A practical guide to Apple Business Chat
Customers increasingly expect great service across all channels. And they want that same great service in the channels they’re most comfortable in. Earlier this year, Apple saw the number of active iPhone users break one billion for the first time. Given that iMessage is the default iOS messaging app, it’s safe to say that a huge number of people are familiar with the interface.
Fortunately for brands, Apple decided to roll out Apple Business Chat to enable B2C businesses to interact with their customers on the familiar iMessage interface.
But what exactly is Apple Business Chat? And how does it work? Find the answers to these questions, plus a whole lot more, below.
- What is Apple Business Chat?
- How does Apple Business Chat work?
- Why use Apple Messages for Business?
- What are the features of Apple Business Messaging?
- How to determine Apple Business Chat staffing levels
- How safe is Apple Business Chat?
- How to add Apple Business Chat to your website
- How much does Apple Business Chat cost?
- Best practices for using Apple Messages for Business
- Integrating Zendesk with Apple Business Chat
- Frequently asked questions
- Ready to try Apple Business Chat?
What is Apple Business Chat?
Apple Business Chat was initially launched in 2018 and it has since been rebranded as Apple Messages for Business. As TechCrunch explains, Apple Business Chat is essentially Apple’s push to shift communications, payments, and customer services away from the likes of Facebook Messenger, Google, and Twitter to its own platform.
Apple Business Chat allows customers and businesses to communicate with each other using Apple’s iMessage. In addition to messaging businesses, customers can use Apple Business Chat to schedule appointments, complete purchases, and share information.
Why is Apple Business Chat important?
Put simply, messaging is one of the fastest-growing channels in which businesses are interacting with their customers to provide service, complete sales, and market their products. And as the world’s leading smartphone seller, Apple’s default messaging application is one of the most popular in the world. This makes Apple Business Chat, which allows businesses to interact with customers over iMessage, very important.
Why should your business care about Apple Business Chat?
Your business should care about Apple Business Chat because it provides another medium through which you can reach and engage with new customers.
Also, by integrating Apple Business Chat within your existing sales, support, and marketing technology stack, you can converse with customers where they’re comfortable while still enjoying the efficiencies of your sales, support, and marketing technology.
How does Apple Business Chat work?
Apple Business Chat works by connecting Apple’s iMessage application with your choice of an approved message service provider (MSP). While you’ll work with Apple to connect your iMessage channel to your MSP, almost all of the channel and workflow configurations will be accomplished through your MSP. MSPs include popular software providers such as Zendesk, Podium, Bitrix24, Genesys, and many more.
Apple requires you to have your messaging integration reviewed by an Apple team twice: once after it’s been configured and another time before you are ready for launch. After you’ve set up and configured Apple Business Chat with your chosen MSP, your customers can message you to start conversations from within Search, Apple Maps, and Safari. You can also enable Apple Business Chat to accept customer messages on your website, from within your mobile app, and via email.
Notably, business chat is set up so that only customers can start conversations with your business. And when they do—unless it’s provided by the customer—you won’t see any personal information. Also, once a customer deletes the message thread, you won’t be able to contact that customer until they message you again. As mentioned before, you can also complete transactions with Apple Business Chat using Apple Pay.
Beyond that basic functionality, Apple Messages for Business is as extensible as your MSP is. You can do things like set up chatbots, triage conversations, trigger workflow automations, route tickets, and much more. Finally, since Apple requires all their registered MSPs to provide back-end systems integrations, you can fully integrate Apple Business Chat within your marketing, sales, and support software.
Why use Apple Messages for Business?
Converse with customers where and when they’re comfortable
Even so, in a 2020 survey, 17% of people surveyed said they use iMessage. And while it’s difficult to parse how many iPhone users leverage iMessage as their primary messaging app, Apple owns almost one quarter of the global smartphone market and iMessage is the iPhone’s default messaging app. What’s more, younger generations, such as Millennials, are even more likely to be iPhone users since they’re quicker to adopt technology.
In short, it’s highly likely that a significant portion of your customers, and future customers, will use iMessages. And having Apple Business Chat allows you to converse with those customers using the apps that they’re already familiar with.
Tap into the rapid growth of messaging
Conversations over the phone and via email are still more common for support interactions, but messaging is growing fast. In our 2022 CX Trends Report, messaging channels had the fastest-growing ticket volume compared to all other channels from 2020 to 2021. Social messaging ticket volume increased by 32% and SMS by 28%. By comparison, email ticket volume increased by 10% and phone by 24%. Incredibly, ticket volume on WhatsApp increased by 370% from 2020 to 2021.
Yet industry experts expect that messaging will grow well beyond customer care. In 2020, Rob Lawson, who handles Global Partnerships for Google, said:
“We’ll start to see the pendulum swing from customer care being the primary driver for business messages towards marketing, lead generation, and sales. To date we’ve seen businesses primarily motivated by reducing call center costs and frustrations for existing customers. In 2020 we’ll see increasing activity from brands deploying conversational techniques to engage new customers and drive incremental business value.”
