Bot Development

Moving Beyond One Platform

Platforms like Messenger have been a preferred playground for developers and brands cutting their teeth on bot building. Now, savvy bot makers are extending their conversational AI strategies beyond the status quo.

By Dustin Dye
February 5, 2019

We launched our first Facebook Messenger bot in 2016.

Our goal was simple: prove that adding branded flavor to a conversational experience would create a more lasting impression with customers. The plan was to use chatbot analytics tools, like Mixpanel and Dashbot, that measure engagement and retention, to confirm our hypothesis.

Our team of creative writers had been itching to unleash their keystrokes on designing fun, engaging AI conversations. This was their chance. Our test would allow them to employ these skills to create a bot that had plenty of branded personality and the ability to grab users. A win-win. Our next challenge was choosing where this new breed of customer chatter would take place.

At the time, Facebook Messenger had recently introduced bots. Not only could you leverage Facebook ads to market and trigger these bot conversations, but you could also put the Facebook Messenger chat plugin on your website for free.

So, of course, we did. Then, like proud parents, we directed everyone we knew to our site so they could check out our fancy, new bot.

The reviews rolled in. For the most part, people liked our bot and said it was witty and engaging. Analytics showed that more users were moving through the flow, getting the info they needed, and scheduling demos.

Facebook Messenger had paved the way for putting bots on websites. My team was eager to push the limits of this fantastic new conversational AI paradigm, so we set our sights higher, on enterprise-level clients and more robust functionality.

We soon found that established brands were more inclined to stay on-brand with the look and feel of their chat portal. Also, they wanted to leverage enterprise-level AI frameworks and to make their web chat available to all site visitors without a mandatory login.

Ultimately, we learned that, if we wanted to take AI-powered web chat to the next level, we needed to move beyond Facebook Messenger.

3 Reasons to Move Beyond the Status Quo

1. Not everyone is there

Back when people tried our first bot, a lot of them said, “I can’t log in, I don’t have a Facebook account.” At first, we were in denial. How could anyone not be on Facebook? As it turns out, many of these users had Facebook accounts, but they were not frequent or active users, and they didn’t feel like hunting down their passwords. This reaction typically came from senior-level decision-makers—the individuals we most needed to impress. Because of this experience on our site, they came away with the impression that bots for websites were “not quite there yet.”

We took this feedback to heart. We understood the importance of limiting the amount of friction that a user experiences on our site. The whole point of adding a bot to our website was to make life easier for people, not more difficult. Therefore, if we wanted to continue to employ a smart AI on our site, we had to think beyond Facebook Messenger.

We believed then—and still believe now—that Facebook remains a huge factor, and Messenger is a solid product. That said, there’s no good reason to tether your bot to one platform and risk losing potential users. It’s bad for business.

2. It looks too Cookie-cutter

When we launched our first bot, we were painfully aware that the Messenger chat plugin didn’t blend harmoniously with our website. At the time, we didn’t feel like we had a choice. The Facebook chat plugin is well-designed. However, it doesn’t mesh with every brand’s colors, fonts, and formatting.

It takes a lot to build a great-looking website. So of course, we wanted to stay on brand. And we knew our clients did, as well.

3. Too many rules

The rules and restrictions enforced by Facebook make sense for the most part and have done a lot to raise the bar on quality and to reduce spam.

Facebook approves the launch of each Messenger bot, manages the critical aspects of ongoing conversation(s), and oversees data usage. Bear in mind that the rules which Facebook enforces can change at any time and without warning. As a result, this could interrupt the way you do business.

If you’re merely running a simple template bot on Messenger, one that’s primarily designed to hand off to a human after a few clicks, you don’t have much invested in AI, and none of the above will phase you. At least not yet.

But, if you’re serious about leading the charge on automation and building AI agents, you should independently run the agent on your website so you can call the shots.

