M is the new dimension in Marketing!

Monday 18th, January 2016

For the last few months now, I have been very intrigued by the prospect of ‘M’ which is being touted by Facebook as its new virtual assistant. ‘M’ (which is so obviously named for Mark Zuckerberg) is a pointer to the future; of how brands will interact with customers.

Facebook has mobile ambitions

The first thing to keep in mind is that M represents Facebook’s attempt to take over the mobile, an area that it has traditionally been weak. However, the long-term game that Facebook is playing is to broadly take over mobile search.

Right now, the service is in its infancy. Facebook has said that it is an artificial intelligence assistant which is curated by humans called M Trainers.

Human curation on top of an AI layer

It is interesting to note the approach that Facebook has taken to building M. It could have developed a straightforward Artificial Intelligence-based app; one that would have mimicked its peers such as Siri, Google Now and Cortana.

Instead, Facebook has chosen to build a primary AI layer and has placed human curation over it. The expectation clearly is that the AI will acquire a database and learn over a period of time. Until then, the M Trainers will step in whenever necessary and execute the actual user query.

Range of possibilities

What is exciting to see is the range of possibilities that such a service opens up once it goes fully operational. Listed below are a few and how these could develop in the foreseeable future.

1) Informational

There are the straightforward information requests that all of us have. Where do I buy a wedding gift? What new places can I check out for dinner tonight? What movies are showing at that new multiplex? M is probably no different in this respect from Siri or its other peers. Quiz the database and you get the answers.

2) Transactional

This is where the additional human element comes into play. And the reason why M will probably have an edge over the others. AI cannot yet completely understand the myriad ways of human behaviour, but its human trainers give it an edge. Want your movie tickets booked? Done. Want to change the date on an airline ticket? Sure.

3) Support – technical and non-technical

This would encompass the whole range of typical pain points encountered by a customer before, during and after the sales closure. Typical tasks that an organisation could render could be related to estimation/invoicing, account issues, order delivery glitches and handling complaints.

Additionally, the organisation could also provide technical support on a variety of issues with its call centre agents mapped to distinct lines of support – application support, problem resolution and so on.

4)

Perhaps the most exciting part from a brand standpoint is the ability to engage in real-time with a customer. This may currently be in the realm of customer service fantasy. But, it could lead to many interesting scenarios; a customer considering a purchase at a store could chat with the call centre agent for more information or get help with payment processing or so much more.

Imagine if a customer places an order and changes her mind; she quickly dials in and chats with the agent and gets the specs changed immediately. Result: one very happy customer!

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if brands begin to provide a Call To Action in their outbound communication providing the address of a Messenger channel. This has already been tried with WhatsApp in Asian countries, but WhatsApp is a permission-based option. Messenger on the other hand is not tied to any mobile number and could potentially open up new avenues to deliver a top-notch customer experience.

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