Strolling in late to the game, AirPods in ears, Apple’s thrown its hat into the ‘instant messaging for business‘ ring with the launch of Apple Business Chat. The newest edition to Apple’s ecosystem joins the likes of WhatsApp, LINE, Messenger, and WeChat in venturing into the business sector with new messaging features. Set to launch in the fall with the release of iOS 11, Apple Business Chat will add new functionality for businesses looking to reach customers via yet another messaging platform: iMessage.
In classic Apple fashion, the company isn’t the first to innovate on what’s become the trend of targeting customers through an easily accessible and highly engaged messaging platform. It does, however, hope to do it best.
As for me– I’m not 100 percent convinced. Sure, Apple’s got a tight ecosystem which means that it can integrate natively with Apple Pay, Maps, and Safari. The comparatively low penetration of iPhones in the market, however, limits Apple’s potential to shake it up. That, coupled with the fact that LINE, WeChat, and Messenger have already been in the business messaging game for quite some time means that Apple’s showing up pretty late to the game. In fact, given its global market share, its experience, and its experimentation with chat bot technology, Facebook’s Messenger seems like a much better bet for SMBs looking to invest in a consumer messaging platform to target customers.
Here, I’ll go through some of the novelties of Apple Business Chat, and explain why small businesses might be better off investing in Messenger for their business to consumer communication.
How will Apple Business Chat work?
Like LINE, WeChat, and Messenger, Apple Business Chat aims to capitalize on the amount of time that users spend on their mobile devices inside chat apps, which currently surpasses that of social media. With more of a focus on customer service than marketing or eCommerce, it will be a way for customers to contact a company for support, to make purchases, or to ask general queries. Here’s a breakdown of some of the unique features that Apple Business Chat will offer:
- Integration with Apple Pay, Maps, and Safari: Probably the biggest benefit of Apple Business Chat is its native integration with the Apple ecosystem. Searching for a business using Safari or Maps will give customers the option of sending a company an iMessage directly from within those apps, while Apple Pay integration will allow customers to make payments directly within iMessage.
- Seamless web and mobile access: With iMessage linked to iPhones, iPads, and Macs, users can access iMessage chat from any of their iOS devices. Companies can also add links to their iMessage chat on their website or in emails so that customers have a direct link (literally) to its customer service line. These links can be tagged so that you can see how people are most frequently accessing a chat.
- Contextually rich: The iMessage Store offers the ability to create apps within the app (similar to the LINE store, or Inception), meaning that companies can create apps to use within iMessage in order to extend its customer service functionality. During its WWDC demo, Apple wowed the audience with an example of being able to choose a seat on an airplane within the iMessage app. Another example for service businesses would be the option of scheduling appointments within the app. It also has support for photos, videos, and documents, adding another layer of richness to communication.
- Integration with Customer Service software: While it’s currently limited to four customer service products– Salesforce, Genesys, LivePerson, and Nuance– other customer service companies like Zendesk and Zoho CRM are already planning to add integration with Apple Business Chat. It will use what Apple is calling “chat intent values” to route the appropriate messages to the right customer service agents. With its tagging features, a company can also put product codes or details into chat links on products so that agents will know exactly which product a customer is inquiring about when they hit the iMessage button.
- Privacy: Unlike Messenger with Facebook, iMessage isn’t linked to a public profile. This means that users are offered an initial layer of privacy when reaching out to a company for customer service. Only when prompted will they need to share information like email or shipping address. Customers will always be the ones to send the first message, and they can even pick up where they left off in a conversation, months after the fact– a connection with customer service software that logs customer communication makes this possible. Customers also have the option of hiding messages from companies in their iMessage feed to ensure privacy.
While these features sound promising and exciting for both businesses and customers, the reality of the fact is that the iOS platform still lacks in some key areas that would make it a worthwhile investment for SMBs. Here’s why Facebook’s Messenger might be a better option:
iOS only has a fraction of the messaging market
The proverbial elephant in the room is the fact that Apple and its operating system are still largely underrepresented on a global scale. Because iMessage is only available on iOS devices, it’s limited to users with an iPhone. According to recent stats from Gartner, despite being the global number one seller of smartphones at the end of Q4 2016, Apple still only has 17.9 percent of the global market share of smartphones. Compare that to Android, which has 80.7 percent market share, and it seems laughable to target only users with an iOS device. Using a messaging platform available on both operating systems means that you could potentially target 98.6 percent of all smartphone users instead of just a fraction. On top of that, there are few stats showing iMessage usage numbers compared to other messaging apps.
