This is a test, and you’re being timed.

Social platforms are continuously upping the game on use of messaging apps and native communications tools. Sites such as Facebook and Houzz are taking measures to become the primary points of contact between you and your customers. And by “measures” I mean they are tracking and potentially ranking you on how quickly…or slowly…you’re responding to inquiries that come in through their sites. Additionally, we’re seeing the rise of “bots”—automated messengers in the ilk of online chat tools—for websites and mobile apps, making it even more simple for all us humans to avoid actually talking to each other.

Before I dive into specifics about what you need to do on Facebook, Houzz, or on your own website, let’s look at why this matters and what it indicates for the marketplace in a broader sense. This foundation will help you and your team put all this in perspective.

Digital and mobile communications are becoming the norm and the preference. In keeping with the fact that most people rarely use their smartphones as phones, we’re seeing consumers turn to messaging apps in increasing numbers. They’d rather type their inquiries through text-based communication tools than pick up the phone and talk directly.

Social platforms so want us to connect through their portals that they are driving the trend. The real motivation behind this is ultimately about the dollar sign. The more consumers stay within a social platform to connect and receive what they need, the more chances the social platform has to embed advertising or monetize their solutions.

For those of us who sell stuff, it’s vital to be on the ready. If consumers prefer to message or text, we need to readily respond in kind. Just as we wouldn’t ignore the phone ringing in our showroom or disregard a customer in the doorway, we can’t blow off digital messages from consumers.

Dealing with ‘Houzz Calls’

Did you get the recent news from Houzz about consumer response times and directory rankings? In short, if you reply within 24 hours to consumer messages on Houzz, the better your rankings in search results may be. The social platform has reworked its ranking algorithms to align with revamped requirements for message response times, presumably in attempt to offer consumers better, more helpful experiences on the platform and reward businesses that actively respond.

They’ve also implemented more means by which you can be alerted when you receive messages so you’re sure not to miss them. They are encouraging businesses such as yours to activate SMS/text messaging and notifications through the app so you can be alerted on the go if there’s a consumer inquiry that needs your reply. This comes in addition to the email notifications you likely already receive, as well as the on-site inboxing by which you can respond. By activating various alerts, you can respond to inquiries by text or email, as well as through on-site messaging.

What about the go-nowhere inquires so many of us find burdensome on Houzz? You know what I’m talking about. You’re selling flooring in Pittsburgh, but Sally in Scottsdale wants to know “what is the paint color?” or “where can I buy that chair?” Houzz is now allowing you to denote off-topic inquiries with “not interested” so that it won’t work against you should you not reply. Also, they’ve built in response time grace periods for businesses that are closed on the weekends.

The must-do items for your business, if you want to maximize your Houzz account, are pretty straightforward. Make it standard operating procedure to check Houzz daily and respond promptly to any inquiry (even if just marking something “not interested” as described above). Consider identifying team members who should activate notifications for their smartphones, and perhaps designate times that they should be on call and responsible for responding to inquiries. And as always, keep your Houzz account fresh by updating photos and uploading projects, engaging with other users, and making sure all aspects of your profile are current.

Don’t Shoot the Facebook Messenger

Facebook is continuously upping the ante for those of us with business pages, and direct messaging/engagement with consumers is a big part of the equation.

For a long while, Facebook has made it possible to activate a badge on your page that denotes how quickly and reliably you reply to messages. A consumer direct messages your page with a question or complaint, and you respond; it’s that simple. However, compared to where things are heading, that’s really ‘old school’. Today, Facebook is deepening its customer communications tools with integration of AI or artificial intelligence, building advertising opps into Messenger, and encouraging use of automation through ‘chatbots’ or ‘bots’ that act as extensions of businesses’ customer service functions.

I sense your eyes glazed over a little at the mention of AI and ‘bots’, and I’m with ya. These developments have been around for nearly two years now but, at this time, are primarily embraced by large, national consumer brands (think Wall Street Journal, Burger King, 1-800-Flowers) and an array of e-commerce sites that are, by nature, more progressive in strategies for turning digital messaging into sales opportunities. Nonetheless, you need to stay aware of developments in this realm as it’s a bellwether of where customer interactions are heading.

What can you do now to acquaint yourself and be poised to make the most of Facebook Messenger? Get good at using Facebook Messenger through your business page, perhaps even listing it (on your website, on other social platforms) as one more way to stay in touch or submit questions. Certainly check it regularly to make sure you’re responding to any inquiries coming in through your page.

Next, take note of what some of the big brands are doing. I think the Wall Street Journal chatbot through Facebook Messenger is a great example that will acquaint you with the possibilities. To dive in, simply go to, select “send message”, and then just type “Hi” (or anything, really) just to activate the chatbot. What happens next will reveal to you how quick, tailored, and potentially effective this kind of messaging can be. How might it ultimately apply to your business? Whether you use for customer service, creative selling, or to make it simple for consumers to get in touch, it seems Facebook will be part of your messaging mix in the years to come.

Live and On Your Site

Though live chat solutions for websites are far from new, we don’t see many businesses in the flooring industry making use of them. Is it time for you to consider live chat as an option for your site? As your customers evolve to prefer texting over talking, it may be wise to integrate this form of communication into the mix for your biz. It requires people power to carry out live chats, but the technology is relatively simple and cost-effective to add to your site, the conversations conducted within can be saved for documentation, and lots of consumer really like the option. Even if you were to implement and see minimal use, the fact that you have offer it may be a differentiator in the market. Just Google “live chat for website” to find an abundance of software and information to get going in the right direction.

Got questions on messaging strategies for your company? Feel free to reach out to me on my Facebook biz page, I’ll do my best to reply promptly and keep the conversation going.