Battle of the Bots: Custom Vs. Platform – Which is Better?

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Posted by Adam Croxen on 31 Oct, 2019

So, you’ve decided to build a chatbot for your business. Great! There are a number of benefits that chatbots present, for both businesses and the end-user.

Before building your bot, perhaps the most important decision you need to make is whether you will choose a custom solution, or build your bot using a platform. These two methods of building a bot differ in some very important ways – most notably in bot personality, cost, and time to build.

Should you develop a custom and bespoke chatbot, or should you trust that an off-the-shelf option can meet your criteria? This crucial decision could be what makes or breaks your bot. Custom or platform: what’s best for your business?

Defining Custom and Platform Bots

What do we mean when we refer to a bot as custom or platform built?

Custom

To keep it simple, a custom bot is built from scratch, often done by an agency or a development team. Custom bots are more intricate. They understand customer intent better, they can carry out two-way conversation, and can answer more complex customer queries. Powered by complex artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and natural language processing (NLP), a custom bot evolves with experience and learns from each interaction.

Custom bots can live on several platforms, such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Slack – you get to pick! They can use any conversational interface, for example, Amazon Lex or Google DialogFlow, to interpret and process language. We won’t go too much into the technicalities of building a custom bot here, however, it’s important to note that you get to choose from more options than you would with a DIY platform.

Image credit: Ben Strawson – Technical Director, Future Platforms

Perhaps the biggest difference between a custom bot and a platform one is the human touch. With custom bots, you will be able to speak with developers and discuss your business requirements and needs. This can be extremely beneficial for businesses who may need some expert guidance.

Platform

A platform bot, on the other hand, is usually built by picking from pre-existing templates, conversational flow builders, and other tools. Some even have drag-and-drop functionalities. Many allow you to build a chatbot without needing any coding skills. They are generally easy to get started with, however, you risk losing some of the personalisation and natural conversation flows that are achieved through custom bots.

Future Platforms - Platform Chatbot Example
Image credit: Chatfuel

Common DIY platforms include Chatfuel, which doesn’t require any coding skills and the free version gives access to many features (up to 5000 subscribers). If you wish to include anything beyond what the platform offers, however, you will need to pay an additional fee. The chatbot will also feature the Chatfuel branding on it.

Botsify is another commonly used chatbot builder, which lets you create bots for your website or Facebook Messenger. It offers more integrations than most platforms, for example, Shopify, WordPress, and Alexa.

One important thing to keep in mind if you’re considering the DIY option is that you will be doing everything yourself. This includes outlining your bot requirements, specs, scripts, architecture, testing, deployment, and more. You won’t receive the support you can get from a development team when choosing the custom route.

Perhaps the biggest difference between a custom bot and a platform one is the human touch.

Adam Croxen, Future Platforms

 

Which one is Better?

This isn’t necessarily a case of one version is bad, one version is good. It all depends on what your business needs are when it comes to the reasons for implementing a chatbot.

There are three main areas in which custom and platforms bots differ: bot characteristics, the difference in cost, and the time in takes to build. These should be considered before making your decision.

Bot Personality

Your chatbot is a representation of your business, so it’s important that it embodies your brand correctly.

How it comes across is mostly dependent on its personality.

Custom

When you choose the custom route, there are less limitations to what your bot can do. You will also have the guidance of the development team helping to build a bot with bespoke features tailored specifically for your business.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should let your imagination run wild. It’s important that you have a clear vision of what you want your bot to do, and then pick out the features that will help you achieve this. It’s better to excel in one thing – like providing great customer service – then attempt to do a lot of things and do them badly.

Platform

Your bot is limited to what the platform provides. If you need a specific feature and the platform doesn’t have it, then bad luck! You will either have to learn how to integrate this yourself, go without, or find a new platform.

However, you can’t export a bot. If you choose another platform, you will have to start again from scratch and risk the possibility of encountering the same problem down the line, thus repeating the steps all over again. If you’re pressed for time or lack the resources, this can be a very frustrating process.

When you choose the custom route, there are less limitations to what your bot can do.

Difference in Cost

Many assume that after a bot is deployed, their work is over! But there are essentially two stages to your chatbot, and these need to be factored in to the cost as well; the initial set up and maintenance following distribution. 

Custom

With custom bots, you have to remember that you’re paying for someone to build the software for you. That developer will be charging an hourly fee and often the price depends on:

  • The developer’s experience;
  • What features you request;
  • The scale of the project, and;
  • The number of integrations.

In regards to maintenance, the development team will make any changes required to your chatbot.

You get what you pay for, however. A developer is going to have the experience and knowledge necessary to build a high-quality bot. This means there’s likely to be less back-and-forth when it comes to making changes.

Platform

Most platforms won’t charge you for building a bot, so the initial cost is zero or very small. Platforms will usually start charging a monthly fee when you start using the chatbot. This is a good option for businesses who aren’t sure if a chatbot will work well for them, and want to test one out before fully committing.

When it comes to maintenance, changes are usually easier to do on a platform but you will be required to make them yourself, so be prepared. Again, if you require changes that go beyond the scope of the platform, you will either have to invest money or find someone in your business with coding skills.

Building Time

Last but not least – how long will it take you to build your bot?

You’ll need to devote a sizeable amount of time to create a business case for your bot, build it, test it, and deploy it. The time it takes to test if your bot works the way you want it to is usually overlooked or underestimated, so keep in mind this portion will likely take longer than you think.

Image credit: Chatbots Magazine

Custom

With custom-built bots, you will have an experienced developer, or team, and a project manager overlooking the progress of your chatbot. They will be able to pick up mistakes, test that everything works smoothly, and make changes where required.

Here is a rough timeline, just to give you an idea:

App integrations – This will depend on the complexity of your bot, but you can expect this to take around 40-50 hours.

Communication interface development – Command language interpreter can take around 40-50 hours, whereas more intricate NLP can be anywhere from 120 to 160 hours.

Business logic – If you have existing web applications or APIs for a mobile app, for example, your bot can be adapted to your existing business logic. This can take either up to 160 hours if your logic isn’t too complex, or up to 190 hours if you need it created from scratch.

Platform

The time for building a bot on a DIY platform is really dependent on you. As you will be building it yourself, you will essentially be choosing how much time to spend on it. You will also be required to do all the testing yourself, which means that if you’re not a confident tester or even planner, then it’s likely that some things will be missed.

There is then the added risk of your clients using a bot that isn’t 100 percent functional. This can negatively impact your business and brand.

To give you a ballpark figure, however, expect to spend at least a few days building the bot, and then a few days or even weeks testing it.

The Bottom Line

Your business chatbot needs and goals should determine which kind of chatbot will work best, and whether you require it to be built custom or if an off-the-shelf solution will do the job.

If you have decided to use a DIY platform, all of this will have to be done by you or someone in your business. If you choose to develop a custom bot, however, the agency will build your business case and your chatbot, as well as test, deploy, and monitor it to ensure it’s all working smoothly.

If you’re looking for advice on the best route for your business, our experts are standing by to offer free consultations and guidance on what kind of bot will work best.

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