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 Providing excellent customer service is an exercise in patience. Chances are, you get the same questions over and over again, via your website, social media, or other messaging platforms: What are your hours? Where is the closest store to me? Do you have this in blue?

Having a customer service chatbot answer those recurring questions immediately not only improves the customer experience but also saves your company the hours spent answering common queries so that your customer service reps can tackle bigger problems.

But that’s not all chatbots can do. Many brands are using chatbots to both help answer common customer service-related questions as well as make product recommendations, record customer preferences, and improve business branding.

For example, UK-based supermarket chain Lidl went beyond the standard question-answering customer service chatbot and created a product recommendation engine that was fun and easy to use. Their chatbot, called Margot, helped customers choose the perfect wine. Margot not only answers typical wine-related questions, such as “What wine goes best with salmon?”, it also understands emojis, so users who want a perfect red to pair with pizza can relay that information in a fun way and receive a lighthearted, conversational response. All told, Margot can offer 220 individual wine recommendations and knows about 640 different grapes.

Lidl wine chatbot effectiveness(HuffPost even tried out Lidl versus a real sommelier, which might lead one to rethink their wine-buying decision processes.)

But that doesn’t mean Lidl no longer has customer service reps available to monitor its messaging channels. Instead, users always have the option to live chat with a human and the chatbot immediately kicks conversation over to reps when incoming messages contain words indicating that the user would prefer to speak to staff.

Building a chatbot doesn’t take the place of great customer service. Instead, it gives customers more access to information and frees customer service teams to better assist customers who prefer to speak to a human or have an issue too complex for a bot.

So what is a chatbot builder?

Chatbot builders, also known as chatbot development platforms, are apps that enable users to build chatbots for any medium, be it web, social, app, or other messaging platforms. Chatbots for voice search is also on the rise. For example, if you happen to own a Tesla X or Model S, you can now use your Amazon Echo to summon your car from the garage thanks to a chatbot the carmaker built for the device. And where Tesla goes, other brands are sure to follow. It probably won’t be too long before chatbots for voice assistants are facilitating conversations with all kinds of businesses.

But don’t worry, building your chatbot doesn’t have to involve self-driving cars straight out of Knight Rider. Many chatbot builders are relatively simple to use, employing low-code and drag-and-drop systems that don’t require as much technical know-how as you might think. Some chatbot builders even use machine learning technology to glean information from customer responses in order to provide the most accurate information possible. Here’s how to choose the best chatbot builder for your business.

Choosing the chatbot platform that’s right for you

  • Make sure you have a clear purpose

A recent study by Hubspot found that 40% of customers don’t care if they’re talking to a chatbot or human as long as they’re getting the help they need. And while chatbots like Margot, the wine-loving robot, are clever, they’re also fulfilling a real purpose–customers aren’t sure which wine to buy and Margot helps them decide. If all your chatbot does is allow you to say that you have a chatbot, customers are probably going to find the experience a bit tedious. Keep the audience top of mind: What service would they find most valuable?

  • Decide where you want your chatbot to live

One of the best things about chatbots is the fact that they provide customer service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And providing those services means better relationships with customers that could lead to future business. According to eMarketer, nearly two-thirds of customers who have conversations via chat will return to a website and make another purchase. But in order to get those customers engaging, it’s important to first decide where your chatbot will live, on social media, on your website, or both.

While users might be more likely to find your chatbot via Facebook messenger, you’ll also have to deal with a lot more red tape (like getting special permissions to enable your chatbot) and compete for customer attention with other notifications. If you’ve already got a lot of customers coming to your website, it might make more sense to install your chatbot there, since you have more control and are more likely to have customers’ undivided attention.

  • Have a clear budget in mind

With so many chatbot builders on the market, building one doesn’t have to break the bank. But it does help to have some idea of what you might like to spend before you start shopping for the perfect chatbot builder. According to Azati Software, the price of a custom-built chatbot depends on the size of your business and the functions you need your chatbot to perform: “The chatbot costs vary and are calculated for each case in particular. Most often software companies charge from $15,000 to $30,000 for a custom bot.”

More sophisticated bots can cost quite a bit more. So understanding what services you’d like your chatbot to offer and where you’d like it to live is tantamount to building a budget before you start narrowing down your options for chatbot builders.

Five chatbot builders to check out

1. Botsify

Botsify

If you’re looking to build a chatbot for Facebook messenger, Botsify simplifies the process by allowing your business to create a bot, no coding required. The AI and machine learning-driven chatbot also draws customer info from responses and includes human takeover and handover options, so customers hoping to speak to a rep won’t ever feel as if they’re being passed off to a robot instead.

2. Pandorabots

Pandorabots

If you’re looking to create chatbots for web, mobile, or other (non-Messenger) platforms, KiK, Twitter, Telegram, Line, and Slack, Pandorabots is a great option. One of the original chatbot hosting services, it’s also one of the largest, which means it offers a wide range of options and support.

3. Reply.AI

Reply.AI

The chatbot builder used by brands like CocaCola, Samsung, and Starbucks boasts built-in CRM, analytics, and AI and machine learning to optimize responses based on customer feedback.

4. Collect.chat

Collect.chat

Collect.chat is a really interesting chatbot builder because it allows businesses to gather information from customers via engaging them in conversation, rather than requiring them to fill out tedious forms. The simple drag and drop builder is most frequently used for “building email lists, scheduling appointments, providing lead generation, collecting feedback from surveys and providing guidance on products or services”, according to CMSWire.

5. IBM Watson Assistant

IBM Watson Assistant

One of the top chatbot systems around, IBM Watson Assistant uses machine learning to filter customer request to the correct channels as well as directing users to a search engine and passing customers off to a human customer service rep when the need arises. However, it’s the chatbot builder’s capability for industry-specific solutions that makes it a favorite of Clifford Chi at Hubspot: “Pre-trained with content from your specific industry, Watson Assistant can understand your historical chat or call logs, search for an answer in your knowledge base, ask customers for more clarity, direct them to human representatives, and even give you training recommendations to hone its conversational abilities.”

But don’t think of chatbots as “just” for customer service

While chatbots absolutely make it easier for customers to get the information they need, there are several other possibilities for building one into your marketing plan. For example, chatbots are excellent for lead generation. Landing pages with “click to chat” options give customers an easy way for customers to ask questions during their site visits, but including simple questions about location, product preferences, and opinions about past purchases are an excellent way to better personalize future offers.

While chatbots are currently a “nice to have” feature for websites and messaging platforms, it’s likely that they’ll soon be a must-have for managing the customer relationship and gathering important customer data. Getting on board by building your chatbot now could put your business ahead of the curve.

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