Meet Apple Business Chat: The Most Important iOS Feature Since Siri.


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How Apple Is Secretly Making Siri Indispensable.

“Apple Business Chat with Apple Pay Cash is the most important iOS announcement since the release of Siri. It is a stunning new paradigm.”—Brian Roemmele, June 5th, 2017

Your smartphone has created a new world of communication systems that almost go unnoticed.  Clearly the voice aspect of the phone will never disappear.  Indeed in an ironic twist of fate, we will be liberated back to using our voices again, even a full generation or so had just gotten used to not talking.  How will this turn of events come about?  I call this the Voice First revolution and along the way we will also have other new tools to communicate.   This will hold very true more than anyplace else with business to consumer and consumer to business (B to C) communications.

Commerce Is About Communication 

Today B to C communications are a hit or miss mixture that has archeological strata that goes back to toll-free numbers on up to Slack, Facebook and traditional website chat and CRM systems. All systems and contact points have their deficits.  Since the invention of the iPhone, there have been a atomization of contact posts with apps.  Each app had it’s own adaption and each implementation creates some form of friction as they are siloed into the app sandbox.  There has not been deeply OS integrated way to contact a business and to have that business guide you through images, email, web, calendar appointments, maps, real-time shopping and payments.  This problem demands a deep OS solution and up till now, it was ignored or worse not seen as a problem—until now.

The Communication Platform Deeply Linked Inside Of iOS 11

Today (June 9th, 2017) Apple released the details of one of the most important new aspects of iOS since the release of Siri.  Some may find this statement to be bombastic and some may not see Siri as important.  However over the arc of the next 10 years, Siri and the new communication platform built around Apple Business Chat (Business Chat).  Business Chat is not a creature of some lab, the dream of a startup founder it is the results of Apple own customer service system, Apple is one of the worlds most profitable retailers. Most of the beta testing was done inside of Apple’s own Apple Store app testing chasing, real-time scheduling and shopping.  Business Chat is an indigenous element of iOS 11 and it is not just part of the Apple Messages app, it is deeply linked across all major Apple apps and now it is open to developers.  Here is a short overview on what was announced today:

  • Any iOS 11 user will be able to start a Business Chat thread with businesses they find through Siri, Maps, Safari, and Spotlight search.
  • Customers can ask questions, schedule appointments, make purchases, and more by talking directly to Business Chat users in the Messages app.
  • Business Chat is built for shopping with purchases handled via Apple Pay and Apple Pay Cash.
  • Business Chat will be able to let customers schedule events using their personal calendars.
  • If customers need more information that can’t be delivered via text, Business Chat can prompt them to download standalone apps.
  • Developers can link QR Codes, Core NFC and photo uploads in Business Chat to allow for real world interactions.
  • Business Chat uses the complete iMessage extensions that support more complex tasks, like selecting a seat in a concert venue ordering food from a menu.
  • Business Chat HTML code can be dropped into any website.
  • Business Chat is integrated with several top customer support platforms, launch partners are Salesforce, Genesys, Nuance, and LivePerson.

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Up to this point, no operating system has ever been transformed to be so deeply linked to a communication platform.  Although it may be easy to just see this as a minor chat ability, it will turn out to fundamentally change the way we interact with businesses, shop and pay.  The Business Chat icons will show up across just about all of Apple’s built-in apps.

Q: Can I Buy This By Apple Pay Cashing You In Messages? A: Yes You Can!

Apple Pay and Apple Pay Cash is the payment platform for Business Chat.  Naturally this would be the payment system and it is no accident that Apple Pay Cash was announced at the same time.  I believe that Apple Pay Cash, and the ability to send low transaction amounts with no cost to the sender or the receiver (the business) will be one of the most transformative elements to the impact of Business Chat.  This can bring rise to a number of new businesses and applications that may be similar to the “gig economy” of Fivver and other systems.  The power of Business Chat and Apple Pay Cash is that it will not have a middle party that will be paid.

