Bots are the new way businesses talk to their customers. First every business needed to have a website, then a mobile friendly design, then an app. Businesses are now building bots as a customer communication channel.

Bot adoption is growing fast! Since Facebook opened its Messenger in April this year, there have now been 33,000+ bots created on the platform. The great thing about bots is that the communication goes both ways. The “machine” attempts at understanding the questions asked and replies based on the user’s intent. The goal is to be fast, helpful and efficient. Currently, majority of the bots are automated with an assistant in the loop to help train the bot on new questions.

While bot ecosystem are still in its infancy, bot adoption by brands and users is growing exponentially. If you have a website, the chances are that you will need a bot in the future. Starting early puts you ahead of the game.

Don’t know where to start? Well, there are quite a few platforms out there to help you build a bot for your business or project. We had a chance to talk to 10 bot building platforms and here are the reviews to help you make your choice.


API.ai

Keywords: NLU, conversational agents, developer focused

API.AI is a developer platform for building conversational experiences for products and services. More than 85,000 developers are adding natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities to conversational agents in smart home automation, car infotainment systems, mobile & web applications, robots, wearables, Enterprise and other solutions using API.AI.

The platform provides tools for developers to design unique conversation scenarios, define corresponding actions and analyze interactions with users.

The API.AI NLU engine is based on state-of-the-art machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques. The platform learns from examples provided by developers and conversations it has with end users to continuously improve user experience.

“It’s no surprise we are seeing a lot of growth in this area. While people are getting used to engaging in conversations with products for information or to get things done faster, the user experience keeps getting better. Businesses need to start planning their strategies to implement conversational agents to get access to this fast growing audience. We are excited to see how conversational agents will change how we all live and work in the future,” says Ilya Gelfenbeyn, Product Manager API.AI at Google.


Flow XO

Keywords: flexible, customizable, user support

Flow XO is used by many of the industries across the board due to being highly customizable and flexible. “Our flexibility is definitely one of our strongest points,” says Kellsey Shaw, the Support & Onboarding Specialist at Flow XO.

“Even if we don’t have built-in support for a bot feature, it can be included using our Webhook feature. This flexibility teamed with over 90 pre-built integrations makes it possible to meet the needs of a wide range of use cases.”

Flow XO is supported by all the bot platforms and according to Kellsey, they are planning to introduce new features such as analytics very soon.

Besides offering great services and features the team takes pride in their support to the users. “We truly do go that extra mile to ensure that our customers are able to build great bots.”

If you want to read further on bot building with Flow XO, check out this case study with an existing customer.


Reply.ai

Keywords: customer service bots, easy integration, built-in CRM

“Reply.ai’s ‘agent takeover’ capability sets it apart. This feature allows a human to take control of a conversation when a bot can no longer sufficiently address a customer’s needs. Very important for our clients” — Tom Coshow, Managing Director at Transcosmos America and Reply.ai customer.

If you are looking to enhance your customer service experience, Reply.ai might be the answer.

Reply.ai offers a unified platform for building bots and it includes management tools, data, and analytics dashboard that allow customers to build a conversational strategy. What makes Reply.ai powerful is the integration into any customer service engine (Zendesk, Salesforce, Oracle, RightNow, Bright Pattern, and others), so that at any point a live agent can takeover the bot conversation without the agent leaving their preferred platform. The agent can kick the conversation back to the bot at any time to maximize efficiency.

“Our built-in CRM allows us to provide context for every interaction a user may have with a bot — so they’re never talking to a stranger,” said Clara de Soto, Co-founder and CMO at Reply.ai. “Overall, the strength of our platform is in its ability to integrate into existing systems, we make it as simple as possible to integrate into APIs, call Webhooks, you name it.”

Reply.ai serves variety of industries from retail, to auto, to CPG, to Starbucks. “We even had the Ad Council build GoVoteBot — a bot that helps people navigate the quagmire of the voter registration process,” adds Clara.

Reply.ai biggest challenge? Helping its customers overcome use case questions. Clara points out that companies know they need a bot but have hard time identifying the right use cases. And here is where Reply.ai tends to be hands on.


Recast.ai

Keywords: Sharing, simplicity, luxury brands, public services

Recast is a French company with a bot building platform created upon machine learning and NLP tech. They build their own algorithms and it is worth noting that their AI is able to learn from particularly small datasets; you can have an AI running with an input of 20 sentences. Also the platform is very easy to operate.

