From the moment Mark Zuckerberg got on stage at F8 in 2016 and announced the Messenger chatbot ecosystem, innovative brands, agencies, and developers jumped to start testing the waters with chatbots.
With the dazzling prospect of massive user numbers on messaging applications, the accessibility of chatbot authoring platforms, and the perceived ease of bringing a product to market, it was too good to pass up. Indeed, 30,000 bots were launched within six months and thousands more surfaced each month afterward.
Today, that number is up to 100,000. Scores of brands have developed bots for Messenger, each of them seeking an opportunity to drive quality one-to-one interactions with their customers at scale. Keeping in mind customer experience and the challenges brands face as app downloads decrease and ad blockers increase, there’s hardly a better opportunity available to brand marketers today.
The evolution of bots
In the first year, we learned many lessons about chatbots. Because of the technology’s one-on-one nature, people feel comfortable sharing their opinions and answering questions truthfully, making chatbots an effective tool for collecting data and customizing offerings.
But it only works if users engage the bot in the first place. And when users do utilize bots, they expect the experience to feel as natural and authentic as if they were speaking with a friend or an actual brand representative.
We learned that not enough users were discovering bots. And those who were discovering and using bots weren’t necessarily having highly engaging experiences. Many of the so-called chatbots didn’t really chat. They just guided users through menu-based interactions in which inputs were limited to whatever buttons were presented to the user — leaving little room for any meaningful interaction.
Facebook, to its credit, responded to the lessons of year one as it developed Messenger 2.0, which includes lots of new functionality to help users discover bots (with the discovery tab, QR codes, and bots for groups) and help bots more effectively cater to users (through branded chat extensions and the AI-powered “M” concierge service).
So the question, as we move further into the second year of Messenger bots, is: How do we design bot experiences in such a way that they increase both the number and quality of brand-consumer touchpoints?
The way forward
Even though the Messenger platform for bots has evolved, the fundamentals remain the same. A bot is only as good as its ability to engage its user base. In the end, truly engaging experiences are the only way to maintain and nurture relationships and drive customer lifetime value.
So expect to see developers and brands iterate on the capabilities within Messenger. First, they’ll “go wild,” eager to incorporate and test all the new features. But soon they’ll have to take a step back, think about the experience, and ask some hard questions about what the goal of the bot is, what kind of experience they want their customers to have, and how a bot can truly develop customer-brand relationships.
Each of these customer-brand relationships will differ depending on the chatbot’s goal, whether that be to generate awareness, promote a product, or offer customer support. Each of these goals requires a unique experience in order for the chatbot to become a valuable consumer entity.
Brands will quickly discover (if they haven’t already) that their personality and voice must come forward. If it doesn’t, users won’t be excited to use the bot, and engagement metrics will reflect that. On the other hand, bots that do take on the brand’s personality will remain in the customer’s memory, just as creative TV and print ads do.
Smart, effective bots will be the gold standard for brands because they offer a way to share their story that’s less invasive and yet more interactive than a simple advertisement. Because of this, they can spread virally, re-engaging audiences and helping brands grow.
Personally, I’m excited about this next phase. As the market matures, it will lead to better bots, happier users, and immersive experiences that you can only find within messaging.
Mike Tanaka is the Chief Revenue Officer at Imperson, a chatbot authoring studio and technology company.