Business Chat is revolutionary in many ways.  One aspect is it completely cuts out all middle parties.  Although the merchant front end may be a subscription service, there will be 100s of free or very low cost apps that will become the font end system to Business Chat.  This is also true for payments.  The business does not need to have Square, Stripe, PayPal or any other middle party to accept payments.  This is one of the disruptive forces of Apple Pay Cash that was also announced this week.  Simply put, Apple has created a platform whereby online or retail merchants can engage in a conversation, a guided shopping experience, service interaction and get paid in cash with no middle party taking a 3%-5% cut.

Today a typical shopping experience is bifurcated by a number of disconnected channels.  For example you may start a search for a restaurant in your area in Safari, you can also start this search in Siri or Maps. The results would be usually come down to a menu.  You may find what you like on the menu but you have questions.  Today, you would have to place a call with the restaurant and perhaps either place the food order over the phone or hang up and return to the menu and online ordering system.  With Business Chat in Safari, Maps and Siri you san chat to the restaurant directly in the Messages app and see menu recommendations and actually place and order and pay all inside of messages.  Of course with Apple Pay Cash, the customer can pay for the order and tip (they can even tip after the order) inside of the messenger app. This is high order efficiency and although the merchant will need yet another platform to support, it will become a standard over time and likely to be expected as a direct contact point.

Consider the Hair Salon, typically the appointment setup is a highly complex interaction of “due you have time on this day” conversations that can take a great deal of time over the phone. Using Business Chat a receptionist can push an interactive schedule tailored to your needs and link it to your iOS calendar to work out any conflicts.  The patron can also use Business Chat to pay for the service and tip the stylist.  All of the patron’s contact information can be sent automatically without any further interactions. The same type of interaction can be done with doctors and other businesses that need to reconcile schedules in real time.

Consider the typical online shopping experience.  You find a great website but you need guidance or you just don’t want to search around.  You click on the Business Chat icon and you are now in a live chat with a salesperson.  They can pick out what you need and present it in Messages for you to consider.  They can also send you to a website, a map or direct you to an app.  You may like the selection the salesperson presents and you can, with the tap of your finger, purchase the goods via Apple Pay or Apple Pay cash.  All of the customer;’s contact information can be sent automatically without any further interactions.

Business Chat can not only spell the end of the POS system and payment systems as we know it in retail sales, it may also spell the end of the shopping carts and payment systems in online sales.  Some may argue this is bombastic and I today it may see this way, however over time this wave will move across all OSs and platforms.  Business Chat is creating the ability for businesses to have a “High Touch” experience with customers and to differentiate not having a Business Chat contact point will be a competitive disadvantage.

Business Chat Is For Every Business 

Of course there are systems that do similar things, but just like all of Apple’s past innovations, they are not the first to market, they usually are the most refined and useful product.  Apple has a rich framework of developer tools that allow for the business backend systems to use the more popular CRM systems to become the front end.  I also believe new very well crafted systems will surface that will allow the smallest to the largest businesses to use this new customer contact modality.  I have already created a few apps using Business Chat tools that include a new online/retail shopping system.   One aspect is an Amazon Go Store-like retail shopping experience that includes QR codes, UPC codes and a live online inventory database with live chat interactions with a local or remote sales associate.  It is early days but the testing has produced robust results.

Shopping and customer service will be the primary use case for Business Chat but it will not be limited to this.  I see many other use cases that will allow for expert interactions from service people assisting customers in real-time to medical professionals using Business Chat to interact with patient progress and follow up.

Massive Startup Opportunities 

The opportunities for startups and legacy businesses around this new communication platform are as big as they come.  Of course the features of Business Chat will be replicated by Google and share many of the same functionalities.  Not only can new businesses be built on these platforms, the opportunity to build frontends for merchants are limitless.  There are over 1000 MCC areas that can have a specific system for their industry.  Astute developers will bring these new, cross platform tools to these segments and offer deep utility.

The Voice First Future Of  Business Chat

Business Chat is just the first version of this new deeply linked communication concept.  In the future we will see integration into FaceTime and other Apple systems. With FaceTime Business Chat users can share live video interactions and pay using Apple Pay or Apple Pay Cash.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Business Chat is the obvious connection to Siri.  A dialogue or conversation is simple and still the most powerful tool humans have.  Anything we type can be presented by voice in a more congenitally and mechanically efficient way. Apple is opeingin a Siri conduit to just about any business.  Anything you can type you can much easier say.

