The rise of social networking has upended how people interact with each other, and with the organizations with which they do business. Some of this seems to have happened kind of by accident, as a side effect of the popularity of social media when consumers began to understand that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (News - Alert) offered them a large audience with whom to share their frustrations about certain brands. But, lately, Facebook has become quite intentional in its quest to rule the customer experience roost, and it’s very well positioned to capture the CX scepter.
For businesses, this means more options to reach out to their customers and prospects where they are – on Facebook (News - Alert) (and on their mobile phones on Facebook). For those in customer service, meanwhile, the recent Facebook Platform announcement and some of the company’s other recent news in this realm are a call to action.
Facebook has 1.65 billion daily active users, and its Messenger app is used by a whopping 900 million people monthly. That’s a huge existing audience, and presents Facebook, its partners, and customers with some nice economies of scale. What’s more, while most customers have a strong distaste for calling and interacting with call center agents, they actually enjoy being on Facebook. The social media giant has the big data angle covered too, given existing Facebook profiles that customers themselves created can be leveraged to provide more contextual data for customer service interactions.
It is for these reasons that people like Peter Friedman believe Facebook will come to dominate the customer service arena. Friedman is founder, chairman and CEO of social customer experience company LiveWorld, and during his career has overseen hundreds of social media programs including Apple’s industry wide social network, AppleLink; MINI Cooper’s Member’s Lounge; Unilever’s Dove Campaign For Real Beauty; HBO’s original show character-driven website community; Sprint (News - Alert)/Unilever's In The Motherhood; the American Express Member’s Project; and Walmart’s social media programs.
People today are used to interacting with apps and web pages, notes Friedman, but that is a fraction of what people do daily. Facebook Messenger and similar solutions from companies like SnapChat, WeChat, and WhatsApp, he says, will move things back to conversational patterns in which control is in the hands of the customer (as opposed to the app or website designer).
“Twitter and Facebook provide an instant line of communication with those customers, offering brands the opportunity to solve problems quickly and with a personal touch,” as Friedman wrote in the May issue of CUSTOMER. “Additionally, Facebook Messenger offers a call to action button to help consumers find what they need. Consumers who have friendly interactions are 76 percent more likely to recommend the brand.”
Speaking of WebChat, Friedman suggests that Facebook is taking a cue from that Chinese company. It allows customers to conduct e-commerce, get information, and make payments. (For example, in February Hong Kong WeChat users were provided with the ability to send others money in the traditional envelopes – called red packets – used during Chinese New Year.) That kind of thing, he said, will happen on Messenger as well.
“Facebook is doing this because it’s going to be big,” Friedman said, “it’s not big because Facebook is doing it.”
An important part of Facebook’s strategy to take over the world of customer service has to do with its recently announced Messenger Platform with bots and a send/receive API.
The application programming interface will support the sending and receiving of text, as well as of images and interactive bubbles containing multiple calls to action.
“Developers can also set a welcome screen for their threads to set context as well as different controls,” explained the April 12 Facebook blog. “Starting today, all developers and businesses will have access to documents to build bots for Messenger, and submit them for review. We will gradually accept and approve submissions to ensure the best experiences for everyone on Messenger.”
Chatbots like those supported within Messenger Platform (which was in beta as of April when this article was written) can help customers with a range of things – including presenting them news based on specified criteria, getting weight loss advice, and much more. They automate processes, and can be smart and poll users about what they want, and then can come back to them with those things. They have been described the new version of Siri or the digital assistant depicted in the film Her.
However, on the down side, chatbots are very immature at this point, as discussed in a New York Times article by Jenna Wortham. Chatbots also can result in unintended consequences. As has been widely reported, Microsoft (News - Alert) put the kibosh on its chatbot Tay after she tweeted anti-semitic comments.
Nonetheless, many folks believe chatbots hold big potential if they are deployed the right way. The introduction of the Facebook Platform, Friedman suggests, will enable chatbots to be used in hundreds of thousands of ways.
“It’s a little hyped up right now,” he says, but it provides the ability to provide people with the Star Trek-like assistance we’ve long dreamed of.
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By Paula Bernier
Turns out it isn’t just social media giants and messaging startups that are hot for chatbots. Contact center and unified communications company Aspect is introducing a chatbot as well.
But Aspect’s chatbot, Mila, was not designed for the masses. Instead, she was created with contact center agents and managers in mind, explains Mike Bourke, senior vice president and general manager of workforce optimization at the company.
The chatbot will allow these users to get a special number for Mila through which they can SMS questions – like What’s my schedule for the day? Are any of my agents late for work today? Is John in today? – and get quick answers. Users can also interact with Mila via voice command, similar to Apple’s Siri. And next year Aspect expects to make Mila available through other messenging apps including those of Facebook and Twitter, says Bourke.
Mila is available now, as Aspect publicly unveiled the chatbot in early May during its customer event. At that time Aspect already had arrangements in place for two of its customers, one in the online retail space and the other in the hospitality arena, to leverage Mila.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi