Facebook Messenger Could Be Your Next Big Customer Service Channel

In 2014, Facebook decoupled Facebook Messenger from the main Facebook app to build a better platform for users to interact with businesses, services, and each other. Since then, Messenger's monthly user base has grown to 1.2 billion people. And Facebook releases a new version of the Messenger app pretty much every week.

If companies want to go where their customers are, then Facebook Messenger seems an obvious place to head. In fact, Forrester Research data showed that in late 2015—before Messenger even topped a billion users—the tool already accounted for 2 percent of the time that consumers spent in apps on their mobile phones. That percentage has surely only increased since then.

Given the incredible attraction the messaging tool holds for consumers, it is no surprise that many consumer-facing companies have been experimenting with providing customer service through Facebook Messenger. But, equally unsurprisingly, many companies have yet to figure out how to provide excellent service through the channel.

My colleagues and I at Forrester have been doing some research benchmarking some leading companies' efforts at customer service through Facebook Messenger. We found a mixed bag of good, bad, sloppy, incomplete, and downright confusing service. Some of the common missteps include the following:

  • Companies not making it clear that service is available via Messenger. As an example, one company's welcome message veers wildly off course by stating its overall mission and tagline rather than explaining what type of service its customers can expect.
  • Conversations with companies don't match users' expectations. Facebook Messenger, like all messaging tools, provide a persistent communications experience. Users expect that they can start a conversation, leave, come back to the conversation later, and resume exactly where they left off. After all, that is how they use the tool with their friends and family. But many companies seem to have a case of amnesia when customers try to resume previous conversations. Back-end case management systems that time sessions out after a set period are a likely culprit here. But whatever the reason, the experience provided to customers could be charitably described as frustrating.
  • Companies don't make users comfortable with the level of privacy and security. Facebook does not have a stellar reputation for designing user-friendly privacy controls. That said, the platform is relatively secure when looked at from a fraud point of view. According to an article in The Register, Facebook's security team has estimated that only 0.06 percent of Facebook's more than 1 billion logins per day are compromised. But because company interactions through Facebook Messenger are still novel to consumers, it is incumbent on companies to proactively assuage user concerns. Some companies on Facebook Messenger authenticate customers by asking only for account number, email address, or credit card number while in conversation. Sure, this is quick, but it does not earn customers' trust.

While there were plenty of service gaffes, and it is instructive to see what other companies have done wrong, we also found many ways that companies could use Facebook Messenger to further their push for better customer service experiences. We have been advising our clients to recognize that while messaging has some unique characteristics when compared with traditional customer service channels, such as its persistent nature, the fundamentals of good customer service still apply.

So, the companies that will succeed in making Facebook Messenger a real enterprise service channel will figure out how to make it a useful personalized experience. They will create a journey map or storyboard for common customer support interactions to identify the data and people that agents need to provide personalized responses. As part of those personalization efforts, the company already likely pulls in data from other systems, such as CRM or billing systems, to provide more personalized experiences. Facebook Messenger requires that same level of integration with other enterprise apps. Planning for that is one of the key steps in moving from rapid hit, one-and-done, "where is my order"-type of interactions to more complex and more valuable service interactions.

Finally, despite the enormous user base, Facebook Messenger is but one of many opportunities to use messaging to service customers. If companies haven't experimented with messaging-based service before, Facebook is a good place to start. Clearly, customers are already using it, so companies can focus on what customer service functionality works best on the pre-built platform. They can then take lessons learned from Facebook Messenger and apply them to other channels, which can include native mobile apps, mobile sites, or even other messaging platforms, such as WeChat, Kik, Line, and KakaoTalk.

Ian Jacobs is a principal analyst at Forrester Research covering application development and delivery.

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Posted November 09, 2017