Messaging Is the New Platform


Enhanced messaging is a game changer for anyone looking to finally connect meaningfully to their customers

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing the Messenger Platform last year

Something new and very big is happening in messaging right now.

To further inflect their growth curve, Facebook has released a bot platform on top of Messenger, and Twitter has accomplished largely the same via their improved DM system. Together with Samsung and their RCS messaging format (intended to eventually replace SMS, cross-platform) as well as iMessage through Apple Business Chat (ABC) we are seeing conversational interfaces that actually sets a new bar that enables a whole new set of powerful use cases on these platforms.

Let’s call these new capabilities “enhanced messaging.”

Enhanced messaging moves us beyond text, allowing us to deliver all sorts of cool app-like experiences to the user in the moment. SMS alone doesn’t give enterprises the depth and functionality they need to provide amazing customer experiences.

As the inventor of “chat with a customer service rep” in the 90s, I’ve been working on this technology since day one. I haven’t been this bullish in a long time. I’ve also had a front row seat working with these companies to support the new format for customers of Conversable’s platform for enabling automated conversations for commerce and customer care over major messaging platforms (like Facebook, Twitter DMs, RCS, ABC) and virtual assistants (like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa).

What’s exciting about enhanced messaging is that we’re moving away from natural language-driven lines of text exchanged between a human and some lesser intelligence (chatbots), and towards app-like functionality delivered inside of a conversation, at the point of experience.

No one actually uses long form multi-sentence English to communicate in texts and they don’t expect to message chatbots that way. What’s far more useful is having the functionality of an app delivered inside of a message. I want these systems to bring me the right functionality at the right time, but what we might call the last mile. That last mile is all the things that enable the business systems to take action on my behalf.

This is finally possible today. We’re finally able to push application-grade functionality to the edge of the messaging interface. This is a good thing, but only recently viable. Previously, this was only possible in Asia on immensely popular platforms like WeChat. It requires the platform to enable this functionality, which until Facebook Messenger opened the floodgates and was quickly followed by Twitter (DM enhancements) and Apple Business Chat over iMessage. The consequences of this shift are just beginning to play out.

It’s time for chat and messaging to cease being a layer on top of functionality and to rather become to delivery mechanism for that functionality.

Instead of trying to create a sophisticated intelligence in a mobile OS, a far better approach is to piggyback on messaging, which is dramatically more prominent in usage, and more open and robust as a protocol.

Enhanced messaging banks on infusing little pieces of smart content into messaging, where at the right place and time they can unfold like so many pages of Harry Potter’s book, and then close back up again and vanish.

It’s all about what the user wants. What is the user trying to accomplish? Enhanced messaging puts the user’s needs at their fingertips, instead of trying (and often failing) to accomplishing things end-to-end on their behalf.

Messaging is after all just a container for a function. Messages have traditionally included text and emojis but now they can include a button, an input field, a menu choice, a survey or poll, and even a whole video game. I’ve always wanted the ability to fully execute a task inside of the “interface” of a message.

For the enterprise, what’s exciting is to think of connecting your systems of record — like an ordering system, or an inventory system — to an enhanced messaging platform and delivering functionality again, at the point of experience. All without having to do a big deal with Apple or Google or Facebook, and without having to build and distribute an app all your own.

Note that the use cases here go far beyond just transactions and commerce. Interactions for solving major customer care issues are powerful and game changing in an enhanced messaging world. For example, diagnosing an internet outage via enhanced messaging can be a much better experience that is also faster and cheaper to deliver.

It’s time to think of apps not as apps at all, but rather nano-services that can ride in as payload on top of a “conversation” to accomplish their intended feat, and then vanish, only to be recalled at the right time and place. This is again, the promise of enhanced messaging.

Enhanced messaging let you add a conversation structure — a conversational UX If you will — to any engagement with a customer, in the place and medium the customer already occupies.

So-called “UI primitives” allow us to build up significant functionality that is app like in feel and quality, but conversational in delivery. To add further flexibility, these primitives include webviews or app views. They also include handoffs where necessary for security and privacy.

And now that they have, it’s a brave new world for consumers and particularly businesses, who get an opportunity to speak, and transact, directly with customers again, without being abstracted or disintermediated.

The opportunity of enhanced messaging is also the challenge. Because all the major social and device platforms now offer enhanced messaging, brands need to support them all, seamlessly.

Sherif Mityas, CIO at TGI Friday’s told me the following earlier this month. I don’t think I can put it any better.

“These enhanced messages have reopened lines of communication with end users and customers, in a way that we find very exciting. Brands don’t have to own the pipes or the platform anymore. We get to show up in context, like a genie in a bottle, and delight the user. This is what it looks like for every player and technology partner to be focused on what they do best.”

Andrew is a serial entrepreneur. He’s the founder and Chief Product Officer of Conversable, a conversational intelligence platform that facilitates commerce and customer care for companies like Whole Foods, Pizza Hut and Sam’s Club.

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