Facebook’s Bots for Messenger will help businesses “communicate directly” with customers

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At its F8 developer conference last week, Facebook announced the launch of Bots for Messenger, designed to help businesses communicate more easily with their customers. 

Mark Zuckerberg led the reveal, saying… “Now that Messenger has scaled, we’re starting to develop ecosystems around it. The first thing we’re doing is exploring is how you can all communicate with businesses…I’ve never met anyone who likes calling a business, and no one wants to have to install a new app for every service or business they want to interact with…We think you should just be able to message a business, just as you would a friend. You should get quick response and it shouldn’t take your full attention like a call would.” The new Messenger platform will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI), so that businesses can build natural language services, enabling them to communicate directly with their customers. With 900 million monthly users on Messenger, the potential is immense, creating exciting opportunities for businesses. Within just a few days of the update launching, a number of developers have leapt onboard, with some high profile brands going live with their bots already. Among them, CNN has launched a personalised news app which sends users a daily digest of stories via Messenger, through which readers can request information on a particular topic they are interested in learning more about. CNN has designed its bot to have a conversational response, using personal pronouns. Techcrunch has also announced the launch of a personalised news recommendations bot, which is also able to answer questions. KLM has gone live with a bot which offers customers the chance to receive their flight documentation via the Messenger app. This includes booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass and flight status updates, all via Messenger. The idea is this will make travel information easy to find, in a single place. HP has built a tool which lets users print their photos, documents and files to any connected HP printer. Once a user sends a photo, the bot responds conversationally with something like, “Hey, nice photo,” and gives printing options. Great Western Railway is also developing a tool to communicate with customers via Messenger, making the line of communication easier during busy times particularly. The complete ‘botlist’ can be viewed here in the Messenger Bot store.

What does this mean for businesses?

Success of Bots for Messenger will ultimately rest on the quality of Facebook’s conversational AI technology, and whether customers use them. According to the talk referenced above by Zuckerberg, the bots platform is designed to help simplify a task for individuals, and aid productivity. While bots have historically had a command-based interface which has resonated more easily with the tech savvy and early adopter crowd, Facebook is keen for Bots for Messenger to have a consumer-friendly, mass-market appeal. “We’ve taken a lot of care and time to build rich templates with ability for bots to combine images and text and all kinds of different things, but also rich bubbles with buttons and calls to actions and carousels that you can swipe through,” explains David Marcus, who leads Messenger for Facebook, in an interview with The Verve. But developer response so far has been mixed, with some comparing Bots for Messenger to Microsoft Office’s ‘Clippy’ of the ‘90s. Some have also criticised the natural language processing of the bots, saying it isn’t ready to go mainstream. While Facebook is calling on developers to begin building bots for businesses, brands and publishers, there may be no harm in waiting a little while, to see the lessons learnt by the early adopters. Facebook has said it will police the bots on its Messenger platform by issuing guidelines and tools to developers building them, and by reviewing the bots before allowing them on the site. It is also providing a “bot engine” to make it easier to build the software agents for Messenger. Ultimately, it’s crucial customers enjoy a good user experience, and understand the benefits and purpose of bots. Thinking about the ways in which a bot could make your customers’ lives simpler, would be a good place to start.

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