Last April Facebook Messenger announced the introduction of chatbots, presenting a major opportunity for businesses in Singapore and beyond which are looking to connect with their customers on a more personal level. The move is designed to turn the instant messaging platform into a space where brands can become an intuitive part of their audiences' own conversations.
Singaporean consumers already use instant messaging more than most other markets, with 76% of people using it every day, mainly through Facebook and WhatsApp. This new function on Facebook Messenger means that there is now the potential to do everything from booking flights to getting customer tips to making a purchase, all within the app.
Given the appetite for instant messaging is already there, what the arrival of chatbots presents is a major opportunity for businesses to streamline their interactions with consumers in Singapore and create a more personalised experience.
Yet as much as the development can be seen as a bold move from Facebook on a global stage, it is only just catching up with Asian chat apps WeChat, LINE, and KakaoTalk, which have been experimenting with chatbots for years.
Asian businesses, particularly in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and China, have already been successfully using these platforms to interact with their consumers – to have customer service conversations, deliver relevant content, or even allow ticket booking, all via the chat app window.
WeChat has over a billion registered accounts – 100 million users outside China – and consumers are now happy to buy clothes, food, and even train tickets through WeChat. In Shanghai, you can make police reports via the Shanghai Metropolitan Police's WeChat account.
Bobbi Brown has used KakaoTalk in Korea to have one-on-one conversations between user and brand. Users interact with the brand in the chat window, receiving beauty tips, taking part in competitions, or even sharing vouchers with friends. The opportunity is now there for businesses in Singapore to use chatbots to mirror this success to meet a wide variety of customer demands.
Yet there are a number of considerations which Singaporean businesses must keep in mind if they are to capitalise on this opportunity, particularly around security and privacy. When it comes to online shopping, we have seen WeChat, LINE, and KakaoTalk develop their own integrated payment solutions which have now become standalone mobile payment solution powerhouses.
While Facebook has been testing its own payment solutions in the US, it will need to ensure it develops a secure and trustworthy offer to win over audiences. The news that Burger King is developing chatbots to take orders is one sign that integrated payment may not be far off.
Since Facebook Messenger launched, it's been clear that there are teething problems to overcome. Many have complained of being spammed by brands once they open up the communication channel. The quality and quantity of communication is determined by the brand, and need to be carefully judged or else the consumer will block the brand for good. Some users were also disappointed at the inability of chatbots to understand simple queries.
Progress is not simple, so it’'s understandable that the first-movers in the chatbot space are not going to get it right straight away. In the first instance, users need to familiarise themselves with the functions of chatbots in Messenger and start choosing them as their go-to touchpoint.
At the same time, Singaporean businesses will need to grasp the best way to interact with their customers in a chat window – different brands will need to deliver different things depending on the user expectation – for example, make-up tips from a beauty brand or show times for a cinema. And as the artificial intelligence powering the conversations advances, chatbots will learn to better understand the nuances of conversations, leading to smoother and more intuitive interactions.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Zoë is responsible for the success of TNS's suite of digital products across Asia Pacific – leveraging social, mobile, and behavioural data to help clients better engage with connected consumers. She has been with TNS since 2010, and has held a number of different roles, initially in global marketing and since 2014 in the APAC region.