LiveNinja is announcing a new suite of products today that fly right in the face of conventional customer service. Instead of engaging an agent in a chat window or phone call in real time, it lets you, the consumer, manage the relationship on your terms. In doing so it follows the trend of messaging platforms, which are the new…well, they’re popular.
Customer chat is a hot space. Intercom, one of the market leaders, announced another $50 million in funding a few weeks ago. Intercom follows the more traditional ‘live chat’ model, with tons of personalization features, and is apparently getting into the Facebook Messenger game later this year.
I can’t overstate this messaging trend. It’s huge, and it’s here to stay. How big is it? Facebook announced that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp now process around 60 billion messages a day — three times more than SMS at its peak. For some, this means bots, bots, and more bots. For others, it means no bots. LiveNinja CEO and cofounder Will Weinraub falls somewhere in the middle. I’m inclined to agree with him. “It’s so early. [Chatbots] are really underwhelming right now. They’re text-based versions of 1-800 number IVRs,” he said. “There’s a lot of promise — we talk to our customers — they’re not comfortable giving the first impression of their brand to something so early.”
Weinraub isn’t wrong, but his comment does provoke the question: How much do people really care about interacting with brands? Does the average Dick or Jane want a “brand experience” on Twitter, or do they just want their stupid cable/detergent/credit card to work? And have they been conditioned to yell at their friends on social networks to elicit a response? Weinraub’s company operates under the premise that customers really just want their widget fixed. And if they’re mostly on Facebook, you should give them service there, on their terms.
“Live chat was invented in the late ’90s. It’s based on the idea of presence. I’m live and available on a website and am free to chat,” Weinraub told me. “Where messaging is beneficial is because presence is entirely obsolete. When you use your iPhone or messaging app, you don’t have to set yourself as ‘available’ or ‘away’. If they’re available, they are. If not, they’re not.”
As you can imagine, developing chat-based customer service platforms on all these different messengers — The WhatsApp/Facebook/Kik/Line/etc. of the world — is a real pain. “It’s another channel a brand has to manage. Messaging apps are walled gardens. You have to leave the website and potentially have the user register,” Weinraub said. His team is working on a dashboard for brands that could integrate all of those messaging platforms under one roof and allow them to manage interactions across each platform through a single view. That would be powerful (and is on the roadmap).
For now, when using LiveNinja, brands can start conversations on their website or through social via a share link (ln.co/your brand name). There’s also an iPhone app that allows business owners to manage customer conversations.
In addition to launching LiveNinja Messenger, the company is also announcing the closing of a $2 million round of bridge financing from Scout Ventures, Anzu Partners, Comcast Ventures Catalyst Fund, Citi Ventures, Accelerated Growth Partners, and SeedInvest. LiveNinja is using the funds to bolster sales and build its engineering teams and has raised $3.5 million, to date.