For when you want to deliver simple information quickly to users in response to their needs, without being present.
What they do
Chatbots automate interactions with your users on your website and messenger services. When a user needs simple information or to carry out a simple task a chatbot helps them do it by replying to their questions.
You design and build your chatbot with a developer. You design ‘conversation flows’ based on common questions from your users.
When a user encounters your chatbot it introduces itself. Then it asks how it can help. The user tells them what they need in a text box or by speaking. The bot answers immediately using information you’ve told it to give in response to that type of need or question. The conversation continues until the user leaves. The user can return and use the chatbot anytime.
Chatbots can run on messenger service platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. They can also be built into websites and other digital places. You usually need a web developer to build a chatbot. They might use Microsoft’s Bot Service, BotPress or one of many others. Open source chatbot platforms are free to use. Your developer will need to choose one.
Things to consider
Is there a need?
Chatbots are popular but you should think about if you really need one. They are good for simple tasks that users might be performing for the first or only time. They aren’t good for complex or repetitive tasks. Complex tasks need more sophisticated support from a human. Repetitive tasks are easier for users when they don’t have to ask the chatbot each time.
Sometimes it might be worth trying out a supportive and information rich autoresponse on your messaging service before you decide to try a chatbot.
It’s important to think about the conversation flows your chatbot will be based on. Really you are designing a conversation. Good conversations should have personality, use natural language and show they understand people’s needs. Those needs should be based on evidence of what your users already ask and the tasks they are trying to achieve. They should not be based only on what you think they need.
Where are the real people?
Think about how you will help users with more complex questions and those your chatbot can’t answer. Give them access to real people. Your staff may be available to step into the conversation or perhaps the user will need to wait until they are available. Think about how this handover from chatbot to human will happen.
While chatbot platforms can be free, you’ll still need to pay a developer to code and implement it.
It is possible to build your own chatbot without knowing how to code. But we’d recommend getting help from a developer first.
Think about which channel to deploy your chatbot to. Social media channels might suit your users best. Or perhaps it will be more appropriate to provide access via your website. It depends on what your users need and when.
Charities using this tool
Chayn built Little Window – a chatbot to help survivors get help on asylum, divorce and domestic abuse issues.
Citizens Advice built a chatbot to get feedback from staff and help them find information more quickly.
Many digital services will require a combination of more than one tool. As part of the Catalyst initiative service recipes are being developed– these practical guides describe how charities have used tools in combination to deliver digital services.
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