Facebook’s announcement of an API to open up Facebook Messenger to third-party bots at its F8 developer conference yesterday was no great surprise, but it does signal the social giant’s intention to extend its reach and keep its users in its own domain, rather than linking out to brand partners, in much the same vein as Instant Articles. So what does the industry make of the move. Here’s the view of three execs.
Julien Hervouët, CEO, iAdvize
“The news of the introduction and integration of chatbots into Facebook Messenger is a smart move. Given that businesses now face a huge challenge in handling large volumes of customer conversations, bots allow companies to automate a certain amount of low value tasks, accelerating their customer care services significantly. In using these robots in this way, firms will instead be able to focus on customers’ interactions and conversations which have a high value and actually affect their bottom lines.
"Most importantly, these bots won't replace humans, especially now that customer conversations have become so important, especially evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding the abusive AI bot Tay, which had to be turned off within 16 hours. Instead, bots and human agents are complementary when it comes to offering the best customer experience possible.
"Facebook Messenger gives brands the unique ability to be in the pockets of consumers. It's becoming the interface for everything, and therefore the perfect interface for brands to interact with online shoppers. With Messenger, brands can offer their customers a conversational experience. It's a new touchpoint for brands, a new opportunity to interact with customers in their ‘natural habitat’. The feedback we're getting from our travel and telecommunication clients who have started using Messenger shows that communicating with customers via this channel is extremely well received by users."
Hannah Giles, head of marketing, Zensend
“The impact of Facebook’s decision to open its messaging API to brands and businesses could be profound, ushering in a new era of communication and breathing life into the nascent conversational commerce space.
“However, the scale of this consumer shift is huge, so the main challenge for Facebook will be around building and protecting consumer trust. Facebook has done a great job of doing this within its social network, but it will need to ensure that users of its messaging products are also given total control over how and when any brand engagement takes place.
“The positive for consumers is that it will start to make brands and businesses more approachable through 24/7 access and a conversational interface which is universally understood. However, the highly personal nature of the messaging environment means that unless brands are actually adding value to the consumer, it may cause users to move to less intrusive messaging platforms.”
Michael Richardson, co-founder, Urban Airship
“Chatbots opening up an engagement channel for businesses could be as monumental as app platforms adding push notifications. It’s about brands being able to further reduce the friction of serving more customers with lightweight, service-oriented interactions. Just like apps and mobile wallets, chatbots need to consider the user’s complete context with interactions flowing through the rest of the business. Great customer experiences and better business insights demand it.”
James Blake, CEO, Hello Soda
“Essentially, Facebook is enabling better and more advanced 1-2-1 relationships and interactions with brands on a more useful level. The launch of chatbots in messenger will create opportunities for brands to harness structured data and natural language processing to look at people as individuals not a segment or group of people. This is no longer a viable way of marketing.
“Take for example someone named James who is a big Everton fan - the best time for brands to interact through chatbots may well be after Everton win a game. James could be targeted with relevant offers because he is happy his team won and is more open and receptive to being targeted by a brand – but only if the offer is relevant to his individual likes and dislikes. But brands will only know this if they are utilising a big data and analytics tool that filters business data to make it more relevant to the individual customer and they can they utilise chatbots to target James effectively and have a unique 1-2-1 relationship with him. Fundamentally, brands getting as close to a real relationship with their customers means a better bottom line so it’s going to be interesting to see how brands adopt chatbots through messenger.”
Robert Weideman, executive vice president and GM, Nuance Enterprise Division
“Yesterday's announcement further validates Nuance’s long-standing vision of a day when nearly all customer service is automated, and consumers prefer it. We’re working hard to bring that vision to life through intelligent self-service solutions powered by AI – across Web, mobile, IVR, SMS and other customer service channels.
“Nuance believes that consumer exposure to chatbots within Facebook Messenger and other platforms for convenience-focused interactions (e.g. weather, news, etc.) will only continue to fuel demand and expectations for conversational interfaces from enterprises. However, to address that growing demand, enterprises need to think beyond these platforms when it comes their messaging strategies, including two-way SMS for inbound and outbound text messages as well as support for “in-app messaging,” in addition to support for chatbots.”