Off-the-Shelf or Custom Chatbot Development: What does your Business Need?

As more customers engage in digital channels, businesses are implementing chatbots or virtual customer assistants (VCAs) for handling customer requests on websites, mobile apps, consumer messaging apps, and social networks.

As the businesses include chatbots into their technology roadmap, whether to choose an Off-the-shelf chatbot or go for custom development has become a topic of debate. To make this selection easier for you, here we share 5 questions that will help you to make a choice between the two chatbot development approaches.

Off-the-shelf vs Custom Chatbot Development: An Introduction

An Off-the-shelf chatbot is built with bot-building platforms like Chatfuel or Botsify. These platforms are available with a number of templates, tools, conversation flow builders etc. that allows building a simple chatbot, without mastery of coding skills. The chatbots thus developed can communicate with the customers on multiple channels (like a website or a mobile app) without any human intervention. However, with such chatbot development tools, personalized/contextual conversation with the customers is a challenge.

A custom chatbot, on the other hand, understands customer intent, enables two-way conversation, and answers complex queries of the customer. Powered by AI technologies (machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP)), a custom chatbot evolves with experience and is effective in answering complex user queries.

Off-the-shelf or Custom Chatbot Development?

Both the chatbot development approaches have their own set of cons and pros. Deciding upon Off-the-shelf or custom chatbot requires a thorough analysis of business requirements. Here are some questions that can help you decide which chatbot development model works best for your business.

1. Do you wish to answer simple or complex customer queries?

There is a lot that a chatbot can do. It can act as a customer assistance associate, can allow customers to check the status of their order, book tickets, do payments etc. But, what exactly does your business want the chatbot to do?

Do you want the chatbot to answer simple customer queries like what all services do your company offer or where is your company located?

Do you want the chatbot to converse with the customer to take note of his requirements, credentials for contact, and share basic information about the product or services?

Do you want the chatbot to take up the order number from a client, fetch his order status from a database, and render it on the chat window?

Depending on what your business wants the chatbot to do, an Off-the-shelf or custom chatbot can be developed. An Off-the-shelf chatbot has the limitation of doing basic conversation with the customer, without an understanding of his intent. A custom chatbot, on the other hand, can be developed and trained to understand the customer query, do basic transactions, fetch data from the database and more. So, if you want the chatbot to work as a human associate and manage transactions like a mobile app, then opting for custom chatbot development is indeed an option to go for.

2. How many users do you want the chatbot to handle?

Off-the-shelf chatbots have a limitation for the number of users it can handle at a time. Their pricing model is generally based on the number of unique users that the chatbot handles. As the user base grows large, the pricing for the chatbot inflates as well.

If your business serves to a larger audience, then investing in custom chatbot development is a smart decision. A custom chatbot is one-time-investment for the businesses and enables them to manage as many users as they want, without any change in the pricing model. On the contrary, if your business has a smaller audience, who is expected to inquire less number of questions (and also simpler ones), then you can opt for an Off-the-shelf chatbot.

3. Single or omnichannel chatbot. What does your business need?

With an average person having at least 7 social media accounts, it is important for businesses to have an omnichannel presence. This will allow customers to reach out to your company through different channels.

With an Off-the-shelf chatbot, you can create a communication channel for a limited number of platforms. However, with a custom chatbot, you have the opportunity to shortlist the best platforms for building a VCA and proceed for development accordingly.

4. Do you want a smart, pre-trained chatbot to offer a personalized answer to customer queries?

Depending upon how simple or complex a business requirement is, different types of chatbots can be created. Scripted/Quick reply bots, NLP chatbots, Service/Action chatbots, context enabled chatbots can be developed according to the type of query that has to be answered.

Off-the-shelf chatbots, as discussed above have limited capabilities due to no trained data to answer personalized questions of users. These bots are an add-on to basic FAQs. Custom chatbot development, on the other hand, is powered by AI technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing that helps to contextualize answers.

Say, you’re an online travel organization. Instead of contacting the customer care for inquiries, you want the customers to use a chatbot for checking flight status, for booking flights, doing simple transactions, and more. For a chatbot to exhibit such intelligence and handle transactions, custom chatbot development is what your business should opt for.

5. How much technical assistance do you need to manage the chatbot?

With an Off-the-shelf chatbot, you hold the sole responsibility of building, deploying, debugging and maintaining the chatbot. There is little or no technical assistance available if anything goes wrong. A custom chatbot is built by a professional chatbot development company. Such companies act as your technology partners and offer technical assistance from development to deployment and maintenance phase.


Whether to go for an Off-the-shelf chatbot or custom chatbot development completely depends upon business requirement. If you are still not certain about which chatbot development approach will work for your business, then set up a 30-minute free consultation with our chatbot expert.

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