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I am trying to build Einstein Bot to ask a question and then store answer into a variable so that it could leveraged for the further actions.

I have seen in the documentation that a standard System variable should exist which should contain the last customer input, in this article it is mentioned as {!$System.LastCustomerInput} in two places:

Last Customer Input: contains the string of text the customer input most recently. This field populates only when a customer inputs text, and not when a customer selects a static or dynamic choice response. To capture the last customer input, use the Last Customer Input system variable in a dialog action. You can then pass it to Apex for further processing such as sentiment analysis.

and in the below section as {!$System.LastCustomerInput}

Also, another article mentions this variable as _LastCustomerInput

Represents the most recent message that the customer entered.

However, I can't select it to assign to another variable, since it is not present in the list of source variable to copy from.

Is there any way to grab free-text input or prechat form is the only option to leverage for this?

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Actually a Dialog static question can be leveraged for this.

Even though Choices to display section might be confusing, since you might assume that user is limited to the choice options present, however, they are not required and user can put free text value which then can be leveraged in further dialog actions

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