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Remember in the 2000's when every business was scrambling to have a mobile app developed? Right now, chatbots are going through a similar process where brands around the world realise the business problems a conversational interface can solve.

The industry is new; there are few best practices, standard terms or processes. Your chatbot developer does not know how to talk to you, and you probably don't know how to talk to them.

To help you navigate your way, here's the ubisend guide on surviving the first contact with a chatbot development company.


Step 1: Think like a human, not a machine

Your first step should happen long before you meet any chatbot developers. You need a clear understanding of what problem your bot will help solve.

Don't think about geek stuff, or worry about the correct terminology. Just think about, or confirm, in plain English, what the problem is. Not only will it guide the selection of the chatbot development company, but it will also help align the process and outcome of the solution.

Do you want to focus on revenue generation?

Are your problems around conversion, shopping carts, customer service, or upselling?

Do you want to focus on lead generation?

Perhaps your problems are based on sales, sales qualification, or visitor-to-lead conversion?

Do you want to grow brand awareness?

Maybe you are looking for fun and innovative ways to stand out? Is your company being forgotten, has a declining share of voice, or struggling to be noticed?

Whatever your business problem, a chatbot may be a viable solution. However, it might not. As a chatbot development company, we like to think we can deliver solutions that solve many problems, however, if we do not think a chatbot is a way forward, we will tell you.

 

Step 2: A chatbot is for life, not just for Christmas

Think at a strategic level and align your chatbot with a two to three-year company direction.

If delivered correctly, your chatbot will be a new way for your business to communicate. Your audience will use it routinely and learn to rely on it; nobody wants it to be gimmicky and just for fun. It needs to be a useful tool, to pull its weight and align with a strategy.

 

Step 3: Have a human-level conversation

Now you are a little better prepared; it is time to meet your chatbot developers. They should focus on listening and understanding your needs, which you now know, right?

Don't let them bamboozle you with don't-really-mean-anything words or show you off-the-shelf demos they just knocked up. At this point, you should not even actually be talking about chatbots, functions or artificial intelligence.

Your first meeting with a chatbot developer should consist mostly of you talking (boo!). You explaining what problems you are facing. You telling what direction your company is going and how you think a chatbot might help (if in a competitive industry you might want to sign some paperwork before getting too strategic).

Again, don't worry about the right words or being unable to explain what you mean in technical terms. It is about both sides of the table understanding the big picture.

At the end of the first meeting, your chatbot developer should be able to answer the following questions.

What problem should the chatbot solve?

What is the ultimate goal of the chatbot?

What does a successful chatbot implementation look like?

 

Step 4: Make a human-level decision

After your first meeting, regardless of whether it was Skype or face-to-face, you should have a feeling about the chatbot development company. Did they listen? Did they understand your needs? Did they change what they talked about based on what you said, or did they just rattle through a standard pitch?

Use this gut feeling to decide if you should continue for a deeper conversation. Trust me, if the company does not listen to your needs at this stage, you are going to find it even harder after you have paid some money.

Hopefully, the company will get back to you with an email or short document detailing what you talked about and confirm they think a chatbot can help, perhaps along with a little narrative on how it might look.

I would not worry if this is quite a light touch. All you want to see is confirmation in their ability to listen and understand your business and, of course, they followed-up promptly.

If they start talking about specifics or send a quote, you should probably move on to the next developers. They are most likely trying to pigeonhole you into an off-the-shelf solution which is not personalised or bespoke (unless of course, a cheap and low-end solution is what your business needs).

 

Step 5: Deep dive on your chatbot

If you do go back for a second meeting, it is time for them do the talking. Let them lead and ask the questions. For them to quote accurately, this session should cover lots of ground.

Developing chatbots is quite similar to the whole "how long is a piece of string" problem. A chatbot can be a simple autoresponder on Twitter or an entirely AI-driven conversational interface in 200 plus topics across 20+ digital channels.

As well as answering their questions, use this meeting to assess their depth of knowledge and how thorough they are. Here are some of the practicalities they should cover:

  • What countries and languages your users are in/speak
  • Which channels they use
  • Potential audience size
  • Delivery dates
  • Functionalities
  • API integrations
  • Use of artificial intelligence
  • Human takeover/hybrid
  • Interactions
  • Personality, persona and language
  • Metrics and reporting

Where possible, ask probing 'why' and 'what' type questions.

