Conversational AI: To Build or to Buy
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Conversational AI: To Build or to Buy

Britta Reque-Dragicevic
December 9, 2021 5 min read

You might understand the value that conversational AI can bring to both your contact center and customers. You know it can eliminate hold times, resolve tier-1 issues, free agents of repetitive work, and more. But you’re not sure whether to build or buy a conversational AI solution. 

If your business is used to an open source, build-it-from-the-ground-up approach, building conversational AI may feel like a natural fit. But unlike common software solutions that are relatively straightforward to design and deploy, conversational AI is highly complex and requires continual retraining and maintenance to be successful. 

There are pros and cons to each approach. Here are a few key factors to consider when deciding whether to build or buy conversational AI for your contact center. 

The build approach

Building conversational AI is a time and resource-intensive endeavor that requires experts devoted to building, maintaining, and continually improving AI models. Most companies choose to leverage API platforms like Google Dialogflow or Amazon Lex when building from scratch to give them a head start. These platforms provide the framework for conversational AI at large, but lack pre-built customer service AI models that are trained on common and high-volume customer use cases.

What are the advantages of building your own conversational AI?

Building conversational AI in house can give you control over conversational design, model training and maintenance, and deployment. If you have AI experts in house, you can potentially build conversational AI that integrates with your current processes and fits your specific use cases. If you are already heavily invested in building AI and have the bandwidth to dedicate to managing large scope projects, it may be a viable path forward. But, the question you’ll need to ask is whether the ROI you can expect from your deployment pays off given the time, resources, and ongoing focus needed to ensure your conversational AI delivers exceptional customer experiences.

What are the disadvantages of a DIY approach?

Aside from the heavy internal lift needed to build deeply specialized conversational AI, the commitment doesn’t stop post-deployment. You’ll need to train, deploy, and manage AI models on an ongoing basis to keep them performing effectively. And the initial deployment alone can take months to years to roll out. It’s also contingent on your organization having the expertise and resources to prioritize it amongst competing innovation goals.

You’ll also have to consider your company’s ability to integrate conversational AI into the end user experience. This requires a deep understanding of conversational AI, how to A/B test flows to determine the most effective ones, the ability to analyze results with analytics to make sense of unstructured caller data, and the ability to monitor and review calls for your power users. Today, most organizations are scrambling to deliver better, faster, more efficient customer service experiences in order to compete, which means time is of the essence. They’re also feeling the pressure to hire and retain agents given recent hiring shortages and need ways to quickly scale service without having to wait and put more customers on hold. 

The Buy Approach

Many conversational AI partners provide a managed service, where they’ll take on the heavy lifting of customization and maintenance for you. But not every conversational AI solution is of equal quality. You’ll want to do your homework on the partners you consider to ensure their product and viability in the marketplace is sound. Look for leaders who particularly focus on the actual customer experience, and not just cost savings or other contact center KPIs. 

What are the advantages of buying conversational AI?

Buying conversational AI enables you to deploy a solution quickly and leverage experts who have gone through the implementation process multiple times. In conversational AI, experience counts. The right partner should result in minimal resources required internally and provide a dedicated team responsible for your long-term success. You should be able to take advantage of conversational AI design experts who are dedicated full-time to developing and enhancing your call center-specific AI experience, giving you peace of mind that your solution will keep pace and evolve as your needs do. 

Because they’re purpose-built for contact centers, most purchased solutions come 80% ready to deploy right out of the box. The work needed thereafter is focused on customizing call flows and integrations to your business–not creating conversational AI from scratch. Other benefits include built-in telephony, turnkey CRM integrations, advanced analytics, dashboards, and more to ensure fast and successful deployments. 

The disadvantages of buying vs. building…

…Start with the fact that the effectiveness of conversational AI depends on the partner. Look for solutions with a track record of success, with a secure and reliable platform that is HIPAA, PCI, SOC 2, and GDPR compliant, and express a commitment to partnering with you fully. Additionally, look for a solution that can handle enterprise level scale. This means providing high availability infrastructure that runs 24/7 with efficient load balancing across thousands of concurrent calls so that you scale effortlessly.

So, to build or to buy? 

The decision on whether to build or buy conversational AI will vary by organization. Here are some helpful guidelines to give you a starting point for candid internal conversations. 

Build conversational AI when:

  • You have in-house resources and expertise that can be dedicated long-term to conversational AI
  • You’re willing to risk never getting AI into production or having it scale quickly and securely 
  • You have the resources to staff the project indefinitely and make it an organizational priority post-deployment

Buy conversational AI when:  

  • You don’t have the resources or expertise to build
  • You have the resources, but they are better spent on other initiatives
  • You understand the opportunity cost of not deploying conversational AI quickly like lower customer retention rates, high staffing and BPO turnover, and longer hold times
  • You want to get conversational AI up and running in just a few months
  • You want to decrease your risk and get guaranteed ROI 
  • You want deep insights and integrations into your customer interactions

What to look for in a conversational AI vendor

If you choose to buy a solution, there are certain requirements and capabilities that you should look for in order to choose a solution that will be most effective. 

  1. Responds at a humanlike speed. Conversational AI should respond within less than one second in order to sound natural and humanlike to customers. When response time lags, customer satisfaction plummets. 
  2. Understands context and multiple intents. Conversational AI should be able to comprehend the context and multiple, changing intents that happen in human conversation. Customers should be able to ask one thing, then think of something off-topic, and conversational AI should be able to follow each intent seamlessly. 
  3. Integrates easily into your contact center platform and other internal systems. Leading conversational AI solutions come with out-of-the-box integrations to key cloud contact center platform providers, telephony systems, CRMs, and homegrown solutions.
  4. Continuously learns and improves. This one is huge. Conversational AI is an emerging, evolving field and it advances rapidly. It should be designed to harness continual advancements and not be limited to specific models or architectures.
  5. Elastically scales with customer demand. You shouldn’t need to give your solutions partner a heads up when you’re anticipating more customer volume. Conversational AI should scale automatically and answer every call without missing a beat. You should have peace of mind that when call volumes spike, your AI scales in tandem. 

Building vs. buying is an important strategic decision for your company. Replicant delivers on all of these top 5 requirements and our team of experts is devoted to your long-term success. Download The Definitive Guide to Conversational AI to learn more or request a demo today.