Salesforce takes another swing at Microsoft with chatbot building tools

The new LiveMessage service helps with automated and human-based support

Marc Benioff Dreamforce 2016

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff speaks at the company's Dreamforce conference in San Francisco on Oct. 5, 2016.

Credit: Salesforce

Companies have another set of tools at their disposal to build chatbots. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has begun touting a new LiveMessage service that's aimed at connecting his company's Service Cloud with messaging services like Facebook Messenger and SMS.  

Benioff is pitching the new service as a way to turn messaging apps into a user interface for Salesforce, in addition to serving as a tool for connecting people with their friends. It will power bots, in addition to direct communications between service representatives and customers. Right now, LiveMessage works with SMS, and it will be expanded to work on Facebook Messenger later this year.

With the launch of LiveMessage, Salesforce is joining a veritable pantheon of different tech companies competing to provide the underlying technology powering companies' bots. While announcing the product on stage at the company's Dreamforce event Wednesday, Benioff talked about how it would facilitate "conversations as a platform," cribbing a phrase directly from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's discussions of his company's bot-making tools. 

In addition to Microsoft, Salesforce will also be competing with Facebook, Google, Oracle and a host of startups.  Salesforce has an advantage, as the home of customer data for its fleet of users. Easily connecting that information with logic that can operate a chatbot seems like an appealing option for businesses looking to create one without a ton of work. 

In addition to running bots, LiveMessage can also be used to connect customer service representatives with users for a live chat session over a variety of platforms. That means it would be possible for users to message a business on Facebook, and get connected with a person who can help them. With LiveMessage, that person would be able to handle the conversation through Salesforce. 

It's all based on technology from HeyWire, a company that Salesforce acquired earlier this year

What remains to be seen is whether the bot platforms actually take off with users. Tech industry insiders like execs at Microsoft and Salesforce clearly believe in bots. But it's not clear that users really want to replace traditional user interfaces with automated conversation partners.

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