Enriching Customers’ Messenger Experience With Facebook’s Handover Protocol

Opinion: Brands need to adapt and scale their approach internally

Bots are capable of taking the best elements of human-based customer service and drastically increasing their efficiency Just_Super/iStock

Customer service is an industry due for a disruption and an overhaul. The vast majority of the industry still operates via phone banks and touch-tone menus, or clunky online frequently asked questions. We’re all sick of waiting on hold or hoping someone on YouTube might have made a tutorial on how to fix a technical error.

But efforts to completely automate the process have been met with frustration: Phone voice-recognition menus are frustrating, and chat bots by themselves aren’t quite good enough to address consumer needs.

It’s clear that empathic human support is still the customer’s preference, as most individuals feel that it is very important to have a human handle their digital care inquiry, according to Conversocial’s State of Digital Care 2018 report.

At the same time, there’s a tremendous boost to efficiency brought by bots and automation—one too large to ignore. But according to the same report, there is a clear consumer mistrust in the ongoing role bots play in customer service. How can we preserve the human interaction customers want while securing the benefits of new technology?

There is a way. Bots are capable of taking the best elements of human-based customer service and drastically increasing their efficiency. By coupling automated and human agents for support, brands are able to handle a broader set of issues for more customers, while still increasing customer satisfaction and reducing costs—a win-win for consumers and brands.

Automation is also making agents even more business-critical than before, as they need to handle more complex issues while bots take care of the “easy” stuff. Currently, a great deal of representatives’ time is spent attending to basic information requests. This takes away from their ability to address much more complex tickets, which require a more human touch and expertise. Automation is the key to optimizing the customer-service experience while making sure the experience remains personable and friendly.

Take Mexican carrier Volaris Airlines, for example. Since adopting Messenger as a primary customer-service channel with a service bot, Volaris Airlines human agents have seen an 85 percent decrease in handling of repetitive, monotonous tickets, allowing them to focus on more involved requests. That’s because most of the inbound conversations follow a few key patterns that make it possible for a bot to automate responses:

  • The request was a simple question that could be answered with an auto-response (like office hours, address information, directions, etc.)
  • The requests were transactional in nature (such as “what is my flight number”?)
  • The requests weren’t relevant for support or sales
  • The messages were noisy social media spam that didn’t warrant a response

So, what about the remaining 15 percent of Volaris Airlines’ inbound messages? The service bot politely hands them over to a human customer-service agent once it realizes it can’t solve the issue, and this is where things get interesting.

Contact-center staff are now freed up to address the more complex issues and, in doing so, are more efficient with their time, as they are focused on the customer complaints that truly need their expertise.

Just one week after its F8 annual developer conference, Facebook officially unveiled a slew of updates to Messenger Platform, including an update to the Handover Protocol, which enables businesses to create multiple experiences within a single Messenger conversation, making it easy to transition seamlessly from automation to human agent and back again.

This feature ensures a seamless experience for the customer and that bots and humans don’t collide or contradict one another within a conversation.

According to Itai Leibowitz, product manager for Messenger Platform, “We’re excited about the opportunity Handover Protocol presents to businesses looking to integrate multiple experiences into their Messenger conversations. Some of the most powerful experiences in Messenger are ones that blend automation with human messaging, enabling people to get quick answers to frequently asked questions, while being able to seamlessly transition to a human agent for more nuanced requests.”

Hyperscale productivity: bots on Messenger

With this new update, businesses offering multiple experiences blending automation and live support can collaborate even more seamlessly in the background. This is a great example of human workers and automated elements working together for the benefit of the consumer. The efficiency of a chat bot is there to speed up the delivery of a favorable result, but at the discretion of a human operator to ensure that the experience feels humane.

Previously, in the customer-service domain, it was much harder to automate full conversations—there are just too many variables for what a customer could ask. But these changes to Messenger results in a different outcome: Humans and automation can sit side-by-side in a way that’s never been possible before.

Done right, the social messaging advantage for bot-augmented interactions has clear business impact:

  • Bots help brands drive a higher customer experience: Optimization for common inquiries results in quicker response times and faster time to resolution for customers.
  • Bots help brands drive a lower cost-to-serve: Bot-ready platforms that combine both bot- and agent-assisted service result in fewer inquiries needing human responses.

This is truly exciting for the growth of customer care as a business case for Messenger.

Social messaging for customer service

In addition to Facebook’s update to Handover Protocol, it announced that there are now 8 billion messages being sent between consumers and businesses via Messenger every month. So, why will messaging-based conversations between consumers and brands continue to grow?

Asynchronicity is one of the key factors. Customers can start a conversation with a brand, move over to something else more important and then pick up the same conversation right where they left off 30 minutes later. Gone are the days of being 100 percent engaged in a webchat with a brand representative and nothing else. Now you can order a coffee, talk to a friend and have your service issue resolved all at the same time. This makes Messenger such a convenient and powerful customer care channel.

However, while the one-to-one, private nature of messaging is in some ways very similar to live chat, there are a few key ways that it is different—and this has an impact on workflow, key performance indicators and agent training:

The asynchronous nature means that conversations can pause and resume between messages. Agents need to be able to have a real-time conversation while the customer is present but be able to seamlessly shift to the next conversation if they are waiting on the customer.

Waiting on the customer can sometimes take days. This means that the agent picking up that conversation needs to be able to quickly read up on the background of the conversation and continue where it was left off.

Conversations on Messenger can be closely intertwined with a public social presence on Facebook. In those cases, conversations can switch between public and private posts—so agents need to be able to track conversations as they switch and understand how to respond differently in the public vs private spheres.

It’s clear that messaging-based conversations between consumers and brands will continue to grow. Businesses therefore must be ready to offer Messenger as a social messaging channel in 2018. Brands need to adapt and scale their approach internally, potentially looking to bots to help supplement the ever-increasing volumes.

Joshua March is CEO of social customer-engagement platform Conversocial.