How Facebook is fueling the enterprise chatbot revolution

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We’re in the early stages of another digital revolution that is changing how consumers interact with brands and conduct transactions. This transformation comes in the form of virtual assistants called chatbots, which use artificial intelligence and natural language processing to interact with users.

While the nascent chatbot movement has productive roots in a number of industries, particularly healthcare and banking, the real impetus behind its evolution is coming from the world of social media. In April 2016, Facebook unveiled its Messenger Platform, which allows businesses to offer their customers bots on Messenger, the social media giant’s messaging app used monthly by more than 1.2 billion people and 65 million businesses around the world.

One year later, Facebook had more than 100,000 monthly active bots on its platform offered by companies such as 1-800-FLOWERS, the Wall Street Journal, Burger King, and Tommy Hilfiger to assist customers. This set the stage for the unveiling in April 2017 for Messenger Platform 2.0, which the company called “a new suite of tools that gives you the ability to build richer experiences, get discovered, and extend the conversational, visual and social capabilities of your bots.”

The upgraded platform gave businesses using Facebook Messenger the development tools to make bots more sophisticated and better able to help users with more complex problems, questions, and transactions. Chatbots Magazine called Messenger Platform 2.0 “the game-changer for chatbots.”

Shortly after, in late July, Facebook rolled out Messenger Platform 2.1, which employs natural language processing that analyzes any message for context and meaning before it’s passed on to a bot. This helps streamline and personalize the overall process, resulting in superior customer experiences. The new platform also features five convenient “call to action” buttons (Shop Now, Get Support, Get Updates, Play Now and Get Started) and an SDK enabling customers to use a one-stop process to pay for a purchase through Messenger.

Facebook’s strategy with Messenger clearly is to position itself as a commerce platform. It appears to be working: As VentureBeat notes, companies such as Sephora, SnapTravel, and Tommy Hilfiger report increased sales from their Messenger bots.

But the larger effect will be to familiarize consumers with chatbots, something that will benefit enterprises doing business on and off Facebook. Only 22 percent of adults even knew what chatbots were when Facebook launched its Messenger Platform 17 months ago. Eventually they’ll be as familiar to most people as a mobile app. And Facebook is making “eventually” happen much faster.

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