When everyone is heads-down glued to their phones, it's usually because they're tapping away, sending messages back and forth. The ubiquity of instant messaging has trained all of us to ping someone with a text or chat message instead of the last-century method of making a phone call.
This behavior modification has an important impact on business. Recent research from BI Intelligence found that customers are more likely to shop at a business they can engage with through a chat app. Facebook, Google and other companies already offer their own solutions for doing this with tools like Messenger and Google My Business.
Apple is finally jumping into this area, launching Apple Business Chat. The feature is in preview and is set for release later this year with iOS 11. It'll integrate an iMessage-style option right inside Apple Maps and search results on one's iPhone.Apple Business Chat empowers customers to reach out to a business directly through iMessage. Credit: Apple
You'll also be able to begin a conversation with a business through Siri and Spotlight search. It leverages Apple's ecosystem to deliver a frictionless experience, something that has traditionally been a strength of Facebook and Google. [Looking for live chat solutions? Here are a few of our recommendations.]
Closing the final loop
The strategy for Apple is critical. A presentation archived from the company's Worldwide Developer Conference details how one could go from searching for a business to striking up a conversation right on the iPhone.
"In looking at what [Apple is] offering, it's a straightforward kind of step for people to take advantage of the ubiquity of people's smartphones and knowing their location and leveraging that to get people connected with business," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research. "This then provides the business with another tool to interact with the customers directly."
The biggest question mark, according to O'Donnell, is automation. For example, businesses with a Facebook page can use Messenger to deliver an automatic message once someone writes in. This way consumers get the immediate feedback, and it buys the business time to respond.
With smaller shops especially, not all owners are available to hop right onto their phones and respond. For the feature to be more practical, some type of automated response system should be built in, according to O'Donnell.
Embracing the future
Apple Business Chat is but one of many ways that businesses can embrace digital tools for communicating with current and potential customers.
"Data shows more and more people are clicking on ads online, particularly on mobile, ordering products, and doing most of their research with their smartphone," said O'Donnell. "[For] a local business … [these devices] have considerable value, [giving them] the ability to tap into how a smartphone can recognize where a person is and what sorts of things they're searching for."
Business Chat is available in preview with iOS 11. One must sign up for the developer preview to try it out, keeping in mind there are likely to be bugs and other instabilities with the current version. Additionally, Apple may announce other features as it gets closer to a launch date.