I have recently run a workshop with 4th graders and we managed to build an ice-cream bot in just a few hours. Rémi Meunier, Recast.ai COO, was very helpful and he also shared some of his insights with us. Remi said that the main value of Recast.ai is sharing.

“Every user can look into others’ creations to find inspiration, and even copy what they like. In one year only our community grew from 0 to more than 4000 developers, in more than 65 countries,” says Remi.

Recast.ai is used by banks, luxury brands, customer service companies and public companies in transportation and energy sectors. Remi specifies that banks ask Recast.ai for tailor-made solutions enabling them to create and monitor SMS/Messenger bots that can answer their clients’ simple questions such as “How much is there on my account right now?”, “I’d like to talk to my counsellor, please set me up a (phone) meeting” and “Have I received my last pay check?”.

Meanwhile luxury brands want to create bots in order to answer their customers’ and potential customers’ questions about a galaxy of products (cosmetics, beauty products, fashion) on social networks like Messenger or Kik, and then adapt their marketing strategies to the feedback they receive.

Lastly, public transportation and energy companies ask for information bots that allow customers to ask questions such as “When does the next train to this city leave?” and “How much is my electricity bill this month?”.

One of the biggest challenges Recast.ai is working on is maximizing the UX. “You really expect bots to make a difference compared to the traditional ways of connecting with a brand, a company,” says Remi. “However, still today many of our clients come to us because they want bots that can do exactly the same thing their websites do, in particular when it comes to filling forms. But in my opinion this approach doesn’t produce anything good, because you end up with bots that are really frustrating and that ask personal questions right away in order to collect data. At Recast.ai we insist on first having a great UX before thinking about asking for an email or a phone number. If the UX is great and the users see a real benefit in talking to the bot they will freely give their contact data.”

We agree with Remi that bots are a little bit abstract notion for many in 2016 but will become a household name in a year from now and their impact will be huge.


Howdy.ai

Keywords: Startups, Slack, Developers, Code

BotKit (by Howdy.ai) is a popular open-source bot making toolkit with thousands of developers working together. Ben Brown, BotKit’s CEO, points out that “The developer community is a fantastic, friendly resource that no other toolkit can match.”

Their team works closely with companies like Slack, Microsoft and IBM to enable Botkit developers with the latest features and tools to create powerful bots. One of the great things about Botkit is the full ownership of what you’ve created: developers and startups can host their own code, store their own user data, and own the technology they build.

Botkit is widely used in startup ecosystem. “Primarily, developers have been using Botkit to create Slack bots, but we’ve seen more interest in Facebook Messenger as new features have been announced,” adds Ben.

The teamwork and community support plays an important role here, Botkit collects and shares resources to give developers more options and knowledge. “We believe that the best and most useful bots will be built using code,” saysBen. “There are great tools available that let you build a bot without writing a line of code, but that kind of tool can never deliver a bot with novel new features or non-trivial functionality. We want to see a world filled with useful, productive bots doing things on our behalf, not just feeding us product catalogs in a different format.”

The company is excited to foster the bot-making community. Ben also shared with us that soon they will be releasing Botkit Studio to the public.

“The developer community is a fantastic, friendly resource that no other toolkit can match.”

It is a hosted development environment for bots that provides a UI for script authoring, easy-to-use NLP integrations and other handy features for managing your bots. If you’d like to sign up to test Botkit Studio before launch, you can do it here: https://howdyai.typeform.com/to/JNTm22


Meya.ai

Keywords: human/bot hybrid, developer focused, bot flow abstraction

Meya.ai is a platform to build and host bots with a strong focus on developer community. The platform includes bot building tools, integration with all the popular messenger apps, provides conversational framework, connects you to analytics, allows to create bot/human agent and facilitates connection to API access.

Meya.ai CEO Erik Kalviainen said that platform’s strongest features are bot flow abstraction (YAML-based flow markup language), developer-first approach to make more powerful bots and human/bot hybrid support.

The platform is widely used by brands looking to engage customers, FinTech and Banking industry and e-commerce with human support hybrid. One of its main challenges is making bots “smarter” by integrating cognitive components which Erik and his team are solving by integrating with the leading machine learning offerings from Facebook, IBM, Google, Microsoft.

Erik believes that industry landscape is getting richer as bots are getting more sophisticated and have better UX and technology.

“A key for Meya is our developer community focus. We can’t build this on our own. We look to actual bot builders to help align our ‘True North,’ ” says Erik.


