Facebook Debuts Customer Service Bots on Messenger

At its developer conference this week, Facebook introduced bots on Messenger, an automated response system for customer support and other e-commerce interactions. The chatbots are powered by Messenger's updated Send and Receive API, which enables the platform to not only support text, but also other types of content such as images and links. Call-to-action buttons will also be available on the updated platform, according to Facebook.

The chatbots have limited functionality for the time being, and it varies from brand to brand. 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, for example, enables customers to order flower arrangements through Messenger as well as receive support from gift concierges that can answer questions, offer suggestions, provide order and shipping updates, and handle any other minor customer service issues. Though the Messenger platform does not yet support credit card payments directly, it can redirect the customers to a payment page.

Other brands are using it in different ways, according to a statement from Facebook:

“HealthTap is now offering the expertise of its network of top U.S. doctors instantly via Messenger. People using Messenger around the world have a new, convenient and simple way to access health information. Anyone can type a question into Messenger and receive free and trusted doctor answers wherever they are and whenever they need them.” 

The move is an exciting one for Facebook, and for customer experience more broadly, according to customer service expert and author Chip Bell. It’s no secret that consumers are now leaning towards self-service-support routes instead of spending time waiting for a call center agent, and automated chatbots fall somewhere in between. "There's been a push towards more artificial intelligence in service for some time now," Bells says. "If a customer can get the answers or service that he or she needs from a virtual agent, they don't necessarily care that it's a virtual agent. There's more engagement, so it's a step beyond self-service, but customers don't actually have to wait for a live agent to pick up."

Vendors including LivePerson, Salesforce, and Zendesk have already announced integrations with the chatbots. While LivePerson and ZenDesk will tie chatbot interactions into conversation with live agents, Salesforce will connect engagements with brands' CRM systems and advertising efforts.

As automated customer service interactions become more sophisticated and mainstream, there will still "always" be a need for customer service agents, Bell says. "There will actually be a great demand for more qualified agents, because if most basic issues are being handled by automated bots, the agents will have to handle the complicated issues."

It's still early for the platform, and companies that launched chatbots are still working out the kinks. "We need to add more natural language processing, and that's what we're working on right now," Sam Mendel, CEO of Poncho, a weather chatbot, told Gizmodo.


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