Update: 1 July, 2020
Since this was first published, Google has come a long way with the GMB messaging service. It does look like my concern about the product ending in the dustbin was unwarranted, and the company is committed to making the product work.
Below is a quick summary of points – for more details about each, the original article is below:
Where I believe this service excels, is if the business hooks up a chatbot service to the messaging.
Bots provide almost instantaneous feedback to the customer, and can be programmed to handle a wide range of common questions. They can answer questions directly, they can take people to the page of the website which best answers the question, and some have “pre-made templates” to reduce the amount of effort in setting them up.
Do some research – you will need to be able to justify the expense for a chatbot, but the prices aren’t so high as to lock out local businesses.
A good example of the GMB chatbot working well is the Australian supermarket giant Woolworths. If you look up a store location in Google Maps, you can message that store location and do things like search for a product, xxxxxx and xxxx.
I first tested the local supermarket asking about a product I wasn’t sure if I had purchased there or at another chain. The bot came back with the response the product couldn’t be found.
I then searched for a different store and asked the same question. This time the response was the product couldn’t be found. What was different about the two responses, and what I think really put the icing on the cake, is each message specifically mentioned the specific store I had queried.
The chat log for both stores was in the same “conversation”, but the body of the texts let me keep track of which store had been queried.
Messaging in Google My Business
Google is throwing a lot of effort at the GMB product, adding new features and making the knowledge panel the source of info customers need. In November of 2016, Google piloted a feature called Google Messaging. Then in June rolled this out further but not world wide.
On the surface, it looks good and has some endearing aspects:
1) Free messaging service
2) Integrates with Google My Business
3) Gives you one more Google-based point to help Google understand the nature of your business.
4 ) One more way you can to make it easy for people to contact you.
The reasons to use Google Messaging are strong.
I know I’m going against the grain here. Most articles I read about this feature are positive and recommend businesses use it. I have found it buggy as h*ck. My maths say the product is well over a year old and in my testing, the product is still behaving like it’s in beta.
To be clear, the primary problems are not the delivery of the messages between the customer and business. The problem is in the indication of the messaging.
Following are a handful of scenarios & results. The test base was small – just three Android phones with differing versions of operating systems. Two were Samsung Galaxy S5’s, one a cheap unknown brand (the kind you buy for your kids to take to school.) We used a mix of logged-in and not logged-in users, and accounts that had no prior contact with the listing before. We didn’t try any other devices. I felt I had enough information with just these tests to form my recommendation.
Customer messages you & your Google My Business (GMB) app is not open
- The phone will display a popup message for a second-ish, then the popup fades and goes away. The only indication you have at a glance then is the tiny icon at the top left of your screen on an android. I couldn’t figure out how to get this indicator to work on an iPhone.
- Arrow A = GMB notification. This, BTW, is the exact same “not urgent” indicator seen when Google tells me my post is about to expire.
- Arrow B = The GMB app. No notification indicator here – compare with the messages icon below telling me there are 7 unread messages.
- If the app is open and not on the customers messages tab, the GMB app gives no obvious indicator you have an unread message. Except, of course, for the quick popover and the little icon in the upper left corner mentioned first.
- If the app is open and is on the customer messages tab, the GMB app may not display the incoming message until you move to another screen in the app and come back. This only happened once, so this might have been a one-time thing and we simply fluked the timing.
- The app sometimes displays a message promising the customer they will receive a notification when the vendor replies
- Depending on the model of phone, some customers will see the message feature button on the standard maps display of the business. Others will have to click through to get the full information panel before they see the button.
The messages can be delayed in coming through, by quite a lot compared to SMS. If you’re using this feature, I recommend getting your customer off the chat and onto the phone as quickly as possible. Your welcome message (below) sometimes displays in customer’s chat streams, other times not. Notifications were seemingly randomly sent again days and then weeks later about a particular incoming message. It only happened with one, and I don’t know why.
You message the customer
- Their phone will display a Google message popup notification for a split second. Then the popup fades and goes away. That assumes the customer doesn’t have notifications turned off. And there are numerous ways those messages can be switched off by accident or design.
- The only indication they then have is the tiny icon at the top of the screen. We did see that icon not turn on in our testing. Argh.
- There is no indicator (as described above) of an unread message on the Maps app icon. The only place they’ll see an indicator is the “for you” icon at the lower right of the screen once you’re in the Maps app. If customers tap on that, their phone may or may not have an indicator to check their messages via the hamburger menu.
All this seems to get worse with anonymous users (people not signed into their google account on their phone). The only way they’ll know you responded is if they stay in or go to the chat stream, or happen to notice the popup, or swipe down to view the notifications.
- If the customer’s phone goes to the lock screen, I didn’t see any notification at all. This wasn’t just a phone setting or account basis, it was across the board.
- Messaging doesn’t work for people not logged in to a Google account.
Other notes about Google Messaging
The messaging feature can only be used by a business from within the GMB app on a mobile device.
You can see messaging is active in the GMB dashboard, but can only read or respond to messages from GMB app. Turning it on and off also requires the app.
Because this is happening on a mobile, nearly instant response is critical for this channel to work well.
This feature could work well for some businesses. Two types of businesses come to mind – ones that can have someone dedicated to the GMB app (perhaps a social media person who’s also managing the twitter feed / FB chat / live chat) or businesses who do not need to provide fast responses to their customers. Even if you don’t need to give a prompt response, you’re still taking a risk because you cannot be sure your customer’s message or reply are seen.
If yours is the kind of business that needs a live-chat on your website, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it.
If you don’t need it, then you do need the discipline to check your phone regularly or require your “chat service” to monitor incoming messages.
Unless and until this app is made to behave consistently, across all devices, and provide better real-time notification of incoming messages, I worry this feature is destined for the dustbin. It’s a real pity, there is so much potential.
There is still room for improvement, and I am pleased Google has vastly overhauled the product.
UPDATE: 11 February 2019https://www.localsearchforum.com/threads/google-my-business-messaging-issue.53853/
From Joy Hawkins
Recently I told a client to set up the GMB messaging feature by downloading the GMB app (since I can’t set it up for him). He did but never got the test message I sent him, despite the button being on the listing and not giving me, as the user, any type of error message.
I asked Google about it at LocalU and they told me that this is a known issue with any listing that is in a Google My Business account with location groups.
So yet one more reason not to enable this feature for your business or your clients.