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9 min read

The 4 best chatbot builders

By Harry Guinness · July 15, 2022
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Chatbots are a great way for businesses to provide quick and effective solutions to common customer queries and problems. If someone wants to track an order, find out the cost of shipping, or check when your business is open, there's no reason a (well-configured) chatbot can't help them out.

When it comes to chatbots, there are large, enterprise-focused automation options, natural language processing computer programs designed to create bots that can pass the Turing test, and live help platforms that offer built-in chatbots to handle some of the most common questions. But here, I'm focusing on dedicated chatbot software aimed at small and medium-sized businesses.

I spent time researching and testing several dozen bot builders, and based on my experiences with each of them, these are the four best chatbot builders.

The 4 best chatbot platforms

  • ManyChat for the best price point

  • Chatfuel for simple setup

  • Tidio for unlimited chatbots

  • MobileMonkey for lead generation

What makes a great chatbot creator?

How we evaluate and test apps

All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

When making this list, I considered more than 32 platforms capable of making chatbots. Remember: you won't find any of the big enterprise chatbot companies or great live chat customer support platforms on this list—only dedicated chatbot builders for smaller operations.

As I started my research and testing, some apps were too expensive, others required too much technical know-how, and yet more were just kind of bad. To narrow the list down a little more officially, I assessed them all on the following criteria:

  • They're easy to use and get started with. Sure, if you're a seasoned developer, you can probably whip up your own chatbot with an API and some PHP, but that shouldn't mean you need to know your GETs from your POSTs to build one. All the tools on this list have both a drag-and-drop interface, which makes laying out the logic and response trees of your chatbots easy to manage, and some templates to get you started. This doesn't mean there's no learning curve, but it does allow anyone who's moderately computer literate to watch a few tutorial videos, read a how-to doc, and build a chatbot. Any coding requirements had to be limited to copying and pasting snippets into HTML headers or adding API keys to easily manage settings pages. Basically, if I as an experienced tech writer couldn't get a grasp on how to use the tool in 10 or 15 minutes, it was out. 

  • They integrate with the systems you use. Chatbot solutions are supposed to take the hassle out of repetitive tasks and questions. In practice, this means they need access to the tools you use most often. Is a customer wondering where their order is? Then your chatbot should be able to check their order status on Shopify. If it can't answer their question, then it should be able to ping your team on Slack. To make this list, each bot builder had to integrate with as many popular apps and services as possible—whether directly or through using an app like Zapier as a bridge. 

  • They work on multiple channels. Support queries can come in from multiple sources, like Facebook Messenger, Instagram DMs, WhatsApp, email, and a live help box on your website. Not every app had to support every channel, but they had to offer enough options that you could comfortably steer your customers to a popular chat service that they like (or your website). 

  • They're affordable. There's nearly no limit to the money you could spend on chatbots. Hire a developer, pick one of the enterprise options, and you could easily be looking at a bill of $250,000 per year. That's a tad out of the price range of most small and medium-sized businesses. While affordable means different things to different companies, where two apps offered similar services, I went with the one that charged less. I also had a cap of around $120/month for any service, though most don't come close to that. Having considered the options out there, I don't feel most small businesses need to spend huge sums of money to start using chatbots. 

With all this in mind, I was able to narrow the field down to a dozen or so apps that could potentially meet the criteria. To test them, I connected them to some test social accounts and used them to build an FAQ or signup bot. This process took anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on how easy the app was to use and what sort of features it offered. Quicker didn't necessarily mean better, as the apps with more features were naturally a little harder to get to grips with. This was a surprisingly effective test of all the chatbot services: some apps flew through with easy-to-use chatbot builders and helpful docs; others crashed and burned in a mire of terrible user interface decisions. 

At the end of all this testing, I was left with four standout chatbot builders, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. 

It's around this time I should also make an admission: while I've been a professional tech writer for a decade, I'm also involved in two small businesses that will need a chatbot service over the next six months. I wasn't just considering the apps on their general merits—I was looking for the ones that I would be willing to pay for. Here they are.

