“Besides black art, there is only automation and mechanization.” – Federico Garcia Lorca

Last week I attended TechHub’s monthly demo event for the first time, hosted at Campus London. With just two demos left I was starting to think my experience would materialise to nothing more than a “nice time”, which would have been fine, however, I was still wrestling with the question of how to serve meal plans and shopping lists to the users of Tinkerdash. In truth, I was hoping for some much-needed inspiration.

Then, lo and behold, the last demo of the night was by Sure, a Facebook bot that provides its users with cafe and restaurant recommendations based on their location. Both their concept and solution were simple and clever. Moreover, it reignited my desire to use Facebook’s Messenger platform as the medium to engage with Tinkerdash’s users.

Let me explain why.

1) It’s easier than getting people to use an app. I’ve learnt first hand how difficult it is to get people to download new mobile apps. Even if you can stand out from the hundreds of new apps being released every day AND get people to visit an app store, download the app and log in, you’d still face the challenge of getting people to use it. As Forrester Research have found, people typically spend 80% of their time using just five apps. Is your app really going to be more useful than Facebook, Google Maps, Snapchat, Instagram and Spotify? Really?

Messenger provides a solution. Over one billion people already use Messenger according to Facebook – it’s already on their phones! Therefore, you no longer need to claim real estate on someone’s phone to be able to engage with them. Granted, you still need to incentivize a user to engage with your business via Messenger but if you can, it’s super-simple. Here’s an example. If I wanted to find inspiration for a new recipe from WholeFoods, instead of navigating a website or downloading an app, I’d simply search “Whole” in my Messenger search bar and click “Get Started”. Simple.

Whole

2) It already works across platforms. Messenger already works nicely on popular devices and operating systems meaning you will automatically inherit this. No more worrying about testing 90 different variations across mobile, tablet and desktop!

3) The interface is suited to a service like Tinkerdash. By nature, Messenger is a conversational chat platform. Whilst I think many people are still trying to figure out how best to use it to engage with customers, it’s fair to say that it’s suitable for creating a personable, assistant-like service, which Tinkerdash aims to be.

The feedback from Tinkerdash’s one-month blogger review, which used Messenger to engage with users, is proof of this. Some people thought that their “lovely” and “personable” assistant was a girl, others a boy, one person even asked for their name. People started to develop a connection with their Messenger chat – how many apps or websites give you that? Note, the Messenger chat used in the Tinkerdash blogger review was human-powered, rather than automated.

4) It’s super easy to automate. Messenger bots are no longer the new kid on the block. More and more business are using them to improve efficiency and customer experience. There are even stores for bots, much like the app stores, such as Botlist. At first glance, these “bots” sound like they might be hard to build. Well, they aren’t. There are free platforms, such as Chatfuel, which allow you to literally create a basic Messenger bot and attach it to your Facebook page in less than 15 minutes, for free!

As with any interaction between a business and its customers, however, the quality of the experience will ultimately depend on the person who is present at that point in time, or in the case of a chat bot, the person who programs the rules and automated responses. Something to bear in mind.

So, with the decision made to use Messenger, it was time to start cracking on with creating Tinkerdash’s first chat bot.

Next, see how the bot turned out, as well as my initial thoughts on using Chatfuel here.

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