Billions of messages flow through messaging apps every single day, with a growing number of those messages going between customers and businesses. And according to a recent study commissioned by Facebook, 330 million people connected with a small business for the first time this year.
The Reason Customers Use Messenger, and the Impact
This is an incredible number which tells us that for those who aren’t interacting with customers on Messenger, it’s time to start figuring out the best way to start doing so as soon as possible.
Linda Lee, Strategic Partnerships for Facebook Messenger, shared with me insights from the study, some examples of how small businesses are incorporating Messenger chat into their interactions with customers, and how marketers are engaging prospects in Messenger to acquire customers.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.
* * * * *
Small Business Trends: Maybe you can give me a little bit of your personal background.
Linda Lee: As you noted, I work on strategic partnerships here at Facebook, specifically on Messenger and the Messenger platform. Our goal is to really help and work closely with businesses to connect with customers and their users and fans and readers on the Messenger platform and leveraging all the tools and features that we’ve built to date.
Small Business Trends: You recently commissioned a survey to look at how Messenger is being used in businesses, and in particular, small businesses. Before we start talking about some of the results, maybe you could give us a little bit of background on the survey and also why you guys decided to do it now.
Linda Lee: Overall we’re seeing messaging is on the rise… We did commission a study — I believe it was in 2016 — where we really dug into this a bit more to better understand messaging behavior among consumers. Especially with respect to the way that they wanted to connect with businesses. In that survey, 63 percent of the people surveyed said that their messaging with the businesses has increased over the last couple of years, and even beyond that, 67 percent of them expect to message them even more over the next coming two years.
The more recent study that we commissioned in 2017 found over 330 million people started conversations with businesses for the first time on Messenger. I think, again, that just shows you the power and the ease with which businesses can make those connections using Messenger in this way.
Small Business Trends: 330 million people connected with a small business on Messenger for the first time. That seems like a pretty huge number. Could you talk a little bit about maybe what are some of the things that customers are reaching out and interacting with small businesses on Facebook Messenger?
Linda Lee: One of the great things about using Messenger for these type of conversations between businesses and customers is really the variety of ways in which you can do so. The simplest and easiest way for businesses to get going in having these conversations is by turning on messaging on their Facebook page. You’ll see that when customers are navigating to a small business’s page on Facebook they can easily tap that button they see at the top of that page that says “message now” or “message us” to ask those questions. It’s really a variety of questions that we’re seeing, what we refer to as use cases. Some of it is around answering questions perhaps around specific services or products where they need more details or specifications. Then it’s also about dealing with customer care issues, perhaps. Maybe perhaps they’ve already bought a product or a service, they have a question or an issue that’s come up. It’s a really easy way for customers to be able to reach out to businesses directly and get that personal response back from them.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk a little bit about Messenger Codes and how they’re being used?
Linda Lee: We’re really excited about Messenger Codes just because of the ease in which people can get going in connecting with a business. For those who aren’t aware, Messenger Codes are the scannable QR-type codes that a customer can open Messenger, go to the camera interface, and you can hold down on that code and each business has their own specific code. You can set up multiple codes depending on, perhaps, if you’re doing offline campaigns, if you have an in-store activation or an event or some type of sale going on, you can use that code when people come into the store, have them scan it and it would greet them. You direct them to the starting point in that conversation that you want them to have with the business. You can set up the code with what we call referral parameters, and perhaps if it’s a sale that’s going on about lotion that’s in that store for today, that first message that the customer would see is some information about the promotion going on with respect to that product.
So that’s what’s great, it really helps connect the online and the offline experiences together and also presents a really easy way for people to get started with conversations.
Small Business Trends: People, particularly small businesses, are trying to figure out bots. So you talk about Messenger and person-to-person interaction, but how does Messenger help companies leverage the power of bots to interact with customers.
Linda Lee: Well, around bots it’s really just automation that is going to help these businesses manage the number of inquiries or the number of conversations they’re seeing come through from customers. It’s as easy as, let’s say, if you turn on your messaging on your Facebook page, there are automated replies, instant replies that you can set so that if a customer were to try to message you and it’s during your off hours, you can have that message reply back and let them know that you’re away, set their expectations on when they can expect a response back. That’s one level of automation.
