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Chatbot DevelopmentFebruary 2, 2017Written by Alex Debecker

Planning the Best Chatbot - Five Steps Before Building

Our experience planning and building chatbots is unique.

We have built many chatbots, from health and happiness, to financial and fun. Some use artificial intelligence; others rely on buttons and flows. The rapid growth in AI and messaging channels can sometimes make it tough for newcomers to figure out what is possible and how it will make a difference to your business.

To ensure every chatbot solution we develop meets our strict standards, we follow this specific framework that guides everything we do, from initial scoping with the client to development and continuous delivery.

Econsultancy recently said this about one of our chatbots:

"In terms of user interaction it’s one of the best I’ve used, appearing to understand and successfully respond to my basic questions."

chatbot early days

With this in mind, I want to share with you the five steps we go through before building a chatbot. This is the exact process we follow to reach the level of respect we reach within the industry.

Whatever chatbot framework you decide to follow, these five steps will help.

I have purposely kept it light on code and geeky stuff; it is designed for marketers, managers and those figuring out if a chatbot can help their business processes.

Here are the main steps of the chatbot framework we follow in every build:

Table of contents

The five pillars of planning the best chatbot

five pillars planning best chatbot

Before putting a single line of code down, you need to plan your chatbot. The five pillars of planning the best chatbot will help you with that.

As I've said in the introduction, these five pillars work whatever model you end up using (DIY platform, proof of concept or tailored development with ubisend).

Grab a piece of paper and start jotting down thoughts as you work through the article.

Pillar 1: the concept, or "why are you building this thing?"

chatbot concept

The concept behind your chatbot is the reason you are building it. It is what gets you excited about this project.

It is, as you can see, an extremely important first step of the process. A well-defined concept will help guide the project to success.

To help you define your chatbot concept, answer these questions:

  • What should our chatbot do?
  • Does our chatbot solve an issue? If so, what is it?
  • What is the number one reason for our chatbot to exist?
  • Who will use our chatbot?

These questions should help you zero in on your concept. Again, your chatbot concept does not have to be super-complicated or technical. It just needs to be a couple of sentences that anyone could understand.

Chatbot concept example:

"My chatbot helps me deal with incoming customer support queries. Its primary function is to ask my customers questions on their issue and direct them to the right customer support representative. It will save my company time and money."

Pillar 2: the tone of voice, or "how is it going to interact?"

chatbot tone of voice

The tone of voice of your chatbot is its personality. It is the way it is going to interact with humans. It is the way it is going to 'talk' and the type of words it is going to use.

It is critical to define your chatbot's tone of voice early on because it will be used throughout the build and lifetime of the chatbot.

To make a parallel to web design, your chatbot's tone of voice is similar to your website's colour pallet. It is something you have to set at the start, something that suits you and your brand, something that makes sense to you, your audience, and the product you sell.

To help you definite your chatbot's tone of voice, answer these questions:

  • Is my chatbot formal or informal?
  • Which age group is my chatbot targeting?
  • Is my chatbot friendly, serious, fun, computerised?
  • What mindset should my subscribers have when talking to my chatbot?

This is very much a branding exercise. I found this article to be helpful when exploring the tone of voice for some chatbots we built at ubisend.

Chatbot tone of voice example:

"My chatbot is friendly and informal. It will talk about fun topics to a young-ish generation. When people interact with my chatbot, they will be in a good mood which my chatbot's voice should mirror."

Pillar 3: the conversational UX, or "how is this actually going to work?"

chatbot conversational ux

Figuring out the conversational UX of your chatbot is a tad more technical. It is the way your chatbot operates in the background and how this is reflected when being used.

To define your chatbot's conversational UX, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my chatbot going to pretend to be human? (We strongly advise against attempting this).
  • Does my chatbot need to use AI?
  • Can my chatbot function as a simple message and button guided conversation?

We find it is during this stage where clients need input from a specialist.

Sit back and ask yourself how you think your chatbot will work. If you cannot find the answer, talk to someone who can help.

Chatbot conversational UX example:

"My chatbot will state that it is not human. It is going to guide users through a series of questions with defined answers. It is not going to require AI."

Pillar 4: the marketing, or "how are you going to get people to use this?"

chatbot marketing plan

I can hear you thinking:

'Ha, marketing. Seriously, marketing? I have not even built anything! I am sitting here in my pyjamas drinking my coffee, and you are asking me to prepare a marketing plan?'

Not really, but yes.

If you are thinking of building a chatbot you probably have intentions to make money from it (or saving money, depending on your situation).

Creating a fantastic chatbot is great, but if no one is using it, there little chance it will impact your bottom line.

Therefore, think about how you are going to get people using it. Think about it now, before you build it, so you can keep the basic strategy in mind as you build.

And, by the way, chatbot marketing is blowing up. So there's that.

To define your chatbot's marketing plan, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will it have a virality functionality?
  • How much marketing budget do I have?
  • Does my chatbot need branding or any collateral along with its persona?

Keep it relatively basic and straightforward. The point is to have an idea of how you are going to roll your chatbot out into the wild.

Chatbot marketing plan example:

"I have a very limited budget for chatbot promotion. My marketing plan will rely on telling my social followers about it and getting a few people onboard. My chatbot has virality potential due to the value it offers. I am going to implement a share function into it and try to grow its user base organically."

Pillar 5: your business model, or "how are you going to make money?"

chatbot business model

You have your concept; your chatbot has the start of a voice, you have ideas on how it is going to work and how to get people using it.

Good going!

Now for the fun part: money.

You may not have any intentions to make money with your chatbot, and that is fine. We have worked with charities as well as fun little projects with zero profitability planned.

Even if this is your situation, you need to sit down and think of your chatbot's business model. You have thought of what it does for its users (the actions it performs), now you need to think of what your chatbot is going to do for you/your company/your organisation.

To figure out your chatbot's business model, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my chatbot going to make me money, save me money, or neither? How am I going to benchmark its success?
  • What is the ideal path a user should take when interacting with my chatbot? (This is not user experience, this is conversion.)
  • What resources will my chatbot take to build, maintain, and grow?

Think of your chatbot as its own contained business. It is going to take time, money, and effort to create - even if you completely outsource it.

If it is a fun side project, try to get a vague idea of how you would ideally want it to work for you. It is very tempting to build one just for the sake of it (trust me, we have done a lot of that), but it always helps to try and look further down the line.

Conclusion, or "what are you waiting for?"

By now, you should have a firm idea of the chatbot you want to build.

You know what's next, don't you? Building the freakin' thing!

Though every chatbot, every client and every solution are different., they all use the same core elements above. Follow this plan to work through the key areas systematically. Do it every single time to ensure nothing you plan the best chatbot.

We build chatbots for a living, so feel free to reach out with any questions.