We couldn’t find an answer to the standard we expect. In particular, none of the articles gave a detailed guide to help cost your own project.
So this article is here to change that. Let’s start with the short answer straight away:
How much do chatbots cost? The typical range starts from £10,000-£15,000 for a simple Messenger chatbot, £40,000 for a prototype and £50,000 or more for a full customer service chatbot with multiple integrations on multiple channels.
The costs of chatbots are largely based on :
- Industry verticals, complexity, and platforms.
- Bots needing to connect via a lot of 3rd party REST APIs or need a lot of back-end work will almost always cost more.
- Which NLP tools like Dialogflow.
- More complex bots cost six figures but can push up over £500,000
- who builds it (e.g., offshore versus high-end agency).
- account updates, marketing, your internal resources, and other costs into your budget.
Obviously, this is still a broad spectrum of prices and difficult for you to go create your own estimates. So let’s break these down into further detail to work out for yourself.
If you liked to understand this process of what it takes to build a chatbot, check out our extensive article on the topic here.
- Factors to consider when pricing chatbot development
- Cost by:
- Categories of chatbot
- Out of the box solutions
- Basic & advanced bot builder platforms
- Feasibility tests
- Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
- Full custom build / external agency model
- Type of development company
- Rates of role in a chatbot agency
- Breakdown per feature
- Stage of the process
- Internal & ongoing costs to consider
- Categories of chatbot
Here’s some links if you’d like to skip to the cost examples:
- Medium-sized businesses with an internal HR minimum viable product
- Small business messenger Marketing bot
- Small business customer service chatbot
Factors to consider when pricing chatbot development
There’s a significant difference between engaging a freelancer, offshore development team, or an agency when calculating your overall chatbot cost. Similarly, having a bot that requires a lot of back-end APIs integrated or omnichannel access versus one that is completely standalone can differ drastically.
To say chatbot costs can vary is an understatement.
To make sure I can be as helpful and comprehensive as possible; I’m going to answer this question in 5 ways:
- By categories of chatbot
- By type of development company
- Cost per role
- Per feature and component
- Specific examples from our experience.
What we won’t cover is the cost of working with freelancers or offshore companies. In short, because dealing with both of these has been generating more disaster stories than positive ones.
After our years of bot development, one thing we have found a near certainty is that if you have less than £10,000 budget it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work with a reputable company and you’ll get more output from out of the box or platform tools such as Drift.
Costs by categories of chatbot
“Out of the box” solutions: Free to £100s
This is one of the two best solutions for a startup, small businesses or a company with a tight budget (0-£1000)
Typically better suited for popular messaging channels like:
- Facebook Messenger
Places like https://botlist.co/ is basically an app store for chatbots. Much like apps on your phone, they’ll be inexpensive and easy to implement.
The downside is” lack or customisation and very limited capability.
That being said, it is a great place for inspiration for how to design bots using only button and logic.
Bot builder platforms: free to £1000s per month
There are two types of platforms we’ll briefly cover, basic bot builders and advanced bot builders:
Basic bot builders
These platforms anyone can use, with zero previous experience. Their user interfaces are beautiful and intuitive to use. If you’re a start-up or a small business on a tight budget, then these platforms will serve you well.
However. Since these tools are easy to use and cheap/free your capability and ability to scale is greatly limited. Secondly, building on these basic platforms will cause you to get stuck as you can’t dive into the code to make any custom work or integrations.
Advanced bot builders
Most of the advanced bot builders have a free option, great for freelancers or for those wanting to dip their toes into becoming a chatbot developer.
These are also stable platforms for the enterprise.
Where they really shine is their ability to integrate with other backend systems that enables your chatbot to process complex conversation flows. We cover more about this in our 7 levels of chatbots.
Messenger Marketing £10,000 – £20,000
This category is popular enough to need a section by itself. As briefly mentioned, Messenger marketing as seen a huge rise. Especially in the past few years, part in thanks to low-cost tools like Chatfuel.
A whole new paradigm of marketing has emerged and considered a strong competitor to email marketing.
When the likes of Sephora, Asos and Nike; among many other major brands are using these methods, you know it’s worthwhile!
MVP: £30,000 – £50,000
The MVP phase is usually the time when you’ve approved a budget for the chatbot project and now need to see that you can demonstrate:
- On a small scale that you can mitigate all risks that come with implementing a chatbot
- You release a light version to the general public to get early feedback.
- Iron out any bugs, errors and flawed processes before full deployment.
We’ve found most costings for an MVP average at £30,000.
However, we’ve personally had multiple MVP project hit the upper end of this price tier due to legislation or multiple complex integrations.
Full Custom build: £30,000 – £100,000+
Full build costs are the ones that fluctuate the most. With the breakdown of the different types of cost: such as by role and feature, combined with the 7 different examples of custom builds later in this article we hope to boil this down into a more helpful answer for you!
