Apple takes on Facebook with its own Messages Bots

And iMessage users send over 200,000 messages each second

Apple, Nuance, iOS 11, Business Chat, iMessages, Messaging, bots, bot based tech, call centre
Credit: alluregraphicdesign

A few weeks ago, I suggested that it should be possible to contact your bank to arrange a loan using your AirPods. Apple at WWDC 2017 announced a key partnership that will eventually enable this: a team-up with Nuance to create a bot-based customer service ecosystem for Messages, taking on similar solutions from Facebook and others in the process. It’s called “Business Chat”.

Introducing Business Chat

We’re not looking at completely automated conversation with Business Chat. Not yet. Scheduled to appear within iOS 11, Apple told us that the plan is to integrate Nuance’s Digital Customer Engagement Platform with Apple Business Chat. This will enable new breeds of AI-based intelligent assistants within Messages and means you’ll see a little messages icon pop up on brand websites, in search results, and elsewhere. You’ll be able to contact those brands with one tap.

“While Siri made the virtual assistant mainstream, the ability to start a chat session with businesses using Messages is positioned to turn message-based customer service into the dominant way consumers engage with brands,” said Robert Weideman, executive vice president and general manager, Enterprise Division, Nuance.

“Today’s Apple Business Chat announcement is significant for the evolution of customer service and will forever change how consumers and businesses intelligently connect.”

It is possible you already interact with human-sounding bots. The Nuance solution engages either using the AI-powered, Nuance Nina Virtual Assistant or using Nuance Live or Asynchronous Chat.  Nina engages in human-like conversation and the company claims has a first contact resolution percentage of 80 percent.  

All the same, people remain a little resistant to these technologies, but they can be useful in terms or smart routing of enquiries to appropriate human teams, which is part of what’s on offer here.

Culling the call centers

Automated assistants in customer service are an obvious impact of automation on employment. The notion that an automated solution can reduce demand for human call center operatives by around 80 percent is already proving a big temptation for big firms. The move to adopt them will likely decimate the call center industry over time, and that’s just one industry likely to feel the tightening grip of automation’s pinch.

All the same, being able to get your customer queries resolved automatically in this way opens up ways companies can boost customer convenience. The idea of the Nuance/Apple partnership is that millions of Apple customers will be able to connect with their bank, airline, telecommunications, or retail provider, and initiate direct conversations via Messages.

Now, I’m not one to predict the future but it seems to me that once you have intelligent machines capable to handling written Messages chats effectively, you’re really not so very far away from enabling machines to handle and engage in natural language conversations. Nuance is tightly linked to the history of Siri, so this kind of speech-based bot customer service tool is more likely than not.

You will be able to tap your AirPods to speak with your bank. “Customers can find your business and start conversations from Safari, Maps, Spotlight, and Siri,” Apple said.

Tried and tested

Nuance told me that over 6,500 enterprises worldwide already use its customer service technologies, which it claims are used across an “estimated 14 billion customer engagements,” every year.

The asynchronous messaging tech is already used across other bot-based messaging platforms, including Facebook Messenger. Because it is platform-based the company reckons they can enable themselves to handle such queries across multiple platforms, Apple Messages, Facebook, WeChat and more.

While quietly introduced, the new partnership is also a feather in the cap for Forrester analyst, Thomas Husson, who predicted moves to introduce support for bots on Apple’s platforms would be revealed at WWDC.

“It will also be interesting to see if and how Apple facilitates the development of bots,” he said. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are all investing in this space.

Numerous big global brands, including Bank of America, Domino’s, FedEx, and USAA already use Nuance’s solution. Now those brands can reach customers on Apple platforms who already share around 40 billion Messages daily in the US alone.

Apple has simply sidestepped direct battle with these other tech firms by lending its support to a platform provider that creates solutions made available across nearly all of them.

The move is also a strong answer to recent criticism contained within a UBS report which warned that Apple needed to engage with bot tech to protect App Store sales. By working in partnership with others, Apple just showed it is willing to do just that.

You’ll find more information about Nuance’s solution here. Take a look at the WWDC Developer video explaining how Business Chat works here. Do you love, or loathe, bot technologies? Let us know in this short poll here.

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