Businesses on Facebook can now respond to customers in Messenger

Sarah Perez

Facebook is launching a new inbox on Messenger today to make it easier for business owners to respond to incoming customer messages from the same app they use to message friends and family. The update will allow businesses to manage all their communications from a single app, instead of having to toggle back and forth between apps in order to write and respond to customer inquires -- A process many business owners said they found frustrating.

According to research conducted by Facebook, over 90% of business admins were already using the Messenger app to chat with their friends and family. It made sense to offer the option to communicate with customers there, too, the company realized.

Facebook had announced its plans to launch a dedicated inbox in Messenger back in May, but today the feature is actually becoming available.

The new feature arrives at a time when there's an influx in customer inquiries and, sometimes, impatience with a slow response. Prepandemic, 90% of customers said an "immediate" response was important when they had a customer service question, according to Hubspot data. But now, customers have a range of new questions to ask businesses, beyond the usual. Consumers want to know if the business is still open, for starters, and if it has modified its store hours, if products are in stock, if the business offers curbside pickup or delivery and more.

One customer who tested the business inbox before launch, Matt Volpert, owner of Kern River Outfitters, said he had seen a 250% increase in customer inquiries related to COVID-19 impacts. This made it difficult for staff to keep up with messages.

For small businesses, especially those who have already had to layoff additional staff amid coronavirus lockdowns, being able to rapidly respond to customers' incoming inquires is critical in terms of not losing sales.

Facebook notes that the new inbox in Messenger for business users won't replace the functionality found in Facebook's Page Manager app. Business users can still use the latter to manage their Facebook posts, create ads, view their Page insights and respond to messages, if they choose. Instead, the Messenger business inbox gives the business owner a different way to respond -- and from an app they already often have open to keep up with friends and family.

Businesses don't have to make any changes to take advantage of the new feature, Facebook says. It will roll out automatically as long as their personal Facebook account is connected to their business's Facebook Page. When responding to a message, the business owner can then choose whether they're answering as themselves or the business.

The new inbox is one of several new tools Facebook has introduced since the COVID-19 crisis. It also recently rolled out new additions to its Community Help hub that allowed people to support local businesses, offered small business grants and launched tools that allow businesses to sell gift cards and vouchers and more.

The business inbox is available today on iOS and will arrive on Android in the next few weeks.