Deflect tickets and engage customers asynchronously
There’s a reason messaging has seen such significant growth in recent years. Not only do customers love to use messaging in their daily life, but it can also make providing service more efficient for businesses. Unlike a phone call or live chat, it’s very easy for service agents and salespeople to interact with many customers simultaneously through messaging. This, of course, is thanks to the asynchronous nature of messaging solutions like Apple Business Chat.
On top of the efficiency of asynchronous communication, Apple’s messaging channel can deflect tickets by prompting customers to send a message rather than call, triage incoming conversations, collect customer information, fulfill orders, and answer FAQs.
What are the features of Apple Business Messaging?
Using Apple Business Messaging, customers can schedule appointments, meetings, and deliveries. And since it’s embedded within iOS, your customers can easily check their calendar for conflicts as they schedule their appointment. Also, businesses can send appointment reminders if they’ve received the customer’s permission to do so.
Purchase and payment support
By integrating Apple Pay into their messaging system, Apple makes it easy for your customers to select and pay for products, track orders, and share payment information. And businesses can create detailed product lists, support order tracking, and share important order information.
All iMessage features
All the reactions, GIFs, emojis, rich links, text effects, and file sharing you can use in iMessage are supported by Apple Business Chat. So when your customers interact with you on Apple’s Business Chat, they can message you just like they would a friend.
If you’re implementing Apple Business Chat, you’re required to choose an MSP with which to integrate the channel. Currently, there are at least 44 MSPs listed on Apple’s business registry. And according to Apple’s website, all MSPs are required to support (at least) all of the following features:
- Asynchronous conversations and intent-based routing.
- A customizable live agent console that supports Messages for Business features.
- Virtual bots or assistants flows to triage and hand off incoming conversations.
- Custom integrations with back-end systems such as CRMs, OMSs, and authentication systems.
- Conversational designers with easy-to-use graphical user interface tools.
Essentially, because Apple Business Chat is designed to integrate with an MSP, the features of this channel are determined in part by your choice of MSP.
How to determine Apple Business Chat staffing levels
With more than 1.5 billion Apple users, Apple Business Chat can be a great way to provide fast and convenient support. But many businesses are still figuring out how to operationalize it. Before you start using Apple Business Chat, use the Zendesk staffing calculator to assess your staffing needs.
Weekly utilized hours for a full-time agent:
Total utilized hours (weekly):
Estimated full-time agents needed:
Average handle time calculator
Solves per hour:
Average handle time:
Disclaimer: The above formula should be used as a guide—it shouldn’t replace a typical workforce management staffing calculator. Teams will also need to consider factors such as breaks for agents, multiple shifts, and different customer requirements.
How safe is Apple Business Chat?
Apple’s industry-leading privacy policies also apply to Business. According to their website, their safety-enhancing features for chat include:
- End-to-end encryption between your device and Apple’s servers and when Apple transmits them to the business.
- Apple doesn’t read the content of your messages with other business
- Only customers can initiate conversations and, unless they opt to share, no personal information is shared.
- Once a customer deletes their conversation thread, the business can only initiate the conversation if the customer messages the business again.
One potential hang-up to note is that iMessages sent through Apple Business Chat can’t be archived the same way SMS messages can. This is because iMessages are sent with end-to-end encryption via a secure network, rather than through a mobile carrier’s network.
For certain industries, like financial services, in which archiving messages is required, you’ll need a separate archiving solution.
How to add Apple Business Chat to your website?
Exactly how you add Apple Business Chat to your website will differ depending on how your website is set up. However, once you’ve created your business account with Apple and connected a messaging service provider, you can then configure your website with Business Chat buttons.
How much does the Apple Business Chat cost?
According to Apple’s website, the cost of Business Chat “Depends on the scope of your Business Chat deployment and the messaging service provider used to implement your vision.”
For instance, if you plan to deploy Business Chat for multiple brands, your cost will increase relative to if you planned to deploy it for only one brand. And as you can read in the section below on integrating Zendesk with Apple Business Chat, there are several steps you must take (regardless of the MSP you work with) to have your chat deployment approved by Apple. Depending on your internal resources and your MSP, you may have to work with an external consultant to implement your solution, which comes with additional cost.
Also, MSPs vary in terms of what and how they charge you for deploying Apple Business Chat. Using Zendesk as an example, you’d need to purchase a Zendesk Sunshine Conversations plan to access Apple Messages for Business. If you’re interested in finding out what various MSPs charge for enabling iMessages for your business, you can see a list of Apple-approved MSPs on the Apple Business registry.
Best practices for using Apple Messages for Business
Automate what you can to reduce costs
The more routine, repetitive tasks you can automate, the more resources you can dedicate to more complex, higher-value issues. Fortunately, you can automate many actions, like collecting customer data, fulfilling orders, scheduling appointments, and answering FAQs with Apple Business Chat. As a result, your customers will get answers quicker and your agents won’t be overwhelmed with tickets that could’ve been solved by a bot.
