Marketing, Not Customer Service, for Facebook Messenger Chatbots

Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong

Ever since Facebook Messenger chatbots emerged on to the scene at the 2016 F8 conference, conventional wisdom has been that the obvious place for companies to start when it comes to messaging and bots is customer service. Given the decades of experience our team has implementing conversational systems for customer service, if anyone should be pushing that point of view in the market, it would be us. But it's exactly because of our decades of experience that we know the conventional wisdom is wrong and we've been outspoken sharing that contrarian point of view with brands and for the benefit of our industry as a whole.

Why Customer Service Doesn't Make Sense

Here are the main reasons that we don’t think customer service is the right place to start for Facebook Messenger - at least at this stage in the market’s evolution. Instead, companies should deliver a new and delightful experience to consumers, capitalize on that early customer engagement, and eventually incorporate customer service later into the experience.

  1. Most consumers don't know they can talk with brands on Messenger. Even though consumer adoption of Facebook Messenger is through the roof (over 1.2 billion registered users and counting), the vast majority of those users are sending messages to their friends and family, not to businesses. Of the users who do turn to social media for customer service, most are trying to publicly shame the company into providing a higher level of service than they've been able to achieve through other service channels.
  2. There's a negative ROI promoting customer service to consumers. Obviously one way to solve the consumer awareness issue is to promote the new customer service channel to consumers via Facebook advertising, social media, email campaigns, etc. But who wants to spend money promoting customer service bots that will only drive more cost within in the company if actively used? There's simply no ROI there.
  3. There's nothing inherently different about messaging and bots compared to other channels when it comes to customer service. Making matters worse, despite the initial hype around bots and their natural language capabilities, those same capabilities have been available for other customer service channels for a long time. We should know. We developed them over the last 20 years at Nuance, Tellme, and other companies. When you dig under the covers of contact centers, what you see is that the larger constraint that you have is the inability of various systems to talk to each other, data that simply doesn't exist or isn't in an actionable format, or policies that require human representatives or managers approve certain actions (like a refund) rather than leaving that up to an algorithm to decide. As a result, consumers aren't going to get any more satisfaction via Messenger than they will from live chat on a web site or a call into the call center. So there's no compelling reason for consumers to shift their channel preference even if they knew service were available via Messenger in the first place. And, worse, if you are successful shifting users to messaging, you’ll also inadvertently train them to only think to interact with you on Messenger when they have a problem or complaint and, therefore, squander a much larger opportunity to use this new channel in the future to build customer relationships.
  4. You need to be careful with personally identifiable information (PII) and account security. Customer service applications often require access to sensitive account information that can potentially be used for fraudulent purposes if it gets into the wrong hands. While the Automat platform is highly secure (and has passed bank-level security audits) and Facebook has features like account linking that can be used, many companies are not yet comfortable with the end-to-end security and data privacy in Messenger for certain use cases that involve PII or other sensitive customer information. This will surely continue to improve and Facebook is committed to adding necessary features to their Messenger platform based on customer demand but we’re not there yet - at least for some of the more interesting customer service use cases.

Why You Should Start with Marketing

While we don’t think customer service makes sense for Facebook Messenger at this point in time, we’re incredibly bullish on messaging when it comes to Conversational Marketing and what it makes possible for brands. As we’ve seen with our customers, focusing on marketing rather than customer service turns all of the issues above on their head and makes this a winning proposition for companies.

  1. Marketers know how to build awareness and convert that awareness into action (and positive ROI). Unlike customer service, marketing use cases help drive revenue-generating outcomes such as e-commerce transactions, influencing offline purchases or other behavior, opening new accounts, or facilitating a direct connection with the right subject-matter expert. As a result, marketers can actively invest in various forms of both paid and organic bot discovery and still generate a positive overall ROI. Furthermore, as we saw with Covergirl and Kalani Hilliker, there are clever user acquisition opportunities like using social media influencer bots or celebrities that are available to marketers that are not an option for customer service.
  2. Messaging opens up new ways to engage consumers not previously possible. It has been every marketer’s dream to be able to talk to each of their customers, learn about them as unique individuals and in doing so help them find products, services, and experiences they love, helping create an enduring relationship with the brand. One of the most important facets of messaging as a platform is that the entire marketing funnel can be encompassed in one place. Email marketing and landing pages, for example, are outdated and our metrics to date indicate that messaging is very likely going to beat both desktop and current mobile conversion rates, especially when coupled with the AI-based optimizations our platform provides. Furthermore, companies like L’Oreal have found that certain use cases like their Beauty Gifter application only become practical given the nature and properties of messaging.
  3. PII and account security become very readily manageable. While marketers need to be just as sensitive to PII and account security as their customer service counterparts (if not more so), marketing use cases tend to make more compartmentalized use of sensitive information and therefore these issues can be readily managed through a variety of approaches including Messenger web views (for shopping cart checkout, for example).

Figuring Out What Makes Sense for You

Want to tap into our team’s experience in thinking through what use cases make the most sense for your business and would have the highest business value? Let’s talk and get you on the road to success with Facebook Messenger and chatbots.