WTF are Facebook Bots and How Could a Brand Use Them?

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As online sales become more common, businesses everywhere are now turning to Facebook Messenger more than ever before in order to connect with customers. Recognizing this trend, Facebook has recently decided to launch a chat bot tool in an effort to help companies better communicate with online shoppers. So, what are Facebook chat bots and how can they be used effectively?

What are Facebook Chat bots?

Chat bots utilize artificial intelligence to converse with people much like an actual person would. These bots carry on surprisingly normal conversations, giving people the feeling that they are talking with a live individual. Facebook’s chat bots provide a single contact for customers in order to streamline the process and eliminate frustration. They can even serve as a single point of contact for multiple transactions, being capable of performing everything from providing receipts to tracking shipments.

Unveiled at Recent Conference

At its recent F8 developer conference, Facebook announced that they were officially launching a chat bot tool. In doing so, their goal is to allow businesses to use artificial intelligence to better connect with consumers. The conference was held on April 12-13, 2016 in San Francisco, California, and contained multiple sessions where developers could tap into best practices for designing and building apps, as well as for using Facebook Messenger for monetizing businesses.

Spring Bot: Facebook’s Latest Development

One such chat bot that was recently unveiled is Spring, which was actually demonstrated at the F8 conference. Spring is designed to help fashion designers answer questions about their products and facilitate online purchases. Spring is an online retailer that provides designer clothing for men, women, and children, along with a variety of lifestyle and beauty products. They also offer an online “personal shopping assistant” option that redirects customers to Facebook Messenger, where representatives can better interact with them on a personal level.

Spring Bot’s Benefits

According to Spring’s developer Alan Tisch, this bot was designed to fit naturally into Facebook Messenger in order to make the user experience as seamless as possible. He refers to Spring’s “natural behavior” as “conversational commerce”, claiming it is similar to the way talking with an associate has always been. Another benefit of the Spring bot is that it provides access to a number of luxury retailers that do not already have an e-commerce store, making it possible for people to greatly expand their shopping options.

How it Works

Spring bot walks people through a series of multiple-choice questions that are designed to help them find the exact items they are looking for. For example, Spring might ask a user “What are you looking for today?” or “What is your price range?” Despite the fact that they are standardized questions, most people who interact with Spring claim that doing so feels very natural, almost like talking with a real person. The down side is that Spring does not seem to recognize when a chat session is over, and has been known to reappear in Facebook Messenger hours later requesting a follow-up. This is not a big problem for the most part, but is nonetheless a bug that developers will need to work out.

Other Bots are Available

Although there has been much fanfare surrounding the Spring bot, this is not the only one out there. A search performed in the Facebook Messenger app will provide you with a list of other bots such as those for 1-800-Flowers or Uber under a heading titled “bots and businesses.” There are currently 40 companies with bots, but that number is expected to grow in the near future. You can identify companies with bots by a symbol that is a lightning bolt inside of a blue circle. Be aware that since the bot feature is still fairly new, not all of them are listed yet. If you are unable to find a bot, you may search Botlist, which is a somewhat of a directory for Facebook bots, to view a more extensive list.

Future Applications for Bots

Plans are currently underway to use the Spring chat bot as a template for other fashion designers to create their own bots. These expansion plans include developing future bots that act more like a consultant that might be found in a high-end store. As such, future bots will more closely mimic what a salesperson would say. Many companies such as Everlane and Louis Vuitton are already using Facebook Messenger extensively as a customer service live chat tool, so making the adjustment will likely not be too difficult for their customers.

Benefits of Facebook Chat Bots

Facebook Messenger is used by more than 900 million people around the world each month. Adding chat bots to Facebook Messenger allows companies that do business on this platform to provide more personalized customer service, while also helping to streamline operations. Chat bots are a cost-effective way to provide round-the-clock customer service, and would therefore be ideal for use by startups or even those who operate their own online businesses from home.

Now Open to App Developers

Facebook has also announced they are now making it possible for app developers to create their own chat bots for Messenger and then submit them for review. The company will then approve the bots they feel would be a good match for their system. This will be a gradual process, as each bot will be carefully studied to ensure it complies with Facebook’s guidelines and provides a good experience for users. Approved bots will be available for use anywhere Facebook Messenger is available, meaning it will not be necessary to download a separate app.
Although many people are currently uncomfortable with the idea of using chat bots, that is likely to change as these bots become more and more advanced. Chances are that in a few years, communicating with a chat bot is likely to seem just as normal as using an automatic teller machine or self-checkout is today.

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