Facebook is making it easier for businesses to leverage its Messenger service on their own websites. The company in November 2017 first launched a new customer chat plugin that allowed customers to talk directly with a business on the business’s own website using the Messenger service. However, that plugin had required the website visitors to be logged into Facebook, limiting adoption. Today, that’s changing, Facebook says.

The prior version of the plugin may have worked for smaller businesses that couldn’t afford a more robust live chat service, but it also limited customers’ ability to interact. Customers who didn’t use Facebook couldn’t remember their password, or who were visiting the website from a different device than their own, for example, wouldn’t have been able to chat with the business.

Other customers may have simply wanted to submit their queries more anonymously — perhaps worried that the business would continue to bother them later in their Messenger app, even if they weren’t ready for such a direct relationship.

The updated plugin will now allow customers to talk to businesses without being logged in, Facebook says. Instead, a “continue as guest” option will be available. However, on the business’s side, they’ll still be able to use all their same tools to manage their conversations with these online users, whether logged in or not.

Facebook hints that its requirement around being logged in may have limited adoption of the product. Developers who built websites for clients, for instance, claimed the plugin wasn’t always an easy sell, as it required the business to offer some sort of alternative for the non-logged in users.

“As a developer, it’s much easier to convince a business to use a live chat offering that is available to all their customers,” noted Soma Toth, founder of Recart. “Our business customers are seeing sales directly tied to engagement on Messenger, and the Chat Plugin helps them leverage the same investment across both their Facebook page and their website at no additional cost. It also reduces the complexity of having to work with or support a fallback for users who are not logged into Facebook.”

The update will also bring a redesigned look and feel for the plugin, which Facebook claims had resulted in a 45% increase in customer chats with businesses during its tests.

To some extent, though, that increase could be partly attributed to the surge of customers shopping online due to the coronavirus pandemic, not just the better plugin.

Though Facebook’s plugin has the benefit of being tied to the larger social network, where many businesses today run their own Page to reach customers, it’s still facing a range of chat software competitors, large and small, including solutions from brands like HubSpot, Intercom, Live Chat, Zendesk, Zoho and dozens of others. These competing solutions will often offer deeper integrations with other services the business may need to use, like CRM, analytics, help desk software, tools for lead gen and sales, and more.

Businesses can now choose to install the plugin themselves, or they can work with partners like WooCommerce, ManyChat and Haravan to have it installed for them, Facebook says.

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