Building a chatbot is a fairly simple process — in fact, it can be done in about 10 minutes by anyone with some basic tech chops. Ben Beck walks you through it in this DIY guide.
Recently I awoke to an intense, pulsing pain in my lower abdomen. A few years ago, I would have had two options — go to the emergency room or an urgent care facility. Both are pricey. This time, I sought help from the telemedicine service covered by my health insurance plan, where I was able to call in and speak with a medical practitioner. They confirmed that I likely had a kidney stone and helped me understand the next steps to treatment.
It was a great service, but I had to wait about two hours for the call back from the medical practitioner… and that is a long wait when you’re in pain.
Getting help from a chatbot
What if I could have gone online and chatted with a doctor in minutes instead of hours?
I could have.
It turns out a number of medical chatbot applications are available — you install one on your phone, and you can get self-help diagnostic information for your ailments. It uses artificial intelligence to enable you to hold a conversation with a chatbot and get conversational answers to your medical questions. It can even connect you with healthcare providers in realtime.
How are companies using chatbots in marketing?
Kayak, one of the most popular air and hotel booking platforms, allows you to interact with its chatbots via Facebook Messenger, Slack or Amazon Alexa. Kayak’s main website provides tools for searching airlines and hotels and then booking them directly. With their chatbots, they are taking their service even further: you can receive budget-driven recommendations, get updates on your already-planned trips, or evaluate the best time to travel to certain hotspots.
Chatbots are meant to be more interactive ways to communicate with potential customers, not merely a way to help close a sale. As such, Kayak has introduced more conversational functionality beyond simply booking travel.
Likewise, chatbots can be leveraged in more creative fashions to generate leads.
Using chatbots to generate leads
Traditional lead generation for both B2C and B2B marketing involves a lot of advertising and calls-to-action, such as “download this ebook,” to capture the lead for a sales follow-up.
With 79 percent of online adults in the United States on Facebook, according to Pew Research, you have a strong probability that you can get your chatbot in front of your target demographic if you create a chatbot for Facebook.
Any product or service that has a high level of pre-purchase decision making, such as auto sales, real estate or enterprise software, can gain immense value from a chatbot. Because your prospective customer is likely doing a fair amount of online research into which product to buy, it makes sense to build a chatbot that helps answer questions for them, in a smart and conversational way.
Somewhere in the conversation your chatbot can offer a downloadable guide — all the prospective customer needs to do is provide some contact information, and the guide will be sent to them. Assuming your chatbot provides value to the consumer, when your salesperson reaches out to discuss the sale, they will have already had a favorable interaction with your brand.
How to get started building a chatbot
When I first looked into chatbots about a year ago, the chatbot builder solutions required some coding knowledge. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.
There are dozens of chatbot-building solutions out there, with two of the most popular for Facebook Messenger chatbots being Chatfuel and API.ai. Both of these solutions provide point-and-click, no-coding-necessary options for creating an interactive chatbot on the Facebook Messenger platform.
The big difference between Chatfuel and API.ai:
- Chatfuel is super easy to get rolling with and does have a fairly robust feature set. I recommend it for beginners and small businesses who need an MVP (minimum viable product) they can try out quickly. For the DIY guide below, we will be using Chatfuel.
- API.ai is a more robust solution, though it is still simple and requires no coding. I recommend it for organizations that have more resources and are looking for a more powerful chatbot that can interface with their ecommerce solution or other enterprise-level tools.
What do these tools cost? Both are free, up to a limit. Chatfuel says if you’re going to have more than 500,000 active monthly users, you need to sign up for a premium account. API.ai doesn’t specify what their limit is, which means they’ll likely add in features in the future which you’ll need to pay for. As of now though, both systems are more than generous in their free plans.
DIY guide to building your own chatbot
Now that you have a good understanding of what a chatbot is, how it can be used in lead generation, and the two leading platforms for building code-free chatbots, let’s jump into actually building one.
This is such a simple process that it can be done by anyone with at least some technical prowess and 10 minutes to spare.
Note: My “build it in 10 minutes” claim is not promising a chatbot that will wow your potential customers. But, it will be enough time to build and launch a very basic chatbot. To build a feature-full chatbot with some immersive artificial intelligence that can carry on strong conversations — that will require some considerable time and effort on your part. This time isn’t spent actually building the tool, but you will be spending considerable time writing content, forecasting what the most frequently asked questions are going to be, etc.
Step 1: Connect your Facebook account to the Chatfuel chatbot builder
This step is super easy. Make sure you’re logged into Facebook on the browser you’re going to connect to Chatfuel in. Then simply click the “get started for free” button on the Chatfuel homepage. It will bring up a Facebook connection page that allows you to give permissions to Chatfuel to see your Facebook information. You need to authorize it, and you’ll then be taken back into the Chatfuel chatbot builder, where you’ll select which Facebook page you want to connect to.
Step 2: Connect to your Facebook business page
Because chatbots are tied to organizations and not to individuals, you need to have an organization Facebook page that you use to tie your Chatbot to. If you don’t already have a Facebook page for the business you’re going to do marketing for, you should create one. Here’s a quick guide from Hootsuite to help you get started building a Facebook business page.
Alternatively, you can also click the “Create a Facebook page” button in the Chatfuel interface to set up your page at this step. However, setting up a Facebook page is very important, and you need to make sure you do it the right way, so I recommend going into Facebook to do it and using the above-linked guide. Then come back to Chatfuel.
Once you have a Facebook page, simply select it and you’re on your way.
Step 3: Walk through the in-app tutorial
Now that you’ve connected your page, you’ll be taken into the actual chatbot builder.
