Tencent just unveiled their new chatbot developer open platform (机器人开放平台) at their Developer Conference in Fuzhou, China today.
You can apply for access online at bot.qq.com via the Tencent Open Platform (not the WeChat Open Platform) and download the forty-three page developer documentation in Chinese. Based on the documentation, there’s not a lot that is new, as the semantic language processing interface has been available in WeChat for years via Tencent NLP.
Their website promotes the following platform features:
Advanced voice and image processing capabilities based on machine-learning processing hundreds of millions of daily requests.
Automated sentiment analysis based on decades of research, big data and machine-learning processing ten billion daily requests.
Tools to help you quickly deploy dialogs for interactive conversation: what to say and how to say it for rich online interactions.
Data Analytics Console
Professional tools for analyzing bot data and statistics. Developers have easy access to traffic sources, user behaviors and characteristics, chat logs, and other data, to assist in optimizing operations.
Release Testing System
Mature, flexible software quality testing system. Get accurate data you can trust on new product features.
Convenient online application. One-click submission and results are live immediately after the review is finished.
Screenshots from the site, which look more like mockups than a live product, show examples of a movie ticket bot with buttons in the chat to book tickets:
A dining bot: “I found several restaurants nearby you, do any of these look good?”
And of course, a Didi Dache bot for booking a cab:
This is not an altogether unexpected move by Tencent, but up until today the story has been that the West misunderstood WeChat Official Accounts to be run primarily by chatbots. This confusion and the rollout of poor performing chatbots on Facebook Messenger were the subject of Grata’s keynote presentation at the CHat Beijing conference in April, and more recently at CHat Shanghai in September. It will be interesting now to see how WeChat and Western chatbots converge and diverge as they develop.
One of the biggest challenges our clients face, that will ultimately determine how much value they derive from our product, is how successful they can be encouraging conversations with their followers on WeChat.
By the time they sign up for Grata, they have already bought into the value of using WeChat for customer service, primarily because either 1) they have an existing call center and want to drive phone and email traffic to WeChat to reduce costs, or 2) their business competes on good service and they recognize the service upgrade this represents to their customers.
As clients roll out Grata, we strongly encourage them to simultaneously deploy a marketing effort that communicates the newly upgraded value of their WeChat Official Account. If businesses don’t tell their followers when their online, how responsive they are, and what kind of things they can help with, not many people are going to message them. Businesses are fighting against the status quo in which most Official Accounts are bad about responding to messages from followers. This low expectation on the part of WeChat users, however, means it is relatively easy to surprise and delight followers with a fast response from a real human.
Tell new followers how they can use your account
WeChat can automatically send a stored welcome message whenever someone follows your account. This is the perfect time to introduce to your new follower what services your Official Account provides.
Grata additionally allows you to store multilingual welcome messages so followers are greeted in their own language.
Use personalized WeChat agents
WeChat allows verified Official Accounts to use up to 100 custom avatars and agent names when chatting with followers (you can request more if needed). There are many advantages to using personalized agent names. Specific to this post, when you use custom agent identities, WeChat will automatically add a “Customer Service Staff” row to your account profile and display one of your agents. This signals to followers that you are indeed replying to messages.
Use WeChat menus to prompt conversations
One of our favorite methods of engaging WeChat followers is to expose a small directory of contacts. This has two benefits: 1) By listing teams or departments, it seeds the idea of what kind of services you provide through WeChat, and 2) Grata can route to different teams based on which button the user presses. It can look something like this for a hotel guest:
Each menu button can send a stored text message letting the user know in more detail what services are provided. If the user replies to that prompt, a new chat notification will be sent to the corresponding team.
Manage expectations with auto-replies
Responsive service often has a lot to do with managing customer expectations. One good way to manage expectations is to setup an automatic reply based on the status of your agents. Let users know they can expect an immediate reply when agents are online or give them alternate contact information if your agents are offline. Here’s what that setup looks like in Grata:
Optimize for a quick first response
The first reply from a live agent is the most important factor in putting your customer at ease. Ideally, after your customer sees a face, a name, and knows that your team is “on it”, she can put her phone down and wait for a notification when the request/issue is resolved. Use personalized quick replies to get the fastest response from an agent. What your customers sees:
In Grata, use “$username” and “$agentname” to personalize quick replies.