Gupshup.io

Keywords: toolkit for bots, entire bot lifecycle, bot under 2 minutes

Gupshup.io is a platform that allows you to build bots and deploy them to any messaging channel. The bot makers are given a wide range of tools to build bots. These tools include the Flow Bot Builder for non-developers to build bots, the Template Bot Builder for SME’s to create bots, and the IDE Bot Builder for developers to create complex bots.

“Bot makers can leverage our other features such as testing tools, bot hosting, bot monitoring, analytics and of course one-click publishing,” says Sohan, Lead Developer Relations at Gupshop.io. “Our platform is the only one that offers tools for the entire bot lifecycle. A bot maker can actually create and deploy a simple bot in under two minutes.”

The platform is avidly used by Ecommerce, Financial Services, Staffing, Customer Support and Retail. Gupshup.io provides extensive documentation and screencasts to make it easy for bot builders. The platform is offering 100k API calls free per user which will cover the testing and initial phase for any bot.

Sohan also said that even though the bot ecosystem is relatively new it is quite clear that bots represent a major paradigm shift and are here to stay. Brands are launching bots to engage with the customers and users are slowly adopting bots by using them more and more.


Motion.ai

Keywords: botstore, easy bot building, complex bot flows, small businesses

Motion.ai excells with users who want to rapidly create robust bots without touching a line of code. It offers a toolkit to create a bot, deploy it on any messaging platform, connect it to APIs and do it all within your budget. You have a choice to create a free account and build 2 bots before signing to a next tier plan.

Fellow startups and small and medium size businesses are currently using the platform to build and run their bots. Also several brand agencies utilize Motion.ai to create bot-driven campaigns for their clients.

“Our main challenge is to maximize the ability to build complex bot flows, while minimizing the barrier to creation as much as possible,” says David Nelson, Motion.ai CEO. “As a result, mixing stellar back-end technology with great front-end UI and UX practices weigh very heavily on our strategy.”

Motion.ai seems to work perfect for small businesses. HomeHero creators used the platform to build their bot.

“A few months back we were looking for a powerful tool that our small team could use. We were fortunate to be an early beta user of motion.ai because it let us build really quickly and intuitively. It is an exceptionally powerful tool and the support from the motion.ai team on Slack is fantastic.” — HomeHero


Init.ai

Keywords: NLP, machine learning, monitoring conversations

Init.ai is all about building, training and deploying intelligent conversational apps. It allows you to automate conversations, analyze them for actionable insight and assist sales and support staff in communications.

Init.ai combines a unique conversational NLP system with hosted business logic, messaging connections, and simple developer tools to provide a powerful, flexible platform for creating conversational applications and bots.

“Our mission is to make creating sophisticated conversational applications simple for any business. Our biggest challenge is taking powerful machining learning technology and making it accessible to developers everywhere.” — Keith Brisson, Init.ai CEO.

As of now Init.ai focuses on high-value, professional applications and workflows leveraging their unique, internal NLP system to enable more fluid, natural conversation. “The bot landscape is part of a larger trend towards consumers using language chat to interact with businesses and computers,” adds Keith. “We believe that most of the real use cases for bots and the compelling user experiences have yet to be created, but are on the horizon.”


Octane.ai

Keywords: content creators, marketing tools, fast bot creation

Octane.ai is one of the newest players in the bot platform ecosystem, but it has a bright future. It aims to be the easiest way to launch and manage bots.

We could also tell this by the enthusiasm that Megan Berry, Head of Product at Octane.ai put in talking to us about the platform.

“With Octane.ai, you can create bot in just a few minutes without having to program or design anything,” says Megan. “You don’t have to create your bot from the ground up and you don’t have to learn conversational interfaces; we’ve done all of that for you. All you have to do on Octane.ai is choose what you want your bot to do and then customize it to match your brand.”

Octane.ai focuses on content creators, publishers/media, YouTubers, podcasters, musicians, athletes, startups, brands, and anyone with a large audience who wants to build a bot.

The platform is currently in private beta and its current users include 50 Cent, Aerosmith, KISS, Magic Mike Live, Lindsay Lohan and SPiN.

When we asked Megan about their main challenges she pointed that it is to make building a bot as simple as blogging. “We are the easiest platform out there for making bots, but we can remove even more friction.” Talking about the future of bots Megan adds that every business needs a strategy to engage with their customers on messaging apps — just as they have a strategy for email marketing or social media marketing.

“Bot is an opportunity, because instead of asking a customer to download a new mobile app (most won’t) you can simply send them to your messenger experience. For instance, few people are going to download a musician’s iOS app and turn on push notifications, but they will absolutely subscribe to their bot. We believe that bot AI will mature over time, but we’re still in the early stages.”