How Messaging Apps Are Pushing Bots into the Mainstream
Companies have started introducing bots in the places where consumers are already spending their time, messaging apps. Since Facebook launched a bot platform in 2016, more than 100,000 brands have added bots to the platform to communicate with consumers. See how messaging apps are pushing bots into the mainstream.
June 5, 2018
Companies are putting chatbots, or bots, in the places where consumers already choose to spend their time—messaging apps.
Since Facebook launched a bot platform in 2016, over 100,000 brands have added bots to communicate with consumers. In this article, we explore how messaging apps and bots are creating new customer service paths and opportunities.
The power of messaging apps
Early in 2015, messaging app usage overtook social media. Today, these platforms continue to gain popularity. Recent predictions suggest that the Big Four messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp, and QQ) could reach a combined 7.9 billion users in the next couple of years.
Messaging apps are the strongest driver for bot adoption, primarily because so many people are already using them. As of July 2017, more than 5 billion people worldwide were using messaging apps monthly. And users are doing more than just talking to their friends. They use these apps to make plans, order food, get transportation, buy movie tickets, and read the news.
Using a messaging app to communicate with a brand isn’t the ideological leap it once was. In fact, for many people, it makes more sense than the alternative—downloading a native app.
The shift away from native apps
For the last decade, native apps were considered the best way to serve consumers via mobile. But there’s a huge barrier to entry for mobile apps—you have to get people to download them. Why not just use an app everyone already has on their phone?
In the last two years, many companies have decided to do just that. The market has shifted, and more and more brands are choosing to forgo native apps in favor of using a messaging platform. Overall app usage grew only 6 percent in 2017, down from 11 percent in 2016. Comparatively, time spent in messaging apps grew 394 percent in 2016.
The infrastructure and hosting behind a Messenger-based bot is also simpler and less expensive than creating and maintaining a native app. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, virtual agents will participate in a majority of commercial interactions between people and businesses. Bots allow companies to keep up with this growth without exponentially increasing labor force and technology expenditures.
The shift to conversational marketing
Conversational marketing, which involves real-time, one-on-one communication with consumers, is the natural next step after inbound marketing. Bots based on messaging apps allow companies of any size to move into the conversational space.
Inbound marketing grabs consumer attention and aims to provide relevant content when requested. However, there’s still a lag between the time that someone opts in to brand messaging (via a form or email sign-up, for example) and when they receive it.
Bots remove that lag time and increase the degree to which personalization is possible. Messaging apps and bots are pivotal tools in this new model.
Brands have been trying to take advantage of consumer presence on social platforms for many years. Facebook launched an e-commerce component in 2011, and Twitter added a Buy button to Tweets in 2014. But the potential for these new sales channels failed to materialize. Twitter removed the Buy button in 2017, and Facebook has shifted its focus away from brand e-commerce. The problem was that consumers weren’t spending time on social media with intent to purchase—but rather with intent to communicate.
Messaging apps are powerful because they harness that intent to communicate and turn it into a sales tool that actually works. Sephora, for example, attributes an 11 percent boost in makeover bookings to the Sephora Reservation Assistant. Tommy Hilfiger reported an 87 percent return rate for customers coming back to their Messenger app. The company also reported that this bot generates 3.5 times as much revenue as any other digital channel.
Bots are the solution to moving from inbound to conversational marketing, and messaging platforms make it fast, simple, and easy to adopt.
Brand benefits of bots in messaging apps
Bots are the culmination of a quest that brands have been on for years—a way to have a personal conversation with every consumer who wants one, on their schedule and their terms.
With bots, complaints about services or products are received instantly and on a private channel, with fewer negative consequences for brand reputation. Plus, bots can reduce customer frustration often caused by delayed responses. Bots also retain the entire history of a conversation, helping to personalize responses and to improve overall service.
With a bot, a brand can provide many types of communication which were previously splintered on different channels—customer service, product recommendations, store information, and educational content—now in one place.
Some developers express concern about being ‘one of many’ on a messaging platform. It will also be hard to later switch from one platform to another. To avoid this, create a website on the .BOT top level domain to brand your bot separately from the platform. This also allows you to make sure your customers find you no matter what platform your chatbot is on.
Finally, bots can provide companies with the essentials of big data—volume, velocity, and variety. Data that comes from brand websites is restricted to the framework a brand provides—site architecture, navigation, available calls to action, and search functionality. Data coming from bots has as much breadth and depth as consumer concerns do. What’s more, bots that utilize machine learning are designed to use this data to improve their responses as well as to identify trends. And this advantage comes without the extra layer of human labor required to analyze site data.
The Drift 2018 State of Chatbots report states that 69 percent of a representative US internet user population associate bot use with quick answers to questions (over apps, email, and phone), and more than 50 percent believe that bots are more convenient than email messages or phone calls. However, the largest blocker to using a bot is the preference for dealing with a real person. This means that the ability to smoothly escalate conversations to human agents will be critical to the success of bots.
The beauty of the bot/messaging app pairing is that brands don’t have to motivate consumers to adopt something new or to visit multiple channels to interact. There’s less friction for brands and for consumers in having conversations, marketing products, offering education, and providing top-notch customer service. With the continued growth of messaging apps, the only thing holding brands back is how quickly they can implement smart bots that offer both valuable service and friendly interaction.