chatbot graphic

Chat bots are an emerging trend in online customer service, sales, and marketing, and understanding which type of bot is right for your needs will help you invest your resources properly. In this post we will explain the core types of chat bots that can be used, discussing the functional differences between them to help you find the right one for your website.

Maybe you have an ecommerce clothing store and you want a chat bot that will guide the customer through a few simple, pre-determined choices.  Or you may instead want a bot to be more conversational, trained to respond to any question the visitor asks.  From a real estate chat bot to medical assistant bots to chat bots in banking, nearly every industry can find useful bots to enhance their website and the customer experience.

Read more about how to add a chat bot to your own site.

Types of Chat Bots

In many cases, the difference between the core types of chat bots is the main distinguishing factor an individual is looking for when considering a bot. This would be the extent to which the chat bot offers guided navigation through preset questions or a button- based menu versus how much it uses A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) to respond to questions in the same manner that a live agent would. Both types of bots are also able to quickly transfer the incoming chat to a live person when needed, either when a bot does not know the answer or simply when requested by the visitor.

Menu-Based Chat Bots

“Menu-based,” “Button-based,” or “Rule-based” chat bots use a button menu or navigational system to guide a visitor along a predetermined path. Think of these like automated phone menu systems (or IVR), where the recorded voice is asking you if you want to make a payment or report a technical problem. Depending on what you choose, you are then presented with a further set of options to choose from. Button-based chat bots are like calling a customer service, only presented in the venue of a chat window instead.

Below is an example of a menu-based bot; this is a screenshot of the Domino’s Pizza Facebook bot which can be used to place a delivery order through menu navigation.  One of the buttons shown is a “Customer Service” option, which is an example of how to easily incorporate being able to transfer to a chat with a live person in a button-based bot.

dominos-menu-bot chat bot example

Button-based chat bots have the potential advantage of presenting all available choices to the visitor. A visitor may not know that a choice or known question exists for an A.I. based chat bot, so it may not occur to them to ask. Since the available options or categories of topics are presented up front with this type of bot, the visitor can also be prompted to check on other information that might be beneficial while they are getting their primary question answered.

For example, a visitor might be navigating through a billing menu to get information on shipping rates when they notice a menu option to read about a return policy. This may be an interesting topic that the visitor then chooses to investigate on their own after receiving the answer to the original topic they were looking for. A button-based bot can therefore provide some additional prompted self-service.

A menu-based bot is also generally easier to update.  Rather than training the bot extensively for a new question, a new button menu and response for the topic that is being added is all that needs to be created.  The bot does not require additional training when the menu has been added.  There is also no ambiguity, as a button-based bot would never need to answer “I don’t know” … at least as far as there are button-based options available to answer the query the visitor has (or a “None of these” option to send the visitor down a path of live chat with an agent, calling or emailing customer service, etc.).

Another common scenario that a menu-based bot can excel at is lead generation and qualifying leads.  A menu-based bot can be set up to ask why the visitor is coming to the site.  For example, a bot can ask if the visitor needs support, has sales questions, is just browsing, etc.  The bot can then offer input-collection fields depending on what option has been selected.  If sales is chosen, then the bot can ask questions like What Is Your Name, What Is Your Phone Number, How Large Is Your Company, and so on.  The input can be used from there to route to the correct department or even a specific team member.

A.I.-Based Chat Bots

A.I.-based chat bots do not use a button-based menu to guide a visitor along a predetermined path.  Instead, they use artificial intelligence to respond in the same manner that a live agent would, and the visitor is free to ask any question they like. A.I. bots can match keywords and phrases to determine the correct answer, and it can learn and grow over time as it is trained on new phrases.

It is important to consider what type of bot is truly best for your website visitors or your business or industry. A.I.-based chat bots are a better option when there is a wide variety of choices available or a large variety of questions that the visitor can ask.

