Case Study: Building Appointment Booking Chatbot

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Chatbots are getting popular day by day. Though they are not as perfect as we would like them to be but they can be very useful to both users as well as service providers.

Chatbots are currently being used in various industries from ecommerce, Realestate, Logistic, Healthcare to Spirituality with different roles like to answer FAQs, Lead generation, appointment scheduling, customer feedback gathering. Also, it works as a standalone app for eCommerce which can be integrated with different chat channels like Telephone, SMS, Google Assistant, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Website, etc.

WHY APPOINTMENT BOOKING CHATBOT?

One of the most prevalent uses of chatbot is to book appointments. Appointment booking chatbots work tremendously well in various industries from Healthcare (Hospitals, clinics) Restaurant reservations, Home installation services to Salon. Even though the appointment booking process seems to be the same for every industry, the reality is quite different. Each industry brings its own requirements and challenges.

Also, Study shows people who engage in repeated work often feel constricted and frustrated thus their output in terms of the effectiveness of dealing with customers gets hampered and no business can afford this situation.

Customer’s perspective

A recent study shows, because of the hectic schedule, working-class people usually do not get time during office working hours and they tend to choose non-working hours to enquire about the services or schedule their appointments. Imagine, if there is no one available to attend a call at that time to cater the customer’s query that can be a huge loss for the business.

Technological trends

We are now experiencing a new trend where many people expect the answers at their fingertips, and to find them, they’re turning to the nearest gadget. For service providers, it becomes essential to be present across devices and across the multiple chat channels.

Furthermore, Voice Assistant technology has opened a new front itself. More and more people are adopting voice technology which forces businesses to be present on each possible platform. Chatbot has the capability to be integrated with multiple chat channels is the greatest advantage a company can invest in.

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GETTING STARTED WITH DEVELOPMENT

When you plan to build any product (in this case an Appointment booking chatbot), you have to answer these following fundamental questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve with this product?
  2. How will your customer benefit from this product?

[1] Over millions of human resources are being involved in a task/activities for instance Answering basic queries, working hours, Availability of slots or scheduling an appointment for the customers where a simple AI-driven chatbot can do it more efficiently and economically. So we want to build a chatbot which will take care of the appointment booking process and it can answer the customer’s queries across the chat channels.

[2] As far as customer’s benefits are concerned, customers can book their appointment from anywhere at any time even from their preferred chat channels. And if customers feel they will not be able to make it at the scheduled time, they can either reschedule appointments or delete appointments at any time.

When it comes to a Development decision, a couple of questions can arise in one’s mind

  1. What will be the conversation flow?
  2. Which chatbot building platform we are going to use?
  3. For which chat channels should we make it available?

[1] As far as conversation flow is concerned, we are clear with our vision. We will keep the conversation flow simple so that with minimal customization as many as businesses can use the AI-Appointment booking chatbot.

[2] After deciding the conversation flow, the next big and crucial question comes, which platform should we use to build this Appointment scheduling chatbot. There are various chatbot building platforms available such as:

  • Dialogflow
  • IBM Watson
  • Amazon Lex Microsoft Bot Framework
  • Chatfuel
  • Manychat
  • wit.ai
  • Botsify
  • Flow XO
  • Beep Boop
  • Bottr

Each platform has its own positives and negatives but our choice was pretty obvious. We chose Dialogflow to build Appointment booking chatbot.

There are few reasons behind choosing Dialogflow.

  • It comes with machine learning capabilities and built-in NLP features
  • It also offers inbuilt options for integration with various chat channels so you don’t have to put in extra efforts.

[3] To let customers access the bot from their preferred chat channels, we have decided to offer this appointment booking chatbot on Website, Google assistant and Telegram in the first phase and in the second phase, we’ll be adding Telephone and SMS as well.

NTEGRATION WITH EXISTING APPOINTMENT BOOKING SYSTEM

Many of the businesses would be using an existing appointment booking system. And if they are happy with their booking system then it’s unlikely that they would switch to a new system. Taking that into consideration, we have planned to integrate our appointment booking chatbot with as many existing booking systems as possible.

We have started with Google Calendar integration and we’ll be integrating more systems in near future.

Google calendar will keep a record of all the appointments in the service provider’s Google calendar which he/she can access from anywhere (e.g. Mobile phone, Laptop). Appointment Booking chatbot also sends the reminder to the customers which ultimately decreases the “no show”.

Challenges

The Journey of building an Appointment Booking Chatbot was not an easy one but it was full of excitement. Having a customer-first approach in mind, Our cross-functional team worked hard towards building a fine product. When it comes to making this chatbot available across the chat channels, we have gone with the same fundamental approach “Customer-first”. We have integrated the same chatbot on different chat channels like Website, Google Assistant, Telephone, SMS, Telegram, Facebook Messenger so that the customer can choose to book appointments on their preferred chat channel. Publishing the chatbot on multiple chat channels will help service providers to have better reach which ultimately leads to more business opportunity and happy customers.

But managing the integration of the same bot across all the chat channels isn’t a cakewalk. Each chat channel has a different interface and managing the same bot response is quite difficult. Let’s take an example of suggestion chips.

  • Suggestion chips are awesome. It’s always better to use suggestion chips which user can easily select instead of writing out the phrase to continue the conversation. But the tricky part of suggestion chips is you can not add suggestion chips for SMS and Telephone. So you have to craft separate responses for telephone and SMS.
  • Managing the different time zones is also quite a task. It becomes more crucial when you are building an Appointment booking chatbot. It is not super hard to manage but it requires technical know-how and some extra efforts.
  • Another challenge is to manage customer conversation. Customers tend to respond randomly and to manage those conversations with sophistication is the important task. You have to make sure that the chatbot conversation does not get messed up.
  • It is always better to make the responses dynamic. Making the responses dynamic needs an extra effort.
  • There are some challenges in speech recognition by Dialogflow especially if you have a different accent. Sometimes chatbot could not recognize the user’s response properly so in this case it becomes very crucial to manage the conversation gracefully so that customers do not get frustrated.

Benefits of Appointment Booking Chatbot

  • Appointment booking chatbot considerably reduces the Human resources and company’s human resource can work on more productive things.
  • It has been observed that the customer always prefers conversational experience over boring form filling just like it is there on a website so the user engagement will increase and that will result in an increase in appointment bookings.
  • Telephone-based appointment booking will help users to book appointments even if they are not tech-savvy people.
  • As the machine works 24 hrs and it can handle multiple users at the same time unlike humans, this is a win-win situation for both user and service provider.
  • Maximize your team’s productivity by automating scheduling
  • Enhance user experience with seamless appointment handling
  • Customers usually get frustrated by being in a queue. Chatbot prevents queuing as the chatbot can cater to multiple customers simultaneously.
  • Ensure glitch-free appointment execution
  • It sends the reminder
  • It increases customer engagement.
  • As customers can converse with the virtual assistant, it will result in better customer engagement.

As many businesses are constantly eyeing on decreasing the human resource dependency and moving towards automation, the chatbot can be the best tool to start with Automating the business activities.

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Case Study: Building Appointment Booking Chatbot 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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