Route conversations back to previous agent
One of the most frustrating service experiences for a customer is having to repeat himself. While a lot of this friction is automatically avoided by using a digital channel like WeChat — all chat history is easily viewable by any agent in Grata — it still is a relief to talk to the agent that has the best understanding of your issue. Make your WeChat Official Account a more personal channel and reward returning customers by always routing back to the previous agent first.
Call-to-action in outbound marketing
While most businesses use their WeChat Official Account for regular outbound marketing, many miss the bigger opportunity by doing a poor job converting leads. Your followers are reading your posts in a messaging app — take advantage of that! If you have live agents ready to take incoming chats, make the call to action at the bottom of your post to simply close the article and send a message to you to book/buy/order/etc.
QR Codes Everywhere
If your going to use your Official Account for driving customer service, you should put your QR Code everywhere you put your business’ phone number. The best businesses also explain to their customers why they should scan the QR code and even embed relevant contextual data in each unique QR code.
The text alongside the QR code should explain the value proposition and is ideally unique for each QR code placement. For a hotel, the taxi card QR code might be accompanied by a suggestion to “Contact us for in-travel assistance, recommendations, and help getting around town”, while the QR code on the booking confirmation email might read “Contact us 24/7 for pre-arrival arrangements or to book a convenient airport pickup”.
If you’re using a WeChat Service Account, you can use unique “parametric” QR codes to not only track the performance of each placement, but also to embed routing rules (eg. so your taxi card QR code routes directly to the concierge) and alert agents to the context of the current conversation. Consider giving a unique parametric QR code to each staff member for their business cards and email signatures. When one of their contacts messages your Official Account, you can setup routing rules to notify that individual staff member first.
WeChat Feature Request
What would really be helpful for driving customer service conversations in WeChat, is if WeChat would borrow a feature from Facebook and display how responsive Official Accounts are to their followers. This would be the perfect way to manage user expectations and would also encourage Official Accounts to actually be more responsive!
If you have a verified WeChat Official Account and want to be more responsive to your followers, register an account at Grata.co or scan the QR code below to get in touch with our team for assistance. You’ll get a quick answer to any of your questions during normal business hours, China Standard Time [see what we did there?].
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about WeChat Wifi Hotspots and what benefits they provide to businesses. We’ve written a step-by-step guide how to setup hotspots further down in this post, but to start, here are the main points:
All WeChat Official Accounts can use WeChat Wifi Hotspots
No custom equipment is needed and there is no application waiting period
The main goal is to convert more of your offline customers into WeChat followers
Bonus: You can send a message or coupon whenever a customer reconnects to your Wifi
How WeChat Wifi Hotspots Work
Getting your customers online with WeChat starts offline, generally by scanning a QR code. Nothing really magical here, but you may have fewer customers asking you for the wifi password.
The real benefits of WeChat Wifi Hotspots come from increased exposure of your Official Account and a “welcome back” message or coupon when customers return to your venue. The coupon feature is similar to Apple Passbook and could be used for things like discounts, specials, entry tickets, and gift certificates.
WeChat thoughtfully provides you with a variety of marketing materials you can use to promote your hotspot:
Your customer can then scan the QR code in WeChat and will be taken to a welcome screen with a button to connect:
The next step varies for iOS and Android users. Android users can directly connect to your hotspot, while your poor iOS customers will see instructions to copy the wifi password and then go to their iPhone settings to paste the password and connect:
When the user returns to WeChat, they will see either 1) the Wi-Fi connected screen with the checkbox to follow your account selected by default, or 2) a pop-up asking if they want to follow your account. Your customers do not have to follow your account to use your hotspot, but WeChat encourages it:
The user is then dropped into a landing page. You can choose to either open a web page or use the landing page template provided by WeChat. The template is designed to steer the user to visit your WeChat Official Account. The landing page is also what the user sees if they click on the active hotspot banner that WeChat displays.
Direct users to a landing page like this or to a mobile web page.
The Wifi Hotspot banner also takes users to your landing page.
It’s not a bad way at all to build WeChat followers from your actual offline customers.
One of the even more interesting features is that whenever your WeChat Wifi Hotspot users return to your business, you can send them a text message or coupon, maximum once daily.
If free wifi isn’t enough to get a user to follow your account, businesses can use the coupons for additional encouragement. You can change the coupons regularly to keep customers interested in checking back in at your venue to see what offers are available.
You are able to track how many daily online users you have from the WeChat Admin Platform. Hopefully you will quickly outperform our office test account:
Review the description of features and then click the green button to proceed. The only requirement is that you have a physical location or place of business.
