Apple’s iOS was once (and some people would argue still is) a walled garden. But now, a decade later, that garden wall is a little lower, and now it has a gate.. Developers have more API options, some stock apps can be deleted/hidden, and many features once exclusive to Android or iOS itself can be found in various other systems. This new, more open garden allows users the freedom to do things their way and to interact with other devices more easily.
Of course, the garden’s still there, and in many ways, that’s precisely what makes iOS so wonderful. Exclusive, rich features like FaceTime and AirDrop make iOS perfect for communicating with other iOS devices. HomeKit, Apple Pay, and CarPlay all bring exclusive features and connectivity to your iPhone or iPad. But one of Apple’s most compelling features is by far iMessage.
I’ve heard it repeated time and time again that iMessage is the glue that keeps people attached to iOS. Between iMessage and FaceTime, users can easily and seamlessly connect with their family and friends. Because iMessage is part of the Messages app, users don’t need to switch between apps to send regular, old text messages, or snazzy iMessages. Furthermore, both iMessage and text messages can sync automatically between Mac, iPad, Apple Watch, and iPhone.
As you probably know, iMessage builds upon traditional text messaging by adding features like screen effects, stickers, and applets (small apps that run within iMessage).
Like many instant messaging services, iMessage shows when the user on the other end of the conversation is typing, when the message is delivered, and — if enabled — when the message is read.
What you may not know is that iMessage can also be used to communicate with businesses, using a beta feature Apple calls Business Chat.
The Era of Chat
There are many benefits of SMS for businesses; more and more customers want the ability to quickly message a business, whether it’s through online chat, social media platforms such as Twitter or text messaging. If you’re like me, you’re one of those customers.
The simple fact of the matter is many of us don’t have the time — or in some cases, the desire — to call into a customer support queue. There’s the long wait time, the annoying hold music, and then when someone answers they often ask you what feels like a million questions before transferring you to another person. It’s hectic, exhausting, and can lead to more frustration than it’s worth.
However, there are some benefits to calling into customer service. Unlike a chat, being on the phone can feel more personal and it’s easier to express yourself.
Business Chat in iMessage
Someone at Apple must have realized that iMessage was the perfect link between online chat and phone; and, in iOS 11.3, business chat was born.
With iMessage, apps, GIFs, TapBacks and emoji can be used to add some expression to the conversation; links and media can be easily shared; and, you never need to leave your regular messaging app. This unique experience makes things more engaging and personal.
Of course, Business Chat is one of those features that isn’t very well known, and as a result isn’t used by a lot of businesses (or customers). That being said, when used correctly, it’s a fantastic way to communicate with your favorite businesses.
Companies That Support Business Chat
Since the service is still in beta testing, only a handful of businesses currently offer the service. Here is a list of some popular businesses that currently offer Business Chat:
- American Express
- Apple (Surprise!)
- DIRECTV NOW
- Four Seasons
- The Home Depot
- Mall of America
- Men’s Wearhouse
- Quicken Loans
- Wells Fargo
- And more.
How to Start a Chat
According to Apple, users can start a new Business Chat thread using Maps, Safari, Siri, or Spotlight. That being said, I couldn’t get Siri to contact any of the businesses on the list above, unless I already had a thread open with them.
Also, starting Business Chat isn’t as simple as it should be. Some businesses, like American Express, will only let you chat them once you’ve signed up for Business Chat on their website; however, others will just let you dive right in. From what I’ve seen, hardly any companies make it obvious they offer the feature so you may need to dig around a little. Of course, since it’s still in beta this could change later on.
Some businesses will let you start a chat from their app or webpage. But, I’ve found the easiest option is to use Maps or Spotlight.
- In Maps, simply search for a business that supports Business Chat.
- Select a location from the results and scroll down to the contact options.
- You should see a message icon. Tap it to get started.
The process is similar in Spotlight, search for a business and tap the message icon next to the result. Keep in mind some businesses only allow you to initiate a conversation by invitation or through their app or website.
Using Business Chat
Now that you have a chat going, how do you use it? It’s actually really simple, just use it like you would normally use iMessage.
There are a couple of extras that businesses can offer, such as bots to gather information; but, for the most part it’s just like standard Messages.
You can use TapBack reactions by double-tapping messages, you can send links and media, you can even use emojis, stickers, and iMessage apps.
Because it’s iMessage, businesses can also reply with all, or most, of the same media options. To differentiate a business chat from a regular iMessage chat, the thread will feature a unique header, and a square profile image will be displayed when viewing all threads.
Ending the conversation
Normally when you chat with a business online, you can request a copy of the chat before you end it. With iMessage, you can keep the thread as long as you like. You don’t have to end it. However, if you want to delete it from your message history, you can. Simply swipe left on the thread like any other thread and select “Delete.”
Business Chat has been around for over a year. It’s still in beta and has gained little traction within its short lifespan. Although we haven’t seen any updates in iOS 12, it’s still here and still supported. If Apple continues its course with Business Chat, there are a few things they could do to make it better.
Start a Chat from Messages
Starting a chat from Maps or Spotlight seems cumbersome, and using Siri and Safari aren’t usually — if at all — good options. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out how to get Siri to start a Business Chat. Although Apple should fix the latter options, another great addition would be able to search for businesses when composing a new message. Simply typing in the “To” field could return results.
Another option to initiate Business Chats could be deep linking. This would let businesses provide a link/button in their tweets, emails, and chats to allow a user to easily switch to iMessage.
Because Business Chat is so obscure many iOS users don’t ever use it. Raising awareness and working to bring the feature to more businesses could help the feature take off.
Full Support for macOS
Currently, Business Chat can’t be initiated from macOS. You can only start a new thread from iOS. Once the thread is started you can continue it in macOS.
Is Business Chat Here to Stay?
Without improvements and better marketing, it’s hard to say how long Business Chat can hold out. It’s been in beta for almost two years, and Apple does have a history of dabbling in hobby projects that sometimes never fully materialize.
While it’s a great idea, it really needs the support of both businesses and iOS users to take flight and leave the beta stage. So, as iOS users, what do you think about Business Chat? Have you used it? Is it something you think we need? What could make it better?
Let us and your fellow readers know what you think on social media and in the comments. We like to see what you think. Thanks for reading!