Make it easy to collect key customer data
Apple Messages for Business has features that can help customers easily provide the data you need to help them. But you have to make sure you’re leveraging the features that make the most sense for your business. Apple’s List Pickers are great for providing info about your services and products. And Time Pickers are ideal for showing customers when they can schedule an appointment.
You can also use List Pickers to triage customers by having them answer a list of yes or no questions. In short, Apple Messages for Business provides many ways to reduce the friction associated with collecting customer information. But it’s up to you to determine the methods that make the most sense for your business.
Unify the messaging experience
With the help of a developer, and using Apple’s API, you can integrate Apple Messages for Business into your marketing, sales, and/or customer service software. In some cases, your MSP may have native integrations (like Zendesk) does, which can help you unify the messaging experience.
However you do it, though, it’s key to ensure all your messaging channels are well-integrated with your sales CRM, marketing automation software, e-commerce system, and/or booking system.
Having this robust unification enables your customers and agents to have an authentic conversation. Rather than agents having to ask customers to repeat information from previous interactions, agents can see conversation histories and customer profiles so they can tailor their service accordingly.
In addition to the above best practices for using Apple Messages for Business, Apple recommends the following:
- Label list and time pickers appropriately so customers are clear on the contents of the pickers.
- Route messaging using intent and group ID parameters to route messages to the relevant groups.
- End conversations with customers by having agents ask if there’s anything else they can do.
Finally, if you’re looking to work with Apple Business Chat, it’s a good idea to look through their channel policies.
Prepare sufficient staffing for Apple Messages
If you haven’t offered messaging as a channel for your customers, you’ll need to prepare your staffing resource accordingly. Staffing your team for messaging differs from staffing a uniquely real-time channel like session-based live chat or the phone.
Here’s what we recommend considering to determine the number of staffers you’ll need:
- Number of visitors. How many visitors (to your website or help center, for example) do you expect during the period that agents are available?
- Agent availability period. How many hours in the day will agents be available to serve messaging requests?
- Average conversation duration. How long do you expect agents to spend on a single conversation?
- Concurrent conversations. How many conversations will an agent serve simultaneously?
Answering the questions above can help you determine how many agents you need. For instance:
- Number of visitors: 10,000
- Agent availability period: 8 hours
- Average conversation duration: 12 mins
- Concurrent conversations: 4
Based on this, we can conservatively estimate that you’ll receive 1,000 support requests a day or 125 requests per hour. In this scenario, you’d need 6.25 agents because 25 agents can serve 125 requests per hour at 12 minutes per conversation. And 6.25 agents can solve that number if they serve 4 conversations at a time.
Of course, this is just a guide and ignores things like breaks for your agents, multiple shifts, and vastly different customer requirements.
Integrating Zendesk with Apple Business Chat
To start the process of integrating Zendesk with Apple Business Chat, you first need to register your business with Apple. This process includes submitting brand information, which Apple will review and approve. While you’re submitting your registration—which you can do here—you’ll be prompted to select a messaging service provider (MSP). To integrate Zendesk, when you’re prompted to choose an MSP, you’d select Zendesk’s Sunshine Conversations.
Once you’ve submitted your brand info and selected Zendesk as your MSP, you must submit your registration for review. After you’re approved, you’ll receive a Messages for Business ID, which is an ID you’ll need to test and verify your MSP connection. If you already have a Sunshine Conversations account with Zendesk, you can add Apple Business Chat from the list of channel integrations. To complete the integration, you’ll then name your integration, paste your Messages for Business ID, and click connect.
At this point, your Zendesk instance is integrated with Apple Business Chat. But you’ll still need to design, configure, and test the messaging experience with help from Zendesk and get your integration approved by Apple. This will include adding the Messages for Business button to your app or website, styling the button, creating customer journeys and more.
To get final approval from Apple, you’ll need to build a demo of your customer journey and then work with Apple’s team to prepare for launch.
Frequently asked questions
Can you live chat with Apple Business Messaging?
Because Apple Business Messaging uses iMessage to enable you to communicate with customers, it’s not possible to live chat. Instead, you can message back and forth with customers asynchronously.
So while you can send messages in real-time, the conversation can stop and start when it’s convenient for participants, which means it’s not technically a live chat.
Is Apple Business Chat free?
For your customers that have iOS devices, Apple Business Chat is free. But for businesses, it comes with a cost. You won’t actually pay Apple for Business Chat—instead, you pay whichever MSP you choose to work with the fee they charge. For instance, if you became a Zendesk customer and purchased a Sunshine Conversations plan, Apple Business Chat would be included with that plan, along with many other capabilities.
When should you try iMessage Business Chat?
Unless nearly all of your customers use iPhones, iMessage Business Chat might not be the first messaging channel you try. For businesses just getting started with messaging, Apple Business Chat is a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. However, once you’ve established messaging as a core part of your sales, marketing, and/or support strategy, trying out Apple’s messaging solution is a good idea.
Ready to try Apple Business Chat?
Together with Sunshine Conversations — our messaging platform designed for conversational business — you can deliver modern messaging experiences to your customers and bring conversations directly into Zendesk to make your team more efficient.