If they ask you what channels the chatbot should be on, ask for their advice on what they think would be best.

If they ask you whether to use artificial intelligence, ask why you should and how it will help.

If they ask you what functions your chatbot needs, ask them to recommend based on your use case and their experience.

After this meeting, you should be feeling super-confident.

Confident in their ability to listen and understand, and confident in their capacity to deliver. Now, it should just be a matter of time, functionality and, of course, money.

 

Step 6: Quote time

The next stage is critical; it is where you see a paper version of your chatbot.

Sometime after the previous meeting, hopefully no more than a few days, you should receive a precise scope and proposal. This document should contain everything you have talked about, and exactly what the chatbot developer is going to deliver. Although it will probably be quite a hefty document, you should not assume bigger is better. As well as giving you the confidence your chatbot will do what you need; you are looking for these things:

  • personalisation,
  • accuracy,
  • value, and,
  • evidence.

PersonalisationYou should feel absolutely 100% confident they are building something bespoke to your exact requirements. You will see this in their summary of your needs, how the functionalities match those needs, timeline and budget.

Accuracy. This document is what your chatbot developer will build to. If they deliver what is contained, then they have fulfilled their side of the deal. If something you want is not included, it will probably be regarded as "out of scope" and therefore chargeable, or negatable.

Value. The chatbot industry (in its current form) is new. Many chatbot developers are charging over-the-top and delivering third-party developed solutions. You should see evidence and justification for all costs and functions. Check to make sure each 'bonus' or 'feature' is justified and worthwhile. Don't let them stuff your chatbot and inflate the cost.

Evidence. A quote should include proof of two things. One, they can deliver what they say, and two, they have achieved similar things before. It is your last chance for a sanity and confidence check. If you are not completely satisfied, walk away.

For a top-tier chatbot development company, the scoping and proposal document might also include a number of additional areas such as the following.

  • Any ongoing cost for delivery and support,
  • A service Level Agreement (SLA),
  • The process for additional work, amends and changes,
  • The details of PR and use in case studies,
  • Explanation of negative ramifications of artificial intelligence, and,
  • How they are handling blacklisting.

 

Step 7: Taking the leap

Who knows whether your chatbot will be successful? Who knows if your audience will use it and find it useful? Who knows if it will be worth the cost?

The simple answer is, no one does. Not you, not even the chatbot developers.

There are so few evidence-based case studies and success stories; no one can honestly tell you that your exact chatbot will be successful and meet its goals.

We can compare it to other solutions and use chatbots in similar industries as examples, but right now, as of March 2017, it is a leap of faith that your company needs to take.

Of course, being an early adopter is never without risk. However, without some degree of risk, one is limited in reward.

Act now, and your chatbot will gain the greatest impact in the press. It will have the greatest likelihood of engaging an audience and becoming a memorable experience. It will differentiate you from the competition and probably show your company as being innovative and forward-thinking.

You have done your due diligence on the chatbot developers, and confident the one you have picked will deliver. To get started, they will probably ask for some money upfront. Depending on the size of the project they may operate at 50 percent at the start and the rest upon delivery. If it is a larger project, they may lower the upfront cost but ask for payment at the midway point and again at the end.

If your chatbot uses lots of content, they may need you to prepare all the words and media before they start. If the bot needs to connect to your systems and servers, they may ask for a direct line to your techies.

Their scoping document may have been super-detailed, but things change, and unforeseen problems arrive. To give them the best chance of meeting the deadline and requirements, it is time to be understanding and helpful (but do not let them take advantage!).



Congratulations, you survived first contact with a chatbot development company.

What you want to avoid is the developer going too far down a rabbit hole you are not interested in. The only way to prevent this is through communication.

You are well within your rights to ask for updates and see progress. A good chatbot developer knows they should keep you up-to-date, if nothing else, it stops you hassling them! If it is a larger project, ask for a weekly update or to test the chatbot in its current state.

You have gone through the discovery process, you have seen enough evidence to have confidence in their ability to deliver, and now it is up to you to let them get on with it.