Bots and specifically AI chatbots are a buzzword that seems to have infected the tech industry in the last year and are starting to make their way into the mainstream consciousness. Google showed off a chatbot at IO as part of their Allo chat client and Facebook has made much of their integrations in messenger. Perhaps the most interesting example I’ve seen is when Danny Sullivan used one to send flowers from the announcement to Mark Zuckerberg. As someone who runs a small online business I’ve been interested to keep an eye on the market but didn’t think that it was something that would be implementable in the near future. While I could try and dig in and learn how to code one time is precious and it didn’t seem like a good investment of what little I have.
Enter ChatClub. I was put onto it by a contact and at first glance it seems to have the things that I needed but with the crucial advantage of being simple. It’s a third party app that you connect to your Facebook page and can setup with a web interface. It lets you configure your Page’s messenger to act as a moderated chat room, to broadcast messages or other contact information or to show off particular products or services. For example a company that does carpet cleaning might set it up to give a picture and short blurb about each of the packages available and offer a link to their website for booking. From the company’s point of view you get analytic’s of users and some customisation. The free tier is limited to nine products and a limited number of simultaneous users with ChatClub inviting contact for larger clients.
In the longer term ChatClub is planning on integrating other platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Personal Facebook pages and Youtube but for now it’s just Facebook Pages. So after playing with it for a couple of weeks what’s my conclusion? It’s a simple piece of technology – both in terms of setup and the responses it can give the user and nowhere near as sophisticated as the market will likely get but it does do the things it does well. If you’re a small business and aren’t already setup to monitor your Facebook Messenger in a timely fashion it’s a good solution. It’s never going to match having a human able to reply but it’s an awful lot better than silence.