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Hold onto your seats everybody – here come the chatbots. It’s going to be a memorable moment for everybody in tech, especially marketers!
Facebook announced their Messenger Platform at F8 this week and after reading more about it, I thought, holy sh–. Here we are, right in the middle of a pivotal technology moment, and it’s going to be awesome.
There’s nothing more exciting than seeing another channel light up, where businesses can connect to customers in completely new and useful ways. It’s like when the search engines showed up, connecting us to the huge number of websites that we previously had to find through portals or hear about through friends. Or when social media showed up to connect us to people online like never before, and then suddenly we had another, meaningful channel to reach customers. Or email, or mobile app markets. Like all of these things, the chatbot revolution is a big progression in how we reach and engage with customers.
Here is what you need to know…
What are chatbots?
The chat part seems pretty obvious – it’s just like any other chat tool in the sense that a person or a group of people can have a live discussion. Traditional chat tools have existed for a long time, and primarily house human to human conversations, with a few cool features like adding pictures or linking to files. Basically like email, but more real time.
The cool part is that what we’re really seeing is an operating system, disguised as a chat application. It’s a familiar interface delivering tomorrow’s technology. So, consumers are seeing the chat window where they’re talking to “a person”, but sometimes what’s driving the interaction isn’t human at all – it’s an intelligent piece of software programmed to respond to the person on the other end.
Here are the elements of the story that make this interesting to businesses…
- Huge audience reach. Facebook has 900 million consumers using its Messenger. Slack has 2.7 million daily active users who tend to be professional/business users.
- New channels to reach the audience. For example, bot directories work a lot like iTunes or the Android App store and Facebook uses “Messenger Links” which work more like social sharing/like buttons.
- The ability to automate an engagement between a customer and your brand. There are a million use cases here, from automating some level of customer support and sales through to delivering content or information relevant to the brand.
Sorry, no promotional material!
Of course our first instinct as marketers is to send ads, discounts, anything to drive a conversion. However, that sort of thing is not allowed (yet). Facebook stresses this repeatedly in their guidelines:
“The Send/Receive API is intended for non-promotional messages that facilitate a pre-existing transaction, provide other customer support actions, or deliver content requested by a person. The API must not be used to send marketing or promotional messages, such as sale or product announcements, brand advertising, branded content, newsletters or the up-selling or cross-selling of products or services.”
“Responding to a customer inquiry is permitted without our prior approval, but ensure your response adheres to our policies (i.e., it must not include ads).”
“Don’t use Messenger for advertising, marketing, or for sending promotional content of any kind, even if a person opts-in to receiving this content, without our prior written permission.”
Slack states it more simply in their developer policy:
“Please do not push contests, promotions or repetitive content into Slack unless that is part of your App’s offering.”
“An App may not place any advertisements within a Slack client.”
“An App may not use any user data or content from Slack in any advertisements or for purposes of targeting advertisements, including in that App, your other applications, or elsewhere.”
So, what should you do?
Pay super close attention to this trend and start experimenting so you can figure it out before your competition takes over the channel.
Customer support or sales are obvious examples of what will work here. Help people get the information they need around your products, services, or content, fast.
If you think your audience lives on Facebook, try selling directly through Bots for Messenger. For example, if you’re a restaurant and a person is on your mobile website, maybe you want to take their reservation.
Be surprising. The experience of this is novel, and rough at this stage, so do something nice for your customers to encourage them to participate. Be a great example that the different platforms will want to promote!
Besides the fact that you can’t advertise in the chatbots, there are other limitations that need to be handled.
One is that you’re asking the customer to interact with a bot – which is kind of like requiring they know what the magic words are that will get the response they are after. In Slack, this means customers need to reference your bots commands, and even if they are really simple, they still have to learn them. That will limit adoption. Facebook’s bot addresses this by forcing developers to use a very specific template, which leverages natural language. It’s kind of like filling out a form, but in what appears to be more of a conversation.
Another issue is that it’s just plain annoying, as a customer, to type responses in, where they’re used to the faster experience of clicking to navigate.
Take this example with 1 800 Flowers. I tried ordering flowers for my mother through their Facebook Messenger bot. Huge kudos to these guys for being one of the first businesses to start figuring this channel out. However, it took so much longer to place an order through the chatbot than it would have been through their website, and it was harder to compare options in the small screen space. The experience wasn’t great, and I’m trying to figure out what situation I’d be in where this ordering channel would be helpful.
Here are a few wild guesses on how this will evolve…
Brands in the chat space will introduce more bot features. I expect to see this from Intercom and maybe Snapchat and LinkedIn too.
New brands will show up as bots in this space, taking advantage of the emerging channel by solving the most engaging and straightforward problems. Maybe these will be aggregators or who knows, Ask Jeeves may even make a comeback.
Voice recognition and more template options will solve some of the input burden currently experienced typing in answers.
The platforms have all the customer information. Once the audiences are firmly established, the platforms will start to ask brands to pay for that information. Then the advertising and promotional content will begin!
One final, hint from Facebook around how big this is:
This is how Facebook is positioning the Messenger features to consumers, and it sounds a lot like they’re taking on Telcom.
“Since traditional phone books are almost obsolete, we’re making it easier for you to find the people (and businesses) that matter to you and be able to start conversations immediately with the launch of a simple set of tools that are built for the modern world – Messenger Codes, Messenger Usernames, and Messenger Links.
All you have to do is scan a code someone shares with you, and then you can start that important conversation. No more back and forth with texts trying to make sure you have the right number saved and awkwardly asking people how to spell their names. Your settings tab in Messenger has your own Messenger Code displayed prominently to scan or share.
We also took special care to make Messenger Codes as beautifully designed as possible so you can use them everywhere – on business cards, online, or in-store and anywhere else you like.”
Check out this link to learn more about how to set this up for your business.
And here’s our MonkeyWorks chatbot, in case you want to take a look at how we’re approaching this.
Of course, feel free to chat with us on Facebook! Just open your Facebook Messenger app, go to ‘People’, tap ‘scan code’ and scan this picture.