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WhatsApp Business: What is it and is it worth giving it a try?

6 minute read

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Facebook’s launch of WhatsApp Business earlier this year was no great surprise. Ever since Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014 for $20bn, they have been planning to roll it out to a business audience.

Whilst it was initially launched in a handful of markets including the UK, USA, Italy, Indonesia and Mexico, it has since reached further, and will be global “in the coming weeks”.

With 1.3billion users who send an average of 55 billion messages a day, the potential audience for small businesses is enormous. But is it right for yours? We’ll show you how it works and how it might support your company’s sales and marketing efforts.

WhatsApp Business in a nutshell

Currently available for Android only, WhatsApp Business is targeted to small and medium-sized businesses, although larger companies such as KLM have used some of its elements to great advantage, revealing recently that over 80% of their customer service is being done over Messenger or WhatsApp.  

Just like Facebook Pages, businesses can set up their profiles with an image, description, location, URL and contact details. The primary goal of WhatsApp Business is to enable companies to keep in touch with their customers and answer questions and queries.

The highlights

  • You can sign up using a landline

You have a few registration options. You can sign up using a mobile number, but this will mean that you cannot run a separate personal WhatsApp account linked with this same number. You can, however, migrate all your personal chats over to your new business account.

You can also sign up using your business landline, which means you can keep your existing personal WhatsApp account, and run a WhatsApp Business account on the same device. 

  • It’s available for desktop

Currently WhatsApp is a free app available for download on Google Play. But once you’ve signed up your business, you don’t need to be tied to an Android device to be able to message contacts. You can set up the desktop “WhatsApp Web” application and access your account via any PC and keep in touch with your customers that way instead.   

  • It has automated features

WhatsApp Business also allows you to automate “greeting messages” and “away messages” as well as “quick replies” to frequently asked questions. Quick replies allow you to create shortcut messages for frequently used messages.

For example, if someone has completed an order, you can create a /thankyou shortcut that, when sent, will read “Thank you for your order. We hope to see you again soon!”

  • It has basic analytics

Although these are pretty rudimentary so far, you can track the number of messages sent, delivered, and read. And knowing Facebook’s reputation for analytics, it’s likely this will develop in time.

  • Your business account is marked out from consumer profiles

When you set up your account, your profile will be labelled as a business profile, which is marked out with a grey question mark.

Once your account is confirmed, your WhatsApp phone number matches that of your business – then you get a grey tick.

Businesses that are then verified by WhatsApp get a green tick label, marking them out as an authentic brand.

  • Broadcast or Labels

WhatsApp Business allows you to send a message to all contacts using the “broadcast” function. Useful if you have an important update or news item you’d like to share with all your customers.

However, it also allows you to segment your contacts using “Labels”. Labels allows users to name and filter their chats so that they can find them quickly.

The default labels pertain to the ecommerce process: “Prospect”, “New Order”, “Pending Payment”, “Paid” and “Order Complete”. However, you can customise your own labels, say for example by “regular customers”, “promo customers”, or “customer support”.

  • WhatsApp Business is opt-in only

In the interests of preventing spam activity, users must opt in to receive communications from a WhatsApp Business account. This means businesses need to use WhatsApp Business as part of a targeted opt-in strategy and not just to go on a mass cold-calling campaign.

  • Currently no paid-for features, but these will follow

Whilst there are currently no signs of any paid-for features, it’s likely that Facebook will be working on these as we speak, just as we have seen with Facebook and Instagram.

How WhatsApp Business can support your sales and marketing:

1. Direct Marketing

With WhatsApp having long overtaken traditional SMS in terms of messages delivered, and with a 78% open rate compared to around 35% for email, there’s no doubting its potential for direct marketing. Just like WhatsApp itself, the Business app lets you send audio, image or video files, so you really can get creative as to how you harness it to promote your business.

Given that you need your followers to have opted in to receive messages from you, you’re already at low risk of being a nuisance, but you must still beware of being too spammy. Ideally you would use it to connect with existing loyal customers rather than to reach a new audience. 

2. Real-time, efficient customer service

When used as part of a sales strategy, WhatsApp business can be a valuable tool for nurturing your customers. More accessible than email, but less intrusive than a phone call, a quick text to your customers to confirm their purchase, or an automated reply to a common query, is an obvious way to use the app.

You can also use WhatsApp Business for more generalised customer communications, such as sending updates on offers, sales and news, or even asking for feedback.

3. Customer support

If in need of assistance, customers would do almost anything to avoid phoning a helpdesk. With WhatsApp as an option, they can send you a quick message and you can reply with advice and support. You could even include video tutorials or audio messages to help them further with their issue.

WhatsApp Business also allows you a more informal tone in your customer communications, which in itself helps to nurture your relationships.

Obviously, the feasibility of this depends on the size and capacity of your company. To reply individually to every request for support might be best suited to the smaller SMEs. 

4. Internal communications

The great thing about WhatsApp Business as a tool, is that almost everybody knows how to use it. Bringing in a new comms tool means training staff on how to use it, but that’s not usually necessary with WhatsApp.

Using WhatsApp for internal comms allows your team to send instant messages to each other either individually or in group chat, which bypasses the increasingly clunky process of email. 

What’s more, because people are usually tapped in to WhatsApp anyway, there’s no need to keep checking in on emails. The downside: business communications go home with you if you don’t have a separate mobile device for personal use.

The verdict:

The positives:

WhatsApp Business is completely free, easy to set up, and user-friendly. Its basic analytics are simple but useful for small businesses to track and tweak their WhatsApp campaigns.

Given the massive and highly engaged 1.3 billion user-base, the potential reach for businesses is vast. If used intelligently, WhatsApp Business could tap into this audience both to expand its own user base, but also to nurture its own customers into being loyal fans.

What’s more, because users have opted in to receiving messages from you, the likelihood of them engaging with your updates is improved.

It also allows companies to set a more informal tone in their communications, and tap into the real-time, fast-paced nature of consumer habits, with a quick text message purchase confirmation or an informal response to a query. This of course has already been done before with traditional SMS, but WhatsApp Business gives your business extra legitimacy with a branded profile.

WhatsApp Business also allows companies the flexibility to be able to send blanket messages to all users via “Broadcast” or segment their user base using “labels”.

The drawbacks:

For all its potential, WhatsApp Business is still in its infancy. It’s only currently available on Android, which although has the global market share of 80% as of 2016, mean that the remaining 20% is precluded from using it.

The sign up is also a bit clunky, only allowing one WhatsApp Business account per device. As such only one person can access the account at any given time. You also need your phone to be connected to the internet in order to use the desktop app “WhatsApp Web”.

WhatsApp payments are yet to come, but until they are, the use of the app as a sales tool is rather limited.

The opportunities:

WhatsApp Business in its current state is as a standalone manual tool, but hopefully in time we will see integrations with CRM systems, marketing automation tools and chatbots so that 24-hour tailored marketing is made possible.

One gets the feeling WhatsApp Business has more to come, from a payments facility, to integrations, to being available on iOS. But, knowing Facebook and their ability to move ahead of the curve, there’ll be more to come in the coming months.

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Charlotte Jenkins is an Oxford-based content marketer. She has several years’ experience in content writing, editing and digital marketing, helping clients communicate their businesses online.

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