Best chatbot maker overall for the price

ManyChat (Web)

ManyChat, our pick for the best chatbot builder overall for the price

ManyChat is a chatbot builder that puts ease of use first. From the sleek design of its drag-and-drop editor to the extremely reasonable price point of its paid plan, ManyChat is one of the best chatbot builders I tested (and the one I'll probably use). It works on many common channels, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram, email, and SMS, and it has over 25 templates to help you get started. The only quibble I have is that the website widget simply redirects people to Messenger, rather than offering a built-in chat box.

Building chatbots on ManyChat is a pleasure. It's easiest to start with templates and customize from there, using ManyChat's wide range of triggers and actions. Depending on how complicated you wish to get with your chatbot, you can also add conditionals, kick off other flows you've made, and more. ManyChat's interface makes designing, understanding, and changing the flow of your app especially simple with its use of non-rigid diagrams and buttons for duplicating and deleting elements on hover.

The free plan is a great place to get started as it includes many features that most other chatbot builders charge for: things like audience segmentation, growth tools, unlimited chatbot flows, and up to 1,000 contacts. It's the best free chatbot you'll find on this list. If you're looking for more channels, analytics, more integrations, and to remove the ManyChat branding, upgrading to the Pro version is only $15/month, though that scales up with the number of contacts you have.

Use Zapier to connect ManyChat to the other apps you use every day to get even more out of it. You can automate the connections between your chatbot and other apps like your email marketing tool, CRM, team chat platform, or calendar.

Add new updated ManyChat subscribers to Mailchimp

Add new updated ManyChat subscribers to Mailchimp
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ManyChat pricing: Free plan for up to 1,000 contacts; from $15/month for Pro with more features.

Best chatbot platform for simple setup

Chatfuel (Web)

Chatfuel, our pick for the best chatbot platform for simple setup

If you're looking for an easy-to-use chatbot builder with a simple setup process that's specifically designed for Facebook Messenger and Instagram (though it can also be embedded on your website), Chatfuel is a great option. Chatfuel is a great ManyChat alternative, and it provides a large library of pre-made templates. They're mostly general-purpose templates that any type of company can use, but they also provide several industry-specific templates as well, including Shopify-integrated cart abandonment and automatic appointment booking with Calendly.

Another thing that makes Chatfuel stand out? Setting up a Chatfuel bot takes only a few minutes. Once you've connected Chatfuel to your Facebook account and linked it to your desired Page, all that's left is creating automated responses to common keywords from your users.

You can choose to respond to keywords with simple text responses, or you can configure custom automated flows. If you choose to design your bot using the latter, you'll see a responsive drag-and-drop editor with arrows connecting each element of your bot flow. Each element consists of actions your bot can take—like a typing animation, a message, or a menu—and a response from the user, usually an input box or menu. You can even add private notes to each element to explain how or why you made certain design choices.

Chatfuel also integrates with Zapier, opening the door to a wide array of integration possibilities, like updating Shopify inventory after a purchase through Chatfuel and creating Chatfuel broadcasts from new RSS feed items.

Chatfuel pricing: Free plan for up to 50 contacts; from $15/month for Pro with more contacts and features.

Best chatbot builder for unlimited chatbots

Tidio (Web)

Tidio, our pick for the best chatbot builder for unlimited chatbots

Tidio's chatbots work on websites, email, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. It easily integrates with platforms like Shopify, WordPress, and Wix, and CRMs and other customer management services like HubSpot, Zendesk, and Mailchimp. There's even a JavaScript API for custom integrations (so long as you have a developer on hand with the skills to deploy it). The drag-and-drop editor is simple to learn, plus Tidio has over 42 templates to help get you started, including abandoned cart, customer satisfaction surveys, and more.

