This is the 14th installment this year of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Monday, April 18th, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video, including links and commentary on critical happenings of the previous week is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week.
In this discussion, Mary and Mike discuss the potential role that the new Facebook Messenger Platform can play for local businesses, big and small, sophisticated or not.
Mike: And then finally, I think we'll use this moment to dig into the deep dive to talk about Messenger. Facebook at their annual developer conference rolled out Messenger as a platform, which is a significant upgrade to Messenger. Messenger came out in 2014 as a split-off from Facebook, as a standalone function, quickly grew to 900 million monthly users, and is widely used by both individuals and businesses as an alternative to SMS. With this platform, they've built a whole range of technologies that allow it to scale as a CRM platform from very small businesses to very large businesses, and from non-technological areas. For example, it works very well in low-tech areas where you just have cell phone access, to very high-tech areas [i.e. beacons]. And with that, I'll open that up to the deep dive.
Mary: I think that it's pretty significant again that Facebook is able to put out something that seems like it's going to be really easy for anyone to use, any business to use. And it kind of highlights how difficult it's been for Google to really get in the groove with making products that normal people get immediately and can use. And I just think that Facebook is on a tear, and they're really doing a lot of the things that Google signaled that it was trying to do, and then pretty much abandoned a lot of them.
Mike: So last weekend at the end of the week, or last week at the end of the week, I played with the small business aspect of Messenger. And in the upgrade, they gave you several interesting features. One was the ability to set auto messaging. So where you can immediately respond. You can also set after hour messaging.
You can also generate a URL that you can put on your website as well as a widget to allow your website to then bring people into the messaging stream as a customer support, either presale or post-sale. "Do you have a question about our products? Ping us on Messenger from your website."
And then ultimately, they rolled out QR codes, or what they called ScanCodes, that can be generated for any individual or business. And this is interesting to me because it's a very powerful post-sale way ... it sort of overcomes the inertia of beacons. Beacons have a problem. They solve a one-sided problem which is, "How do businesses get in touch with customers?" Right? Whereas these QR codes solve a different problem, which is, "How do customers get in touch with businesses?" And businesses hear from those customers at critical customer service points.
So what the QR code allows any customer to do is, it's an option right in Messenger. You hold your phone up to the code, and immediately opens a chatline with the business. That's interesting to me for even real-time support in say like a grocery store, right? You can't find where they moved the fish sauce to this week. You see the ScanCode in the aisle and you hold your phone up to the scan code, and immediately you're going to have a conversation with somebody who can help you. There's all sorts of conceivable ways that could be used in a post-sale environment as well. People are walking by your store at night, they have a question and your store is closed. They could scan that, get the question answered.
And what's interesting to me though is that the ScanCode works in United States now, but it works extremely well in countries where they just have a cell phone infrastructure but don't have a large internet infrastructure where beacons might not be possible.
It also solves the privacy issue with the Beacon because the user is choosing in a very simple action to interact with the business, whereas with the Beacon, you need to have their app, you need to have permissions turned on, you need to have location services turned on. It gets very complicated, right? So it simplifies that whole post-sale conversation.
And then finally, what I thought was amazing about it was it starts out as a human-to-human communication, but they built out both a full API. So business could then take data from Messenger and move it into their existing support application and vice versa, so that you could just use Messenger as a front-end to existing support infrastructure. And they also built out this AI capability where with human-trained AI, you could for example, automatically even answer the question about where the fish sauce is located, right? Where you upload a spreadsheet every week with the new locations, and the AI would learn that "fish sauce," which aisle it's in, and be able to look to that answer.
So it's a very scalable solution that can start as a human CRM, but then move into integration with your existing systems, as well as a more full AI-driven or partially AI-driven process down the road. I'm incredibly excited about it. And I think QR codes are back. I think they're resuscitated from the dustbin of local marketing history. You have some ideas on how you might see it being used, or how you might be interested in using it?
Mary: Well, I think that it seems like the first ones that are going to get on this one are going to be the bigger brands, because they have a dedicated customer service force that can deal with this sort of thing. So how does this work for the little carpet cleaner guy? How does this work for a two-man accounting office?
