Just when we all had a handle on dealing with customers through voice, email, text, and now chat—and especially Facebook Messenger —is the hot channel marketers, customer experience, and social media professionals are talking about. With good reason. There are over a billion people on Facebook - it has the highest engagement levels of any social platform.
But before we all flock to Facebook Messenger as the next great way to engage customers and start building our own Facebook chat bots, let’s do a reality check. While we have no doubt that chat will be an essential part of the omnichannel communications toolkit, however, as with every new channel before it there will be new best practices to follow in order to make the most of it. Some early entrants into chat have done really well, others have stumbled. Here are some of the important lessons companies have learned already.
Conversations must be real and personal
While chatbots are going to automate a lot of interactions, they are far from perfect. Real people are going to need to be involved to answer tough questions and give a (real) human touch to conversations. Just like the ever-annoying automated phone systems, sometimes you want to speak to a person and you need to make sure customers can do that easily.
Do you need people on call 24/7? No, of course not. Post the hours people are available and use Facebook’s automated response systems to let customers know when people are available.
With people online chatting with customers, make sure that chat is integrated into CRM systems or at the very least ensure that representatives can access the information they need quickly. Customers expect that the person they are chatting with has all their details straight. If agents answer a question with "I don’t have access to that from my system" customers will be frustrated.
Bots can’t replace conversations
Automated, intelligent chatbots burst onto the tech scene in 2016. A lot of people imagined that Jarvis or HAL would soon be helping us order from our favorite stores better than a human ever could.
Reviews of early chatbots are decidedly mixed with many failing to discern even simple logic and language (look for this, but not that). Intelligent bots need humans to tune responses, and customers to give feedback when things are off the mark.
If you are going to explore chatbots for your online store or service, make sure that customers can switch to conversing with a person in case of trouble. There is nothing more frustrating than using something that is supposed to make a transaction easier, but turns into a gong show of frustration.
There are examples of semi-intelligent transactional bots that are good templates for today’s complex chatbots: Application-to-Person (A2P) two-way SMS conversations. A2P two-way SMS follows very simple logic with very simple responses allowed. Though far from the promise of chatbots, two-way SMS shows that setting expectations and being very clear on what you can and can’t say to a bot goes a long way to helping customers.
Adding value through customer relationships
The most exciting part of chat and chatbots is the potential to build deeper and stronger customer relationships. Chat is perceived as more personal and connected than email or even the phone. With chat connected to larger customer datasets, representatives can offer real insight to customers and foster connections. For times when a chatbot (even if customers think they are talking with a person) can handle the job ("I’d like to update my contact information" “I need to pay my bill”) the quick and easy interaction through chat will build stronger relationships. Remember those times you had a great customer experience with a company? What set it apart from others? Chances are it was one or more of these things: fast, saved you money, easy to get the task done, friendly.
This should be the goal when integrating chat and chatbots into your customer service (or even sales) mix. The interactions need to add value and make the customer’s life easier (creating a gain or relieving a pain). Regardless of technology, whenever you do either of those two things for a customer (ideally both) you have a check in the win column.
Is Facebook the best bet?
Here’s the big question: is Facebook Messenger the best bet for chat in your company? Outside of email or SMS, Facebook Messenger might be the one of the closest things to a universal chat app. There are over a billion active users of Facebook Messenger, so starting your B2C or B2B chat experiment with Facebook is a smart bet if your customer base is in North America, Australia, and Scandinavia. WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) is the number one chat app for most of the world, and WeChat is the leading chat app in China with its own tremendous ecosystem of apps and technologies. There are other OTT (Over-the-Top) chat apps like Line (Japan) and Viber (mostly Europe, but also parts of the Middle East) that are important players in the space.
The real question isn’t "is Facebook Messenger the best chat app" but rather “is Facebook Messenger the best choice for my audience and business goals”. In a future post, we’ll cover the differences in the OTT ecosystems and their strong and weak points, but for now let’s stick with chat being the next level in customer experience, customer service space and definitely something you need to start thinking about.
Chat is the next wave, but make sure you treat it like its own thing
Online chat, whether it’s Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp, Viber or even Slack, is a growing space for B2C and B2B communications. 2016 started the "oh this is interesting" phase and 2017 will be the “let’s take this seriously” phase for businesses. For all the caveats above, chat is here and not fading out as a tool for business. This is the right time to look at how you can improve your customer communications with chat and how to integrate chat into your larger communications strategies.
Infobip is a leading expert in omnichannel communications, including chat. Our technical solutions experts and integration specialists can help you with seamless integration of chat into your business.