Though his title may be a mouthful, The Global Director of Platforms and Product Partnerships for Messenger at Facebook has a singular vision: to make technology that levels the playing field for every person, no matter what. Anand Chandrasekaran is doing just that with Messenger, helping to further develop strategies for Messenger that have been incredibly successful, including the integration of open-API chatbots into Messenger.
Messenger, which has more than one billion monthly users and more than 100,000 active developers building bots and AI powered conversational experiences, is one of Chandrasekaran’s passions. In his previous posts as CPO of Snapdeal and Bharti Airtel, Chandrasekaran was a leader at some of the world’s leading enterprises, and his own experience launching successful startups has given him unique insight into what both developers and consumers want and need from the AI that is coming onto the market today.
I meet Chandrasekaran at Shoptalk and in the first of an in-person, two-part interview, I asked Chandrasekaran to give me a look into what wisdom he’s gleaned on bots, and how they will play a role in enterprise in the future.
Newlands: What is your opinion on how bots are functioning in today’s marketplace, and what specifically stands out to you?
Chandrasekaran: I think it’s a very exciting time right now. As we took in all of the excitement about the platform, what we realized was: bots are not a one-size-fits-all use case. People want a variety of development options. What I mean by that is that businesses and developers want to know the customer really well, and then provide a great experience for them. For example, in the case of Gyant, they are a bot that offers a symptoms check for the Zika virus and offers other health-related information. They ask a lot of information to gain context, and sometimes they even ask for evidence or photos of the symptoms. Obviously, there are a lot of questions. But what they find is about 90% of the time, people who start on question number one get through all of the questions. This is one of the awesome things about Messenger platform experiences: you can make it super conversational while getting to know the customer.
What we are trying to do is give developers the canvas to build these creative opportunities. In messaging, what people find is while they like to be really expressive and share a lot of content, they also like the immediacy; the person asks a question and I just say “yes.” The answers to, “What can a bot do,” are becoming far broader now. It can be a great user experience for airlines, or a telephone company, or a sports team offering experiences to their users. We are also seeing a lot of celebrities using chatbots to build relationships with their fans. A lot of celebrities are becoming entrepreneurs in their own right, and they are building one-to-one relationships with their fans, which is not unlike a brand developing relationships with their loyal customers.
Newlands: What is your perspective on people selling through Messenger?
Chandrasekaran: We want to extend that opportunity to anyone who can benefit, though we feel very strongly about needing to set some guidelines on what constitutes a spammy experience for the consumers -- and that’s probably the only thing that we have a strong opinion about. We want Messenger to be a place where people feel comfortable getting high-quality signals and high-quality communication. I think our stand will be strong in that area, and somewhat unwavering.
Newlands: If a business wants to sign customers up for a user experience, but then wants to sell products, are you in favor of that?
Chandrasekaran: What we find is that selling a product to a consumer is a conversation. Nobody comes to any platform and just buys. They have some questions, they want to choose from a couple of options, they might want to check if it’s the right size. Even in the real world, people like to have a conversation about what they are buying. In that regard, we feel that bots lend themselves nicely to a conversational user experience.
In addition, there are only two options for consumers right now: the very low commitment experience of mobile web, and then the very high commitment experience of apps. For mobile web you don’t need your users to do anything -- they go to the page, but they’re probably not logged in, their payment information is not there, and so on. On the high end, they’ve got an app, and all their stuff is there, but it’s a pretty high bar for someone to go download something and set it up. I think there is an intermediate experience, where people already have Messenger as do over a billion people, and already have a great experience on Messenger, so they are in between.
Not to get very Goldilocks about it, but it’s neither on one end of the spectrum or the other; it’s just right in terms of level of level of commitment and user experience.