just interested in how it works, and of course have time for this.
Here are the pros and cons of self-service platforms:
- Self-service platforms let you create chatbots of any size for any kind of business;
- They can run your chatbot on various messenger platforms;
- They provide you with integrations for different third-party services;
- They offer tutorials that can help you create a bot quickly and easily;
- Some platforms are cheap (or even free), and these basic versions may be sufficient if your chatbot will be used by a small audience;
- It’s relatively cheap and quick to develop a chatbot on a platform;
- You can set your own (simple) logic of chatbot behavior.
- Prices depend on the number of bots you need, messages per month, integrations, and support. Difference in the business models of competing bot platforms can be confusing;
- Available tools can’t always help you achieve your desired result.
Craft a Chatbot from Scratch
If none of the previous options sounds good to you, you can always craft a chatbot from scratch! And if programming isn’t your strong suit, you can hire a software development team. When we say ‘software development team’, we mean a company that offers web and mobile application development services.
A chatbot for an existing chat service is simply a server-side app that implements chat through an API interface. To implement this server-side app, software development teams can use various technologies. Here at RubyGarage, we use the Ruby programming language.
When you’re looking for a development team, you should also consider their ability to integrate Natural Language Processing (NLP) to your bot. There are existing tools for NLP such as Opennlp and Nltk. Note that NLP can also be integrated as a separate independent service.
Let’s take a look at what the estimate of chatbot development usually includes:
- Integration with one chat – the duration depends on bot complexity, but on average it takes 40-56 hours.
- Creation of a communication interface
- Command language user interpreter – depends on number of teams. On average it takes 40-56 hours.
- Natural language user interface – depends on number of teams. On average it takes 120-160 hours.
- Business logic
- Adaptation of existing business logic, if there already are web applications or APIs for mobile app. It depends on the amount of logic. On average it takes 120-160 hours.
- Creation of business logic from scratch. It depends on the amount of logic. On average it takes 160 - 192 hours.
The approximate cost to build a chatbot from scratch can be anywhere from $6000 to $12240.
Before you pick a software development team for your bot, you should weigh the pros and cons of this option:
- Software development teams are specialists, and can implement complex and unique functionalities;
- Top developers use the latest technologies and development approaches;
- A development team can build you a custom chatbot with a great user experience, and can help you analyze your business needs to find the right solution;
- Companies offer regular maintenance and constant improvements.
- It takes more time to develop a chatbot from scratch than it does to build a chatbot with self-service platforms;
- You need your own server infrastructure (hosting).
Ready to Build a Chatbot?
In short, if you just need a simple bot for your business, you may want to look for a ready solution or use a self-service platform. On the other hand, if you require a custom solution with unique or complex functionality, then it’s best to go with a full-service software development team.
We recently developed a chatbot for our client Betwixt.us that helps employees build strong professional relationships, even when colleagues are separated by geography, time zones, or cultures. If you want to discuss how Ruby Garage can help you create a unique and great chatbot, just drop us a line!