It’s inevitable that chatbots are coming: messaging is the most preferred customer service channel in the opinion of US consumers (Twilio), Gartner says 85% of all customer interactions won’t require humans by 2020 and companies in the field have raised $24B to date, which will accelerate innovation and the sophistication of chatbots. Every tech platform wants her stake in this, which makes it so important for Facebook to seize the opportunity.
Facebook Messenger recently passed 1.2 billion users, which makes it globally the messaging app with the most users -- count Whatsapp in and you realize the massive lead they have over any other player. For Facebook, this is a huge and potentially business-changing opportunity: gaining access to all conversations between brands and consumers. While the user number and developer community are growing there are still several critical areas that need much improvement.
Facebook’s strategy is straightforward: Gaining access to the communication between brands and consumers -- no matter, whether human or chatbot powered (or through a combination of both) -- means gaining access to interactions that cost companies a lot of money (ie. customer service), but also include areas companies invest a lot of money in (ie. up-selling, retargeting, branding, etc.). Facebook wants to make these interactions more seamless, increase activity on their platform(s) and of course, they want to earn money.
A vivid example of this is David Marcus’ announcement yesterday at the F8 conference, that Facebook Messenger will roll out an extension of instant replies for restaurants in the US, that fetches information from a restaurant’s homepage and/or Facebook page and the chatbot can answer FAQs from customers via Messenger. Facebook immediately has access to much more data than before and can offer the restaurant to advertise more effectively to potential customers and even better target people that communicated with their chatbot.
At the F8 conference, Facebook announced the Messenger Platform 2.0. Most notably, they launched a new discovery of chatbots, which was much anticipated and I believe we’ll see more improvements here, chat extensions, which let you run other apps inside messenger and M suggestions, which means that M (Facebook’s smart assistant) will suggest things and actions inside conversations that can be executed with little actions required.
In conclusion, Facebook rolled several product features that make the experience more seamless and let bot developers better understand user behavior and enable personalized experiences across different parts of the platform and devices. Further, Facebook is continuously rolling out new ways for businesses to automate conversations with their clients through advances in NLP and AI.
What’s still missing?
It was F8 2016 that made us double down on chatbots in the recruiting space and we’re very happy and equally excited about this decision. Nevertheless, there are several features that are crucial to bot developers and that are not offered at this stage:
There’s still no official API for chatbots on WhatsApp. With the current update on WhatsApp for Businesses it’s clear that it is coming, but equally, it is unclear what’s holding them back and, whether there will be two separate APIs (Messenger and WhatsApp) or one. In many countries adding WhatsApp is a game changer, because it’s increasing coverage.
So far, bot developers only received very basic analytics (number of users, demographics, usage, number of messages), but what is needed are bot-specific metrics like sentiment, funnel analysis, success rates, exit analysis, etc. This will help bot developers make better chatbots, improving the user experience and ultimately leading to more — and more rewarding — activity on the platform.
Maybe the most frustrating issues are the difficulty to get in touch with Facebook; ironic for a company building the world's largest communication platform. You build prototypes, accept all shortcomings of the still-young platform, acquire customers one by one and still have no streamlined way to report messenger app bugs or related problems and track the progress. Facebook’s developer-relations strategy is patchy at best and they need to up their game in this regard if they want to see chatbots flourish on their platform.