Facebook Messenger Launches Chat Bots for Companies

If you’ve ever spent a frustrating 30 minutes trying to track down a company’s customer service phone number, or listening to interminable hold music while waiting to talk to a real person, Facebook is proposing a new solution.

Last week, it announced an update to Facebook Messenger that allows companies to build chat bots to communicate with their customers. The idea is that, instead of emailing or calling a business with a question, you can open the Messenger app, search for the company name, then send a message and receive help immediately.

“You probably interact with dozens of businesses a day, but I’ve never met anyone who likes calling businesses,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s F8 developer conference.

Each month, more than 900 million people communicate via Messenger – including with more than 50 million businesses. Messenger was the fastest growing app in the US in 2015.

So far, around 30 companies have partnered with Facebook to create Messenger chat bots, including CNN, 1-800-Flowers, the Wall Street Journal and HP. Bots will offer customer service, sell products or provide personalized subscription content (like weather or news updates). The Messenger Send / Receive API will support text-based messages, and it will also allow images and interactive calls-to-action.

“You don’t have to install an app or enter your credit card,” Zuckerberg said. “To order 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.”

All Messenger accounts will now provide dedicated links, located at m.me/[username], that you can visit to start a chat. Facebook is making this process simpler by releasing Messenger Codes, which are a series of dots and dashes that surround profile pictures. When you scan a Messenger Code with your camera, you’ll add that profile to your contacts. So if you want to chat with a company on Messenger, you can scan their code and start a conversation immediately.

The new Messenger platform is still in beta, but Facebook has emphasized that its tools will allow developers to build more complex bots with greater capabilities over time. Some early reviews of the already released bots aren’t stellar, complaining of misunderstood questions and long silences. Critics question if bots can be advanced enough to handle complex customer problems and queries. But if companies are able to work out the kinks soon, chat bots could improve the quality and efficiency of brands’ customer service.

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