When you engage in a conversation with someone using chat, it’s a much better medium than email because there is a real-time element to it. It’s the perfect tool for companies to use when looking to engage a potential sales lead on a website or for answering customer support questions. When we remove the human element from one side of the chat then we have what is called a “chatbot”. They’re all the rage these days and people can’t get enough of them:
If you’re a CTO at a decent sized company, you want to get involved with this whole chatbot thing so you don’t look like a tool at the next cocktail event when people ask you if you’re “using chatbot technology” and you have to admit you don’t. At the same time, you don’t want to make a significant investment in chatbots because then you’ll be forced to show the ROI and you don’t want to be facing the firing squad if it turns out to be a gimmick. What you need is a “chatbot as a service” that’s quick to implement and reasonably priced. The chatbot platform you use should be industry agnostic since that implies a whole lot less customization. When you go ask one of your MBAs to do some research, she comes back with something that looks like this:
We’re not interested in any of the bot developer frameworks because that means we’d have to hire developers and manage the whole thing ourselves. We just want to find a company that can give us a chatbot quickly and with minimal fuss. When we talk about a chatbot, we’re basically talking about the ability to understand what somebody types on any messaging platform (this is Natural Language Processing which uses AI) and then put together a response based on a set of pre-defined actions that all business have in common (check on order status, check if something is in stock) or based on a unique source of data (your customer support knowledge base). Here are 7 chatbot platforms that will let you create chatbots quickly and easily.
Maybe the biggest player out there by numbers is a strangely named Silicon Valley startup called Gupshup which was founded in 2009 and has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding so far. They claim to have the “world’s most advanced bot and messaging platform” and even if that’s an exaggeration, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. Presently they’re handling about 4 billion messages a month through their self-service bot platform which supports just about every channel you can think of. The nice thing about their platform is that it caters to all levels of experience. It offers a solution for the entire range of technical competencies, from MBAs all the way to developers:
With some of the world’s biggest names using Gupshup like McDonald’s, Kelloggs, Uniliever, Cisco, and Citibank to name a few, you’re surrounding yourself with some pretty good company.
Founded in 2015, New York startup Pypestream has taken in $22.46 million in total funding so far to develop their “Smart Messaging Platform that uses artificial intelligence and chatbots to better connect businesses to their customers”. The platform supports functions like marketing, customer service, billing, etc. through a native app or 3rd party chat apps like Facebook Messenger, SMS, web chat, as well as IoT devices like Pepper and Alexa.
The solution is industry agnostic though they’re targeting airlines, insurance, utilities, telecommunication, and financial services. You can integrate the solution with popular CRM systems like SalesForce and call center software solutions like Sabre. Incredibly, more than 12,000 businesses have adopted Pypestream to message with their customers.
Pypestream’s business model is unique in that they want their app to be seen as “the customer service app” which consumers will download and then use for your utility company, your travel company, your airline, etc. For businesses, the tool is a “freemium” offering which means it’s free to use but extra functionality will cost you. This is probably why they’ve managed to gain so many enterprise customers so quickly. The Pypestream app is downloadable from App Store or Google Play.
Founded in 2005, Silicon Valley startup Inbenta has taken in $16 million in 4 rounds of funding to develop AI-powered chatbot solutions for enterprises under a service they call the “InbentaBot” which speaks 25 languages. You also have the option of having your support emails sent directly to Inbenta which can then answer them using the same technology they use to parse through conversations in a chat setting. Ticketmaster now resolves over 98% of incoming customer support emails using Inbenta. Think about that for a second. Feeding the tool with content for answering questions can happen in two ways:
- You can use Inbenta Backstage Analytics, their CRM tool, that lets you edit the content and store it in their cloud infrastructure.
- You can edit the content in your own infrastructure or website and use their web crawler to index your knowledge base into Inbenta. If you have your content in Zendesk, they use their secure APIs to access the Zendesk knowledge base and then implement Inbenta.
Other companies that use their service include Groupon, Live Nation, Skyscanner, and Schlage (popular brand of locks) which saw their email tickets reduced by 50%. In addition to these names, Inbenta has more than 200 customers using their platform which they’ve been developing now for 10 years.
