How to create and use Chatbots in Microsoft Teams

25 November 2020

 

Chatbots have been around a while, in fact probably a bit longer than most people think with the first one - ELIZA - developed by MIT in 1966. They have become significantly easier to build and thus more popular in the last 5 years as a tool for customer interaction. But what about employee interactions? Ever wondered how using chatbots could make your business much more efficient and streamlined, allowing your employees to focus their time and attentions on more useful matters?

With Teams having recently passed the 115m active user mark many people are asking how they can benefit from chatbots inside Teams. The good news is, the process of creating and implementing these chatbots could well be considerably easier than you might have imagined thanks to Power Virtual Agents, the newest service to be added to the Microsoft Power Platform.

What is the Power Platform?

The Power Platform is an umbrella term for four different Microsoft products that add valuable new capability to your organisation and more specifically to your Microsoft Teams solution.

Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents enable you to uncover data insights in real-time, easily build new apps, introduce automated workflows and create chatbots tailored to individual business needs across your business.

Introducing Power Virtual Agents

So, Power Virtual Agents enables you to create chatbots that can answer questions posed by your customers, employees, or visitors. Effectively, it’s your opportunity to build the extra help you need.

As this service harnesses Microsoft’s AI technology, the power of the bots that can be built is massive. Once created, your bot can then be deployed to a number of different places such as a website, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Via Email and even mobile application integration.

These intelligent chatbots can resolve common issues and answer questions around a variety of topics. What’s more, the responses are rapid and deliverable at scale.

Easy to create and integrate

After checking out suggestions on which topics work well for chatbots, you can create one of your own that will carry out meaningful conversations using natural language. With Power Virtual Agents, you can create and manage your chatbots, without the need for code or AI expertise, with the help of an easy-to-use graphical interface.

Once it’s up and running, you can then monitor and improve your bot’s performance using AI and data-driven insights.

Better still, it’s refreshingly simple to integrate your chatbots with the products and services you use every day. You can look up records, personalise conversations, hand off conversations to live agents, and call APIs.

ROI will always be an important factor and Power Virtual Agents also lets you monitor and view metrics to understand how well your bot is serving your customers and how you can improve it.

Increase your bot’s scope with Power Automate

You can choose from hundreds of prebuilt connectors, build custom workflows using Power Automate or create complex scenarios with Microsoft Bot Framework.

Power Automate is another service from the Microsoft Power Platform. You can enable your bot to perform an action by calling a Microsoft Power Automate flow. Flows help you automate activities, or call backend systems. So, for example, you can use flows with end-user authentication to retrieve information about a user after they've signed in. You can use flows that have already been created in your Power Apps environment or you can create a flow from within the Power Virtual Agents authoring canvas.

What can bots be used for?

Some of the ways that Power Virtual Agents bots are already being used include COVID-19 infection rate and tracking information, sales help and support issues, store opening hours, employee health issues, vacation benefits and common employee questions for businesses.

Bots can also be used to trigger Flows to perform automated tasks. As you will see in our demo below.

Teams_Help_Bot

This demo showcases what is possible with Power Virtual Agents. It’s set up within our Teams environment and has been created to help with general employee queries regarding company info, HR, IT, Office 365 guidance and information for contractors.

You can see that when you start a conversation with the bot, there are defined options that employees may be interested in. This is just a small example of what a virtual agent can do.

Clever and versatile

The bot is very clever in that you don’t need to be very specific in what you say, as it should be smart enough to work out what you’re trying to ask. The great thing about this chatbot is that if you don’t feel like your question has been answered to your satisfaction, you can then ask to be transferred to a live chat support agent.

You can also set up triaging to help route your cases when it comes to IT problems. The chatbot can absorb data and trigger flows to automate other tasks. For example, in the demo you see an IT ticket being raised from within the chatbot.

Indication of costs

To assess whether Power Virtual Agents would be a worthwhile addition to your business, you’ll need to have a good idea of the costs involved. Unlike the other services within the Microsoft Power Platform, Power Virtual Agents is unfortunately not included free with M365 E3 or E5 licenses, so there will always be a cost.

That cost is currently £754 for an enterprise licence. For this amount, you can run 1,000 bots with 2,000 sessions, which is the name given to the individual chats. If your company uses over 2,000 sessions, then an additional cost of £399 will be incurred to cover an extra 1,000 sessions. In all likelihood, this additional cost would only come into play for a very popular bot in a large enterprise.

The other thing worth noting is that your enterprise license does come with a very generous data allowance of 10GB of database usage and 20GB of files.

Let Resonate help get you started

At Resonate, we’re experts on the Microsoft Power Platform and Teams so we can answer any questions you might have on Power Virtual Agents. While simple chatbots are relatively easy to create, you may need some more support once you start adding in more data connectors, Power Automate flows or CDS connections and we would be happy to help. We can also support you on roll-out, user adoption and governance if you need it.

Why not get in touch with the Team to discuss your needs or download our latest eBook on the Power Platform for some more information and inspiration on what you could build.

 

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