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Build your own bot, small businesses urged

News, 18 May 2017
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NEW YORK: A bot that builds bots for small businesses has been created by R/GA and Reply.ai in an effort to democratize the technology.

Despite their growing popularity, only big brands have been able to dedicate the resources and funds required to build and maintain a bot platform; however, Reply.ai, a New York-based bot building and management platform, and ad agency R/GA have created an alternative.

"We were looking at the numbers," R/GA San Francisco executive creative director Paulo Melchiori told Fast Company: "there’s around 60m businesses on Facebook, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for businesses to create tools to better reach customers."

Using Facebook Messenger, BotBot "allows small businesses to build chatbots in minutes, not months, without assistance", the agency writes on its website. "The chatbot is actually built using a chatbot."

The partnership aimed to understand the kind of utilities that small business owners and customers would need. As a result, this led to three different templates currently available: Ask Bot answers FAQs; Fitness Bot allows users to book gym classes; and Food Bot helps optimize take-away and delivery for restaurants.

Though other platforms have "dabbled" in templates, Clara DeSoto, Reply.ai’s head of business development, said BotBot "really takes it a step further and offers a level that really highlights the value of bots to small businesses". New templates will be added periodically to provide further functionality.

For small business, the developer toolkits provided by Facebook, among others, are of no use because they require a skilled engineer; likewise, outsourcing development is expensive.

"It is about the democratization of this new technology, helping small businesses help potentially millions of customers on Facebook," said Melchiori.

The perception of bots varies from country to country, however: last week a LivePerson study that surveyed 5,000 people found that 50% of respondents in France reported a positive experience, compared with just 32% in the US.

Elsewhere, Digiday has reported slowing growth amid "overpromising" on behalf of agencies although it also acknowledged continued client interest.

At South by Southwest, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM’s CEO Chris McCann outlined how the gift business had developed a "gift concierge" – an AI-driven chatbot – and explained why the growth of voice-activated services will require brands to respond accordingly.

Despite the "risks and challenges involved," he said, "the opportunity to solidify that relationship [with customers] is even greater."

Data sourced from Fast Company, Business Insider, Digiday, WARC; additional content by WARC staff.

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