Like most other drag-and-drop editors, this chatbot builder consists of nodes. Each node says something to the customer and offers them a menu of optional responses. For instance, the bot I built asks the user if they want to find out more about my app or go straight to a free trial. If the user selects "Tell me more," the bot then tells the user a bit about the app and asks if that answered their questions. From there, they're prompted to get a free trial (and submit their email address), which is the same flow that was triggered by anyone who selects the free trial at the start.  

With a more limited free plan and a $50/month Chatbots plan, Tidio is a bit more expensive than ManyChat and Chatfuel. What you get for the extra cash is unlimited chatbots with unlimited unique visitors (instead of pricing that scales up with your contacts) and a more fully-featured chat box on your website. If you really want to use chatbots to handle as much as possible, it may be the option for you. 

Use Zapier to connect Tidio to the other apps you use every day, and do things like adding new contacts to your email list or tracking new contacts on a spreadsheet.

Tidio pricing: Free plan limited to 100 unique visitors per month; Chatbots plan for $49/month with unlimited chatbots for unlimited unique visitors.

Best chatbot app for marketing

MobileMonkey (Web)

MobileMonkey, our pick for the best chatbot builder for marketers

MobileMonkey is different from the other chatbot builders on this list. Instead of aiming to handle customer service and frequently asked questions, it's designed for lead generation and customer outreach. It has features like drip campaigns, list building, chat blasts, and automatic lead qualification. 

It's a little confusing to sign up for, as there are three products that all have related features under the monkey moniker: InstaChamp (free; $20/month) is aimed at social media creators looking to grow their audience, FunnelPro (from $120/month) is aimed at marketers looking to "fill their sales pipeline"; and RoboBDR (from $120/month) is aimed at small businesses looking to respond to customers and automate their sales outreach. (For most businesses looking to create chatbots that handle as much as possible, FunnelPro is the version to use, though this is one of the rare instances where I'd suggest booking a free demo call if you're unsure.)

MobileMonkey's chatbots are designed to be a little more persistent than the other apps on this list. Say someone visits your website. You can use a MobileMonkey chatbot to collect the visitor's email address and ask them a question to see if they're a good lead for whatever it is you're selling. (Leads are considered either "donkeys," which are unqualified, or "unicorns," which are qualified and likely to be high-value.) If you use MobileMonkey's "The Longest and Most Persistent Follow Up Funnel Ever" template, for example, it will send them 14 follow-up emails over two weeks. (I don't recommend doing this, as I suspect this is a very quick way to turn your unicorns into angry donkeys.)

The actual chatbot builder isn't like many of the other drag-and-drop ones, which brings it down a notch, but setting up flows is still relatively easy. Instead of displaying flows in a big interconnected chat, each element is in a line. It's easy to drag things around to change the order of elements, but when adding conditionals, it can get confusing. The upside is that reusing different dialog trees is easier because they're automatically saved.

MobileMonkey shines as part of a marketing campaign. If you just want to reply to customer queries, all the other apps on this list are better options. However, its analytics, lead-building options, and integration with social media advertising are hard to beat. Just be warned—it's very easy to use a tool like MobileMonkey to turn off potential customers, rather than encourage them to buy. 

Connect MobileMonkey to the other apps in your stack, and do things like ensure contacts are on your email list, register contacts for webinars, and send Slack messages to your team when a new contact comes in.

MobileMonkey pricing: InstaChamp starts from free; FunnelPro and RoboBDR start at $120/month.

The best chatbot services allow you to build a chatbot easily, regardless of how you plan to use the chatbot for your business. To your customers, it shouldn't make a difference if you use ManyChat or Tidio—they'll just get their questions answered quickly and easily. While most of these apps offer some kind of live chat support, if you want a dedicated live chat app that has chatbots (rather than a chatbot app that has live chat), check out our roundup of the best ones.

This article was originally published in December 2019 by Marshall Gunnell and has also had contributions from Kaylee Moser. The most recent update and review of apps was in July 2022.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'