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chatbotsThe complete guide to chatbots

I'll have to admit that chatbots can be intimidating! But unlike their villain sci-fi counterparts, these robots are quite friendly and can be very helpful, especially for business owners who want to provide better services to their customers.

But what is a chatbot in the first place? Well, it's nothing more than a software application that can respond intelligently, utilizing advanced machine learning algorithms which boost their IQ as they engage in more and more conversations.

According to Facebook, its Messenger for Business chatbot helps companies get more customers by encouraging website visitors to take action. It can drive awareness by creating meaningful conversations about your new products and/or services, and it gives them a quick, efficient way of getting access to tech support.

Basically, chatbots help people get quick answers to their questions, no matter if we are talking about persons who are ready to purchase, need more information about a particular product or simply want to talk to a customer service representative.

Most companies love these bots because they allow them to automate customer service operations, and thus save time and money. This way, they need to hire fewer company reps, because bots can provide 24x7 support without getting tired. And let's be honest and admit that a chatbot can often help people discover the information that they are interested in much faster than a human operator, by asking a few qualifying questions.

The good news is that you can build your own chatbot without needing to write a single line of code. Begin by defining the purpose of your bot; in other words, what is it supposed to do? Do you want to build a chatbot that will serve as a virtual customer service representative? Do you plan to design an intelligent bot that will serve as a smart lead capture tool, enticing website visitors to give you their email address in exchange for a discount or a valuable digital resource? No matter what you choose, be sure to specify your goal using as many details as possible.

It's time to choose your preferred bot building platform. Simply Google "build your own chatbot" or a similar phrase and I guarantee that you will discover lots of interesting platforms. Choose one that is very flexible and is offered by a team who can provide high quality tech support. Yes, this means that you will have to pay $20 per month or so, but you want to ensure that your bot is on at all times, and that you will get qualified help in case that something goes wrong.

The chosen platform will often include several examples that can be tweaked to your liking; many providers offer customer service bots, sales bots, and so on. Let's imagine that you plan to create a customer service chatbot; if this is the case, you will have to create a list which include your customers' frequently asked questions. Don't forget to write down the appropriate answers to all those questions, of course.

Now that you've got the needed information in a raw form, it's time to make your bot shine by giving it a loveable personality. Write an introductory message that encourages people to chat with it, asks them witty questions, etc.

It's time to map the customer journey. That is often done by simply dragging and dropping the questions/responses boxes from within the bot building platform. Make sure that each conversation flows towards a predictable end, which will hopefully lead to a purchase or send the website visitor to a lead generation form.

Don't forget to test all the conversation trees; most platforms will offer you this option. Then, enable your chatbot and monitor all its conversation for a week or so; if everything works as planned, you will have a new digital employee who can work on a 24-hour schedule without asking for a raise.