You have decided it is time to embrace the AI revolution by building and deploying an AI chatbot for your business. There are many options in terms of function, content, live chat availability or AI capabilities. One of these options is where to deploy the bot. The two most popular options are on a Web site or via SMS (texting). We will discuss how to pick the right medium.
Web-based chatbot (the familiar chat icon on the bottom right corner of websites)
Sleek User Interface: depending on the Web bot provider you pick, the Web bot may have some fancy UI capabilities ranging from buttons to tap, to floating rendering, to auto-complete, to alerts, and so on.
No need to install mobile app
Security: most Web bot providers use encryption (HTTPS) to transmit user messages. Some of them even offer domain-specific security and privacy standards such as HIPAA-compliance for healthcare, or CCPA/CPRA or GDPR.
Chatbot cannot initiate a conversation. For example, the chatbot cannot send a reminder the next day.
Hard to automatically authenticate users (may ask for username/password). This creates friction, as the bot thinks that every time the user visits the Web page, they are a new user. Cookies can alleviate this problem, but they create privacy concerns and also do not carry across devices or browsers.
Spam possible: users can chat anonymously, so some conversations may be spam.
These properties make Web bots appropriate for front-desk tasks, or to help a user navigate a Website. They are also good for customer service and live chat escalation.
Great for authentication, as a phone number generally uniquely identifies a user. That is, there is no need for usernames and passwords.
No need to install an app.
Chatbot can initiate conversation. Ideal for automated reminders. follow-ups, marketing campaigns, and so on.
No fancy user interface, like buttons tapping or autocomplete. Images and videos may display fine, depending on the specific phone model and texting application.
Weak security and privacy. For example, it is not natively HIPAA-compliant, but could be used to exchange sensitive information with the user’s consent (acknowledging the risk).
More expensive, as the mobile carriers may add a fee, on top of the cost of the chatbot platform (or the chatbot platform has to increase its per passage fee to cover the carrier fee).
These properties make SMS chatbots ideal for automated long-term engagement of users, or marketing campaigns (one has to be careful not to violate anti-spam regulations).
Specifically, mass texting or drop campaigns can be built using SMS chatbots. For higher throughput, short code texting can be used, by purchasing a short code, which supports higher rate of messages per second. These bulk text campaigns have been shown to have much higher open rates than email campaigns.
SMS chatbots can also be useful for user-initiated conversations (as is the case for Web bots). For example, the user can text a keyword like “help” to a phone number to start chatting.
For completeness, we also briefly discuss other possible media to deploy chatbots.
Can authenticate user based on their username or phone number
Good for international audience.
No need to install app (assuming user already has Messenger or Whatsapp app installed)
Can push notifications and follow-up messages to users
Not as customizable as the web bots.
Strict control and regulation by Facebook. Require a lot of time to keep these chatbots compliant with the continuously changing policies of Facebook.
Not private, as there is an entity in the middle that monitors the traffic, although some claim end-to-end encryption. Not HIPAA-compliant either.
Voice (Alexa, Google, Siri, Cortana)
Voice; can access while driving or cooking or other activities that require the user’s hands
Hard to authenticate, as often the whole family is sharing one account or device
Cannot exchange files or images
Some claim HIPAA compliance
Full control on the user interface. Could also support voice, although it is not common
Support mobile notifications and follow messages
User has to download app (recall that chatbots became popular as a replacement of apps)
Higher development cost, as mobile app has to be created and maintained
High-level of security and privacy possible
Part of a larger Web application (such as a Patient portal in healthcare)
Supports central user authentication and integration with other user data
User has to login to larger Web app
High development cost, as chatbot has to be developed as part of a larger project
High-level of security and privacy possible