The first page of the application is basic information about your business. You’ll need to upload a photo of your venue that clearly shows a sign with your business name on it.
You will need to select your industry from the list of options in the drop-down menu. Most of the options will then contain a secondary designation.
Sports and fitness
Point of Interest/Address
On the next screen, indicate whether you will use the default WeChat setup for your network or if you use a third-party product to manage your network.
After you click submit, you should receive an immediate notice that WeChat Wifi hotspots have been successfully enabled for your account. You can now complete your setup by opening the wifi option in your account feature plug-ins, or click the green button on the notification to get started.
Setting up WeChat Wifi Hotspots
After you have enabled WeChat Wifi Hotspots in your official account, you’ll need to link each wifi hotspot to a location you create in the WeChat Admin Platform. If you haven’t added any locations yet, you’ll need to do that first in the WeChat Location Manager (微信门店管理). Setup is pretty straightforward from there:
Select the location you want to add a hotspot
Enter the name and password of your network
Scan a QR code in WeChat to complete setup
The network name (SSID) for your hotspot must start with “WX”. The network name and password you enter must exactly match the network name and password of your router.
After you click the green button to add the the hotspot, you’ll see this pop-up:
If successful, you should the following screen with a few options on what to do next:
Managing your WeChat Wifi Hotspot Landing Page
As we mentioned in the first section of this post, you can either direct your hotspot user’s to a WeChat landing page template -OR- you can send them to a web page of your choosing.
Once you bind your account (see previous image above) you’ll be able to control the landing page settings from the WeChat Wifi Official Account inside your personal WeChat. If you forget, you can access the account from the QR code on your WeChat Admin Panel here:
Scanning the QR code in WeChat will take you to the WeChat Wifi Official Account. Click on the menu (运营管理) below to edit your settings:
Edit your WeChat Wifi Hotspot landing page template or change to a link to any URL:
Adding a Hotspot Welcome Message or Coupon
You will need to enable a plug-in from WeChat’s Wifi team to setup this feature. In the WeChat Admin Platform, select the Wifi Hotspot Manager from the main side menu, and click on the second tab for “Admin Center” (管理中心). In the Wifi Admin Center menu, the second option (消息管理) is to manage your stored message that is sent whenever someone connects to your hotspot. The message is sent a maximum of once daily.
Click the the green button (开启) to enable the plug-in and get started.
You will then see a pop-up asking you to confirm your choice: “After you enable auto-replies, this will go into effect for all users. Are you sure you want to enable this feature?”. Click the green button (确定) to confirm.
After you confirm, you’ll be taken to WeChat’s authorization page for external plug-ins.
Depending on your security settings, your account admin may need to scan a QR code and confirm authorization of this permission:
Now you’re ready to add your message. You have two options for your hotspot welcome message, either text or coupon. WeChat Coupons need to be enabled separately; we’ll cover this in a future blog post.
Edit your stored message, click the green button to save, and you’re all set!
We’ve been relying mainly on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In for Grata’s content marketing, but last week we finally got around to sending out our first marketing blast to all seventy-six followers of our WeChat Official Account. Within twenty-four hours, our post had 25,575 views and we had 930 new followers.
To be fair, this post was about WeChat, but we post mostly about WeChat on our other social channels so it should be why people are following us elsewhere, too.
A large deck of survey data had been released the week before by Tencent Tech, and we noticed that no one had picked it up in English-language media. So we invested a bit of time and translated it. Some of the content was fluff, but there was also some gems (eg WeChat was responsible for US$15.3B of mobile data spend last year).We proudly posted it on SlideShare and shared the link on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Linked-In. I was thrilled when we hit over 4,000 views on SlideShare and went to share the good news on WeChat.
This was an accidental experiment. By staggering our usual content distribution channels a week before sharing on WeChat, it was easy to see the contrast in reception. Of the 2,117 people who followed our WeChat Official Account in the less than five days after the article, 57 of them (2.7%) messaged us directly on WeChat to speak with us. We had incoming leads from a dozen SMEs, a publicly traded company, and the deck was picked up on several industry news sites. With the exception of a small bump when Slideshare’s own content team generously tweeted our deck, the rest of the growth happened only after we shared on WeChat:
Why Sharing on WeChat is Different
There are many different ways one could interpret this data and many disclaimers I should make on assuming causality to the channel itself. I would, however, like to make a few humble observations about what is different with sharing on WeChat and what might go some way to explaining our results.