Now, for businesses that are interested in taking the next step in building out an automated bot, that’s a really easy way to get going with answers. Some of those frequently asked questions or things that will help the business, again, manage the number of inquiries and the type of inquiries that are coming in. I think for businesses you tend to have the top five or 10 questions that customers are going to ask time and time again. So you have a good sense of what your customer base is interested in or is going to be asking. Those are really easy ways to get going in implementing through an automated bot to be able to handle those responses automatically and free up businesses to respond back to those inquiries that perhaps take a little bit more time or need some higher level of interaction to get to resolution.
Small Business Trends: When I think about Facebook Messenger, you do think about how it can help from a customer service perspective. But are there ways that companies can leverage interaction from a marketing perspective on trying to figure out how to bring a customer on board?
Linda Lee: We have a lot of ways in which you can utilize Messenger as well as some of our app products. We just want to make sure that businesses, again, know the variety of tools that are available to them. So we talk about things like our Click to Messenger ads which were a really easy way for businesses to really leverage the targeting capabilities of Facebook app systems and ad tools to be able to set ad campaigns, let’s say, in Facebook Newsfeed, to help drive potential customers and perhaps even existing customers where they’re interested in additional products into your Messenger experience.
I think you may be aware of Aprille Franks-Hunt. She’s actually a small business owner. She’s a Master Business Coach, and she’s done a fantastic job of working from the ground up and utilizing Messenger and Facebook Newsfeed ads to drive some of her marketing campaigns; get more sign-ups around some of the coaching sessions and products that she has available. There’s a lot of really good examples and ways in which you can utilize Messenger this way.
We also want to be sure that you are relevant with the type of marketing messages that you’re sending out. So we do have messaging policies in place to make sure that, when it comes to marketing, let’s say, it really needs to be the user that has initiated that interaction with the business and has opted-in or indicated in some way that they want to receive these type of messages from the business.
Small Business Trends: What’s the line that companies need to be mindful of to make sure that they don’t overstep their bounds because the technology seems to be there and the opportunity seems to be there, but what are some things they need to be aware of before they jump full bore into leveraging Messenger?
Linda Lee: I think the question that we always start off with is making sure that you’re solving an issue first. That you’re not a solution looking for a problem in other words. For these small businesses in particular, they know their customer base so well and I’m sure a lot of them have repeat purchases and frequent customers as well. It’s really about understanding what are the needs of your customers? What’s missing today in terms of the way that you’re interacting or communicating with your customers? Let’s take email for example. Quite a few businesses send email out but, of course, we all know a lot of times you get those emails in your inbox, they tend to go to your spam box, or it’s a do not reply return address, so there’s really no easy way to respond back. And really it’s about creating those personal connections. So finding ways — especially when it comes to content — that you are sending to your customers, making sure that, again, it’s relevant, it’s personal, that it’s engaging as well. That it invites the customer to have that conversation with you.
I would say that’s first and foremost, is making sure you’re giving good thought to what is your starting point. What is it that you’re solving for? It’s really about people first. Your customers come first and making sure that you’re solving a need that they have.
Small Business Trends: Where are we going to be — from a small business perspective — in a year or two communicating with customers on Messenger?
Linda Lee: Small businesses across the country are using Messenger to make business personal again. It’s really helping small businesses, local businesses extend their reach. It’s helping them become global businesses beyond just their local communities. That’s what we’re really excited about.
No matter the size of your company, the size of your ad budget, or your industry, we expect that Messenger will be at that intersect and it will be a critical component to how small businesses connect with their customers in an ongoing, engaging, personalized way.
Small Business Trends: Linda, where can people learn more about what you have to offer them from a Messenger standpoint for their small business? How can they get up and running, and where should they go to learn more?
Linda Lee: The great thing about our platform as well is that it’s a completely open platform. So there’s no charge to use it. You can get going with all the great materials that we have. We have a great website, messenger.fb.com, and it has some great resources for small businesses and developers as well, to get going and thinking through the steps in how to set out the experience for connecting with customers on Messenger. You’d asked the question about bots. It has more information about some of the more technical aspects of APIs and plug-ins and things that businesses can utilize to really draw people into their experience.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.