If a chat bot is intended to answer a broad scope of questions, then navigating through menu trees can quickly take a long time. This only increases as more questions or topics are added to a button-based bot, since each additional subject will require a new menu to navigate through.  An A.I.-based chat bot will ideally remain just as convenient no matter how many questions are added, since the visitor can simply ask the question they need answered right away without having to navigate through endless menus to do so. Even if the bot does not know the answer to a question that is asked, the bot can simply state that this is the case right away. A button-based bot may require going back and forth a few times between various menus to reach the same conclusion.

The experience using an A.I.-based bot is often more user-friendly, since it can be used in a conversational manner rather than surfing through several menus. It does take longer to train these kinds of chat bots to achieve optimal results, since training is an ongoing process rather than simply adding a new menu tree for a new question. Considering that you would have to continually add more and more menus for a button-based bot that a visitor would then have to go through, this means that an A.I.-based bot would have an ever-increasing advantage of being more user-friendly and convenient the more extensive the range of things you want the bot to answer becomes.

While the menu-based bot does have the advantage of presenting all options for a user, an A.I.-based bot can be used in a way that ensures it is not at a disadvantage when it comes to a visitor being unsure what to do. The greeting message for an A.I.-based bot can include a sample question or two for example, and more sample questions or suggested topic subjects can be included for an answer to a “what can you help with?” sort of question.

The Formilla Helper Bot is an example of an A.I.-based bot. This picture also shows how a live agent can easily know to intervene, in this case by the visitor rating whether a bot response was helpful or if they wanted a live agent instead. An A.I. based bot can also be trained for a response to a request for a live agent, and can even have routing to a live agent mentioned as part of the initial programmed greeting.

formilla-bot-1 chat bot example


Hybrid Chat Bots

Hybrid chat bots simply have a mix of menu navigation and open-ended questions. This can be used in a variety of different ways. Perhaps a menu is offered if the bot cannot answer an open-ended question or if the visitor requests a menu. The chat bot may primarily be menu-based, but also have an “or enter what you need help with here” type option. Any sort of a mix between open-ended questions and menu-based navigation would be a hybrid chat bot.

Depending on how well they are set up, hybrid bots can be used to overcome the disadvantages of either a purely conversational A.I. bot or a purely menu-based bot. A hybrid bot may be able to skip a series of menus that is too long by offering an option to type “customer service” to bypass looking through endless menus, for example.

You can set up other phrases the same way.  Perhaps you can simply type in what you are looking for to immediately go to the proper menu (or receive a direct answer) instead of arriving there by clicking on several buttons. Rather than having a few prompts indicating what sort of questions are available to ask, a hybrid bot may come with the ability to ask it anything, but it still can have buttons to assist navigation as well.

Since a hybrid bot can be any combination of a button-based bot and a conversational A.I. type of bot, very conceivably you would need to do twice the amount of setup or training as either of the other two bot types. Additional menus would need to be created as well as training for correct answers to open-ended questions. Still, this is the option to use if you wanted the visitor to have a say in which type of bot interface they use.

Below is an example of a hybrid type of bot for Levi’s jeans. This is a good example of being able to either use buttons for all navigation while looking for a product, or to skip the menu hopping and simply type what you are looking for instead. A hybrid bot can also be easily configured to ask questions to qualify leads just like a button-based bot.

levis bot chat bot example

Understanding the difference between basic bot types makes it easier to identify if an available chat bot is a good fit for you and your visitors. The amount of time you can expect to spend training a bot as well as the expected user experience are both important to consider. A button-based bot will work well for a completely guided experience that provides smaller amounts of information. Larger amounts of information can lead to a lot of time spent just navigating through menus for your visitors, so an A.I.-based bot may be a better option the more material you want your bot to respond to. If you are trying to combine both approaches, a hybrid bot is a good way to try to combine the best of both types.


Share this Image On Your Site

Article header image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Join the Formilla blog!

We offer actionable advice about live chat, chat bots, marketing automation, customer service, and sales. Sign up and we'll send you the best of the blog, from articles to infographics, every two weeks.

100% privacy. Unsubscribe any time.