How to move beyond the Status Quo

Is graduating out of Facebook Messenger and into the big leagues easier said than done? Not really. You can do it! There are plenty of tools and services that make the process a breeze. Here’s the stack you need to get the job done:

Build your AI agent on an enterprise bot-builder

Many easy-to-use bot-building platforms are designed solely with Facebook Messenger in mind. They’re fine to use, if all you want is a simple bot presence on Facebook. But if you want a simple bot on your website, you could instead turn to subscription-based conversational lead-gen tools designed to handle a few clicks before switching to live chat or adding the user to a CRM platform. Tools like these are more expensive than Messenger (which is free), but at least you can brand your new bot by changing its color and adding a logo.

Still, those tools are not enterprise bot-building frameworks, nor do they let you connect to one, which means you’ll only be scratching the surface of what AI can do for your business.

To crush it in 2019 and beyond, think bigger than Facebook Messenger or subscription-based sales and lead-gen platforms. Embrace tech that allows conversational AI to augment your customer service and operations radically. Winning means having a bot that can:

  • Respond to millions of conversational queries naturally and satisfyingly.
  • Conduct business and perform services without human intervention.
  • Integrate with all the third-party apps your business relies on.

To make this happen, leverage an enterprise-level bot-building framework. The list includes Amazon Lex, Dialogflow, Microsoft Bot Framework, and IBM Watson, among others. When you build on these frameworks, your agent can still run on Messenger, Kik, Telegram, Slack, and other channels. Plus, the framework provides natural language understanding (NLU) and machine learning (ML), which means your agent can recognize the intent of user text and can get increasingly better at dealing in natural language over time.

Use the Botcopy widget

The bot-building tools described earlier are for designing advanced AI-powered agents. But, to have an AI agent live on your site, you need a web portal—that square-ish chat window on your website through which your advanced AI agent expresses itself. Until recently, there hasn’t been an easy way to hook up a superior, AI-powered brain to a webchat portal that’s entirely under your control, meaning that it:

  • Is customizable.
  • Works with rich media content, such as images, buttons, videos, carousels, lists, web views, and links.
  • Requires no login.
  • Follows Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  • Can be connected to a variety of enterprise-level bot builders.

Botcopy is a simple solution to this problem. By necessity, my team invested time and talent to build software that allows you to have complete control of your AI agent—from start to finish. We developed this solution as a way to help our clients feature the AI agents we created for them on websites in a secure, branded, rich-content–enabled format. The software was successful, so we made it available to others who are serious about leading the AI future. In short, we want to make it easy for you to put smart AI on your website. With the advent of .BOT, this initiative is more important than ever.

Get a .BOT domain

Securing your .BOT domain is a smart move. Hosting your AI agent on your .BOT presence is a great way to feature your bot without it getting lost in the noise.

I predict that .BOT domains will be where customers go to get instant help or to carry out business with brands they love. For example, instead of going to a specific website and searching for a contact section or posting a help ticket, users will directly go to the associated bot to get the help they need, from a smart AI agent. Customers will eventually come to expect .BOT identities to exist for every brand, so grab your .BOT domain now.

For the user, the journey to talk to your bot should be super simple—no mandatory login (unless you want one), no uploading of a Messenger app, and no navigating through layers of a social media platform. Your bot lives on your website and is easy to access. And even if you are on Messenger or other platforms, redirect your .BOT domain name to wherever you can be found. That way if you do move to a new platform or go out on your own, your customer can always find you. This ease of access will boost the odds that your bot will be discovered and embraced.

Summary

Facebook Messenger serves as an entry point for companies that are curious about chatbots. But the conversational AI space is evolving rapidly. Now is an excellent time to think beyond Messenger and to get busy on an end-to-end AI solution that will potentially cut costs, boost revenue, and delight customers. I recommend getting started today with a .BOT domain, an enterprise-level bot-building framework, and, lastly, Botcopy, a customizable, platform-agnostic web chat portal that puts you in charge.