(Updated November 2018)
Since being purchased by Facebook, WhatsApp’s user base continues to grow. It currently stands at 1.5 billion monthly users. As a result, brands are unsurprisingly eager to exploit WhatsApp for business communications and customer engagement.
Although WhatsApp have restricted B2C communications, two options are developing — the WhatsApp for Business API and the WhatsApp Business app. WhatsApp for Business API can be used to integrate with third-party CX systems, while the WhatsApp Business app only allows for direct communication within the app. Clearly, the API is where brands with a large customer base would prefer to communicate with their customers.
However, they are taking a cautious approach with their Go to Market strategy. In order to preserve WhatsApp as a user-friendly space, the following barriers are in place to avoid the platform being inundated with branded messaging. These are some of the limitations to the API:
For the moment, it looks like SMS is still the best option for proactive customer engagement. Combing this with a messaging API and Rich Media Messaging gives brands far more flexibility to improve the Customer Journey.
Nonetheless, WhatsApp is an extremely important channel to keep an eye on. Included below is a regularly updated ‘Latest News’ overview of where WhatsApp’s development as a business messaging platform.
Contact our team here if you’d like to learn more about how you can make use of WhatsApp for proactive customer engagement, and what your alternatives are.
VoiceSage attended the Nexmo Partner conference in San Francisco in order to accelerate our integration with the platform. WhatsApp gave an in-depth review of their Go to Market approach, the criteria required for brands to take part in the WhatsApp for business API, and the timeline.
WhatsApp for business is a great idea but is their API really going to take over the business to consumer (B2C) communication market? Firstly, the API is only in BETA mode, meaning it’s still going through a testing process and, WhatsApp say it will remain in this trial state until next year when it should be made publicly available. WhatsApp are also insisting that all messages are sent in a template format and before these messages can be sent out, the template to be used must first be sent to and approved by WhatsApp themselves. Another obstruction is that only text can be sent. Video, audio, images and any other files cannot be sent via the WhatsApp API. Additionally, absolutely no marketing/advertising messages will be allowed to be sent. WhatsApp intend for the platform to only be used to send out notifications, such as boarding times, delays, appointment reminders etc and for customer service purposes, such as replying to customer queries and questions.
Here is are some examples of the use cases available to three specific sectors – Travel, Retail, and Finance.
GTM Notifications – Market Segments
WhatsApp for business is not an easy tool to employ. To maintain the end-to-end encryption, one of the apps most significant features, WhatsApp has said that businesses intent upon using the technology must create their own type of the business-orientated app named the WhatsApp client. This API client, consisting of its own databases and storage would need to be managed and monitored on a full-time basis. Doing this would require full-time employees devoted to the client and could become very difficult to take care of with a large customer base.
Another problem comes in the form of cost. At the Nexmo Partner Conference in San Francisco WhatsApp mentioned that charges are to be applied of around 9c per message, an expensive charge for a platform with limited features. This is more expensive than most operators in the market and doesn’t offer the multiple services they do. Furthermore, companies will also need permission from users to use their number via WhatsApp. Only around 100 companies have had their request to trial the API granted (by WhatsApp) and it is intended to be only for large corporations at present, meaning the other ninety-nine percent of businesses cannot view WhatsApp’s business features as a realistic possibility.
A minimum number of messages that must be sent to avail of the service is expected to be set, best estimates marking this minimum around the 100,000 messages per month, shows once more how unfeasible the service is for a majority of businesses at the present time. Officially, however, WhatsApp have made no comment about what the minimum number of messages will be. WhatsApp for business is still a long way from being the leader of communications for businesses.
Privacy has always been a key feature and popular selling point of WhatsApp and it’s because of this feature that WhatsApp continue to be cautious with its Go-to-Market approach for the business API. The personal, private element has long been what WhatsApp has been sold on and there is a fear that the business API might turn the application into a more corporate platform, becoming more like a Facebook or Twitter where Ads are common-place and privacy is much more of a concern. This resulted in WhatsApp proceeding warily, unwilling to do anything that may upset their current customer base.
WhatsApp as a business service will finally become a revenue stream for the company as it was announced that the application will give businesses the first 24 hours free to respond to customers messages, after which businesses will begin to be charged. Essentially costs will be implemented upon businesses failing to reply quickly. The platform gives suggested responses and helps to quicken the process involved with communicating to users. Only around 100 companies have access to the service right now and plans for more fees are being readied. One of the intentions of the fees will be to charge large corporate companies to use the service. WhatsApp for business is being targeted at large-scale businesses and the giants of industries. Charges for sending customers notifications via the app, such as boarding passes, receipts and delivery updates are intended. Netflix, Uber and Wish and some of the latest giants to announce they are trialing the enterprise-based service. Businesses must apply to gain access to the API and as the service is intended for leaders of industry, small, medium and even some large companies will struggle to get approval. There is also a lot of false information being passed around, including reports that WhatsApp were requiring a minimum of 100,000 messages be sent a month, this claim was denied by WhatsApp. No official requirements have been set out and thus there is uncertainty surrounding the API. As of now WhatsApp Business still has a long way to go before it will be available and cost-effective for a majority of businesses.
Business Insider revealed in April that you could now receive the latest updates from their new platform straight to your smartphone via WhatsApp. Subscribers to the service will receive one message a day listing the current headlines. Business Insider becomes the latest organization to use WhatsApp Business, the app designed for small and medium-sized businesses. At the beginning of April, WhatsApp Business was still only available on Android, but the possibility of the app becoming available on Windows phones seemed to be coming closer to reality as Nawzil an ex Microsoft VP tweeted “testing WhatsApp for business”. WhatsApp Business growth continued to grow as Mark Zuckerberg revealed the ever-growing application had over 3 million users. Still in its early stages, this was significant development and showed just how much potential there was in the app. This revelation came as Zuckerberg announced Facebooks earnings for Q1 of 2018.
The beginning of 2018 marked the official launch of an app, by WhatsApp, for small to medium businesses to contact and send updates to customers. Business could now build profiles for themselves to interact with consumers, sending confirmations of orders and the allowance of reply templates were some of the significant features of the app. Following the launch, it was confirmed that the app would be available on a global scale, available in the U.S., UK, Indonesia, Mexico, Italy and India initially with promises of further expansion into more countries in the future. Free for smaller enterprises from the outset the paid to use features were promised in the period ahead.
Starting in early March, WhatsApp decided to test its business communications system and the tools involved, by letting a number of young businesses start-ups use the system on a trial basis. This trial turned out to be a huge success for the business, and in the following September they announced the arrival of their free business app for small to medium sized businesses, but a monetary charge will be implemented for large-scale enterprises. Initially the application will be free but looking forward to the future WhatsApp intend on putting a cost system in place and they also gave details of possible uses for their application suggesting it could be used “to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates”. By the end of 2017 it was clear that WhatsApp had real plans to pursue a business-orientated version of their app.
WhatsApp in the context of business communications, first began to be discussed as a realistic possibility in January 2016. At a conference in Munich, Germany, WhatsApp released a blog in which it stated, “Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from”. Up until this point many businesses had enquired about the possibility of using WhatsApp as a form of communicating with customers, but there had been no official statement on this from WhatsApp. August of the same year brought the next significant update as WhatsApp changed its privacy policies to allow for business to message users via the application. Many messages that had been sent by SMS up until this point, could now be sent by WhatsApp, examples including information regarding flights from airlines and updates concerning your account from banks. 2016 saw the rise of WhatsApp for Business.
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