Chatbot cost by development company size: Small Shops vs. Agencies vs. Holding Companies
Unless you’re an enterprise with a very large budget (we’re talking £200,000+). Most of the largest chatbot-focused firms are unlikely to take on your chatbot program.
Most of the time, they’ll direct you to their tools or direct you to firms like us to help with the implementation.
There are stories on the grapevine that prospects were given quotes of £900,000 or more. Those were just ballpark estimates provided with a 15-minute discovery call!
The average chatbot cost at EBM for a well-defined proof of concept in 2019 would be between £30,000 to £50,000.
For large enterprises with global reach or much more complex systems, the spend would typically be around £50,000 and easily rising to £100,000 or more.
For some extra context, the total spent per customer is often higher than that because our customers continue to have us design and develop new features, month after month alongside other rolling costs such as running servers, bot building tools and so forth
All of those apps are either integrated with an API or required a server to be built. We see very few apps that are actually standalone. As shown above, we’re not the highest in the industry by far and in relative terms of bot-building costs, we’re on the higher end of the competition.
So, with this category complete, our summary of costs depending on who is developing is:
- Apps built by the largest tech companies, the “big boys,” cost anywhere between £100,000 to £1,000,000 upwards.
- Apps built by agencies like Filament cost anywhere between £30,000 to £500,000.
- Apps built by smaller shops, possibly with only 2-3 people or freelancers, likely cost anywhere between £1,000 to £30,000.
What are the different roles needed when building a chatbot via an agency?
Many agencies vary in their structure.
Some like us, define cost by seniority, others by role. You can request our rates card here.
There’s a reason why we’re only talking about an agency team here:
It’s our honest opinion that if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll be better off using tools like Drift than hiring a small shop, going offshore or using a sole freelancer.
Tools like Drift are templated, ready to go and easy to set up.
We openly admit not one single one of us could build a bot effectively. If anyone says they can, run in the other direction.
The typical chatbot development team will include:
- Chatbot Architect/designer
- Project Manager
- Chatbot Developer
- Frontend developer
- Backend developer
- QA engineer
The quantity of each role, of course, depends on the size and complexity of the task at hand.
What is the chatbot cost breakdown by feature?
To clarify, we’re being transparent on how long this takes us, on average, to do each feature. Other agencies will be faster or slower on each different feature for a multitude of reasons, so use caution when comparing so directly.
For this feature breakdown section, we will a set hourly rate of £1050 per day (8 hours a day) to provide cost estimates.
If you’d like to understand in more detail about what it takes to build a chatbot and what each stage involves, click here.
For now, though, we’ll just take each section and give estimate costs for each part.
Integration into other platforms: £10-30k
Integrations pretty much anything your bot will need to plug into. To give you a non-exhaustive list of some of the possibilities. This takes on average 50 to 80 hours
- Customer service software: Genisys & Zendesk
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems: Hubspot & Salesforce
- Accounting: Xero & Sage
- Human Resources: Workday
- Payment platforms: Paypal & Stripe
- Databases: Firebase or MangoDB
- Robotic process automation (RPA): service now or Blue prism.
- Content management systems (CMS): Backbone or Magento
- Analytic platforms: PowerBI, EBM or Google Analytics
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Oracle or NetSuite
Integration into one chat channel £10,000
To break this down a little further, chat channels specifically are usually quicker to do than most integrations: on average, 40-56 hours.
Creation of a communication interface (like a web widget): £10,000-£20000
Command language user interpreter. On average it takes 40-56 hours.
Natural language user interface – depends on the number of teams. On average it takes 120-160 hours.
Creation of business logic from scratch: £20,000 – £30,000
Custom logic would be for things such as:
- Collecting customer details and doing some validation on it, and then taking an action accordingly – so asking them to re-type if something doesn’t look correct
- Sending a client enquiry to a specific team if a certain word or something is flagged.
Your business may have a lot of logic taken care of with robotic process automation (RPA) tools such as with ServiceNow or blue prism in which case we would then to do integrate with that.
On average this feature takes 160-192 hours.
Adaptation of existing business logic – £15,000-£20,000
If there already are web applications or APIs for mobile app: it takes 120-160 hours.
What are the costs of different stages of the chatbot building process?
Firstly, when we say “cost” here we’re focusing more on the hours it takes. Since every agency is going to vary its hourly rate depending on their model.
There’s a lot of variable in the time it takes for each stage. Adding on top of that hypothesis hourly costs isn’t productive in this instance.
Secondly, one of the reasons we’re writing this article is so that potential clients can approach us for help and be more informed about the process.
We have had too many times we care to mention that potential clients expect estimates right off the bat.
