What Facebook’s Customer Chat Plugin Means For Your Web Chat

When Facebook announced its Messenger 2.2 update last week, most headlines zeroed in on the new Customer Chat plugin, which allows businesses to embed their Facebook Messenger experience directly on their website.

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Still in closed beta, the feature allows customers to connect with brands while browsing the web, with the same personalized and rich-media experience they get directly in Messenger. With chat histories synchronized across the chat plugin, Messenger app and messenger.com, customers benefit from a continuous experience across all Facebook channels.

From Facebook’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to make Messenger for business more discoverable as a B2C communication channel at a time when both Google and Apple are making messaging plays with the advantages of search, maps and device dominance (Google with RCS, Apple with Business Chat).

By giving businesses the ability to embed modern messaging tools on their websites, for free, Facebook may have also dealt the final death blow to traditional live chat.

The problem with live chat, explains Kemal El Moujahid, the lead product manager for Facebook’s Messenger team, in an interview with Ad Exchanger’s Allison Schiff, is “a lack of identity and a lack of continuity.” As Schiff writes:

Even if a customer has a pre-existing relationship with a brand, that person needs to log in or self-identify in some way for the brand to be aware. And if the customer closes out the chat or leaves the website without completing the interaction, the thread is lost.

“The experience is broken and having to log in or give credentials wastes time trying to establish context,” El Moujahid said.

The idea with the plugin is to allow businesses to keep the chat going regardless of platform with “identity built in,” he said.

In other words, Customer Chat solves live chat’s identity problem and provides a seamless experience for customers across their web and mobile devices. It gets rid of the antiquated notion of chat “sessions,” freeing up both the customer support agent and customer to respond to messages at their own pace, on whichever platform is most convenient at the time.

We’ve been singing this tune at Smooch for years and, as always, we’re proud to support this latest platform update out of the box. You can sign up to get notified when Customer Chat becomes widely available.

Businesses that have connected Facebook Messenger to Smooch will be able to manage and reply to messages sent to Customer Chat widgets in the same way they manage all their Smooch channels - from Messenger proper to Twitter, Line, WeChat, Telegram and Viber, to SMS, and soon Apple Business Chat, RCS and WhatsApp.

But brands need to know that going “all in” on Facebook Messenger for customer conversations comes with some tradeoffs.

Do you really want to outsource your customer messaging to Facebook?

While Facebook’s reach is undeniably huge, it’s still Facebook’s messenger, requiring both customers and businesses to opt in to conversations over the channel in accordance with Facebook’s policies and privacy terms. Facebook will have the ability to mine all conversational data, control the user experience and available messaging features, and even control access to these users, even if they arrived via a business’ own website.

One reason Facebook Messenger for business has yet to take off is that companies are barred from proactively messaging users. Consumers need to make first contact, opening a 24-hour window for businesses to engage.

By getting brands to use Messenger as their de facto chat widget, Facebook makes it relatively frictionless for customers to log in — assuming they have Facebook, but who doesn’t? — and initiate a conversation. However, the 24-hour rule still applies and once the customer stops replying, that conversation – and relationship – is frozen in a channel the business doesn’t own.

Unless, that is, the business is willing to pony up. A few days after the Messenger update, Facebook announced plans to expand its sponsored messages feature, which allows businesses to re-open conversations with customers they’ve previously messaged. Recall how Facebook once convinced brands to build followers, only to later charge for access.

This may be good news for businesses eager to leverage Messenger as a new marketing channel, but it also reveals the extent to which Facebook wants to control – and monetize – the entire B2C messaging experience.

So where does this leave your web chat strategy?

Like Facebook, we believe traditional, session-based live chat is a thing of the past and that conversations with businesses should offer the same personalized and rich experiences we enjoy when chatting with friends and family. That’s exactly why we created Smooch Embeddables, our messaging SDKs for iOS, Android and the web.

Like Facebook’s Customer Chat, Smooch Embeddables bring persistent, asynchronous and rich messaging to a business’ website or mobile app. They solve the “identity problem” for businesses — even authenticating users via Facebook, among other options — and allow customers to have seamless conversations regardless of which device they’re using.

But they’re also tailor-made for enterprise software makers and the amazing brands they serve.

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They’re bot-ready, packed with brandable components to tailor the customer’s experience, backed by high-performance infrastructure and end to end encryption-ready for companies that need full privacy and security. They can also be configured to capture any metadata and user behavior from a brand’s web site or mobile app.

Most importantly, they give brands full control over the customer experience and the treasure trove of data these conversations provide. Download our Embeddables Datasheet to learn more.

Either way, we’ve got you covered

There’s no right or wrong answer here. For some brands, the advantages of using Facebook Messenger as their web and mobile messaging platform will outweigh any concerns about privacy, branding, customer experience or data ownership. In that case, Smooch can help you connect your software to Messenger and take care of all further updates to the channel.

For brands that need a more secure and customizable solution, we’re confident that Smooch Embeddables are the best modern messaging SDKs on the market.

No matter your messaging challenge, Smooch is here to help.