Facebook’s annual F8 conference is an opportunity for the social media giant to showcase its latest technologies and developments to attendees from the developer community. One of the key announcements made at this year’s conference was that Facebook will be developing its Facebook Messenger platform in order to cater to its growing business audience. Facebook Messenger will now allow third parties to interact with Facebook’s one billion active users, and vice versa, via ‘chatbots’.
A chatbot is a piece of software that is designed to simulate a conversation with a human user, in the interest of providing information or helping to complete a transaction. Chatbots use natural language processing, a type of artificial intelligence, to respond to commands or requests for information, which is a step-up from previous bots that simply scanned for keywords and sent users the most relevant reply from a database. As such, users will be able to ask the chatbot questions just as they would when searching for information on Google.
The benefits of bots
Whilst Facebook’s chatbot announcement is big news, bots are not a new concept; Telegram, the messaging app, has been using them for over a year. However, from its one billion user base, Facebook’s announcement is particularly important as it will give businesses access to a huge pool of potential customers and data.
Facebook knows the benefits that this service can offer to brands. The rise in the use of direct messaging by consumers has led to a demand for businesses to change the way they communicate with their customers. The Facebook chatbots address this demand by enabling brands to directly communicate with their customers through the Messenger app, giving businesses even closer contact with their target audience.
Bots in action
Facebook chatbots will give brands a prime opportunity to try a new method of communication to enhance customer experience. Tests are already being carried out to improve concierge services at hotel chains. Hotels will soon be able to message the customer directly, asking for an exact check-in time and to find out their favourite drink so that it can be served on their arrival. Bots could then also provide notifications such as informing guests of the weather, or what time they are due to check out. This will allow hotels to provide a fully personalised service for their guests.
Customer service is not the only area where chatbots could impact a business. In the US, mobile payment systems and Uber are already integrated into Facebook Messenger. At the conference, Zuckerberg announced a broad trial wave of affiliate companies for the chatbot that include flower delivery-service (1-800-Flowers) and bank account notifications (Bank of America), to health questions (HealthTab) and food orders (Burger King).
The airline industry could also be impacted with chatbots set to innovate the way we go about purchasing flight tickets and checking in. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the first airline to trial the bots. Customers can opt to receive messages from the airline who can then send the customer their boarding pass, check-in information, itinerary and notifications of any delays using Facebook Messenger.
Whilst the introduction of bots in Facebook Messenger has the potential to improve brands’ customer engagement, businesses should also consider what other areas of their businesses that this may affect.
Through the introduction of chatbots, Facebook has highlighted the change in the way consumers want to communicate with businesses. When Mark Zuckerberg announced the introduction of chatbots, he quipped that that he's never seen someone who enjoys calling a company. The chatbots offer a time and cost effective way of reducing the frustrations customers face when dealing with call centres. The bots also directly challenge the consumer trend of tweeting businesses rather than calling them, and may, if successful, compound Facebook’s dominance of the social media market for business engagement.
However, businesses will need to train their customer services teams to deal with direct customer messages. Social media is the most instant form of communication on the market today; consumers will expect to be in direct contact with a business and receive responses in real time. Before implementing any new technology, businesses need to ensure they are equipped with the necessary tools and skills in order to meet those demands.
If done well, the use of chatbots in customer service will also result in additional customer data. The increased information from chatbots will soon be able to empower companies to offer automated personalised ads in Facebook newsfeeds and help further specific ad targeting. Chatbots are a new touch point and contact platform. The time spent by users interacting with a brand through Facebook Messenger will have a positive effect on awareness KPIs such as brand recognition.
Businesses must remember that, although these new initiatives from Facebook provide new ways of engaging with customers, they must be executed sensitively and without intrusion to avoid a negative effect. While the specific workings were not announced, it is understood that Facebook users can only be contacted by a business if they initiate the conversation themselves and will still have the option to block any unwanted communication from a brand. However, businesses that take the time to understand the chatbots and introduce them carefully into their offering will benefit from new opportunities to engage and attract consumers, by developing dialogue and building relationships.
With digital disruption occurring across all industries, customer service is the latest sector that has witnessed the impact of digital transformation. With technology continuing to develop and digital innovation transforming the way businesses engage with their customers, it will soon be commonplace for businesses to directly engage with their customers through social media platforms. Artificial intelligence in the form of chatbots are only the beginning.
Emmanuel Arendarczyk, Managing Director UK and France at NetBooster
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Alexey Boldin