It’s hard for SMEs to compete with big tech companies with limited resources nowadays. Whenever you build an app, you need to craft the web version, an Android app, and an iOS equivalent. You probably need a UX designer and a few developers with different skillsets to work on the different platforms. It’s slow and expensive.
And worst of all, your app is doomed from the beginning. People now already have hundreds of apps installed on their mobile phones. And human brains can only remember the last 7 apps they used. Your app will probably be hidden in some folders and be forgotten forever if not uninstalled.
That’s why we created a chatbot to replace the traditional app. And it solves a few problems all at once.
One app rules them all
A chatbot is basically an app that you can interact with the commonly used chat interface. It does not exist in itself, instead, you can use it on your website or in a chat app like Whatsapp, Facebook Messanger, Teams, Slack, Line, etc. So you don’t need to build different apps for different devices.
Once you build your bot for Whatsapp, users can use it wherever they can use Whatsapp. You don’t need to worry about OS or browser compatibility. And the best part, users don’t need to install anything. Just add your phone number to their WhatsApp, they can start using your bot. (For other applications like MS Teams, they may need to search for your bot in the Teams market place and “install” it.)
And just like fashion, UI design changes all the time, but what doesn’t change is the way people chat. When you type something, you expect some message response, it’s simple as that, and it won’t change dramatically in the coming years.
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Better user experience
Form-based user inputs haven’t changed for many years. For people old enough like me, we use to fill in a lot of forms on paper. Nowadays all things are online, but it’s still form-based. Nothing much has changed about that. Even when employees tried to apply for leave, you present them a form, ask them which “Leave Type” they want to apply, and whats are the “Start Time” and “End Time”
What users really want to do is simply “apply ABC leave on XYZ date”. A form is unnecessarily complicated. A simple text message can get the job done in a simple and natural way.
Another problem with the traditional UI design is navigation. You have a lot of features in your app, but you can’t put all of them on your home screen. So we need to create secondary menus to hide them. No matter how well you design your secondary menus, some features will be buried deeply and very difficult to find.
With a chatbot, you don’t need to remember where the buttons are or which menu it’s hidden. Every feature is just one message away. (Of course, your users need to know the feature exists in the first place).
Connect with your users
Emails are dead. My personal email is full of marketing materials and useless information that cleaning up mailbox is becoming a daily chore. Yes, I already set up countless filters to block 99% of them.
And good luck with your in-app push notifications, most of the time people will just clear the unimportant notification as soon as they can and if you are too aggressive, they will uninstall the app altogether.
Residing inside their favorite chat app has the advantage to be really seen by the users. It’s like in the old days, when you really like a girl, you will go and ask “Can I have your phone number”, so when you send her a message, she will probably really read it. Nobody will ask about an email address, but yet that’s what most companies are doing.
This messaging nature also makes a lot of company workflows easier. When there’s something pending your approval, you don’t need to open a separate web page, just send your response in the chatbot. And the counterpart will receive a message in real-time as well.
I’ve built a chatbot to replace/supplement our Employee Self Service web app which our users use to manage our leave and payslips records online. The use case is fairly simple and it fits into the bots perfectly. It can handle common scenarios like
- Apply ABC Leave on XYZ date
- What’s my leave balance now?
- Show my leave history
- Who is on leave on XYZ date/Is ABC on leave on XYZ date?
- Send my payslip in XYZ month
- Approve/Decline employee’s leave
I started this bot as a part-time pet project, and it grows into a fully-featured bot in around 2 months time. The development time is significantly shorter than building mobile apps, yet all the main features are achieved. In fact, some features are actually better than traditional apps, for example, workflow actions are easily integrated into the message, and you can send a voice message if you are too lazy to type.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but it could be a good alternative in future app development.