Back in April, at their annual F8 developer conference, Facebook announced their latest and greatest innovation - their new Bots for Messenger platform. As a quick a re-cap, Messenger Bots are automated, AI-fuelled systems that enable people to interact with brands via message, without the businesses themselves having to do a thing.
Here's an example:
It's a simple, efficient process that has huge potential, particularly when you consider the current usage stats and trends - more than 900 million people now use Messenger every month, Messaging is the dominant communication option among teen users and Facebook's now processing around 60 billion messages per day, 3X the global SMS volume when that option was at its peak.
The possibilities of Messenger bots are great, enabling greater efficiency, personalization and reduced reliance on human resources (and their associated costs), so it was little surprise to see a heap of brands jump on board the Messenger bot train. As per the latest announcement from Facebook, over 11,000 bots have now been launched on Messenger, and over 23,000 developers have signed up for Wit.ai's bot engine.
But despite business enthusiasm, consumer interest in bots has thus far been lukewarm.
As reported by TechCrunch, few of these new chatbots are seeing widespread use.
"When Facebook launched its chatbot platform at its F8 conference, it seemed half-baked. People didn't know what text commands triggered what functions in apps, leading the bots to misunderstand users' replies. This in turn led people to quit using bots in frustration, and go back to traditional app and website interfaces."
To help solve this, and provide more options to boost engagement with Messenger Bots, Facebook has launched a new set of options and features for the offering, including quick replies.
As per the announcement:
"Quick replies offer a more guided experience for people as they interact with your bot, which helps set expectations on what the bot can do. They include up to ten dynamic buttons that directly align with the most recent message sent by the business - making it easier to have an automated conversation with people."
While Facebook's AI systems are evolving, they're not at the level yet where they can understand all the possible queries that can be thrown at them. As such, quick replies makes it a little easier for brands to guide users through the bot process, providing possible options for queries which the bot is able to respond to.
As noted by Facebook, up to 10 options can be shown, and they disappear from the chat history, leaving only the selected option, making it easier to read back through your conversation history in your message thread.
In addition to this, Facebook's also adding in a 'Persistent Menu' option - a listing of direct bot commands that can be opened at any time in your interaction by clicking on the three line icon at the bottom left of screen.
The pop-up menu will enable brands to highlight up to five actions, reducing the need for users to remember specific text commands or operators to generate the desired response.
In addition to simplified response options, Facebook's also added in a new functionality to enable bots to send GIFs, audio and video to users to "get your brand's personality across" and boost engagement.
It's an interesting addition which will no doubt prove beneficial for some brands - though automating such responses does come with a level of risk. If someone's asking a serious question or is expressing frustration with the responses they're getting, flicking them a video of a funny cat is not likely to endear them to your brand.
Video and audio clips will play natively in Messenger.
In addition to these new communication features, Facebook's adding in a new account linking feature that will enable businesses to connect their customers' accounts with Messenger accounts.
Facebook's also giving users the option to mute bots in order to help avoid potential spam messaging, and a new star rating and feedback system to improve bot quality.
While many see bots as a significant advance in customer service, there's still clearly a way to go before we see wider adoption of the process, and there'll no doubt be additional issues like these to resolve along the way. And while these improvements will improve the process, the ideal scenario for Facebook lies in the evolution of their AI systems, enabling them to recognize a wider variation of requests, which would negate the need for query prompts either way.
This has always been the limitation of automated response tools, that there are so many variations on questions that can be asked of them, including regional subtleties and colloquialisms, that it's impossible for the system to be able to cater for all possibilities, leading to frustrating experiences like the one in the first example above. If you have to know what, specifically, you need to ask the bot, it undermines the value of the function.
Prompts will help fix this in the short term, but longer term, Facebook will be hoping better AI will be the answer.
And if you're wondering how bots are being used so far, Facebook's also provided some examples:
- Zootopia: Disney launched a bot for the Home Entertainment release of Zootopia, allowing fans to chat with the movie's lead character, Officer Judy Hopps. This Messenger experience extended the story to the real world by enlisting fans to help solve multiple ZPD (Zootopia Police Department) cases. Millions of messages were sent, with an average chat duration time of several minutes.
- NBA: NBA's bot on Messenger was focused on providing fans instant access to highlights of the NBA finals and draft. The bot was loved by NBA fans, with over 350k interactions during the NBA Finals 2016 and NBA Draft 2016.
- Trim: Personal-finance company Trim built their subscription finding and canceling service exclusively on Messenger, because they could reach their customers on any device while only building for a single platform.
- Call of Duty: The Call of Duty bot included a virtual mission in the game and through Messenger that gave clues about the upcoming release of the next Call of Duty video game. The bot exchanged over 6 million chats with fans in its first 24 hours online.
- Shopify: Shopify offers the platform components needed for its merchants to send post-sale receipts and shipping updates in Messenger. More than 16,000 Shopify merchants offer this service to their customers, with nearly 200,000 order status updates sent every single day.