Facebook Chatbots for Ecommerce: Human Versus Inhuman

Facebook Chatbots for Ecommerce: Human Versus Inhuman

The fundamental sin ecommerce commits on Facebook is as simple as it is destructive.

In a nutshell …

Far too many companies do not use Facebook the way users do.

Instead of going native and investing in the deeply human atmosphere that makes Facebook Facebook, brands too often comes off decidedly faceless.

How? By treating Facebook as little more than an outlet for all their usual onsite products, promotions, and content.

Thankfully, there’s hope. Enter Facebook Messenger Chatbots.

It’s a trend known as conversational commerce. In the words of Chris Messina, Developer Experience Lead at Uber:

“Conversational commerce [means] utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”

Naturally, the upside of using Messenger for conversational ecommerce is huge, but so is the danger. Let’s take a look at both sides — the inhuman and the human — to see exactly how your ecommerce business can start getting conversational.

The Inhuman Side of Facebook Messenger

First off, what are Facebook Messenger chatbots?

Chatbots are interactive programs designed to automate communication tasks a person would normally do on their own. Used correctly, they simulate conversations making a host of business-critical communication points feel far more interactive and natural.

Here’s a quick video overview of what they look like in action:


The good news for Facebook users is that businesses can’t access your email address or other personal details if you don’t provide them. Neither can owners of Facebook pages message people who don’t initiate contact first.

However, just because someone does give you permission to contact them via Messenger doesn’t mean it’s time to start flooding them.

The inhuman side of Facebook Messenger comes in two forms.

1. Beware of “Marketing” with Facebook Messenger

We all know Facebook is a tool to connect family and friends, and this space is sacred. Mess with it and you’re likely to be ignored or — worse — despised.

In other words, do not use chatbots as a blatant marketing tool. Facebook Messenger is not the newest and coolest email list. Instead, it’s best to think of Facebook Messenger as a customer-experience tool.

Not only do you run the risk of violating the norms of Facebook if you use Messenger to market, but the truth is Messenger chatbots simply aren’t up to the challenge on the front end of your funnel, at least not yet.

Much of the news about chatbots has centered on its integrations with machine learning and artificial intelligence, something all marketers get excited about. The temptation is to create a chatbot, go hands off, and then simply unleash it.

Unfortunately, automation won’t work if you don’t have humans behind it, specifically if you’re not using a bot managed by humans. As we’ll explore below, bots can certainly be used successfully to automate a host of tasks, but they can’t be relied on to take all the responsibility.

Human input is still very much a necessity.

By way of warning, Microsoft recently learned that even the most advanced AI-driven bots still demand oversight.

In March of 2016, Microsoft released TayTweets: an AI chatbot on Twitter that “the company described as an experiment in ‘conversational understanding.’” The idea was straightforward: the more Twitter users interacted with Tay, the more human it was supposed to get.

That’s exactly what happened — just not in a good way.

It took all of 24 hours for TayTweets to go from “casual and playful conversation” to what my editor said I can't even publish here. While your bot may not run the risk of spiraling into racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic hate speech, the inhuman side of Facebook Messenger AI does pose a great danger to marketing.

2. Beware of “Selling” with Facebook Messenger

Aspect — the company who developed Natural Language Understanding (NLU) which helps make conversations sound human on Messenger — freely admits that when chats reach a certain complexity, humans have to get involved.

And “complexity” in conversational ecommerce is a decidedly relative term.

Back in April, for instance, Lukas Thoms set about the task of shopping for clothes with two of Facebook Messenger’s premier bots. Not to ruin the ending, but his initial summary paints a less-than-perfect picture:

“Facebook’s demo … was very slick, so I decided to try these shopping bots myself. Needless to say, the experience was not as advertised.”

The piece walks through a number of challenges: namely, that the shopping experiences themselves were little more than rigid replications of each store’s usual flow. Worse, the bots eventually recommended products that were far outside of Thoms’ originally selected sizes and price range.

Image Via TechInAsia

Perhaps most disappointing was Thoms’ experience with one bot’s “emoji shopping option”:

Image Via TechInAsia

To test one myself, I visited Fynd, which Forbes listed as the very first of 10 Facebook Messenger Bots You Need To Try Right Now.

My wife constantly “berates” me for my love of cargo shorts, so I kicked things off with a fashion question I thought she’d appreciate:

It’s understandable my initial query was too complex. So I followed their instructions:

Unfortunately, while the very first product they showed me was a pair of non-cargo shorts, the other products were an odd mix of gym shorts, female shorts, and even — to my wife’s chagrin — cargo shorts:

So, I tried to clarify my request again, and that’s when things went even further downhill:

All this goes to show that conversational ecommerce still requires development before it can be used for front-end sales itself.