Why Messenger is better
As noted in the graph above, Messenger is quickly climbing its way to the top of the mobile messaging ranks. With 900 million monthly active users (second only to Facebook-owned WhatsApp), it’s available for both iOS and Android devices, giving it a much bigger potential reach than iMessage. Investing in building messaging capabilities for one messaging platform would be less hassle than investing in two or more, especially if more consumers are much likelier to have access to one (Messenger) over the other (iMessage).
Apple Pay has seen slow uptake
One of the key selling points of Apple Business Chat is the ability to seamlessly pay with Apple Pay, but according to a survey from PYMENTS and InfoScout, it’s not necessarily a dealmaker for consumers. As of March 2017, only 21.9 percent of consumers surveyed had tried Apple Pay. For those who used it, 63.4 and 60.1 percent of consumers said it was “about the same” in terms of ease of use and speed at checkout, respectively, when compared to other methods. Notably, the percentage of users who thought that it was “much better” at ease of use and speed at checkout has gone down from 47.4 percent and 50.8 percent in October 2015, to 31.3 percent and 35.8 percent, respectively, in March 2017. For those who hadn’t tried it, 48.6 percent said that they were satisfied with their current payment methods.
Why Messenger is better
Despite not having its own payment system, Messenger hasn’t shied away from incorporating eCommerce into its messaging functionality with the use of connected eCommerce solutions like Shopify. The ability to let users click on a link from a Facebook ad and complete purchases directly from within Messenger is just one example of how being connected with Facebook, the leading social platform for driving sales, can benefit businesses more than iMessage. Facebook chat bots, which I’ll touch on next, are also driving conversational commerce to help consumers make purchases directly from within the Messenger app, which is similar to what Apple has planned with its Apple Pay integration.
iMessage is being built for human communication
This might sound like a good thing, especially considering a recent GetApp survey showing that consumers would prefer to speak with humans rather than robots for their customer service qualms, but the seismic shift towards everything AI might put iMessage out of favor with automation-hungry and resource-light customer service departments. Apple’s been adamant about the fact that its aim is to provide personal and human interaction between consumers and customer service reps, yet all the stats are pointing elsewhere.
According to Gartner, AI and chatbots are at the frontier of business to consumer communication, predicting that by 2019, AI platform services will cannibalize revenues for 30 percent of market leading companies. Historically speaking, companies not investing in or foreseeing disruptive technologies are less likely to adapt to and survive the shift when it does happen. It likely won’t spell the end of Apple, but it might mean trouble for its its ventures into business messaging. While it does seem a bit short-sighted for iMessage, they could be waiting for AI technologies to improve in order to invest.
Why Messenger (could be) better
Messenger may be scaling back its AI and chat bot efforts after hitting a 70 percent failure rate for answering user queries, but it’s still making more strides than the competition on the chat bot front. Sephora is one example of a company that used Messenger bots in order to get more customers to make appointments for in-store makeovers, resulting in an 11 percent increase in in-store makeover bookings and five less steps in the booking process for customers. As Facebook Messenger continues its route towards advancements in chat bots with a focus on improving the quality of bots rather than the quantity, it’s poised to remain a big player in the chat bots for messaging sector.
Don’t dive into Apple Business Chat just yet
Apple Business Chat may be all hyped up at the moment, but once you dig a bit deeper, you can see that despite all of its bells and whistles, it may not actually be the best option for your business. Messenger is a lot further along on the messaging for business front (albeit Apple Business Chat still hasn’t been released), and considering its larger user base, experience with eCommerce, and investment in chat bots, it might be worth sticking to Messenger before diving head first into Apple Business Chat this fall. If you do want to play around with it though, you can request to do so in the Apple Business Chat sandbox.