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My month of Facebook Messenger and chatbots

20th Sep 2016
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While Facebook still has over a billion active users and Twitter has evolved to become a predominantly news focused platform, there’s a growing realisation that the traditional social media platforms no longer hold the same fascination for users. With more and more paid posts and advertising on Facebook particularly, many people are starting to find that Facebook simply isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

Some observers have picked up on this, and are busy heralding the ‘death of social’? But is this true? And what should brands be doing in terms of engaging their customers across social networks?

From my perspective, this looks more like an evolution. Unhappy customers may still go on public Facebook to share their feelings, meanwhile people who just want to get things done are transitioning towards Facebook Messenger. This shift towards messaging channels is accelerating rapidly. While traditional SMS message volumes currently run at 20 billion a day, Apple’s iMessage platform currently processes some 50 billion messages daily, while Facebook’s combined WhatsApp and Messenger throughput is around the 60 billion level.

That’s significant, and smart brands have recognised that the latest messaging platforms - with their powerful threads and the ability to extend capabilities with dedicated chatbot functionality - will be an essential channel for customers. It makes sense to be where your customers are, and that’s increasingly looking like messaging platforms. It’s also a proven model, as WeChat’s success in China already shows.

Looking at the Facebook Messenger platform in particular, the numbers are impressive. People always gravitate towards the channels that are easiest to use, and 800 million people worldwide are already on Messenger. Add in features such as video calling, the ability to send and receive money, and the services enabled by 10,000 plus Messenger chatbots, and it’s easy to see why some observers see platforms such as Messenger spelling the end of the traditional phone number!

My month on Messenger
Given this momentum, I was keen to see how brands are currently engaging via Facebook Messenger. With many suggesting that messaging threads will take over much of the role of dedicated apps on our devices, I was particularly interested in just how much of a service organisations could deliver via this platform, or whether it would be more of a light footprint experience.

So I’ve decided to make September my ‘Month of Messaging’ - giving up all other channels and seeing how Facebook Messenger gets on instead. To date the experience has been largely positive - with some exceptions. My Month of Messaging notes so far:

•   Argos - I asked a basic question about local store opening times, and Argos came back promptly with the information I needed

•   Saga - again a prompt response, but unfortunately I don’t yet qualify for their services

•   Vodafone - I found it difficult to identify the right Vodafone Messenger channel, and the one I used hasn’t generated a response yet. I’m still waiting to find out about 4G in my area

•   Sky - I asked about service cancellation and, while they replied on Messenger, I was told that I would have to go online to progress further

•   LV= I requested copies of my policy documents to be emailed to me. They replied quickly, and sent the right documents to my inbox - impressive.

•   Loaf - I messaged this furniture retailer, and they replied promptly and were really helpful. Confirmation that you don’t have to be a major brand to make messaging work for you

So while some brands hadn’t really developed their service offer on Facebook Messenger, many others are starting to take it seriously. And given that most users are going to be using smartphones to engage, issues around security, identification and payment are largely resolvable. Similarly, engagement with messaging platforms doesn’t need to be in isolation, with organisations set to offer a combination of Virtual Assistants and agent support. Threaded messaging conversations will also need to integrate with customer histories and activity across other channels, if organisations are to create a true single view of customer contact.

So is messaging the way forward? From my initial observations, it’s clear it has an important role to play in the end-to-end customer journey. AI-enabled virtual assistants and chatbots engaging via Messenger-style conversational threads are clearly attractive for customers looking for a rapid resolution. However, the ultimate success of messaging as a channel will depend on its execution. Key issues here will include its integration with your Digital Front Door strategy, getting the conversational dialogue design right, and the quality of the hand-off between the messaging channel and other parts of the customer journey. 

In the meantime, I’m continuing with my Month of Messenger, and will report back!

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