By Sebastian Ferrari
Update: Business Chat is now available in a public beta on iOS 11.3 and with limited functionality on macOS 10.13.4.
Apple will soon launch a new platform for consumers to message businesses directly, right from their iPhones and iPads. They call it Business Chat and it could be a game changer for how commerce is done online.
With Business Chat, users can message businesses and buy products directly within the conversation.
Why does this matter?
Big picture: think of messaging as a new channel for your business, one that has the potential to surpass the web, social media and mobile apps. A big player in this space is Facebook, with Facebook Messenger (1.3 billion users) and WhatsApp Business (another 1.3 billion users, mostly outside the U.S.). Facebook Messenger has compiled some stats that give a sense of how consumers naturally use and gravitate toward messaging:
WhatsApp Business recently launched and is geared toward small businesses. But they aren’t stopping there — later this year WhatsApp will release an enterprise solution for global companies.
Lastly, consider China, where almost every internet interaction takes place on what was originally (and still is) a messaging platform: Tencent’s WeChat. Everyday WeChat’s 900 million users use the app to do everything from sending a payment to hailing a taxi (the app essentially runs an “app store” inside it). This could very well be what the future looks like for other messaging platforms (for more insight on WeChat, see this article from Andreesen Horowitz).
What do I need to know about Business Chat?
Business Chat allows iPhone and iPad users to send messages to businesses. Not only can users talk to customer support, they can also do things like select and buy products or book appointments. This commerce aspect sets it apart from what Facebook offers currently in Messenger. It is essentially a brand new channel for customer support and sales.
Your customer can book an appointment directly within the conversation.
Do my customers need to download an app to use Business Chat?
No, it’s built right into the Messages app on iPhones and iPads on iOS 11.3 and on Macs running macOS 10.13.4.
When does it launch?
Business Chat will enter a public beta with the release of iOS 11.3 sometime later this spring. A handful of companies (Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo) have already signed up to be part of this beta release.
How big of an audience will there be for Business Chat?
Considering that there are currently 1.3 billion Apple devices in use, and in early 2016 Eddy Cue (Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services) revealed that at its peak there are 200,000 iMessages sent per second, there’s a huge pool of very active users, many of whom might be existing customers of yours.
What does my company need to do to get on Business Chat?
If you are already using a customer service platform like LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance or Genesys, it will be very simple to connect to Business Chat. Your first step will be to register with Apple. By doing that your business will be discoverable via different apps and services on iOS (like Maps, Safari, Siri and Spotlight). If you aren’t using a customer service platform, The Nerdery can help you select the right one or build a custom solution to meet your specific needs.
By registering with Apple, your business will show up in various places in iOS with a messaging icon that lets the user initiate or continue a messaging conversation with your business.
Will I need to update my app or website?
You can integrate context-aware links to Business Chat from your app or website. For example, you could have a “Message” button on a product detail page and when a user taps that button, the customer service agent will know right away what product they were looking at and even the specific configuration of the product. After the user has resolved their questions with your customer service agent, they can complete their purchase right within the Business Chat.
Last but not least, if you have an iMessage App already, you can also take advantage of that functionality within a Business Chat conversation.
Where can I get more information on Business Chat?
Here are some links to get you started:
Apple’s Business Chat Website
Apple's 2017 Developer Conference Talk on Business Chat
Business Chat Developer Specifications
How can The Nerdery help?
The Nerdery offers strategy, design and development services to help companies and organizations build transformative digital services and products. We can provide strategic advice on how to leverage Business Chat (or other messaging platforms) in your existing apps or websites. We can also design and develop all the integrations you’ll need to make sure your customers have a seamless and excellent experience on your apps, websites, and in Business Chat.
*All images from developer.apple.com/business-chat
Published on 03.21.18