Apple’s Business Chat - The Big News for Contact Centers
Apple made a number of interesting, though in many cases “frivolous,” announcements at its World-Wide Developers Conference earlier this month, but most of those reflected Apple’s continuing focus on consumers (you can read my summary of Apple’s announcements in this No Jitter post). While there was a lot of the buzz around HomePod, Apple’s response to Amazon’s Alexa-equipped Echo, going virtually unnoticed was a major announcement for contact centers. I’m talking about Business Chat, a new capability that will be added to iOS next year. Business Chat will integrate with Apple’s Messages and other apps and will allow contact centers and CRM systems the ability to deliver iOS users a vastly improved customer experience.
In developing Business Chat, Apple is effectively taking a page out WeChat’s playbook. WeChat, owned by Tencent, began as a messaging/social networking service in China. It currently boasts 983 million active users, roughly 90% of those in China. However, WeChat has evolved, adding payment capabilities, E-Commerce, games, advertising, taxi hailing, and has now infiltrated virtually every aspect of users’ lives – you can even pay parking tickets through it! The important thing to note is that WeChat started as a messaging app.
With Business Chat, Apple is delivering a platform that will provide businesses with a text-based method to communicate and engage with customers through their contact center or CRM systems. It will not only allow businesses to communicate with customers, it will allow those customers to make payments and complete other tasks. At its base, Business Chat provides a persistent chat capability through Messages, Apple’s messaging app, and will provide access to all of the existing Messages capabilities.
Customers can access Business Chat through Safari (browser), Spotlight (search function), Siri (personal assistant), and Maps (navigation). In any one of those applications, a company will be able to add a button to initiate chats. With Apple’s emphasis on privacy (you can ask the FBI about that one), the customer will have to initiate the chat, and the business will initially be provided with an only "opaque ID" (along with the language and region) until the customer chooses to divulge more information. So, the business will be able to maintain the chat, but will not have access to any personally identifiable information until the customer chooses. In effect, Apple is putting the customer in control of all Business Chat communications.
As it is a persistent chat, the user can return to it at any time. So, the customer can use it to find a product, query a customer service rep about it, order it, pay for it through Apple Pay, track the order, and access customer service (if needed), and the rep will know exactly what the customer purchased and when.
When integrating Business Chat into their applications, developers can also include Intent Links. So, if a customer clicks to start a chat from a product page, the customer service rep will know exactly what page they were on. They can also use Group Links to direct chats to specific internal groups (e.g. specialists in different product lines eliminating things like skills-based routing) or to specific company locations.
Since Business Chat is built on Messages it also supports attachments allowing customers to link photos or videos to help the customer service rep better understand their requirements. In response, the customer service rep can send forms, and the Quick Type keyboard will offer suggestions to help in entering information like email address, phone number, mailing address or location with a single click.
Apple is also including built-in functions for typical use cases. Time Picker allows the customer service rep to send a selection of potential appointment times and the iOS device will check the user’s calendar to identify potential conflicts. List Picker would allow the rep to send a list of options like available colors or sizes that users can select from with a single click. And of course, the customer will be able to pay for the transaction using Apple Pay with any of the debit or credit cards in the user’s Apple Wallet, and verify the purchase with a single touch using Touch ID.
That is a rundown of the first wave of Business Chat capabilities to get the ball rolling, but the hope is that developers will take hold of these capabilities and integrate them in their own ways into their own applications. While Business Chat won’t be available publicly until next year, it is available to registered developers immediately; Genesys, Salesforce and LivePerson are already on board.
Registered developers will be able to develop and test apps with internal users, but they won’t be accessible to the public at large until release.
Business Chat opens a world of possibilities for developers to leverage in building far more engaging long-term customer experiences for their iOS customers – for Android users, not so much (in fact, nothing at all).
Strategically it is building on one of Apple’s standard strategies which is to make everything better so long as you stay within the “Apple Family of Products.” However, Apple still represents the majority of mobile purchases, and it’s a fairly sure bet that every contact center manufacturer will want in on Business Chat.
Further, it shows the growing importance of chat – there were no references to toll-free numbers. Rather than flitting from app to app for shopping, mobile purchases, engaging customer service, finding store locations, making personal payments, and so on, all of that will now be available in Messages – just like it is in WeChat. Fancy that.