“The Future is Private”: What Facebook’s Transition to Private Messaging Signals for Customer Service

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At F8 2019 Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that “the future is private”. This announcement mirrored Facebook’s internal shift in focus from the newsfeed to its suite of private messaging apps. Messenger is receiving a total rebuild, a cross-platform desktop app, end-to-end encryption, message threads, and a capability that allows users to unsend messages. The company is also integrating WhatsApp features (such as end-to-end encryption and video calls) into its other products, namely its smartscreen, Portal. In early 2019, the NY Times reported that Facebook plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger — thereby allowing people to communicate across platforms.

This 2019 emphasis on private messaging is indicative of a larger trend showing a stark move away from what VentureBeat termed “Town Hall” communication strategies, towards “Living Room” communication approaches. As public internet-based information becomes less and less reliable, consumers are moving away from mass social media and toward platforms that support more intimate communication.

The ramifications of this societal shift for customer service are immense. The industry has always taken its cues from the ways in which consumers interact with each other. Now, with one of the largest tech companies in the world choosing to invest in messaging above other communication methods, brands need to consider how they will incorporate messaging into their customer service strategies.

Facebook’s Messaging Unification Process Means Brands Should Do the Same

Currently, the messaging landscape is highly distributed: customers communicate via Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, iMessage, Slack, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and dozens of other smaller platforms. Because of this, messaging strategies for customer service are also highly variable from company to company: some only use Messenger, others use web apps, and still others (like Uber and MoviePass) use in-app messaging.

The extent to which messaging is distributed is not particularly convenient for consumers. Nobody really wants six different messaging apps on their phones. Facebook’s move toward integrating Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram is a first step towards streamlining and simplifying distributed messaging services without eliminating or combining any of them.

Customer service brands need to emulate this cross-channel messaging strategy: interactions with customers should be a single dialogue, not a series of broken conversations across platforms. To do this, companies need tools that enable conversational experiences across channels and platforms — without requiring duplication or disjointed backend systems.

Why Unification Signals a Bright Future for Chatbots

Building and rolling out chatbots and other forms of automation, like automated ticket routing or predictive templates, becomes much simpler when you’re only doing it for a single channel. That’s why most brands that leverage conversational automation tend to only have one messaging channel — often in-app messaging — that is automation-enabled. If brands could communicate via three messaging channels from a single backend, though, this would allow them to integrate the best of automation and human intelligence across every channel, without additional investment.

Unification of messaging channels raises the value of technologies that can deflect tickets and improve the customer and agent experiences. Currently, the best technology for doing this via messaging is bots. With a single messaging channel, the value of the bot is only as great as the percentage of customers who contact support via messaging. When you double or triple the number of messaging channels, the percentage of people using messaging to contact you will increase — meaning the value that the bot provides likewise increases.

As other platforms follow in Facebook’s footsteps, it’s possible to imagine a more integrated future, with brands and customers continuing conversations across channels, platforms, and devices. Creating a connected experience by weaving together seemingly disparate channels along with automation is the way that brands will deliver that seamless communication and support that consumers expect moving forward. 

Published May 28, 2019
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