Facebook Messenger is becoming a real force in the enterprise virtual digital assistant (VDA) space as a host platform/channel. The greatly publicized number of 100,000 chatbots on the platform may be slightly misleading in terms of how Tractica defines the key enterprise use cases for chatbots. However, over the next few years, the Messenger platform is well positioned to become a significant channel for business application VDAs.
Claims that Messenger is compelling for both enterprises and consumers may be a reach. Facebook reported that, as of September 2017, there were 1.3 billion monthly active users (MAUs) on Facebook Messenger. Facebook’s subsidiary, WhatsApp, which is not currently open to chatbots, is presumed to be readying a standalone app for business accounts, making it easy to believe that, over the next few years, WhatsApp will host chatbots, adding another 1.3 billion MAUs to Facebook’s reach, with relatively little overlap with Messenger. The second compelling driver for Facebook chatbots is frictionless commerce. In the case of e-commerce & sales VDAs, consumers conceivably would not need to leave Messenger to complete a transaction.
The Aggressive Pursuit of Enterprise Chatbots
Facebook plans to aggressively pursue the business applications VDA use case (productivity, collaboration, and workflow/project management) through Workplace by Facebook. Launched in October 2016, Workplace is used by more than 14,000 companies (as of September 2017), including Walmart. Chatbots are welcome on the platform. Converse.AI, has focused a significant amount of its energy on workflow management chatbots with Workplace by Facebook.
In May at Google I/O, Converse.AI launched its partnership with Google to power chatbots on Google Assistant and announced it was a launch partner for Workplace by Facebook. Converse.AI chatbots were designed from the outset to integrate with the existing tools, services, and business workflow of the companies using them, without the need for additional code or software. In 2015, CEO Tony Lucas observed that messaging was becoming bigger and bigger, “but enterprise use of messaging was incredibly nascent,” said Lucas, “Humans want to interact with companies via messaging, and automation, in my view, is the only way to make that work.” Thus, Converse.AI was launched in 2016 with the goal of focusing on enterprise chatbots.
Lucas built several bots from scratch in 2015. “I started thinking about the use cases, and the challenges, then started to think about the architecture, said Lucas. “I wanted to take the code out so that HR people or some other non-tech could build a bot. Which brought us to a graphical platform to build these workflows but with a conversation interface. Every time we saw a trend in that, we build a module that could address the issue. We now have 300 modules. For enterprise, 2017 is year of less hype for chatbots and more about, ‘oh yeah maybe this is useful’.”
Overcoming the Discoverability Hurdle
The primary challenge for Facebook and other messaging platforms as channels for enterprise VDAs is discoverability. For most enterprise VDA use cases, messaging platforms are not yet the most logical place for consumers to look to start interacting with a company; websites are. It will take several years for consumers to shift from thinking that websites are the place to start an interaction in most markets. However, Facebook’s launch in early November 2017 of its private beta Customer Chat Plugin is a significant step toward overcoming this hurdle. The plugin allows developers to integrate Facebook Messenger bots directly into a company website. Additionally, the plugin loads recent chat history for that individual and enterprise, and the history will follow across channels back to the Messenger app. According to Facebook’s blog, the plugin currently faces limitations of not working with Internet Explorer or with “in-app browsers on mobile,” which essentially means it will not work within dedicated mobile apps.
Tractica believes that Facebook’s Messenger platform will become a key enterprise VDA platform over the next few years for several key enterprise VDA use cases. Customer service & marketing, e-commerce & sales, business applications, and, eventually, healthcare are the most likely use cases where we will see the adoption of enterprise VDA platforms.