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A person using a large touchscreen presumably engaging with a chatbot

Build a chatbot

Find out how businesses of any size can get started building chatbots that serve employees and customers around the clock.

Why you should build a chatbot

From local, family-run businesses to global enterprises, companies of all sizes are benefiting from a new way to grow their support teams without increasing headcount. How? By adopting chatbots—apps that engage in human-like conversations—to offer always-on support to customers and employees alike.

Chatbots are easy to interact with, using AI and natural language processing to converse with people through text, voice, and graphics. A  conversational chatbot can quickly become one of your star players. Whether your customers have questions at 2 AM or 2 PM, a chatbot will work around-the-clock to help with their requests while simultaneously increasing engagement and brand loyalty.

Your human team members will also benefit because they can redirect the time that they used to spend on customer support tasks to more complex, high-value work. And when you deploy chatbots internally, your employees can use them to get fast answers to their questions.

All of this adds up to a healthier bottom line. With happier customers and employees, you’ll have a shorter sales cycle, lower customer support costs, and a more engaged and productive workforce. And thanks to the data that your new chatbot captures, you’ll also gain a new avenue to analyse visitor leads and user behaviours.

Chatbots are changing the way people do business

Across all industries, chatbots are helping organisations reimagine how they can remove barriers and better serve their customers and employees—at scale.

A retailer, for example, might use a chatbot to inform shoppers about store locations, opening hours, current promotions, and return policies. That same retailer might also connect the chatbot to its internal systems to streamline HR tasks and help employees request paid time off, record their hours, or check their benefits.

But it’s not just retailers who can benefit from chatbots. Organisations across financial services, education, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, and travel and hospitality are also major users of chatbots. So, whether you’re hoping to streamline the process for customers who need to take out a new insurance policy or schedule a dental cleaning, building a chatbot can make an immediate, positive impact on customers, employees, and your business.

Chatbot development: Start by defining your goals

Building a chatbot isn’t as daunting as it used to be. Previously, a chatbot could only be built by data scientists or highly skilled developers, but today, chatbot creation has become much easier thanks to no-code and low-code development platforms and software.

But before jumping into chatbot development, you must clearly understand why you’re doing it. The first and most critical step in chatbot development is to identify your goals, so be prepared to dig in and document your answers to the following questions:

  • What’s the purpose of my chatbot?
  • What functions should my chatbot be able to perform?
  • Who’s my target audience, and how will the chatbot help them?
  • Will the chatbot support an app, a website, or a messaging platform?
  • Will the chatbot use voice, text, or graphics to communicate?

Best practices for developing your chatbot

Chatbot development can be as fast as a few minutes or as slow as many months. It depends on the complexity of your chatbot, how organised you are going into the process, and the methods that you choose to build your chatbot.

Consider these best practices to speed development and help ensure that you see a positive return on investment:

  • Define your goals. Use your answers to the previous questions to make sure that the goals for your chatbot are clear, align to your business’s overall vision, and are agreed upon by everyone involved.
  • Pick a personality. Personality matters, so make sure that your chatbot has one, and be mindful that its voice and tone connect to your overall brand.
  • Gather content. Make a list of commonly received questions from customers or employees to help you decide which trigger phrases your chatbot should recognise.
  • Determine connections. Examine which systems, services, or apps you’ll want your chatbot to connect to; for example, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, or e-commerce.
  • Start small. To begin, consider limiting the number of connections and deploying the chatbot to just one channel, such as your website, Microsoft Teams, or Facebook.
  • Build wisely. Developing a chatbot can be made easier by using software or the help of a skilled partner, so consider your options before determining how you’ll build it.
  • Stay relevant. Keeping your chatbot up to date with relevant information should be one of your top priorities if you want your customers and employees to trust it to get the answers they need.

Watch out for chatbot challenges

Familiarise yourself with common chatbot development challenges or mistakes that might present themselves along the way. By planning ahead, you can sidestep many obstacles before they occur.

Avoid common pitfalls, such as:

Pretending your chatbot is human.

Most people will know they’re speaking to a chatbot, so build in a scripted introduction that’s sincere and lets users know how the chatbot can help them. Likewise, decide which cues will let the chatbot know that it’s time to involve human support.

Skimping on security.

Your chatbot introduces new avenues for online mischief, so protecting the chatbot—and the data your customers introduce into the chatbot—is paramount. Make sure your chatbot includes strong security features that protect your business and help you meet compliance requirements.

Ignoring data.

Your chatbot will collect and produce vast amounts of data. Don’t waste these valuable insights. Decide who will collect results from your chatbot to analyse performance and issues, and choose what new topics or tasks to add to the chatbot.

Chatbot software 101

Low-code and no-code chatbot software and platforms are soaring in popularity because they provide business users with all the necessary tools to quickly build versatile chatbots without requiring help from IT.

Most chatbot software offerings feature an intuitive graphical interface that removes the developmental complexity of AI-driven chatbots, making it possible to build a chatbot without writing a single line of code. You can use the software to customise your chatbot, connect it to your internal or external systems and services, and deploy the chatbot across multiple channels.

However, some chatbot software has drawbacks. While most will help you build a chatbot faster and more affordably than developing it one line of code at a time, some offerings lack critical capabilities, such as connecting to third-party apps and systems, safeguarding access, or monitoring and analysis.

Key considerations for choosing chatbot software

Picking the right software is crucial to build a chatbot that will meet your goals. Consider the following criteria.

Ease of use

  • Is the software offered as a service, or will you need to involve IT for installation and updates?
  • Can business users or subject matter experts easily use the software?

Connections and channels

  • Will the chatbot be able to connect to your internal or third-party systems and services?
  • Can you deploy the chatbot to various channels, such as websites, apps, and messaging platforms?

Authoring and customisations

  • Does the software support accessibility features, multiple languages, and the ability to control how topics interact or how conversations flow?
  • Is the software flexible enough to let you customise the chatbot for your company’s brand and voice?

Monitoring and analytics

  • Does the software include analytics to identify how the chatbot is performing, customer satisfaction levels, and topic usage?
  • Are you able to quickly make adjustments to the chatbot based on results?

Security and compliance

  • Does the software offer features for authentication, web channel security, single sign-on, or other functionality to boost security?
  • Can the software help you meet certification criteria and compliance requirements?

Advanced scenarios

  • Does the software provide options to extend your chatbot with code?
  • Is chatbot development limited to the software’s functionality?

Start building your chatbot

Relying on robust, easy-to-use software to develop your chatbot is one of the best ways for you to quickly start reaping the benefits of your AI-driven helper, like reduced costs, more engaged customers, and boosted employee satisfaction.

To learn more about building an intelligent chatbot using a guided, no-code graphical user interface, explore Microsoft Power Virtual Agents. With the right software, it’s easy to add a conversational chatbot to your team roster.

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