At its f8 Developer Conference Tuesday, Facebook introduced chatbot services to its Messenger app, an enhancement that the social media giant said ushers in a new era of communications with customers.
App-like chatbot software can automate customer service tasks that are now offered via phone and e-mail. "Bots" can provide customized communications from businesses like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages “all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them,” according to Facebook.
Users of the Messenger app, for example, can now order flowers by chatting with 1-800-Flowers’ Facebook Messenger account, thanks to bots developed by messaging startup Assist (co-founded by GeekSquad founder Robert Stephens). Facebook users can also communicate with a personal shopper bot by messaging with mobile shopping app Spring, and interact with other brands.
Proponents of Facebook Messenger bots say the technology is a game-changer. "It’s the beginning of the end of sitting on hold, the beginning of the end of 'Press one for this press to two for that,' the beginning of the end of 'This call may be recorded for quality purposes,'" Assist's Stephens told Retail Dive after the 1-800-Flowers announcement at F8 Tuesday.
Those kinds of changes will serve to accelerate the already customer-centric retail environment, but in a way that will work better for both retailers and consumers alike, experts told Retail Dive. In addition to offering infinitely superior to app and web interfaces, chatbots also will be much cheaper for retailers to develop, Stephens said.
Jason Goldberg, who leads commerce and content strategy at interactive digital agency Razorfish (and who also blogs as “Retailgeek”), agrees that bots will transform the retail user experience.
“All these brands have written apps and no one uses those apps,” Goldberg told Retail Dive. “The bots don’t require any installation, so a lot of people, myself included, feel the bot is the new app. And unlike the apps, the bots all run on these open platforms.”
Bots are already heavily used in China through the ubiquitous Facebook-like social media platform WeChat, according to Goldberg. The bots developed for Facebook Messenger may be even more agile in part thanks to their late start, Stephens said.
“They’re not very popular in the U.S.,” Goldberg said. “But things are about to change.”
Messenger bots signal Facebook's latest effort to drive additional revenues across its platform. Just last week, the company updated its policies to enable retailers and other brands to work with media companies, celebrities and social media influencers to share verified branded content, provided they clearly disclose that the content is sponsored or provided by a third party. A new Facebook branded content tool lets publishers and influencers tag the marketer behind a branded content post.