Messenger Business: Facebook Turns Messenger Into Customer Service & Commerce Channel



Today at Facebook’s developer conference F8 the company announced, among other things, Messenger Platform, which opens up the app to third party publisher and developers. As one feature of Messenger Platform, Facebook also introduced what it’s calling “Messenger for Business.”

The objective is to “reinvent the way people communicate and interact with businesses.” Initial integrations include e-commerce sites Everlane and Zulily. Customer service software provider Zendesk is also supporting the platform.

Facebook isn’t limiting the program to e-commerce; it wants to make Messenger a customer service/live chat channel for all kinds of businesses. For now the focus, however, is on enterprises. Small businesses have access to similar messaging functionality through their existing Pages.

There are different technical integrations and specifications behind the scenes. But what Messenger for Business is intended to do is replace email and provide real-time business-customer interaction and rich notifications (see graphics above and below). Where Messenger is integrated and consumers are logged in to Facebook, they’ll see an opt-in prompt on partner commerce sites to receive shipping notifications.

Messenger for Business

If users agree they’ll receive Messenger updates tied to specific shipping events (e.g., delay). Customers will also be able to discuss anything with the enterprise or merchant, including the desire to buy more of something. Facebook told me that both Everlane and Zulily reps could address the potential sales opportunities.

I asked about automation vs. live human support. Facebook stressed that it was up to the partner but the company’s preference was for human customer service and support vs. chat bots.

In an ideal scenario Messenger for Business removes friction from the customer service process (now mostly telephone based) and could result in incremental sales for merchants. There are lots of interesting possibilities. As with all things, however, partner execution will mater to the user experience. Facebook is being careful to selectively roll out the feature to those partners the company believes will deliver a great experience.

One can imagine over time all kinds of interesting possibilities and interactions facilitated by Messenger around appointment inventory, products, product features and specs and so on. Say, for example, I’m getting ready to buy a major appliance. I could hypothetically ask retailers like HomeDepot or Lowe’s whether they have the item in stock, what the price is and what the various product configurations are. (HomeDepot and Lowe’s are not announced partners.)

I repeatedly Facebook about all kinds of small-business hypotheticals and scenarios and was consistently redirected back to Pages. Right now Messenger for Business isn’t available for traditional “offline” SMBs. Over time it could be.

If it becomes widely adopted Messenger for Business could rival or exceed Twitter’s vaunted customer service capabilities. Indeed, for those organizations that do a good job with it, Messenger for Business potentially represents a major advance over phone-based customer service, IVRs and the horrifying, but now standard recorded refrain: “due to higher than expected call volumes wait times will be longer than expected.”

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.



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