While chatbots have been around since the early 90’s, this year they became completely synonymous with Facebook Messenger. Facebook brought automated, chat-based customer service into the mainstream at a time when businesses and buyers are obsessed with improving the customer experience.
This technology will be transformative. It’s part of a wave of innovations that is going to help businesses meet the expectations of their consumers. Who wouldn’t want every interaction with a business to be faster, easier, and more like talking to a friend? But while there is certainly a future for automation in customer service, I’m hard pressed to believe that Facebook will be its ubiquitous home. In fact, I think businesses hopping on the bandwagon and directing all service interactions to Facebook will soon regret that decision. Here’s why.
1. Consumers care too much about privacy
Think about the companies consumers interact with most. They want to get tracking information for the flowers they ordered for their mom or have a question about a shirt ordered online. Those communications are fairly straightforward and impersonal. Getting questions answered from companies on the same platform used to view their new products and see friends’ opinions makes complete sense.
But what about the bank? The insurance company? Conversations with these businesses can be complex, emotionally-driven, and often require sensitive and personal information to pass between the two parties. And by their very nature — being businesses consumers have long term, evolving relationships with — these organizations are the ones whose users most need frequent, ongoing interaction.
It may seem like consumers today — particularly millennials — are willing to give up anything for convenience, but that’s only true to a point. According to a study released last year, 80 percent of millennials find it vital or extremely important that personally identifiable, financial, and medical data be shared only with those whom they have authorized access. This desire for privacy and security means using Facebook as the primary platform for service just won’t work; more than half of adults don’t trust Facebook with their data. When people have information that involves a large element of trust or risk — they want to share it in a place where they know their information is secure and contained. Facebook’s track record for vague and flip-flopping privacy restrictions doesn’t bode well.
2. Companies will want to own their data again
As I noted, this call for privacy isn’t true for every type of consumer-business relationship; there are many things most people couldn’t care less about sharing. The restaurants they go to, clothes they buy, the utility company they use — people will quickly give up information about those preferences for the sake of convenience or out of sheer indifference.
But at the end of the day, businesses will be the ones to decide where their service conversations are held, and I’d argue that many of them would be crazy to do it on Facebook. Why would you ever give up control of your customer to take advantage of a new technology if it also meant letting go of vital proprietary data and information? I believe wholeheartedly in chatbot technology, but why give up the control?
Businesses with huge consumer bases and heavy competition should be asking themselves if the reward of Facebook-driven customer service is worth the risk. Take a large energy company — why would they want to conduct all of their customer service on a platform that is selling ads to its biggest competitors?
Whether or not Facebook openly says it’s using the data flowing through its Messenger for Business platform, companies using it would be right to enter that relationship with skepticism. Customer service conversations gather incredible amounts of data on people — such as who they are, what they like and don’t like, what drives them toward a purchase or cancellation. Facebook makes billions of dollars a year by enabling companies to do targeted advertising, and that platform will only be more valuable once millions of customers are using it to reveal information to businesses. With that data in the hands of the company selling ads to your competitors, the result could be detrimental. Imagine talking to your own customers on a platform where competitors are blinking advertisements on the same screen. Have businesses thought about what driving all conversations to Facebook will mean for their customer relationships going forward? It just doesn’t make sense for the long term.
I don’t think that chatbots will go away. The technology is too powerful and has too much potential to change the customer experience game. And neither will Facebook. The social network — and its competitors — offer great ways to make touchpoints with customers, and I wouldn’t suggest abandoning them from a marketing perspective. But when it comes to chatbots, the future for sensitive engagement and an integrated service experience is being able to deliver the promise of Messenger, while maintaining control of your customer relationships. Chatbot technology is here, and the advancements that I’m sure will come in the next months and years are extremely promising. But it’s not worth giving up your customers for it.