Facebook F8: How Messenger will change customer service

At its F8 developer conference, Facebook announced new features to let businesses interact with customers on its Messenger app. Facebook is also opening Messenger to developers, so they can create companion apps.

Eric Risberg/AP
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg delivers a keynote address at the company's F8 developer conference in San Francisco on March 25, 2015.

If you want to find out details about a local business, such as what its hours are or whether it has a particular item in stock, you probably look first on its website or social media page.

If the information isn’t listed there, the next step is to pick up the phone and call. Facebook wants to obviate the need for that second step, founder Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

“I actually don't know anyone who likes calling businesses,” Mr. Zuckerberg told the crowd. “It's just not fast or convenient and it definitely doesn't feel like the future.”

Facebook plans to revamp its Messenger app with a suite of new features that will allow businesses to give personalized online service to customers. The Businesses on Messenger program will let companies chat in real time with customers, send order-tracking information, and give customers interactive receipts tied to their orders.

Businesses on Messenger is meant to simulate the “personal and delightful experience” of shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, with the convenience of being able to access an online inventory, Facebook executive David Marcus said in a keynote address.

Facebook is also opening up Messenger to developers to allow them to integrate their own apps into the platform. That way, users can share videos, photos, music, and other kinds of media more easily, and can create their own GIFs or special-effects videos to share with friends. Last week, the company announced that people would also be able to use Messenger to send money to their friends, PayPal-style (in fact, Mr. Marcus was the president of PayPal before he came to Facebook to oversee Messenger’s development).

Facebook Messenger, which is a separate product from the mainline Facebook app, currently has 600 million users, and the company hopes this new focus on developers will push that number even higher. On Thursday Facebook released a software development kit to appmakers to give them a head start in creating companion apps for Messenger.

On Wednesday, Facebook also announced new plugins that will make it easier for users to embed videos and Facebook comments in other sites. Facebook videos currently get a collective 3 billion views each day, and the company wants to make it even easier for users to share those videos elsewhere online. Facebook will even be able to show spherical videos later this year, Zuckerberg said at the conference. Spherical videos, such as those produced for virtual-reality headsets, are filmed with several cameras simultaneously to cover the user’s entire field of view.

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