Mike: Well, the reality is that Barbara Oliver, as an example, is already communicating quite regularly on her Facebook page, and these Messenger chats show up on your Facebook page. So if you are already monitoring your Facebook page, then the Messenger as a support line is a natural outgrowth and is fed back to it. In fact over the last six months, Facebook has been rewarding companies who have responded more quickly to those chats on Messenger. So I see it as very viable -- but I don't know if you've noticed it, but on your phone too, it'll also show an alert both on your Facebook app and your Messenger app if you've been pinged. So it will allow you while mobile to support it. So I see it as rolled out of the box because it's got an auto responder and an after hour responder easy to do. And because it integrates with the desktop and with your website, I see it as a way for these small businesses to immediately have a customer service channel that they've never had before, an integrated customer service channel. Now, they won't be able to take advantage of the AI, too, that's the big guys. They won't be able to take advantage of the APIs. But that's what's so beautiful about this product. If I seem excited, I am. It scales from the smallest plumber to the biggest Burger King and Bank of America.
And it also works well in a commerce sense. They have a good example of a clothing store in their developer page. And you click on it and it says, "Oh, how can we help you?" And you say, "All right, you're looking for shoes". Or then maybe it says, "What kind of clothing are you looking for?" And it gives you actually a menu to select from. So you can actually pick clothes ... women's clothes, men's clothes, right? And it drives you through a series of selectable choices automatically driving you down to the point where you then can ask an intelligent question or look at a specific product. And they'll actually recommend three or four things to you after you've driven through quick qualifications.
Now, the annoying thing about this damn bot is, when you stop, decide that you're not going to buy, it haraunged me twice, "We're sorry you didn't buy anything. You're sure you didn't want to buy anything?" I think they're getting a little too aggressive in the ... a dropped order. It's like I didn't want to buy, I was just playing and they kept harangueing me. But it also showed how commerce could be integrated into a messaging environment, which I think is interesting. So if you go to the developer site, there's a link, so you can take a look at it.
So I think big guys will take advantage of the customer service components with the API, and I think they'll take advantage of the AI. But I think ultimately the AI would be available in certain domain areas perhaps as applications that small businesses can buy, so that you could have the combination AI, human support where you can just buy an app that solves say 50 or 60% [of the questions]. Like that grocery store one. I could envision developing a grocery store AI app that basically knew all the items that a grocery store has, and all the grocery stores has to do it train it, where they're located, and then they could use that app. Every grocery store could use that app. So I see a new market in AI apps for this bot, even.
Mary: And I could see that a lot of small businesses that may have been reluctant to devote many resources to social media up until this point, really latching on to this Facebook Messenger-way of providing customer service. Because up until this point, they really haven't known where to go. They're trying to do too many things in too many places, and most of them are not very good at pulling it off.
Mike: Right. And I think the social service most vulnerable in this is Twitter in that arena, right?
Mary: I think so too. I think that if somebody could figure out a way to attach something like Hootsuite to Facebook, that would solve a lot of that issue.
Mike: The other area, too, that I think that it's going to be interesting here is that six or eight weeks ago, Mike Ramsey and I had a discussion about uses of various messaging technologies in the small business. And I thought there is some benefit. The downside to this is that you don't own the customer, Facebook owns the customer, right? Whereas in regular SMS or even in iMessage, the business owns the customer.
So at some point, I see perhaps equivalent tools coming out in the current SMS channels which everybody already has, right? So while Messenger might have 900 million users, SMS has two billion users, and I see there is some opportunity there for the small business to try to retain ownership. In the meantime though, like you pointed out, this might lead to a consolidation of texting channels around Messenger for almost every business. Big, small, technological, sophisticated, and even those that aren't. I see it as a huge move, and as you pointed out, a move that seems to put Google on their heels, and at a disadvantage. And it seems like it's appealing to every business.
So if you don't have anything more to add, I guess with that we'll call it a wrap. I know that I've talked, and talked, and talked. And we'll see you next week.
Mary: All right.