Helping Consumers 'Get' Facebook Messenger Bots

An interview with American Express's Matt Sueoka

Author: Maria Minsker

July 26, 2017

Though consumers see the benefits of using Facebook Messenger bots to interact with brands, the concept is still novel and unfamiliar. 

That’s why, as users learn to navigate these new interactions, companies have to build experiences that are useful, intuitive and reflective of what consumers actually want. Matt Sueoka, vice president of digital partnerships and development at American Express, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how the company continues to improve its bot experience based on feedback from customers.

eMarketer: What are some ways that you are using Messenger, from a customer service standpoint?

Matt Sueoka: On Messenger, we saw potential to automate some of our most frequent and useful types of interactions. For example, our initial bot delivered transaction notifications to cardholders, so that they received an alert when their card was being used. Customers gave us positive feedback on that experience—many were able to catch fraud thanks to the notifications.

Since then, we’ve made the bot experience more conversational by adding contextual information on benefits relating to high-value purchases. If someone buys a couch at Crate and Barrel, we push through a notification saying, “You just spent $500 at Crate and Barrel on this item,” but follow it up with: “Did you know you get purchase protection for this item with your card? If you want to know more about how that benefit works, click here.” This drives more dialogue with the bot.

eMarketer: How effective has Messenger been as a customer engagement tool?

Sueoka: It has been effective. At first we were conservative about sending too many messages about payment protection or other features. We didn’t want it to feel like spam, and we didn’t want to message people too frequently. But when we asked for feedback, our customers said they liked the messages and wanted more. Then we started tweaking and sending messages in higher frequency. We try to find the right balance by listening to customers, since this is new for many of them.

“Brands have to recognize that users don't necessarily always know what the bot is going to be able to do.”

eMarketer: Are customers open-minded about chatbots in general? How can brands be sensitive about any potential hesitation that consumers may feel?

Sueoka: Messaging apps are new to some customer segments. Even people that have used Messenger before have often never used it to interact with a brand. It’s a new experience that some people might find scary or strange.

That’s why brands should try to guide consumers down different user journeys gently within their bot experiences. For example, instead of diving right into a conversation, a chat with a bot might start out with a menu that has three or four conversation directions for consumers to choose from. Brands have to recognize that users don't necessarily always know what the bot is going to be able to do.

eMarketer: How has your bot matured? What features have you added?

Sueoka: Last fall, we made it possible to link an American Express credit card to a Facebook account through our bot so that consumers can make purchases on Facebook. There are now a variety of different areas where customers can make purchases on Facebook, and we see a lot of customers choosing to use [our card-linking capability] to make those purchases. Our bot can now also respond to more questions. Cardholders can ask, “When is my bill due?” or, “What is my membership rewards points balance?”

“We were adamant about adding a payment functionality to Messenger because we know it’s where the Messenger ecosystem is heading.”

eMarketer: Does linking a card to a Messenger account drive transactions?

Sueoka: It's still relatively early days on that front, and the success of that feature depends on the ecommerce use cases that Facebook makes available. Right now, people can buy digital games or make donations on Facebook, along with some other types of purchases.

But the space is constantly evolving and we want to help enable that growth. WeChat is further along in the maturity curve because they’ve built a number of interesting ecommerce extensions, but we were adamant about adding a payment functionality to Messenger because we know it’s where the Messenger ecosystem is heading as well.

eMarketer: What can Facebook do to improve the experience on Messenger for both brands and consumers?

Sueoka: It would be helpful to educate consumers about how they can engage with brands. Bots are still very new, so driving consumer awareness and helping educate customers on what to expect and how things work are big priorities.