Founded in 2014, Silicon Valley startup Avaamo has taken in $9.3 million in 2 rounds of funding from investors that include Indian IT giant Wipro (NYSE:WIT). While the initial intent was to build a “secure business messaging mobile app”, the company has since pivoted into chatbots by providing a chatbot platform for enterprises easily made available across popular messaging channels like Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Line, or WeChat. The technology can do colloquial, linguistic, and domain-specific context, running customer conversations through various behavior “handlers” which check for language, tone, and intent. They offer a “bot-as-a-service” offering in which they will develop, design, and host your bot for an annual fee.
This next company isn’t pure chatbot but it’s so cool we had to include it. Founded in 2013, London startup DigitalGenius has taken in $7.35 million in funding to develop their “human + AI” platform that’s exactly what you need if you want to slowly work your way into chatbots. The system works to suggest responses to customr inquiries and then the customer service rep approves them as seen below:
You can see the above confidence level is 95%. What you can then do is have the system automatically send responses that fall above a certain confidence level. Over time, AI learns from the responses that are changed by humans in order to increase confidence levels. Right now you can integrate this tool into Salesforce or Zendesk and BOOM, you’re using chatbots.
Founded in 2011, Spanish startup Aivo has taken in $1.85 million in funding so far to develop their “Agentbot” which they describe as “automatic customer support powered by artificial intelligence”. Over 100 million conversations have already taken place on the platform which is being used by some big names like AT&T, General Motors, Sony, LG, and Mastercard. With 2 million hours of talk time spent between machines and humans, the customer support cost savings are somewhere around 68%. Their proprietary AI engine can handle text across all possible channels and even voice while allowing you to aggregate everything into a single dashboard:
You can even integrate their chatbots into ads in order to immediately interact with possible leads.
If you just want to create a simple chatbot for Facebook and not spend any money, then Chatfuel is probably for you. Founded in 2015, this Silicon Valley startup has taken in just $120,000 in seed funding to develop a platform that lets you create Facebook chatbots for free (unless you plan on hitting more than 500,000 monthly active users). No programming is required and it’s so simple they say that even an MBA can use it to create a chatbot in about 7 minutes:
More than 360,000 chatbots have been created using the platform which is used by big names like CNBC, UBER, ABC News, MTV, and Volkswagen.
While we’ve just given you 7 chatbot platforms, there are 100s of chatbot platforms out there (many of which will be emailing us shortly asking us why we didn’t include them in this article). That’s because by 2020, Gartner claims that 9 out of 10 online customer interactions will be handled by a machine. Larger companies should note that this is coming soon anyway as a feature of the tools you already use today. You might not heard of Genesys but they’re a leader in omnichannel customer experience & contact center solutions used by over 10,000 companies worldwide. Check out their offering:
A “virtual agent” is just another name for a chatbot. It all boils down to using a machine to answer questions people have or perform tasks for them. Then there’s LivePerson (NASDAQ:LPSN), a $639 million company that just partnered with IBM Watson to offer chatbots. By the end of this decade, we’ll hopefully just lose the terms “virtual agent” or “chatbot” entirely since this technology will be so pervasive.
Lastly, for all you MBAs reading this who might be thinking of building a chatbot platform, the first thing you’ll need is a group photo of diverse people that should include a Hindu (the Hindu can also pass for a Muslim since most Americans can’t tell the difference), a woman of color (two birds with one stone), one oriental person (if girl, attractive, if boy, nerdy), someone of Latin origin who can pass as a Mexican, more women, and some tall, pasty-looking white dudes with glasses. Here’s an example from the DigitalGenius home page of what you’re aiming for:
And here’s another example from the homepage of Agentbot:
Looks like they made the Hindu guy and the woman of color change their shirts between shots and they kicked out the Mexican dude (Agentbot is a Spanish startup so he’s not considered diverse) but pretty much the same group of people. If you spend some time digging around, you can probably find out who they are and get this wandering troupe of diversity to pose for your chatbot startup too.
Looking to buy shares in companies before they IPO? A company called Motif Investing lets you buy pre-IPO shares in companies that are led by JP Morgan. You can open an account with Motif with no deposit required so that you are ready to buy pre-IPO shares when they are offered.