chatbot

If you’re a little bit nervous about programming, but interested in learning more about chatbots and how you might use them in your practice, roll up your sleeves because this article will give you a whirlwind introduction into how to build a chatbot, no programming required.

You don’t have to be a hacker to make useful law bots. In fact, as a lawyer, you already know many things that can give you an advantage in building a bot.

For one, you know your domain. You’ve been practicing law with many clients, and you know how people act, how to talk to them, what to say, and how to say it. Those years of experience make you a domain expert not only in your area of law but also an expert in the needs of the people who purchase your services. You know your customer.

Simply put, a chatbot is a computer program that can automate tasks and simulate conversation. The ability to combine these two things is what makes them intriguing. Imagine being able to automate lead qualification or client intake or appointment scheduling. As an experienced practitioner, you can imbue the chatbot with best practice, the right questions and a sense of your personality.

But, how do you do it? Where do you get started?

I want to make it easy to dive in and get started with chatbots so let me introduce you to a couple of chatbot platforms I recommend for beginners and how they work.

Chatfuel

Chatfuel is one of the more popular and visually intuitive chatbot builders that requires no coding. Its claim to fame is that you can create a Facebook Messenger chatbot in 10 minutes or less.

The upside to creating a chatbot that lives in Facebook Messenger is that you have access to Facebook users and a wealth of demographic data that you could use to target your potential customers and advertise to them. It’s a popular platform with over 1.3 billion monthly active users.

Create a bot. If you have a Facebook account, you’re going to have to log in to that first. Then, you click the Get Started for Free button on Chatfuel, and it will ask you to confirm your Facebook credentials and give you access to Chatfuel’s dashboard.

As you can see, it comes with some nifty templates you can use to create a bot based on an existing design. Let’s keep it simple and try Create a blank bot.

Add a welcome message. A welcome message is a standard element of any chatbot you will build. Think of it as your first impression. It’s the first thing that the person using your chatbot will see and it’s best to introduce your chatbot and tell the user what your chatbot can do, and maybe just as importantly, tell them what it can’t do.

One of the things you’ll notice here is the use of the {{first name}} tag.1 Because this bot will live on Facebook, of course it knows who everybody is. So, you can use that information to personalize your greeting.

How cool is that?

Next, notice at the bottom of the Welcome message it says “+ADD BUTTON.” That button is what your user will click on to go to the next step. But before we create that button, I need first to introduce you to the concept of “cards.”

Cards/blocks. A card is a way of communicating with your user. Think of it as a sentence, but a sentence that can be text or visual.

You can use text, images, quick replies, typing effects, a gallery of images or pull information from a number of outside sources through integrations. By just clicking on any of the elements above, you can create a card.

Here’s an example of a group of cards (or a “block” in Chatfuel lingo) I’ve created called “Get Started.”

On top, I greet the user by name. Then the “typing…” card will give the effect of manual typing you see on Messenger when you’re waiting for someone to finish typing their response. Next, I ask a question and provide several “quick replies” the user can select as an answer instead of typing their response.

And here’s what it looks like on Facebook Messenger.

Now you may be thinking, “But what about artificial intelligence and bots being able to read text and understand it, like Watson?” Well, Chatfuel can do that too.

Artificial intelligence. This is where it gets interesting. Now, I’ll admit that Chatfuel does not employ the same level of sophistication as Watson, but it does allow you to take advantage of a feature of AI called natural language processing (NLP).

With NLP, we can define what a user has to say to trigger a specific reply. Chatfuel lets you enter several examples of how the user might express the intent you are trying to capture. In this case, the user intends to seek legal advice. You can also randomize the replies so they aren’t always the same. This gives a less mechanical feel to the interaction if you ask the question again later.

It looks like this on Messenger.

You will notice that although the user’s word choice did not exactly match the examples I provided to Chatfuel, Chatfuel nonetheless understood what the intent of the request was and served up the correct response.

Error handling. Although AI and NLP are exciting, a word of warning: It is very easy for a conversation to get off track if a user is given the expectation that he or she can have a free-ranging, open-ended conversation with a bot. It’s an expectation that usually ends in disappointment.

Chatfuel (and almost all current chatbot systems) are not designed to have a conversation on any topic. For that reason, using buttons and quick replies to narrow the scope of user response is a powerful tool to avoid user frustration. A guided conversation also increases the chances that you will lead the user in the direction you envisioned.

