Social Media

Facebook Messenger bots get a makeover to help businesses connect with more customers

Emma Koehn /

Artificial intelligence is playing a bigger role in communications between shoppers and businesses, but Facebook is still refining its functionality on this front, with the latest updates to Facebook Messenger aimed at making it easier for customers to know how to kick off a conversation with messenger bots.

On Thursday Facebook unveiled a number of new developer features for its Messenger platform that provide more options for sharing content through Messenger.

The changes let developers add what Facebook calls “persistent menus” to bot functionalities, which will allow customers to choose from a number of menu options to direct the bot to what they to know about, like “Featured Items” or frequently asked questions about the business.

This will give “people a way to find and select from all the features that a bot offers”, Facebook says, rather than users being faced with an open conversation window where they need to type a sentence to the bot in order for it to answer.


Instead of starting a conversation with the AI, the customer can quickly click on whatever they’re interested in and have the information displayed immediately.

The new features also allow a business to customise more messaging and parts of a post for when a user shares something they have received from a Facebook bot with their other Facebook friends.

“Developers can customise the content (image, message, button) that appears when people share a message with friends from your bot and link to a website to the bot itself,” the company explains in a blog post on the updates.

Users that receive messages from a customer service bot will now also be able to share these with their Facebook friends inside the Messenger app, with any shares including links back to the bot itself, so that new customers can discover details about a business when their friends share interesting content.

The changes were announced this week on the US-based “Messenger Blog”, although it is unclear at this stage when the functionality will be available in Australia.

Read more: Ten easy things to do this week to improve your Facebook page

No social media customer service is “set and forget”

Artificial intelligence may be becoming more common in the retail space, but it works better for some tasks than others, as researchers at UCL and the Hult International Business School explained last year. 

“For more complex, emotive and subjective buying decisions—like buying gifts for our loved ones—we may still seek that special human touch,” researchers Rikke Duus and Mike Cooray wrote for The Conversation.

Jessica Humphreys, director of Social Concepts, told SmartCompany that while the latest changes are good for Facebook’s engagement with companies as they keep communications with customers on the platform, smaller businesses will need to deploy developers to properly take advantage of the changes.

“From a user perspective it makes the whole purchasing and asking question process much easier,” Humphreys says.

“But I think the concern particularly for SMEs is that while they can customise the services, it’s quite a complicated process.”

However, Humphreys says all businesses should remember that social media is primarily a customer service tool, and improvements to bots will solve initial teething problems for customers that haven’t always been sure how to interact with them.

“Customers can get a bit confused,” Humphreys says.

While customer service platforms like Messenger bots have their place for delivering speedy answers to client questions, businesses should regularly review the performance of all social media tools, even they are “automatic”, says CP Communications director Catriona Pollard.

“What’s great about these bots is you can put standard information up so customers can acess it when they want it — that might be in the middle of the night,” Pollard says.

“From a small business perspective, that’s a time saving mechanism. But I do know that with things like [bots], that are in their infancy, you do need to check it regularly. You need to check what changes have been made, what updates have been made.

“When it does promote itself as ‘set and forget’, that is the biggest challenge. Say for example over Christmas Holidays or over Easter, you change hours — there’s often no procedure in place in a business to go, ‘We’ve got this information in all of these places [including on the bot]’,” she says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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