Not long ago, the brand marketing world caught bot fever.
Chatbots were the hottest new thing around, to both ease company resources while helping people get what they want–products, answers, pizza–more efficiently. But the technology was still primarily only realistically available to large companies with the budget and resources to build and maintain a bot platform. That’s where Reply.ai and R/GA saw an opportunity.
“We were looking at the numbers, and there’s around 60 million businesses on Facebook, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for businesses to create tools to better reach customers,” says R/GA San Francisco executive creative director Paulo Melchiori.
So the agency teamed with Reply.ai, a New York-based startup, to create BotBot, a bot that builds bots. The new platform helps anyone who owns a small business, no matter how tech-savvy, build a Facebook chatbot right from their mobile phones, through a simple chat interface.
While bot fever among major brands may be cooling, the goal for BotBot was to create a platform to simplify bot building and maintenance in a way that made sense for small business. A lot of the research went into figuring out the type of utilities that both small business owners and their customers would get the most out of. BotBot has three available templates–Ask Bot lets businesses answer their customers’ FAQs, Fitness Bot is for people to book classes at gyms and fitness studios, and Food Bot optimizes take-out and delivery orders for restaurants. More templates are set to be released every few weeks.
“There are other folks who have dabbled in templates, but this really takes it a step further and offers a level that really makes that value of bots to small businesses,” says Reply.ai’s head of business development Clara de Soto.
Right now, there are limited options for companies wanting to build a bot. There are developer toolkits, which are largely out of the question for small business owners because it requires an engineer. There are full-service bot shops but they tend to be beyond a small business budget. BotBot offers a legitimate third option, says de Soto. “It’s really the first player in the space to take a completely different approach,” she says. “While we do have templates working on the back-end, it really is like an extra staff member to help them create something, without adding time and resources for them.”
Much like how companies like Squarespace has made professionally designed websites available to anyone, the goal here is the same for chatbot utility. “It is about the democratization of this new technology, helping small businesses help potentially millions of customers on Facebook,” says Melchiori. “It’s a win-win, because if we let small business take advantage of it, they get more business, but as consumers, it makes life more efficient, by being able to order more food or book more appointments through Facebook.”