Integrations. In addition to conversational automation, NLP and AI, Chatfuel has many integrations that allow you to pull information into communications you are having with a user or push the user’s response out to third-party resources.

For example, you can use a response to run a Google search, post the response to a Google sheet, display video from Youtube or tweets from Twitter. You can also integrate Chatfuel with your Google Calendar, and pull posts from your WordPress blog.

And for those who can code, you can take user input and post it to a webhook for greater flexibility.

Publishing. Once your bot is ready for prime time, it’s time to publish it on Facebook Messenger.

But, before you do that, you want to make sure you’re good to go. I highly recommend you have a couple of friends who aren’t lawyers check it out so you can uncover all the rough edges and correct them before you release it to the public.

To publish, you need a Facebook page to connect your bot to, which raises an interesting point. What Facebook page will you use and who is your audience?

If you plan to use your law firm’s Facebook page, you’ll need to define your audience. Are they current clients, past clients, friends or family members? A combination of both? What interaction would provide them with value and increase engagement with your firm? Answering these questions will help you in having a successful and useful chatbot.

FlowXO

FlowXO is another chatbot builder that requires no coding skills. I’ve included FlowXO because it is easy to use and you can install it on your website. But, you can still publish your bot on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram or Twilio SMS.

Create a bot. Getting started is easy and you don’t have to share your Facebook credentials with FlowXO to sign up. Just click on the “Start for Free” button and create an account. Gotta love freemium!

So let’s create a bot.

Just as in Chatfuel, we can define a Welcome message to introduce your bot to the user. But, because the bot will be hosted on your website, FlowXO provides some great options to customize the look and feel of the bot. You can change the theme color to match your site and include your logo or picture as an icon.

Here’s what the welcome message looks like on your website.

Flows. FlowXO has a different approach to the bot-making process than Chatfuel. Instead of Cards and Blocks, here we create “Flows,” naturally. What makes a flow a potential time-saver is that it can be used by just one bot or you can share it across multiple bots so there’s no need to duplicate efforts.

You can create a flow using a template of an existing design, but let’s use “Blank Flow.”

To start a flow, we first need to define a “trigger” that starts the conversation.

In this case, we’ll create a trigger that is activated when a user types in certain words. FlowXO lets you identify multiple words or phrases that can trigger a response. For example, we’ll suppose the user is asking for “What are your office hours?”

Now let’s define how the bot will respond when the user enters a trigger word or phrase.

Just like in Chatfuel, FlowXO lets you respond in a number of ways – with words, images, cards or by asking a question of the user. Here we’ll just send a text response back to the user.

How easy was that? And this is what the conversation looks like on your website when the user types in the trigger phrase.

Of course, your bot does not need to be limited to telling website visitors your office hours. You can also design it to answer frequently asked questions, ask a lead qualifying questions, or give out driving directions. The possibilities are limitless.

Integrations. Speaking of limitless options, a stand out advantage to using FlowXO over other builders is its impressive number (100+) integrations with other services.

With all of these integrations you can import user information into your CRM, email campaign manager, calendar, project management system and, if those are not enough, you can always roll your own integration with a webhook or custom coding.

Integrations might sound overwhelming, but it is one of the most valuable things you can add to your bot and one of the most requested features. I find once people get comfortable with the idea of a conversational interface, they get excited about what more it can do to connect with their other systems. And, in the case of FlowXO, that’s a whole lot!

Error handling. People are going to try to break your bot. It’s just going to happen. But thankfully FlowXO lets us define a catch-all response for those pranksters.

Publishing. Installing the FlowXO bot on your website is as easy as cutting and pasting the code onto the web page where you want the bot to appear.

You can also have it appear throughout your website if you prefer. If you use WordPress, just be sure to add the code to your page in the text, not visual, editor.

Conclusion

I hope I’ve managed to get you a little jazzed about chatbots and what you can do with them. You don’t have to be a hacker. You don’t have to be backed by millions of dollars.

As lawyers, I think we’re uniquely suited to create chatbots with these tools. We are trained in concepts, outlines, flowcharts, and connections.

A chatbot is just a way we can take different aspects of how we practice law and externalize that process. Chatbots hold the promise of letting us take the repetitive parts of our work and automate them so we can focus on the more financially and personally rewarding stuff.

And, if you do make something, tell me about it. I’d love to see what you’ve created.


  1. I know, I promised no coding required! But this is pretty simple really and worth it. 

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