“Be where your customers are.” In an experience-driven economy, this phrase is quickly becoming a CX cliché. But that doesn’t make it any less true — especially when your  “customers” are vulnerable teens and they’re counting on you for information that can alter the course of their lives.

Be there or be square 🙈

Desperate for reliable and nonjudgmental resources around sexual health, teenagers across North America are turning to messaging.Last month Planned Parenthood introduced Roo, a web-based chatbot that teens can speak to about birth control, puberty, relationships and other sensitive topics they might be hesitant to discuss with parents, peers or other real people. Roo’s AI is still rudimentary, from my experience playing around with the bot, but it’s a good starting point for American teens, given that only 24 states require sex-ed to be taught in schools. As Mashable reports:

Digital tools can help fill in the gaps and provide a space for teens to ask questions without feeling embarrassed.

Meanwhile, in Texas 🌵

While chatbots are great for delivering general information at scale, some situations require a more personal touch.

Jane’s Due Process is a Texas-based nonprofit that helps teenage girls access birth control and abortions in a state where these services are often denied to minors without parental consent.

Diginomica explains how JDP built a text-based helpline, using Smooch to route SMS and Facebook Messages into Slack while masking contact information to protect the anonymity of the “Janes” — as in Jane Doe — using the service.

Previously, volunteers had been using their own personal cell phones to communicate with Janes. This messaging-based setup allowed them to scale their operations without sacrificing the human aspect of the service.

To promote the helpline, JDP runs ads on Instagram — a tactic that will become even more effective if and when Facebook introduces a WhatsApp-like API for Instagram DMs.

Eleanor Grano, JDP’s community outreach and youth engagement coordinator, told Fast Company that the goal is to reach teens on their own turf:

The reality is that most often teens text rather than call. It’s how they communicate with each other, and it was essential they were able to communicate with us in the same way.

Close to home 💜

As the Fast Company piece mentions, Jane’s Due Process’ isn’t the first messaging helpline Smooch has set up.

We also work with an AIDS community organization here in Montreal, whose anonymous Sext Ed helpline provides teens with locally-tailored advice and resources — sort of like Planned Parenthood’s Roo, but with real humans at the other end of the conversation.

If you know of another registered charity or non-profit looking to serve their community through conversation, give us a shout. As my colleague Mike told Diginomica:

We like to support organizations that we believe are making a positive difference in the world.

China Bans Messaging Apps for Homework

Planning to text in your book report? Think again, kid. Citing a list of concerns ranging from eyesight damage to cell phone addiction to income inequality, The Straits Times reports that teachers in China will no longer be allowed to assign and collect homework via chat.  Meet Liu Yanming, a sixth-grade student in Shanghai. Liu had been doing his homework on paper and then using his mother’s cellphone to take a picture of the assignment and upload it to a parent-teacher group on WeChat, the ubiquitous Chinese messaging app. His father wasn’t pleased:

He is just 12 years old and I do not want to buy him a cellphone. But it has become inevitable.

Inevitable, indeed.


This is an excerpt from The Message, Smooch’s biweekly newsletter about the messaging industry, chatbots and conversational commerce. Subscribe to get the next edition delivered straight to your inbox.