Black Friday/Cyber Monday/binge-shopping week has come and gone and, according to LivePerson, customers messaged with brands 97% more than they did last year.
Yet amid the growing buzz around conversational commerce, the season's most-celebrated chat experience so far was published by a 167-year-old newspaper.
And the only thing it's selling is family harmony.
Say uncle 👴
In the run-up to American Thanksgiving, The New York Times ran an opinion piece by a former psychiatrist under the headline, “How to Have a Conversation with Your Angry Uncle Over the Holidays.”
The piece is essentially a web-based chatbot that asks a series of multiple choice questions designed to teach you how to have constructive conversations with opinionated relatives you disagree with politically:
In addition to being a great conversation starter (literally), the bot is a prime example of how conversational interfaces can be used to educate, inform and persuade.
While a traditional op-ed may have come off as preachy — or worse, passed by unnoticed — the Angry Uncle bot went viral. And maybe even opened some minds in the process.
Charlie’s angel investors 💸
Another bot making headlines — and dispensing free advice — this week is Charlie, an AI-enabled personal finance chatbot that just raised a $9 million Series A.
As Crowfund Insider reports, Charlie is designed to help people “save more, cut bills, take control of debt, and avoid fees.” It currently boasts around 250,000 users who interact with the bot over SMS and Facebook Messenger.
What makes Charlie different from most fintech startups is its demographics, which skew female, millennial and middle class. Charlie users are 80% women, with an average age of 27. Their most-frequented retailer? McDonald’s.
Charlie’s co-founder and CEO, Ilian Georgiev, says the company’s mission is to bring “empathy and simplicity” to the world of finance. Besides, as one investor points out:
"Affluent men already have enough access to financial services."
Is Google gaining ground in the business messaging wars?
A couple months ago I noted that Google had quietly launched a messaging service within its almighty search engine that threatened to derail Apple’s own business chat ambitions.
Well, it seems the cat is out of the bag.
Google my business chat 🔍
AdWeek reports that Google has overhauled its Google My Business app, enabling small businesses to message customers directly from the platform.
Back in July, Google quietly gave businesses the ability to add chat to their Google business profiles. This allowed customers searching on mobile to start a conversation with them, much like how they would initiate a phone call:
Previously, businesses had to use their own devices’ messaging platforms to respond to customer inquiries. Google is rolling out the business app worldwide, while also adding the “message” button to business profiles in Google Maps on both Android and iOs.
As Google suggests in its announcement, Maps is a pretty intuitive place for customers to discover and connect with local businesses:
"With these messages in Maps, you’ll never have to worry about accidentally sending 'I love you, Mom' to that shoe store you’ve been sending messages to."
Meanwhile, Google’s other business messaging play appears to be gaining momentum.
The Verge reports that Verizon will launch support for RCS messaging in “early 2019,” according to its SVP of consumer products.
RCS, of course, is the heir apparent to SMS, bringing group chats, read receipts, typing indicators, branded business profiles and other modern messaging features to old fashioned texting.
Google intends to make RCS the backbone of its native Chat app (Android's answer to Apple’s Messages), but needs device manufacturers and global telcos to support the new standard.
Verizon was one of the last major holdouts in the U.S., so this is a good sign for long-suffering RCS enthusiasts.
A recent report predicts that more than 1 billion people across 168 global carriers will use RCS every month by the end of 2019, and that brands will spend more than $18 billion messaging consumers over the channel by 2023.
As Android Police opines in a story about the Verizon news it seems business messaging may have been the kick in the pants Google and its partners needed to finally make RCS a thing:
"I think we can all be thankful that something has spurred the carrier to improve the current state of messaging." ￼￼
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.