How to Build a Chatbot: A Guide for the Intimidated, Frustrated, and Confused

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

When I first heard the word “chatbot”, I was immediately intimidated.

Maybe that’s because I associated it with robotics, which involves computer science and engineering, subjects unfamiliar to me — probably because I’ve acquiesced to the tiresome dichotomy that you are either a writing, reading, creative person or a math, science, problem-solving person, believing myself to be the former and certainly not the latter.

Regardless of the fact that I believe these to be damaging generalizations, that I believe it ridiculous to attempt to define a person’s abilities by one half of their brain (are you a right-brain or a left-brain person?), I was still intimidated, and no amount of rational justification could make me feel less so.

But I’ve learned, somewhat reluctantly, that growth can only be found by walking straight into territory that terrifies you, and so, I decided to build a chatbot.

How to build a chatbot when you know nothing about bots

For this project, I built a chatbot using Drift. Drift’s setup process is incredibly simple (a relief to me), and they offer a free library of resources and video tutorials that will teach you to take full advantage of everything their tool has to offer (shoutout to actually functional help centers!).

To get started, I made a free account on Drift. The free version allows you to build a functioning chatbot on your site that can be used for live chat only. To set up the automated system of messages that will save your customer support team time and energy, you’ll need to make a playbook, which is a premium feature.

Once you’ve made an account, you’ll automatically start setting up your chatbot (a process that forces you to dive in before you know all the information first — this is growth, people!).

The first steps are to choose your language, and set a greeting. The default is “How can we help? We’re here for you!”. I’d recommend a message that both welcomes users to your site and invites them to ask questions.

You’ll also set a full name — I used my name here, but you aren’t limited to choosing the name of a person: one of my favorite chatbots is a dog named Lady, welcoming customers to A Cloud Guru’s site in a very adorable way.

Image: Screenshot from A Cloud Guru’s homepage featuring their furry chatbot friend.

The next step will be to type in the name of your company, as well as the link to your company’s website. On that page, you’ll also select an avatar (which will be scaled to a 100 x 100 px image that will go on the top of the chat window).

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Next, pick a theme color that will fit well with your website’s color scheme (you can choose your own using a hex code or by picking a color on the gradient). Finally, select an icon to choose how the chatbot will display on your site.

The last step is to install Drift on your site. There are a couple options here, and each involves copying and pasting a few lines of Javascript code. If your’e like me, you’ve probably been lulled into a sense of security up until now, but don’t worry — this part is easy.

On WordPress, you first have to add Drift as a plugin. Once you download and activate it, you’ll be able to click on it in the header of your WordPress dashboard. From there, just copy and paste the Javascript code from the Drift sign-up page, and make sure that you’ve selected Enabled from the drop-down menu to start Live Chat. When you go to your site, you’ll see what it looks like with all the settings you’ve chosen.

Again, the free version only allows you to use Drift as a live chat feature. If you are using live chat, here’s how it looks in the Drift app. You can type out a reply to your customer or save time by choosing one of the preset replies Drift has ready for you. You can customize these saved replies if you upgrade to the Drift Essential plan.

If, like most teams, you aren’t able to respond to customer inquiries 24/7, you can greatly free up capacity for your customer success team by automating the most common conversations you have with your customers using a Drift playbook. Your customers will also benefit by receiving immediate answers, instead of having to wait for an email response from your team or dig through a long list of FAQs.

I built a sample flowchart on Lucidchart to demonstrate how I would design one of these playbooks for the company OfferingTree, a website builder just for fitness coaches, yoga instructors, and other wellness professionals. This playbook answers their customers’ most frequently asked questions and can link them directly to the website builder or to a customer support representative.

When you create a new playbook using Drift’s premium features, you can also set a condition under the Targeting section that allows you to change the welcome message when users have visited your site more than once. New visitors will see “Welcome to our site! How can I help you?”, but when they come back, they’ll see “Welcome back! Any questions I can help answer?”. This subtle change will make your customers feel remembered, like they’re having a personalized experience.

I hope this blog has shown you that you can get a simple chatbot up and running on your site in just one day, with zero coding skills — and the results from that minimal effort can have a massive impact on your customer success strategy.

This project has also been a lesson to me, reminding me that growth isn’t comfortable. Learning how to use a chatbot took me some time, and it was frustrating and discouraging at first. But this discomfort is a good thing. At the end of this process, I have a new skill, renewed self-confidence, and a secret to share: building a chatbot only looks difficult, but anyone, on any customer support team, can use this tool to start getting better results right now.

If you use this article to build a chatbot, I’d love to see what you’ve created. Share yours in the comments below!

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How to Build a Chatbot: A Guide for the Intimidated, Frustrated, and Confused was originally published in Chatbots Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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