Apple Business Chat: Tough to Beat on Messaging, Mobility, Brand

Much of my current research focus has been around messaging and chatbots, both of which tie into broader trends around UC&C. Increasingly, this extends into the contact center space, and with that come companies we don't normally focus on. Apple is one of them, and with the recent release of iOS 11 and the iPhone 8, the timing is good to revisit why it's an important company to watch.

The starting point is its June update around Business Chat, the details of which were ably covered here on No Jitter by my UCStrategies colleague and mobility expert, Michael Finneran. In this post, I'm going to filter Michael's coverage through a messaging-centric lens. Aside from providing a different frame of reference around what makes Business Chat relevant to No Jitter readers, I want to keep the dialog going about whether industry outsiders like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook represent threats or opportunities. I'll do my part here by summarizing the implications and drivers from three points of view.

What's In It for Apple?

  • In terms of the bigger picture, having largely saturated the consumer market, Apple needs an enterprise play -- not just for its own growth prospects, but to hang in with fellow outsiders and others that are following the same path. It has correctly identified the contact center as a pressing need, and Business Chat provides an immediate entry point that can pay dividends quickly at both ends.
  • The messaging angle is particularly relevant here because Business Chat is about the customer experience and improving operational efficiency in the contact center. Today, most messaging applications in the customer service realm are about driving e-commerce and automating service via chatbots. This set of needs is important to the contact center as well, but is fraught with all kinds of challenges that hold back adoption. Business Chat does support e-commerce with Apple Pay -- and that's another value driver. It's potentially huge, having been validated big time by the likes of WeChat in China. However, for now, it's secondary to the benefits of enabling a new channel for messaging, which is emerging as the channel of choice for the digerati.
  • Another messaging angle has to do with which companies Apple is really up against. Business Chat isn't about competing with Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, et al; rather, the targets are the big players, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, coming at this with their messaging platforms. I think this says a lot about how the competitive landscape is shifting, and the market power of these majors is impossible to ignore.
  • Since Business Chat ties into the full Apple ecosystem -- Siri, Spotlight, Safari, Maps, etc. -- the contact center opportunity presents another way to broaden adoption of all these applications, tying users evermore tightly to its almost self-contained universe.
  • One of Apple's partners-of-convenience in this foray is Nuance, for digital voice technology. That voice is part of Apple's thinking becomes especially important when taking that broad view of its competition. Nuance's Nina is the digital assistant of choice for Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other leading chat platforms. Connecting the dots here, Business Chat integrates with Siri, and to close this loop, Apple now has HomePod, an easy-to-overlook part of its iOS 11 update. HomePod may not be part of the story today, but it's not hard to see how it can be the starting point for a Business Chat session, either to the contact center or any other part of a business that interacts with customers.
  • What's In It for the Contact Center?

  • First and foremost, this is about live, person-to-person engagement -- and not with chatbots. That's a different opportunity/problem set, and Business Chat speaks to a challenge all contact centers are trying to address. Contact centers should view this as an opportunity for using a great UX to drive a great CX. In the consumer world, Apple is pretty hard to beat for UX, so the value for this form of messaging should be clear.
  • Building on this point, Business Chat also helps to validate messaging as a viable -- and even preferred channel -- for customer service. This is what's really disruptive for the contact center, and while much of the demand for messaging is driven by digital natives, it's also important to note the wide range of Apple endpoints that make this is a comfortable option for customers. Not only is Business Chat accessible across all these popular devices, but messaging is becoming their mode of choice. Contact centers are lagging in their support of messaging, so Business Chat makes sense, not just to bridge this gap, but also to help wean customers off voice.
  • Conversely, contact centers have too many channels to manage already, and omnichannel remains a long-term project at best. Furthermore, Business Chat will only increase the demands on live agents, so getting this to the top of the contact center priority list won't be easy. Contact centers will have trade-offs to consider here, and adoption will really depend on how pressing the need is to improve the CX. On that note, Business Chat can also gain adoption through lines of business, especially Marketing, which could use messaging in a variety of ways to drive deeper customer engagement.
  • Related to this, Business Chat as a messaging channel may make reaching the contact center too easy, and that has to be considered as well in the cost/benefit analysis. Going down-market, however, Business Chat could be a boon for smaller businesses with little or no contact center presence. Businesses could leverage Business Chat as a discovery vehicle to engage more with customers comprising its huge and loyal user base or to create awareness beyond that circle. This scenario may ultimately be more of an e-commerce play, but remains a good way to use messaging to engage with customers and prospects.
  • Operationally, Business Chat can be a productivity driver by enabling agents to manage multiple inquiries at once by using messaging. While it only supports inbound inquiries, Business Chat does so intelligently and protects privacy. The caller's identity is initially protected, but options are provided to indicate the reason for the inquiry -- called "intent" -- and that allows for a form of intelligent routing to the right type of agent or skill set. The privacy element is also important, since the contact is coming direct from the Apple ecosystem to the contact center. This form of engagement is very different from Apple's main messaging rival -- Facebook -- as customers have valid privacy concerns about using social media platforms as a channel to the contact center.
  • While Apple prefers end-to-end control, this isn't its native land, and to accelerate adoption, it has to come to market with some strategic integrations, namely with Genesys, Nuance, Salesforce, and LivePerson. At least for contact centers already working with these partners, this should make the business case easier to justify, along with mitigating the deployment risk that comes with new -- and unproven -- partners.
  • What's In It for Consumers?

  • Consumers are the most important cog in this machine, and if everything delivers as advertised, they'll get a more personalized CX. This is the Holy Grail now in the contact center, and it applies equally to customer engagement with live agents as it does to automated -- and hopefully personable as well as authentic -- engagement with chatbots.
  • As noted above, consumers should have fewer privacy concerns with Business Chat than they do compared to messaging options from social media platforms. Not only does Facebook have a past here, but as noted in Michael's analysis, privacy has always been a strong suit of Apple's, at least in the consumer world.
  • Another strong suit is the brand, and for Apple lovers, Business Chat makes for an even more complete universe. Familiarity and trust go a long way to driving adoption along with retaining your base, and Apple has both in spades -- on three fronts. First, at least in North America, the Apple brand rules for many if not most consumers, and the company doesn't miss very often with new offerings. Secondly, with Business Chat, consumers now have a friendly option to use the channel they love -- messaging -- to engage with businesses. Thirdly, and perhaps the biggest driver of all, is the ability to engage using the mode they love most -- mobility.
  • No other brand can bring all these pieces together at a time when contact centers need them the most, and consumers won't have much difficulty figuring that out. Time will tell if Apple still has it, but with Business Chat, it looks that way to me.