"Facebook chatbots might work for 1-800-Flowers, but it could never work for my company."
As a marketing agency owner, I often hear this kind of response from prospective clients when it comes to new forms of technology.
It seems easy to jump on a new trend if you're a B2C company with an unlimited budget like Coca-Cola, or a tech-savvy web personality with a large following. But most companies feel too burdened by newness, regulations and potential security issues to embrace new tools like chatbots.
But while it's certainly admirable to thoroughly vet a process before investing in it, failing to innovate could leave your company struggling against your competition in the future - as in the case of Facebook's Messenger Bots.
Here are five "unlikely" brands that prove using Facebook chatbots for social media is an option for everybody:
Last year, Kayak launched its chatbot to remove the friction of searching through airport codes and highlighting check-in dates to find the best travel options.
Now, customers can ask questions like: "I need a flight from Miami to Chicago" and the chatbot will ask follow-up questions about when they want to fly out, what time the they want to leave, and what airlines they prefer.
"While Kayak still pulls in thousands of results, it shows Messenger users just a small selection of what its software determines are the best choices," Paul Brady, senior editor at Conde Nast Traveler, writes.
"There's [also] a big upside to using Messenger rather than the traditional Kayak website: Your search history and itinerary are instantly accessible in your conversation with the bot."
Why This Works:
Developers are working to take chatbots beyond just booking services and turn them into pocket companions. Even after you book, for example, you could have the chatbot send your trip info to your calendar, as well as ask what kind of weather you should expect at your destination and where your gate is.
Instead of interacting with the brand once when they buy, customers turn to Kayak's chatbot multiple times throughout the travel process, increasing engagement and loyalty.
2. Bank of America
Modern financial institutions know their customers don't want to drive to the bank or pour over paper statements, which is why many banks and credit unions are embracing text alerts about spending and offering customers services through social media.
"B of A said initial capabilities would enable customers to receive important real-time alerts from the bank, and that it will continue to look for other ways to use the platform," Robert Barba, tech editor for American Banker, writes.
"Toronto-based TD Bank Group [also] announced it would begin servicing customers via Messenger, similarly citing the desire to interact with its customers through the method of their choosing."
Why This Works:
The average smartphone user checks Facebook 14 times per day, and it takes less than a minute to find the Bank of America page and send a message.
Instead of forcing customers to visit the bank's website to talk to a representative, they're going where their customers already are - and reaping the advantages of doing so.
If you thought the banking industry was too regulated to offer Facebook customer service, then you'll be shocked to hear how the medical field is using it.
Multiple sites like HealthTap in the US and Your.MD in the UK have launched chatbots on Messenger to help people evaluate their medical needs and consult with doctors.
Through the chatbot, customers can learn what might be wrong with them based on symptoms, as well as find doctors in their area to treat them.
HealthTap also offers its paying customers the ability to directly consult with live doctors if they need to check in about various problems, according to Mobile Health News.
When finding a doctor, you can even tell the chatbot what insurance you carry, so they can recommend someone in your network.
Why This Works:
While HealthTap's chatbot helps customers determine the severity of a problem and identify potential issues, the app really becomes a recommendation engine for doctors.
By participating in digital consults - and recommending meeting them in person - doctors are able to highlight their expertise and use the chatbot to acquire new patients.
Trulia launched its Messenger chatbot in August to help customers find places to rent in their area.
In its current form, customers tell the bot where they want to live and what price range they have, and the system finds the ten best options in their area.
While the tool is geared towards renters, other real estate companies are starting to invest in their own technology to build customer profiles and help clients learn about financing options.
"Real estate by nature is a relationship-oriented industry, where clients and agents form bonds over the largest and most important consumer transaction: purchasing a home," Chris Rediger, President of Redefy Real Estate, writes at Realtor Magazine.
"Chatbots can't replace that client-agent relationship, but they can be used in a number of viable ways."
Why This Works:
While real estate is still a human relationship-based business, most customers are actually pretty open to the idea of talking to a robot.
According to Business Insider, 63% of people surveyed would consider talking online with a robot, though 79% said they would need to know a person could jump in if the robot struggled.
These real estate bots can help customers narrow their options so the time spent with a realtor (answering questions a robot can't) is more efficient.
Retailers are constantly trying to improve their e-commerce experience to make it easier for customers to find clothes in their correct size. Not only is their revenue on the line, they also risk driving up return costs if customers buy items that don't fit or look good.
This has lead some retailers like Burberry to test online chatbots to provide customer service and make product recommendations.
"'Conversational commerce' as a theme has been gaining steam over the course of 2016 - meaning chatbots that serve to direct the user to retail throughout various content means," Rachel Arthur writes at Forbes.
Why It Works:
If the Kayak chatbot is your travel agent, then the Burberry chatbot is your personal shopper.
Brands are communicating with customers to suggest products that exactly fit their style and needs as a way to increase conversion rates. Instead of mass advertising, it's hyper-personalized marketing.
As of November 2016, there are more than 34,000 Facebook chatbots looking to connect with users and help them through the customer journey.
While some experiences might be clunky now, they'll improve as the machines learn.
And by investing in this technology early on, you can start to make improvements while many bots are in beta testing, enabling more tailoring to your specific needs, which will eventually help your offering shine as the trend builds momentum.
Are you using - or would you use - a Facebook chatbot for your customer service? I'd love to hear how it's working for you. Leave me a note below in the comments with your thoughts: