Facebook: a new start for business to consumer messaging?

By Tom Castle

It is over a year since Mark Zuckerberg was quoted in the media about the usage of Facebook Messenger “We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend”. With over 900 million users of Messenger, is this a new channel which businesses need to add to their omni-channel strategy? Can it match the success WeChat has achieved in China where up to 40% of users interact with businesses?

It is still early days, but Hyatt has ventured onto Facebook Messenger service for customer service to improve its round-the-clock social care. You no longer need to download the Uber app to hail a ride, simply do it through Messenger. Don’t think that transport via Messenger is limited to taxis, KLM have made it possible to ‘get on board’ via the app. Whether it be getting your boarding pass, booking confirmation, flight updates or being reminded when check-in opens, using Messenger these interactions are possible 24/7.

The use of chat-bot automation technology is central to these services. Health advice is offered by HealthTap as and when it’s required. While the responses are usually rated good, if you don’t feel satisfied then HealthTap has 100,000 US physicians in 141 medical specialities who review the bot’s responses and can provide additional responses to queries. CNN uses the app to link readers with breaking news stories along with personalised and specific stories.

Andrew Hutchinson in SocialMediaToday reviews five reasons for businesses to use Messenger, picking up on a post from Kemal El Moujahid of Facebook. More and more people are using messaging, the features in the channel are becoming more advanced (payments?) and its preferability compared to downloading a bespoke App. People are using bots more than they may know and AI means suggested responses are becoming more usable when consumers respond. Lastly, because messaging runs over the top of the mobile OS layer it is more visible to the user.

There is a distinct line between business and pleasure for most people across the globe. Questions remain about whether consumers will really want to engage with businesses the way they chat to friends, but time will tell.

Facebook’s chances of success must be greater than many because of its ubiquity. But some consumers will worry about how much information is given to business partners, regardless of Facebook’s commitment that it is controlled. Its going to be fascinating to see how successful Messenger will be in terms of business to consumer short written interactions: in the past challengers such as web-chat have had only partial success in replacing phone, e-mail and face to face service.