First Impressions: Apple Business Chat

Imagine ordering a replacement credit card or changing your hotel reservation being as easy as texting your friend. That was Apple’s vision when they introduced Apple Business Chat as part of iOS 11.3, released in March 2018. If you’re an iPhone, iPad, or Mac user, Apple Business Chat brings the convenience of live chat support to an app that’s already installed on your device, Messages.

American Express recently invited me to participate in their pilot of Apple Business Chat. This was the first time I’d seen it in the wild, and I was really excited to take it for a test drive. Keep in mind that parts of this review are shaped by American Express’ implementation choices, so your results may vary.

Win: Authentication

Apple Business Chat providers can use a companion iMessage app to authenticate users by signing into their app.

Apple Business Chat solves a challenge that many contact centers struggle to get right, authentication. Particularly in healthcare and financial services, it’s imperative that we know who we’re talking to. Unfortunately, many are forced to rely on ineffective methods of proving a customer’s identity, like asking security questions. Because Apple Business Chat can be integrated with apps already installed on the device, proving your identity is as easy as signing into the app. American Express’ app makes this particularly easy, because Touch ID can be used to sign in. Therefore, a simple touch of the home button was all I needed to establish trust with the representative. Face ID will likely behave the same way on newer iPhones, and Touch ID and Face ID work in a way that keeps all of my precious biometric information on my device. This feature is largely up to the service provider to implement, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of flawed knowledge-based authentication.

Win: Quick but Not Real-Time

Live chat support implies synchronous communication, and in another post I explain how important it is to keep the tempo high. The length of time it takes to chat with a company who’s agents are juggling multiple customers simultaneously is one of my biggest frustrations. In traditional chat, particularly on mobile devices, this requires keeping a browser open the whole time. The experience is much better in the Messages app, because notifications work the same as text messages. The customer can go about their regular activity and reply when it’s convenient without fear of missing messages. Additionally, text messages don’t have the cultural expectation of being real time. Pauses and slight delays are socially acceptable and expected, taking time pressure off of agents so they can handle more contacts.

Win: Contact Cards

The contact information screen shows that the Apple Business Chat provider is verified by Apple. It also hows how quickly they usually respond, business hours, and other ways to reach them like phone and web.

When tapping the info button, you can see the business’ contact card just as if they were a friend in your phone. The business can input their contact information like operating hours, phone number, and website, and the customer can add them to their contacts list with just a tap. Customers can then initiate new messages through the Contacts app, instead of browsing to the website. Business contacts include the company’s logo and are denoted as “verified” to help keep scammers at bay, a distinct advantage over traditional text messaging.

Win: Survey in Place

With Apple Business Chat, it's easy for businesses to ask questions and provide a survey without leaving the Messages appl.

American Express concludes their chats by asking for feedback. It appears that Apple Business Chat includes the ability to ask questions directly in-line with messages and allows more versatile survey options through the companion iMessage app. This means that customers don’t have to leave Messages in order to provide feedback.

Loss: Message Privacy

Unlike traditional iMessages, Apple Business Chat messages are not private between the sender and the recipient. Apple intercepts all messages, has the ability to read their contents, and conducts analysis on them. This might be okay if you’re just checking on the status of your order, but additional privacy may be necessary for more sensitive conversations about finances and medical records. In fairness, this is not much different than other business live chat support providers, but it is a notable downgrade from the end-to-end encryption of normal iMessages.

Loss: Terms and Conditions Apply

American Express uses the built-in Messages app to display terms and conditions to accept before chatting.

The first time I contacted American Express by Apple Business Chat, I was presented with an absurdly long list of additional terms and conditions to accept. While the iMessage app integration allows companies flexibility to present these terms how they see fit, it’s just another contract for customers to ignore. In this case, I actually had to scroll through days of legalese in order to hit the accept button. Are there important disclosures in the terms? I’m sure. Will it matter? No.

Loss: Platform-Specific Investment

Apple Business Chat is only available on Apple devices, obviously. This means that any investment a business makes in Apple Business Chat will only serve customers with Apple devices. iPhone has significant market penetration, so the chances you’ll reach a good percentage of your customers is high. However, it’s important to understand your customer demographics before making an investment in Apple Business Chat. New Apple devices are a premium product, so it’s reasonable to think that Apple users could be the minority for some types of businesses.

Toss-Up: Message Syncing Risks

This screenshot shoes the initial messages presented by American Express and a request to accept their terms.

The continuity of user experience between Apple devices is one of their strongest selling points, but it’s not without risk. American Express rightfully reminds customers that, if enabled, Messages are synced across devices to all of your iPhones, iPads, and Macs. This is fantastic if you start a conversation on your Mac, but need to step away. Old-fashioned live chat can’t do that. However, it also opens up the possibility that someone else could see and participate in your conversation, if they have access to your other devices. It’s no different than texting, but it’s something to be aware of.


Andrew Gilliam

Andrew Gilliam is a passionate customer experience innovator and change agent. He’s developed new employee portals, created effective surveys, and built silo-busting escalation systems. Andrew’s background in Information Technology put him on the front-lines of customer service as an IT Support Center Analyst. His vision: deliver Amazing Customer Service and Technical Support™. Learn more at andytg.com, follow @ndytg on Twitter, and connect on LinkedIn.

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