In June 2017 Apple used its worldwide developers conference to announce Business Chat. Business Chat in its basic terms means opening up iMessage for businesses to let them use it as a channel to communicate with their customers. With over 1 billion active Apple users worldwide in 2016 and iMessage being preinstalled, it appears to be a pretty interesting opportunity for businesses that is definitely worth having a closer look at.
Getting in line with other big players such as Google and Facebook, Apple Business Chat is supposed to launch with iOS 11 in autumn 2017. This new functionality has the ability to take the next step in the general transformation of customer-business interaction.
Use cases include helping customers solve problems, answering questions and carrying out transactions on any Apple devices such as iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. Customer service and shopping seem most likely scenarios but there are various other processes possible.
Currently running in beta, Business Chat has already been implemented on some of the biggest customer service platforms: Salesforce, Nuance, Genesis and LivePerson. For everyone else Business Chat is available as a Developer Preview for developers, and customer service providers to integrate it into apps.
By doing so Apple reveals their plan of transforming iMessage into a communication platform that is capable of keeping up with Facebook Messenger and others alike. But while Facebook Messenger has recently been focussing on chatbot integration as such, Apple is promoting human-to-human interaction in order to create a human experience. Of course, Apple could theoretically include chatbots and as a way of supporting customer service, this seems most likely for future use cases.
What’s important with Business Chat is that customers are the ones to initiate a conversation. Via Safari, Spotlight or Search they enter a chat with a business. The interface looks like a normal iMessage window with a little personalization such as the businesses logo. Business and customer exchange rich content including text, photo, links or PDFs.
What makes Apple Business Chat special is the usage of Apple Pay within the system that excludes any third parties from benefiting from transactions. Thus, there are no costs for sender and receiver which opens up opportunities for start-ups and established businesses alike to try out various scenarios on iMessage. However, on the downside Apple Pay appears to be the only payment method that can be implemented into Business Chat as of now.
Interestingly it should be assumed that Business Chat has been developed according to Apples own experiences with customer service. They beta tested within their own Stores with features such as real-time scheduling and shopping.
On a more technical level: Conversations between business and customer are completely encrypted. The messages themselves are routed via a Business Chat Server that interacts with a Customer Service Platform (CSP) on the business' side. The CSP acts as an abstraction layer between the business chat server and the customer service system. This approach allows any business to simply add a CSP on top of their contact center to start working with Business Chat.
For those looking to experiment and test Business Chat there is a registration process and the need to choose a CSP when registering. Then they can test within a sandbox environment to plan and experiment with processes within Business Chat. More detailed information can be found here.
Although iMessage is not the most used messaging app among smartphone users, it is pre-installed on any Apple device. Thus, lowers the threshold of trying out this new way of connecting to a business for customers and opens up a possible channel for businesses.
Another interesting point of this move on Apple’s side is the underlying connection of already existing functionality within the messaging infrastructure - think calendar, Apple Pay or notifications. Whatever Business Chat will bring within the next half a year it sets a clear mark on the importance of conversational commerce.
The paradigm shift towards messaging as the most relevant channel for business customer interactions is in full swing.