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Apple's Business Chat: Big News for Contact Centers

As I mentioned in my recent post on Apple's developer conference announcements, virtually unnoticed among a slew of consumer-oriented news was a major play for contact centers. I'm talking about Business Chat, an iOS capability that will integrate with Apple's Messages and other apps and allow contact centers and CRM systems the ability to deliver users a vastly improved customer experience.

In developing Business Chat, due next year, Apple is effectively taking a page out of WeChat's playbook. WeChat, a hugely popular messaging/social networking service owned by Chinese provider Tencent, has evolved into so much more -- adding payment capabilities, e-commerce, games, advertising, and taxi hailing, for example. WeChat has 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.

Chat... And Then Some

With Business Chat, Apple will provide businesses with a text-based method for communicating and engaging with customers through their contact center or CRM systems. Not only will it allow businesses to communicate with customers, but also let those customers make payments and complete other tasks. At its base, Business Chat provides a persistent chat capability through Apple's messaging app, Messages, and will provide access to all of the existing Messages capabilities.

Customers will be able to 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 only an "opaque ID" (along with the language and region) until the customer chooses to divulge more information. The business will be able to maintain the chat, but will not have access to any personally identifiable information until the customer so chooses. In effect, Apple is putting the customer in control of all Business Chat communications.

The chat will be persistent, allowing the customer to return to it at any time. A customer might use Business Chat to search for a product, query a customer service rep about that product, order it, pay for it through Apple Pay, track the order, and access customer service as needed after delivery... and the rep will know exactly what the customer purchased and when.

Linking Up

Developers will be able to include intent links when integrating Business Chat into applications. This means when a customer clicks to start a chat from a product page, the customer service rep will know exactly from which page the chat initiated. And, with group links, an app develop will be able to direct chats to specific internal groups, such as specialists in different product lines, or to specific company locations. With group links, a company could eliminate the need for skills-based routing.

Since Business Chat will run on Messages, it will support attachments and allow customers to link photos or videos to help the customer service reps better understand their requirements. In response, the customer service reps will be able to send forms, and the iOS device's QuickType keyboard will offer suggestions to help in entering information like email address, phone number, mailing address, or location with a single click.

Business Chat also will include built-in functions for typical use cases. Time Picker will allow 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, from which the user could select 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 his or her Apple Wallet, and verify the purchase with a single touch using Touch ID.

Just the Start

Apple will get the ball rolling with this first wave of Business Chat capabilities, but the hope is that developers will take hold of these and integrate them in their own ways into applications. While Business Chat won't be generally available until next year registered developers have access to it now; Genesys, Salesforce, and LivePerson have already said they're on board.

Registered developers will be able to develop and test apps with internal users, but the apps won't be accessible to the public at large until Business Chat goes GA.

Business Chat opens a world of possibilities for developers to leverage in building far more engaging long-term customer experiences for their iOS customers, but, for Android users, not so much (in fact, nothing at all). Strategically Apple is building on one of its 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 provider will want in on Business Chat.

Further, Apple's moves here shows the growing importance of chat -- this announcement comes sans any 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.

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