Prepare to use Facebook Messenger to chat with businesses

MessengerSignificantly more than a billion people – probably soon more likely close to 2 billion people – are sending billions of smartphone messages every day, using one of the many popular chat apps. But at least for those services that are most popular outside of Asia, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, there is one thing missing: The possibility to send text messages to companies, service providers, restaurants or stores.

For everybody who does not enjoy wasting time on the phone waiting to speak to an agent or staff member, a feature to quickly type and send questions or provide feedback from a smartphone to all kinds of businesses that consumers interact with on a regular basis would be a huge simplification. In fact, it is being done already, to some extent at least, by Asian chat apps like WeChat and Line (that offer company accounts that users can interact with). Recently, the infamously struggeling U.S social network company Path released an app called Path Talk, which includes business-to-consumer (B2C) communication.

Personally I cannot wait to see businesses participating in the messaging frenzy. It could be a win-win-win situation. Users skip waiting on the phone and paying calling fees, businesses increase customer satisfaction and in turn sales, and messaging apps would tap into a new source of revenue with dedicated, sophisticated business accounts. Also, with smart algorithms working in the background, many repetitive customer inquiries could probably be automatized.

Well, good news – at least for those who agree with my assessment: According to the German IT news site heise online, Facebook Manager David Marcus mentioned on stage at the DLD conference in Munich that the company thinks about offering companies a chance to communicate with users via Messenger. He has said something similar in an interview with Wired in October, so the remarks at DLD can be seen as a confirmation. Marcus also explained the different positioning of Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp: WhatsApp will remain a simple and better alternative to the SMS, whereas Messenger which had been separated from Facebook’s main app last year, is going to become more interactive and feature-rich.

I think both strategies make a lot of sense. I expect Facebook to launch some kind of platform for Messenger that will introduce (freemium or paid) business accounts. Possibly at the F8 Developer conference in March.

From a user perspective, this is how I would like it to work: A separate tab for chats with businesses that I have interacted with. A feature to see businesses in my proximity that are available for chat, as well as a search tool for businesses by name and location. Simple and useful.

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