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Apple has added major new tool to its Messages app: Business Chat. It essentially allows businesses to offer real-time customer support to iPhone and iPad users.
Using Safari, Maps, Spotlight, or even Siri, you can find any business that supports Business Chat. And, from those same services, you can initiate a text-based conversation with the business. The conversation will take place in Apple's Messages app.
So, if you're looking up a business in Maps, just tap the Messages icon to start a conversation.
Many businesses even let you start a conversation directly from their app or site -- just look for this Chat with Messages icon.
While in a chat with a business, you can get answers to your questions, resolve any issues, schedule appointments, and file a dispute -- all from the same thread.
You can even shop and complete transactions (through Apple Pay only).
For appointments, Business Chat will link to your own calendar and smartly suggest times that don't conflict with your schedule. Business Chat also offers predictive text, which means it'll auto-load an address or number if a business should ask for it.
Most conversations will be with live agents, though you may get some automated responses for simple requests.
Only you can start a conversation, and you'll see a different thread for each business in the Messages app. Once you delete a thread, the business can't contact you again until you start another conversation with it.
A business can't see your personal information, like your name or phone number or payment details, unless you share it for appointments or other reasons.
A bunch of businesses have already signed up, including Discover, Hilton, The Home Depot, Lowe's, Marriot, Newegg, Ameritrade, Wells Fargo, and 1-800 Flowers. Each business can integrate their own customer service platforms and develop custom features for certain tasks.
Business Chat is now available in the Messages app on iPhone and iPad. It's in beta and is US-only for now.