The Human Side of Facebook Chatbots

I’ve already stressed what a sacred space Facebook is for its users. When your ecommerce business enters that space, the same relational rules apply.

Instead of initiating a relationship — i.e., through marketing or sales — your goal should be to deepen one that already exists.

Here, Facebook Messenger chatbots can seriously boost current customer experiences as well as build loyalty and commitment to your brand.

1. Facebook Messenger for Confirmations

Chubbies Shorts, for instance, uses Facebook chatbots to automate both its order processes and customer support. Approximately 85% of people who buy from Chubbies are already logged into Facebook, so in order to enhance the customer experience, confirmation messages are automated through Messenger:

Approximately 85% of people who buy from Chubbies are already logged into Facebook, so in order to enhance the customer experience, confirmation messages are automated through Messenger:

True to the company’s word, once Chubbies ships the goods, the bot updates the customer:

And when the order is delivered, the bot again messages:

Unlike traditional email messages, chatbots offer three distinct advantages.

First, they place the order confirmation and shipping process within the native environment most people exist in by default. And this isn’t just about the popularity of Facebook itself. Data from Business Insider shows that messaging apps now outpace social networking apps in terms of monthly users:

Image Via Business Insider

Facebook Messenger bridges those two worlds. More importantly, by going to your customers, instead of forcing them to come to you, you reduce friction throughout.

Second, Messenger dramatically reduces the cost and turnaround time for customer inquiries.

Because chatbots function much like one-on-one FAQ pages — addressing only those questions a user actually poses — not only are they responsive, they also offload from staff issues customers commonly face. In Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus’ words: “You can do things in a tenth of the time that you can over email or other platforms.”

Third, they build relationships with customers through what feel like genuine conversations. As the Telegraph recently reported:

“A Messenger chat retains your identity, the context of your previous conversations and always follows on logically from your last message.”

Logistically, this is a major advantage. But the real relationship builder comes from making your company’s chatbot your own: infusing it with a voice and tone that matches your brand.

2. Facebook Chatbots for Service

Along these same lines, Facebook Messenger is a brilliant, low-cost way of providing customer service. And customer service via social is becoming more and more a requirement than an option.

Research shows that you’ll lose 15% of your customers if you don’t respond to social media requests. The same study reveals that when you do respond, you can expect an increase in revenue per customer between 20 and 40%.

Still, 45% of retailers ignore customers on social media because they have not integrated it into their regular customer service process.

Facebook Messenger provides a golden opportunity to give instant feedback via a channel your customers are on anyway.

3. Facebook Chatbots for Upselling

If your product lends itself to repeat purchases — i.e., anything with a built-in shelf life — then Messenger should be your go-to tool to send reminders. Facebook’s one-click ordering makes repeat purchases insanely easy.

Similarly, if your customer shows a specific buying pattern, then Messenger can be used to upsell and cross-sell similar products.

Zulily, for example, missed a golden opportunity when I ordered my seventh pair of shoes in a six-month period. Not only that, but I ordered fancy socks more than a handful of times as well.

While that pattern may tell you more about my “problem” with footwear than I’d like, each time Zulily simply sent me an order and shipping confirmation:

What they should have done, and what your ecommerce company should do, is migrated their shoe-and-sock-related product emails over to Messenger instead:

For a someone easily seduced by footwear issues, which Zulily should know, I would have been powerless to resist one-click ordering with my previous sizes already loaded up.

4. Facebook Chatbots for Fun

Lastly, do not be afraid to have fun with Facebook Messenger.

Just because the order’s been delivered, doesn’t mean Facebook Messenger's conversational job is done. Just look at the response Chubbies got from one of the Messenger strings we've been following in this post:

Whether you program your chatbot to respond with your brand’s voice or ensure a human takes over at clutch moments, capitalizing on these moments goes a long way to ensuring your company uses Facebook Messenger the way Facebook Messenger users do.

Conversational Ecommerce Made … Conversational

We’ve really just scratched the surface of the possibilities of conversational ecommerce by using Facebook chatbots to build stronger relationships.

Hopefully, new iterations will make the two no-nos possible: marketing and sales.

Even more benefits than we’ve covered exist, like linking Messenger with your CRM to keep reps in the loop for a seamless customer experience.

Chatbots automate communication in as human a way as possible, and when humans monitor these interactions, the process works brilliant … so long as it stays genuinely human.

About the Author

Aaron Orendorff is a content marketer at Shopify Plus as well as a regular contributor to sites like Mashable, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and more. You can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.