The best chatbot platforms for commercial-grade bots as of September 2019

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…and an outlook on 2020 for Bot Professionals and Marketing Managers

As we’re winding down from the spectacle that was Manychat’s Conversations 2019 let’s recap and have a look at what is currently going on in the chat- and voice bot market. I will outline the current reality and vision of the available bot building platforms, and en passant give you some insights on how we at BotBizzBuilders think the best bots are built in 2020. What are the best tools for building professional chat- and voice bots?

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The market leaders

Manychat and Chatfuel used to both be ahead of the pack. They have been stable platforms for a long time now and they are both offering their own great version of an easy-to-use bot building interface. Over the last year Manychat have made an incredible leap forward, adding functionality that pleases both developers and marketers. The extension of their API methods, improvements to the flow builder and of course the recent addition of Email and SMS as part of their native interface have left a big footprint for others to step into.

Chatfuel on the other hand seems to have slowed down rather than sped up their development of new features. For regular users the most notable updates have been the ability to add multiple actions to a button click and the updated JSON API block. I’m wondering if the platform still targets business owners and other single-bot users, or maybe they have accepted that Manychat will always be the preferred choice for those looking for an easy bot solution. That would explain why they are putting so much emphasis on their new Premium Agency Program.

The Chatfuel Premium Agency Program includes a white-label dashboard and access to the ‘Dashboard API’ which -among other things- allows us to clone bots by a simple API request, thus allowing us to automate the sale of chatbots. This is great for chatbot agencies who sell templates as part of a complete bot solution.

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Well, there’s FlowXOMobile MonkeyQuriobot and Activechat who each have their strengths and weaknesses. Quriobot is known for their user-friendly interface, making it a good solution for those who are just starting out with bots.

Activechat has long struggled with stability issues and has now scheduled the long-awaited release of their v2 for the end of this month (September 2019). If their update is anything close to what they promised us they may become a serious force in the bot platform market, but earlier roll-outs have often come with serious bugs with very slow follow-up. Some of Activechat’s functionality is now stable and their main strengths are the easy e-commerce bot integration for Shopify and WooCommerce and their Javascript bot widget for web chat support.

NLP and Programmatic bot platforms

Most bot builders will be familiar with DialogFlow. This Natural Language Processing (NLP) platform has become the AI backbone of many commercial bots because it is easy to integrate with the aforementioned WYSIWYG bot platforms. It has a very user-friendly interface, and DialogFlow offers a wide range of easy integrations with different Messaging channels as well as the Google Assistant, Alexa and an IVR Phone Gateway integration for voice. NLP-enabled bots are able to respond to free text requests from the user and produce the best possible answer — if trained correctly.

Other important platforms for building smart NLP-enabled bots are IBM Watson, the Alexa Skill Kit and the Oracle Digital Assistant. Like DialogFlow which is owned by Google, these platforms are backed by some of the best programmers in Machine Learning and provide loads of options for the advanced bot developer. Most notably, the Oracle Digital Assistant team have developed a unique ‘BotML’, a markup language that is is tailored to their bot platform.

We’ve had the opportunity to work with ODA on a couple of projects and the learning curve of their BotML is very high compared to the other NLP platforms. However, the BotML allows us to control the flow, elements, certainty thresholds and other bot elements in such a detailed way that it’s probably the most robust solution that exists on the market today. What is needed for bots on ODA are the financial resources and long-term vision to empower the enterprise with human-like bot experiences that fully integrate with Oracle’s data processing platforms. Bots on this platform can become true goldmines for the data-driven enterprise while remaining within the confinements of GDPR (EU) and ECPA (USA) legislation.

Choosing a platform

Even though the bot building market sees some very comprehensive platforms, our BotBizzBuilders team still like to choose ours very carefully based on client needs and technical specs. The prevalence of the Facebook Messenger platform for chatbots is clear yet also a potential threat when complacency wins from careful analysis. ‘Where are my customers’ and finding the best way to engage with them remain fundamental questions that drive the best commercial-grade bots in the business.