“Chatbots are about taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to our computing.”
We have seen an age of mobile phone apps, and guess what is coming next? Chatbots. To acknowledge their soaring growth and to leverage on this business opportunity, at this year’s Build conference, Microsoft has released a full framework to build bots. It is called the Bot Framework.
Microsoft is not alone in the game, Facebook and Amazon have released their bot platforms as well, and the developer base is growing at an astonishing pace. Technology is making huge leaps in Natural Language Processing, with Google just having open-sourced their NLP parser and Microsoft having enriched their Language platform LUIS (Language Understanding Intelligent Service). These advancements coupled with the capability to build chatbots presents an incredible opportunity for developers and the businesses alike. A proof of their popularity is this statistic that says since last year bots have outnumbered humans on the internet. So not only they are a raging trend but also a hot market.
But what does all this mean for businesses? Put simply, organisations will be able to leverage Conversation as a platform where they can deploy intelligent chatbots to serve their customers. The equation of return on investment is quite attractive too based on a survey finding that the average cost of a customer transaction via phone is around $2.50 and, the average cost of a digital transaction (online or on mobile) is only around $0.17. It is not all doom and gloom though, there will still be lot of human element required to fill up what bots lack, at least for the foreseeable future.
I decided to give the Microsoft’s bot platforms a whirl to check how easy it is to build a basic chat-bot. Through this blog series, I will walk you through the process of building a chat-bot that may interact with Dynamics CRM and can optionally be deployed using Microsoft portals. We will use two spanking new platforms released recently as a part of Microsoft’s Cognitive Suite: Bot Framework and LUIS. Before we start building, let us first understand how bots fit into the ecosystem.
We will use the setup outlined in the above diagram. The bot will be primarily built on the Bot Framework using .NET (Node.js is also supported) and it will interact with LUIS to parse the natural language and try to understand what the customer means.
There will be three more parts to this series and I will also link the source code of the working bot in the last part
Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Bot Framework
Part 3- LUIS
Part 4 – Chatbot Integration and Deployment
Let us layout the scenario to understand what we are building.
Say we are an insurance company called BestPrice and we are deploying a chatbot that customers can converse with to know about our products and to register their interest. The bot will pass some of the conversations to LUIS to determine customer’s intent. Three intents will be used for this demo
Greeting – Conversation is just a greeting like hi, hello, etc.
Enquire – The customer wants to enquire about our insurance products
Engage – Customers wants us to engage with them
In order to setup the project you need to have the following prerequisites
1. Bot Framework VS template
2. Bot Framework Channel Emulator
3. Bot Framework dlls (via Nuget)
4. A developer account with Bot Framework
5. A developer account with LUIS with subscription key
6. Once the bot is deployed online it needs to be registered with bot framework
You can read more about the above prerequisites here or search them online
In the next instalment we will start building the bot and go through some of key building blocks.