Chatfuel has a fairly detailed tutorial you can follow, though it’s not as good as this guide. 🙂
It does give you a good overview of the components the chatbot and how to get started with their user interface. I do recommend you taking two or three minutes to click through their tutorial, as the background knowledge will help you on your way.
Step 4: Create your welcome message and default answer
After the brief tutorial, the next step is to create your welcome message. The first interaction your chatbot visitors will have is with this message, so make it good.
It should be a quick sentence that introduces the chatbot and then asks them, “How can I help?”
Make sure to also create a default message — something that’s shown in case the user types in a message which you don’t have AI detection set up for. It should say something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what you’re asking. Maybe some of the options below can help you.” Be sure to link your default message to your navigation items (discussed in the next step).
From this point you have two options: You can have navigation-type driven conversation (like a phone menu system), or you can have artificial intelligence set up to guide the conversation. The latter is entirely possible with Chatfuel but requires considerable content development on your part. We’ll show you how you can set up AI conversations, but this DIY guide will focus on getting an MVP version of a chatbot launched using navigation buttons and prompts.
Step 5: Set up your conversation navigation
In this step, you will build your conversation navigation, i.e., the means for an individual to work with your chatbot. In the example chatbot we’re building, we are trying to help our audience find answers to questions they might have about booking a Brian Head, Utah, ski condo.
There are dozens of questions a chatbot user might ask, but for the sake of launching this chatbot in 10 minutes, here are just a few questions we’ll program the chatbot to answer:
- Where is the ski condo?
- Do I have to drive from the condo to the resort?
- What are check-in and check-out hours?
- How many people does the condo sleep?
To set up the actual navigation, you should build a new “block” for each of these questions. It’s really easy; just click “add block,” and then type in a title for the block. Don’t worry about putting content in yet. Just create the blocks and title them.
Step 6: Link the blocks to the main navigation
Go back to your main welcome message, and click the “add button” option on the message block. Type in the button name — what you want the user to see — in the first field. Then, in the next section, select “block,” and then you can select the block you’d like it to take the user to.
There are two other options you can link to:
- URL. Put in any URL you would like, and it will take the chatbot user outside of Facebook Messenger to that page. This can be good if you have an external booking or reservation system you would like to direct the visitor to when they ask a question about how to make a reservation.
- Phone call. Enter a phone number, and the user clicking that button will launch the phone’s dialer and pre-populate a phone number.
For this example, we’ll simply select block, and link to one of the blocks we’ve already set up.
Note: A chatbot works best when it’s conversational, so don’t have your chatbot present users with a long list of options. You want to have just a few top questions, and then have the rest of the logic built into the AI. Chatfuel forces this best practice by only allowing you to have three “buttons” on any given block. For this example, we’re putting in just the top three most frequently asked questions, and then will build in the AI for other questions.
Step 7: Put in your chatbot dialog
Now you can create the content that’s displayed when someone asks a specific question. Click on the block on the left, and it will bring up the empty block. Here, select a block type from the following options:
- Text card. This is Chatfuel’s most simple block type. You simply put text into this block. For simple answers, this is a great option.
- Gallery. This is your best bet if you want to add a few pictures to an answer. In this example, if someone asks, “Can I see some pictures?”, we’re assuming they want to see pictures of the ski condo. We would use this gallery and put in a few pictures, a heading that describes what the picture is, and then a subtitle or description. You can also add a URL for each image. You can get really creative with these and use them similar to Facebook’s Carousel Format ads.
- Image. This is another simple block type. With the image block, you upload an image and when triggered in conversation, it simply shows that image.
- Quick reply. If you build this option into a block, instead of taking them to a new card for an answer, it simply shows a reply. In this way, it behaves more like a chat thread you would be having with a real person.
- Plugin. This enables you to integrate your chatbot with other options. This is one area where API.ai is more powerful; API.ai has a lot more integration options than with Chatfuel. That said, Chatfuel does have some excellent integrations and will fulfill most chatbot builders needs. For example, in the case of a ski condo, you could integrate your chatbot with IFTTT so that when someone asks, “How much snow is there at Brian Head?” the chatbot will talk to IFTTT, which will, in turn, contact your Instagram feed and pull in the latest image you have tagged with #brianheadsnowconditions and the chatbot will then display that image. Sweet, huh!?
Go ahead and use a simple text card to create an answer for each question/answer segment you want the chatbot to support.
Step 8: Create your artificial intelligence
After you’ve built out all your content blocks, go ahead and click on the “Set up AI” link in the left-side navigation. Here you get to brainstorm all the questions that might be asked of your chatbot and set up answers. The answers can either be new text you enter in this stage, or you can direct them to one of the blocks of content you’ve previously set up.
There are two components to this step:
- Phrases to watch for. This is where you put in the different words or phrases you want the chatbot to watch for. For example, in the below example, if a user types in a question or phrase with “directions” in it, the chat bot will…
- Content to display. After the chatbot detects a word or phrase in the conversation, it will return the content you’ve specified. There is a little drop-down where you can select “text” or “block.” If you select text, it will allow you to enter a new text response. If you select block, you can choose the block you want to display and the chatbot will show that content instead.
Step 9: Launch the chatbot
Chatfuel excels at launching your chatbot. In fact, it is already ready to go — as you build your chatbot, Chatfuel is saving and making all your changes live, immediately.
This’s nice because there’s nothing you need to do to launch your chatbot, other than getting the link and putting it on your website, Facebook page, or in your online ads.
All you have to do is click on the “Promote” page in the left-hand navigation menu, and then copy the URL at the top of the page.
Share that URL liberally!
We hope this DIY guide to building your own Facebook chatbot has been helpful. Please comment below to let us know what ideas you have for your own chatbot.