Facebook announced a wider availability of its new Customer Chat service this week, which lets businesses talk with users both on their own websites and within Facebook Messenger. Customer Chat is essentially a website plugin that brings the Facebook Messenger experience to any retailer’s website, which lets the customer support representatives then converse with customers as if they were chatting with a friend on Facebook.
Customer Chat saves conversation histories, so a user can go from talking with a rep on a retailer’s website to conversing with them within the Messenger mobile app without restarting a new thread. The service first became available earlier this month when the Facebook Messenger team launched it in private beta. The company now says it’s open to any business as part of an expanded public beta, and its developer page dedicated to Customer Chat details how to install the software development kit.
Of course, Customer Chat’s success hinges on users, who may not be keen on using Facebook Messenger for customer support needs when email and help lines have become the standard method for dealing with a product or order issue. Facebook has long been banking on businesses (and by extension chatbots) as the natural evolution for its chat product, which in September surpassed 1.3 billion monthly active users.
The general idea is that if Facebook Messenger can absorb even more of the communication that typically takes place over the phone or with email, the company will continue to tighten its grip on users and prevent rival communication channels from eating away at its dominance. To that end, Facebook has extended many of the same business-friendly features of Messenger to WhatsApp, the other massively popular chat product it owns.
Whether letting businesses slide into your Messenger chats in the app and on Facebook.com will have a large impact on that goal is a bit up in the air. But in the eyes of Facebook leadership, it certainly can’t hurt to make it easier to use Facebook for anything and everything you want to do — whether that’s sending money, making video calls, or badgering a customer support rep for a refund.