Below is the typical chatbot development process. Of these, as you can see by the chart, the biggest influencers to affecting time and cost are:
What Internal & ongoing chatbot costs do I need to consider?
Another thing that commonly catches out many potential clients is they think that building a chatbot is a one-stop-shop. “Build and forget” – so to speak.
As much as we all would prefer this to be the case. It sadly isn’t.
The key things to consider in terms of internal & ongoing costs are
- Hosting: Do you want the agency to host, use Google cloud or host on-premise?
- Staff: If you
- API calls: NLP tools are a fundamental part of your chatbot and is the thing that allows your computer to understand language. Costs vary depending on the NLP platform you use:
- Google Dialogflow
- IBM Watson Assistant
- Amazon Lex
- Chatbot management: As we learnt from our years of experience building bots for clients on various NLP platforms. Two things we learnt were
- 1) Be technology agnostic
- 2) Make sure to have deployment and version control
To achieve these requirements, you need a bot management platform like EBM. As you can see on our pricing page, depending on the pricing tier you need, costs for implementing can range from £5000 to £36000+ per year.
Let’s put all the above together with our most popular requests at EBM:
1: Medium-sized business with a human resources minimum viable product.
One of our most popular requests are clients wanting to build their first custom chatbot, usually a proof of concept (PoC).
With this, they can test their processes and ensure integrations with other software platforms work.
Secondly, it also safely demonstrates (on a small scale) time savings, improved efficiencies and improved customer service.
Here, we’ll use a safe PoC example: automating internal HR FAQs. The reason this is a “safe” example is due to a couple of factors:
- By keeping things internal, there is no risk of brand damage or upsetting customers if mistakes are made.
- Keeping things internal gets the staff on board with the project making their lives easier. This also makes change management a lot easier.
- Staff are usually more forgiving of a basic chatbot and it’s easier to request them to reuse after it gets retrained.
We define a medium-sized company size of 1,000 to 2000 staff members.
This company will have a customer relationship management (CRM) platform such as salesforce. It will also likely they’ve tested with some basic FAQ automation experience, potentially as part of their current platforms such as:
- Zendesk bot
- Salesforce Einstein
For this MVP example, whether you want to test external customer service or internal HR, if you stick to the same amount of integrations we list here, (replace Hubspot CRM for Sage for example) and you should be pretty close.
Let’s go through the features and functions:
- Integrations into:
- Sage payment system – £10k
- Salesforce CRM – £10k
- Slack channel – £5K
- Web widget – £10K
- Dialogflow enterprise edition – £200 pm
- Testing – £1000
To summarise this example: putting together a level 2 PoC chatbot, integrated into Slack, sage and a CRM will require 7.5 weeks of work, or close to £37,000 to hire an agency to do it.
There are some important caveats to this estimation:
- Generally speaking, the majority of time and cost sits with integrations and backend development. Having one extra integration with say, a CRM, can bump the time and cost by 2 weeks or £10,000.
- This varies wildly depending on the system you’re trying to integrate with. I would say of all the build, it’s this bit which is the core culprit fluctuating the price.
- This also ignores monthly recurring costs such as hosting, software, API calls and so on. (we account for 8 weeks worth, but it continues as a monthly cost)
2: Small business Messenger marketing bot
Assuming you’re a company of 30-100 employees and have a marketer or small marketing team, then it’s possible to use tools like Chatfuel to build your own automated lead funnel on messenger. Much like setting up MailChimp, it would take 3-5 days of work for your marketer. It costs a mere £15 per month for Chatfuel.
3: Small business customer service chatbot
If you’re a small business (30-100 employees) looking to automate some of those common questions and FAQs while also looking to personalise your live chat responses, Drift is our favourite tool for the job. It collects emails and can automatically schedule meetings for you. Saving your staffs team on multiple angles. It’s on the higher price tier compared to other platforms, but it’s well worth the cost of your traffic & enquiry volume justifies it.
We’d recommend the £400 pro version and spending a couple of days of one of your team members time to personalise the bot question & responses for each page to get the best results.
What is the return on investment you can expect from a chatbot?
This is the real question to ask. Cost is important. Getting your money back and finding ways to increase efficiency is the whole point behind this.
When is it better to build a chatbot in-house?
We go through this in more depth in our In house vs outsourcing guide. The short answer is if you have a development team with experience.
Even some of our biggest clients such as HSBC or L’Oriel are coming to us for support. Whether that’s to help deliver a project, consult or deliver training, chatbot developer talent & experience is in very short supply.
Attempting to do it by yourself with in house resources is it will certainly cost more in the long run and have higher risks involved.
On your first bot, it’s recommended you seek expert help. Our ambition is to up-skill everyone so there is no more bad bots and can do your second to your 5th onwards by yourself using EBM.