Facebook introduces a Messenger plugin for business websites

Facebook Messenger is coming to businesses’ own websites. The social network announced today the launch of a new customer chat plugin into closed beta, which will allow customers to talk directly with businesses on their websites using Messenger, and continue those conversations across web, mobile and tablet devices.

While there are already plenty of customer support and chat plugins for websites on the market, Facebook’s advantage is its platform and reach.

Not only does the ability to use Messenger mean the business is making itself available within an application that now reaches some 1.2 billion monthly users and growing, the Messenger platform also supports features like payments, bots that understand natural language, and rich media, among other things.

Facebook says these features will also be supported in the beta version of the website plugin, and new experiences will be added in time, so the plugin is as “feature-rich” as the Messenger app itself.

Like other web chat systems, the Messenger chat plugin is designed to hover over top the business’s web page, and is indicated by the familiar, blue Messenger icon.

When a customer starts a chat session with the business, they’ll be presented with the same sort of Messenger interface they’re already used to from using the app on their mobile devices.

When customers leave the website, they’ll still be able to view or continue their conversation from their phone or tablet, using their Messenger app. (This may also be useful if the business doesn’t respond instantly to user requests coming in through Messenger from the web.)

For businesses that already have a sizable Facebook presence and regularly engage with customers through their Facebook Page, a chat plugin for their website may make sense as they won’t have to maintain a separate channel for user inquiries from the web. It could also take some of the strain off the company’s support email, which is where many websites today direct customer questions.

However, the chat plugin may not be as useful for sites that do troubleshooting and tech support through their chat systems, as it doesn’t connect with other backend support systems – like when a chat session is the starting point for directing customers to the right support agent, for example. It also lacks some of the more robust analytical tools the professional systems offer. And it may not be ideal for businesses that are cataloging online leads via chat.

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This new addition to the Messenger platform is only one of several ways Facebook has been targeting business customers in recent months. Earlier this year, the company introduced new discovery mechanisms for finding Messenger bots, and it allowed its “M” in-app assistant to suggest businesses’ bots when relevant to conversations. Facebook even tested Messenger ads that would allow businesses to reach the app’s users with offers to chat, shop, sign up for things, and more.

The new plugin is now being trialed by a number of partners, including AdoreMe, Air France, Argos, Aviva, Bodeaz, Goibibo, Keto Mojo, KLM, Mermaid Pillow, Spoqa, Total Activation, Volaris and Zalando. During this beta period, other interested businesses can sign up to be notified when the chat plugin is broadly available, says Facebook.