Ness Point of View
At the 2016 F8 developer conference, Facebook revealed a third party chat SDK and live APIs that use bots and Artificial Intelligence to enable a two-way conversational interface between companies and customers. This move positions Messenger, with its 900 million active users, as a significant hub for ecommerce and potentially a new standard for content delivery, experiences and transactions.
Bots have the ability to reach more potential buyers than apps because they have a delivery infrastructure within Messenger but do not have the added barrier of the download. Bots with their scale and flexibility creates another touch point with customers and will now need to be considered part of your digital strategy.
So, what is a bot, and why the fuss?
A bot is an automated or semi-automated tool that can carry out tasks and ‘chatbots’ offer a convenient conversational way to engage with businesses and receive relevant automated responses from your questions or choices. There are chatbot platforms in the market already on other social networks like Kik, Line and Telegram, but Facebook has brought viability with its user base and the existing scale of its integration with business, through the 50 million business Facebook pages.
Chatbots like the one shown for clothing retailer Spring, can automate a conversation with a customer, creating the feeling of a seamless interactive experience. You can ask for items and give specific preferences. Spring will respond with tailored templates that include product details, images of the items and different options to choose from.
What does it mean for your business?
The Messenger Platform’s API allows bots to respond to users’ requests with structured messages that include images, links and call to action buttons. These could let users find out about stock price movements, make a restaurant reservation, or ask to review a selection of skinny jeans and then choose their favorite and purchase.
This “conversation” can be integrated across channels with plugins that automatically let customers pick up the conversation in Messenger. This should provide customers ease of access and personalized engagement which can create a more interesting, fun and impactful customer to business relationship.
The emergence of this channel has been propelled by advancements in AI, but it is clear that they cannot yet maintain a polished and complex conversation. There is definitely a risk that an army of spammy, badly curated bots are “released” that could annoy customers.
Much of the excitement with bots is driven by a growing app fatigue’ that causes mobile users to either ignore, delete or never download at all and companies are consequently looking for new ways of engaging with customers. However apps aren’t going to disappear any time soon; they still provide the most personalized and useful interactions. Bots should be thought of as a complement and extension to apps that might replace certain features where the chatbot experience is superior to that provided by the app. It is likely that a major use-case for bots is in automating things humans do currently, creating cost savings rather than new revenues.
Bots within Messenger still have the potential to create rich and beneficial interactions in a conversation that, done well, can provide an interactive, logical and visual customer experience as well as cost and time savings.
As we design our services to provide value across all touch points, we want to provide customer experiences that feel more human and thoughtful. Facebook Messenger (and others like it) may well become the most important platforms to serve customers in the future.
Facebook has released technical tools, which have brought the building of bots to the mainstream, but first you need to understand how bots can improve your service offering. To create your first ‘bot story’, you must first understand the intent of your customers within each contextual scenario.
1. Explore your opportunities across channels
Explore your customers’ touch points with your service. What tasks do they need to complete with you on which channels and where are they currently frustrated?
2. Map the journey of the conversational customer experience
Capture the needs of your users, the tasks they set out to complete and the situational context of their need. Map the whole digital journey of the customer and acknowledge that you are now a small part of their experience, and you should integrate as best you can with the other parts of the journey.
3. Understand customer intentions and create a story
Create your first bot story by understanding the intent of your customer. Write different options and calls to action as responses to what your customer says to you – and explore the different directions the story might take. Categorize these stories and potential conversations according to the intentions of the customer.
4. Create your bot
Create your bot using Wit.AI bot engine, the program that Facebook has released to easily create text or voice based bots that humans can chat with. Use the categories, options and storylines you have created for the different contexts to create your first bot or bots. Users test these storylines and the bot you create on selected samples of users and iterate on the storylines you have created to perfect them.
5. Test with users in a targeted and contextual way
The best way to start any initiative with a new technology and channel is to start small. Create some detailed stories around something specific that resolves an issue for your customer or for your company. In being specific and setting the context of what the user is there to do, you will manage, satisfy and possibly exceed their expectations.