Apple's Grant Ritchie
Apple's Grant Ritchie on stage today during Apple's developer's conference.

It's a text- and messenger-crazy world, and Apple wants in on the business side.

The consumer giant debuted Apple Business Chat for its Messages application today, a chat-based customer service channel for businesses. 

Apple officials debuted the new tool at the company's WWDC Developer Conference in San Jose, Calif. today. Officials called it a "powerful new way for your customers to get answers to their questions, learn about and purchase your products, and engage with your existing support channels."

'Always-On Customer Service'

Essentially, it's a live-chat function in Apple's iMessage ecosystem that connects with the 1 billion active Apple iOS apps device users use — Apple Maps, Siri, Search and their own website and apps. Customers can also use it to pay for items through Apple Pay or schedule follow up support sessions through calendar integration.

“Apple Business Chat validates a growing trend where businesses aim to offer ‘always-on’ customer service, across any customer channel of their choice," Scott Horn, Chief Marketing Officer of [24]7, told CMSWire in an email. "Apple’s strong security and data-protection measures bode well for the adoption of this technology."

Horn sees great potential for businesses integrating Apple Business Chat with intelligent chatbot technology.

"Apple Business Chat has tremendous potential to allow consumers to more easily find answers and information and communicate in natural language through consumer-friendly applications," Horn added. "Chatbots can be used to answer both simple and complex customer service questions as well as perform transactions across iPhone, iPad and iWatch.”   

Live Chat in Text Form

Customers will be able to from inside their iOS messenger platform connect with businesses through chat, pay for items, share photos of broken products, share videos and book flights after choosing seats.

Apple's thinking here? Forget the "contact us" and 800 number on company "about us" pages. For consumers wanting to chat with a business, messaging icons will appear directly within search results on their iOS mobile devices to help them strike a conversation with a business.

Following Facebook's Lead?

Sounds like a familiar tune. Facebook targeted businesses through its Messenger App at its developer conference in April 2016. 

The social media giant launched its Messenger Platform (Beta) with bots at its Facebook Developers Conference. Facebook has deployed its bots to provide Messenger users with automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates in addition to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications and live automated messages.

Twitter has longed try to leverage its direct messaging for business and customer service purposes.

Apple still may have a long way to go. Constellation Research analysts in a blog post yesterday noted, "iMessage isn't as widely used as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, both of which report more than 1 billion unique users."

But Apple's competitively in the mix now, according to analyst Cindy Zhou of Constellation.

"Chatbot customer support has already become popular within Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp and WeChat in Asia," Zhou said, adding, "Apple iMessage has an opportunity to compete in this space with its native app." 

apple business chat

Holding Off on Release Till They 'Get It Right'

Apple's Business Chat is not yet publicly available. Apple wants to "get it right," as Apple's Grant Ritchie said on stage today in San Jose.

"Elevating customer service takes coordination and takes time," he said.

Apple officials are hoping for a success, naturally, something they've already had in the business arena ($25 billion in revenue and climbing, according to some reports).

Ritchie said the new tool will give developers the opportunity to add "chat intent" tags to retarget and improve conversations with customers as they continue to seek answers and help.

Agents can have product details targeted for chatting customers. And there will be features added to ensure the right customer representative in the right location can get the message for discussion.

"You don't want to waste your time waiting on hold," Apple's Ritchie said. "A telephone call is not visual. Sometimes you need to show businesses what you're seeing."