Siri continues to become far more useful.  This week also saw the release of HomePod. [1]  There is absolutely no doubt Apple sees the long view and Business Chat along with WorkFlow [2] will become the foundation for Siri to become orders of magnitude more useful.  By just interacting with Siri via your voice, Siri can create all of the interactions I presented here for you without you typing a single letter.  This will be as simple as “Hey Siri, ask Roscoe’s Pizza Gourmet if they have a Gluten Free option”.  You can already see the genius Apple has here by building this new B to C platform, it is a gateway to the Voice First world.

It is no small accident that Nuance, the company that supplied part of Siri’s speech recognition has built deep integration to Business Chat is a launch partner for Apple.  The company stated on their announcement is telling [3]:

“Have you watched today’s Developer Preview Session at Apple WWDC?

We did, and with all the new products and features coming out we were thrilled to see Nuance, in the middle of all the excitement. Apple introduced Business Chat and with it a new opportunity for brands to connect with millions of consumers using Apple Messages (iMessage).

Nuance Customer Service Messaging allows brands to connect with their customers via iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and others, to solve customer issues immediately and in context. With the Nuance Digital Engagement Platform, brands are able to initiate direct conversations for efficient, conversational customer service or sales engagements.

The solution is to use the Nina Virtual Assistant to be the “always on” virtual agent.  Nina delivers first contact resolution of 80% and more – meaning that the consumer gets all the information they wanted from the Nina virtual chat.  This means that 20% or less of incoming messages will need to be routed to a contact center agent.

Real time chat is made possible by Nuance connecting to contact center live chat agents when they are available, using natural language understanding (NLU) that intelligently routes chats to the Nuance Agent Desktop.  Nuance’s NLU routing automatically detects the customer request from the chat message and routes to the agent or agent pool who best able to service the customer for that specific request.  This shortens the time that it takes to engage with the customer, and also speeds getting the customer the answer they need.”

 

Business Chat clearly will also extend to automation on the merchant side, a Siri for the merchant to respond.  Not all interactions truly require a human.  The ultimate path for Apple is to have a Business form of Siri on the other side answering most of the common questions.  In an almost comically poetic way we will, in the arc of 10 years experience Siri interfacing with an aspect of herself to answer questions and complete commerce transactions.  Some may call this a Chat Bot but by the time this all becomes clear the very idea of calling it a Chat Bot will be like calling an iPhone a micro Main Frame computer.  This element is a big part of the future plans Apple has to build a closed-loop feedback system directly to merchants.  It is an idea of massive scope and brilliance.

The historic Mary Meeker slide presentations [4] from last year to this year have shown an astounding spike in use of Voice First interfaces with the simple “make a call” use case to the actual changes in the way Google searches are made, more closely matching human dialogues.  The extension of Business Chat as a standard business commutation platform these interaction will go way beyond searches and onto a vital internal connection to the business.  Clearly this bypasses all prior search engine based interactions and can be troublesome to Google.

Business Chat is the gateway to bring the Voice First, Voice Commerce, Voice Payments world to Apple users.  The new Siri that we will begin to see in the fall and shipped on HomePod will already have been far better than the Siri we have today.  The addition of Business Chat will make the utility of Siri orders of magnitude more powerful than any Voice First platform in the market.  Although I see an abundance of  paths for Google, Amazon and Microsoft to meet Apple, Apple has a very unique position.  And although the growth of Siri of the years seems to have stalled, buckle up because we are now going into turbo mode.  I have said the over the next 10 years 50% of human to computer interactions will be via our Voice [5].  Business Chat is a very large leap for Apple into what I call, the Voice First revolution [5].

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[1] readmultiplex.com/2017/06/05/meet-homepod-apples-voice-first-platform/

[2] readmultiplex.com/2017/03/22/heres-how-apples-acquisition-of-workflow-will-help-siri/

[3] whatsnext.nuance.com/customer-experience/apple-imessage-business-chat-customer-service/

[4] readmultiplex.com/2017/05/31/the-mary-meeker-2017-trends-slide-deck-is-here/

[5] readmultiplex.com/2017/03/04/a-year-ago-i-wrote-about-the-coming-voice-first-revolution/

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