With all the hype around bots and the messaging economy, it’s easy to see why most people would miss the bigger picture. The harsh truth is that bots in isolation will not deliver any benefits to the enterprise; they will probably turn into a net cash and resource drain, instead. The challenge for bots is that they need to deliver real economic and customer satisfaction benefits to the enterprise that deploys them.

There is no arguing with the fact that 4 billion people are using messaging apps, and they’re likely to be the future of customer-to-enterprise communication. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and assume you just need to get a bot launched to keep up with your competition. Unfortunately, getting the funds approved to acquire, deploy, and maintain a bot will require a real business case to justify and pay for the new tech.

As you dig into the details of a customer service strategy — the area bots will fit into — you’ll quickly realize that a bot on its own can only handle a tiny slice of an enterprise’s inbound customer care traffic. The enterprise has successfully been migrating customers away from analog communication (phones) and onto digital channels for the past decade. Digital Care can make up anywhere from 10-50 percent of enterprise customer care these days. (Digital Care can be defined as all customer contacts coming through channels such as messaging, mobile apps, chat, web search, email, and even SMS.)

Companies with large customer care needs have known for the last 10 years that customers’ preference for contact has been steadily shifting from phones toward all digital channels (smaller organizations avoid phones because they’re too expensive). Messaging is only the latest flavor in this general shift toward the speed, convenience, and consistent answers that digital channels can deliver. It’s no surprise that only 12 percent of millennials would choose to contact a business over the phone, making it absolutely last on a list of choices. Mary Meeker presented the information clearly in her most recent Internet Trends report.

And building a chatbot independently of all other Digital Care channels will just create a mess, setting up your organization for a serious maintenance headache down the road. Here is a very simple example: On Thursdays, your business hours change from 9-5 to 9-9. Do you want to train your Facebook chatbot, then your Twitter chatbot, then your web search product, then your mobile app, then your email auto-responder etc., etc…? When you are continuously training a system to understand new customer questions and make changes based on business needs every day, training in multiple locations is just creating work and opening the opportunity for inconsistency across channels. When you accidentally miss training one channel (which will happen when updates need to happen 100 times a day) and you are giving different answers on different channels, you will irritate the hell out of your customers. Sounds like insanity — who would set themselves up for that mess?

The secret to a great automated Digital Care strategy is to nail the system training and do it from a centralized system. You need to analyze every question from every customer every day from every channel and use that data to continuously train a centralized Digital Care solution. With this requirement to continuously feed the system, doing it more than once for each new question/solution is madness.

It seems clear then that the only way to effectively deploy chatbot tech within an overall Digital Care strategy is to have a centralized training mechanism where training will be done once and will then be available to all automated Digital Care channels. This requires a platform at the heart of your Digital Care strategy, not a bunch of standalone bots serving each channel independently. By analyzing all customer behavior and applying machine learning in this centralized analysis and training framework, you will continuously improve all of your digital channel responses. High customer satisfaction and real economic benefits will quickly follow.

To focus exclusively on chatbot tech is amazingly short-sighted. The statistics are simple and clear; customers are contacting businesses through all digital channels. To focus all of your attention on one digital channel, or to build something independent for this single channel, will just waste a lot of enterprise resources. So if you’re seriously thinking about deploying a chatbot, take a moment to think about the big picture and save you company from a very short-term solution that may create a long-term mess.

Get more stories like this on TwitterFacebook