WeChat seems to have really nailed the delicate balance of an platform that commingles personal and business contacts. Almost eighty-percent of WeChat’s almost half-billion monthly active users follow one or more of the 8.5M Official Accounts (“OA”s). I credit much of this success to the way Tencent biased the mechanics of the platform in favor of consumer protections.
Businesses can choose from two types of OAs, a Subscription account which can broadcast a message at most once daily, without a push notification, and that lands in the user’s content subscriptions folder. The other type is a Service account, which can broadcast at most four times per month, but does send a push notification, and appears in the user’s inbox inline with their personal contacts. If your content isn’t quality, I can swipe and unfollow your OA in seconds. Otherwise if a WeChat user messages my Official Account, we can talk freely for up to forty-eight hours since the last message. Beautiful.
Additionally, the OA does not see any unique identifying information about me as a user. They see my nickname, which is non-unique, that I can change at any time, and could be anything from my real name, if I so choose, to a meaningless string of emoticons. They also see my profile photo, geographic region, gender, language, and status message, most of which are optional. The way OAs interact with their followers is through an encrypted WeChat ID that is unique to that OA, i.e. non-transferable. No OA can sell its user data to another, the list of followers has no value if a third-party provider the OA uses is hacked (Snapchat, take note), and users aren’t entered into some creepy re-targeting sale of their personal data. Compare the difference in data shared with the business between SlideShare, the most business-friendly analytics of any of these channels, to WeChat:
All of these protections goes a long way in making people feel comfortable about following a brand.
After I broadcast my post through Grata’s Official Account, I shared the article on my WeChat Moments feed. Moments has some key differences with a Facebook-style feed:
No algorithm. It’s a pure feed of your entire network, although you can un-follow contacts and block contacts from seeing your Moments. Most people keep up-to-date with all of their Moments.
In-app notifications. You get a subtle red dot on your discover tab in WeChat whenever there is new content in your feed. Since 55.2% of WeChat users open the app ten or more times daily (again, our report) you have very short cycle time on sharing and re-sharing (for a great explanation of why viral cycle time is the most important factor in viral growth, look here).
First-degree connections. WeChat Moments maintains higher relevancy as it is only first-degree network connections, not friends of friends. Only mutual friends can see comments and likes of posts, which allows for more personal conversations and different threads to spin off of the same post.
Very few ads. This could change, but for now it seems Tencent is keen to make advertising in Moments only affordable for large brands. Official Accounts do not have the ability to post in a user’s Moments, only the user can choose to share an OA’s content there.
I have 345 contacts in WeChat (embarrassingly I counted them all for this article and by the time I got to the bottom of my contact list discovered WeChat counts them for you), about one quarter are work contacts and the rest are friends and social acquaintances. None of my other social networks are intermixed like WeChat, and this is standard for most WeChat users. So when I share WeChat content that is of interest to all of the business contacts I make through Grata, I not only have a very personal channel to reach my sales leads, but those people go on to share through their personal and business contacts too.
Content Distribution Machine
While I was thrilled with the performance of Grata’s post, this was a post entirely in English on a platform used mostly by Chinese. WeChat is a monster for content distribution and it’s common to see articles in Chinese top out at the public pageview counter at 100,000 views in a matter of minutes. And all of this in spite of the fact that the button to share in WeChat is so inexplicably hard to find that most content producers add instructions to the bottom of every post describing how to share and how to follow their account.
If your Official Account is having success marketing on WeChat, Grata provides a multi-agent contact center to help your business provide more responsive service when your followers message back. Launch a demo in seconds at www.grata.co.
To celebrate the fourth anniversary of WeChat’s launch, Tencent Tech shared a 38-slide deck on January 27, 2015 titled “WeChat’s Impact: Inaugural Report on WeChat Platform Data” [our translation]. The report boasts some impressive statistics, most of them pulled from extensive survey data done by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology over the last year. Some of the highlights include:
55.2% of users open WeChat more than 10 times a day
In the last year, WeChat users consumed US$15.3B worth of mobile data
53% of organizations allocate spending to maintain and upgrade their WeChat Official Accounts
Please note the report only includes data from Chinese users and official accounts. In translating the deck, we tried to be as true as possible to the original data and format. Enjoy!
Many thanks to Devin Petty (@CDHSLLC) for correcting our mis-translation on Slide 19. The dollar amounts refer to how much companies are investing in their Official Accounts rather than revenue from Official Account activities. The deck has been updated to reflect this.