WhatsApp has launched a new API that will help businesses communicate with consumers via the WhatsApp app. The, move, from WhatsApp owner, Facebook, signals clear intention to tap revenue from the lucrative enterprise messaging market. Already, Netflix, Uber, Booking.com and Singapore Airlines are among the major brands that are testing it.
Just like SMS there are many use cases – notifications, authentication, marketing and so on but unlike SMS, B2C WhatsApp messages open up the possibility of a streamlined two-way conversation between consumers and brands, either via a bot or a human, and that means precious consumer engagement.
So will The WhatsApp API upend the A2P messaging market? How should messaging providers respond? We asked a handful of industry experts for their views…
Rob Coyne, General Manager EMEA of Hootsuite
Unlike other social networks, WhatsApp has been slow moving to the world of advertising and social-selling. For this reason, brands looking to target consumers via the new WhatsApp Business API will have to be incredibly careful as to how they go about it, so as not to alienate users.
Organisations must remember that WhatsApp is used first and foremost as a tool for consumers to interact with their friends and family. Therefore, any business-to-consumer interaction will need to strike the right balance between being useful and informative, but also not bombarding them with unsolicited messages which could quickly become an annoyance to the end-user, and an overall detriment to the brand.
Used sparingly in the correct way however, and it’ll undoubtedly be a valuable tool to build trust and engagement amongst consumers.
Ben Pring, Director at Cognizant’s Centre for the Future of Work
The arrival of the WhatsApp API for business could revolutionise how businesses engage with customers via text. It not only provides a cost-effective option for organisations to send consumers updates and documents, but it also streamlines real-time interactions making them significantly easier.
Moreover, one of the most interesting developments of WhatsApp’s business offering is its commercial model. Following a request from a consumer, an organisation’s response is free if it responds within 24 hours. This commercial model will ultimately shift the impetuous of rapid customer response, from one of KPI adherence within contact centres to one that directly impacts an organisation’s bottom line. Ultimately, this will drive the argument for excellent and timely customer response up to the board level.
The one issue that could halt this new wave of customer service, however, is concern over data privacy, specifically in the face of GDPR. For example, Continental has just banned WhatsApp and Snapchat from company-issued mobile devices. Yes, this is a separate issue from organisations using the service for outreach, but perceptions of the WhatsApp platform and Facebook in general following the Cambridge Analytica scandal could well stifle the adoption of this platform.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers
The fact that major brands across the globe are already testing out the new customer experience functionality that WhatsApp has launched shows that this could be an important tool for marketers. For many industries chatbots are still in the “innovation box”, but for the few who are already testing them, the tool shows promise. Facebook is constantly looking at new methods to monetise its services, and this could be a way for the company to add further revenue streams to the app it purchased for $19bn in 2014.
Of course, WhatsApp has huge user base with over 1.5 billion chatting on the service per month. If brands are able to communicate with customers through this new function in a way that engages them it could potentially be a win/win situation. As brands need to engage with the digital generation, being active on messaging platforms is key. Via WhatsApp they will now have access to an audience that have embraced this platform as an everyday essential and Facebook will have new ways of engaging consumers through one of its most popular apps.
Julien Rio, Head of Marketing at Dimelo
WhatsApp for Business will not be a standalone communication platform for companies, but its availability will offer organisations an invaluable new option to consider for customer service management. Ultimately, the easier it is to contact a company, the happier the customer.
Tom Weaver, CEO of Flyt
Over the coming years, consumers will increasingly use social media to communicate with brands in the most intimate ways, including when they’re eating out. For example, Instagram’s new functionality means consumers can book a table at their favourite restaurant simply by clicking a button on the business’ profile page.
Messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are another brilliant way for consumers to interact with brands, as software developers can install ‘bots’ relatively easily within them. Back in April 2018, the restaurant chain Wahaca trialled Flyt’s Facebook Messenger pay-at-table bot and it accounted for up to 14.5% of payments in the restaurant, with a peak conversion rate of 69%. With hundreds of millions of monthly active users worldwide, it makes sense for brands to build onto such readily available tech to target customers and help make their lives easier.
Where WhatsApp stands out is the ease for a customer to respond and engage in a two-way conversation, adding an extra layer to a brand’s service offering. This could now mean that a delivery update message can easily invite the customer to upgrade, or it could even give an extra customer care channel which offers convenience to the customer like never before. Having seen the success of platforms such as messenger – this is really exciting!
Dave Attenborough, Head of Product, Commify
The new WhatsApp Business API shows promise but will be of more interest to businesses once the functionality matures and it is made more widely available. And of course, brands will want to test whether end users respond to business messages over what they see as a social channel.
The ubiquity and high engagement rates associated with SMS make it a logical choice for notifications and other transactional use cases. The industry is evolving fast and there are a number of richer messaging channels emerging, but any new channel will need to demonstrate good reach and high levels of customer engagement to tempt businesses away from SMS.
While some businesses will (and already do) use WhatsApp to communicate with customers, alternatives such as RCS can deliver richer, more engaging communication directly into the default message app. These could yet prove to be a more popular choice for business messaging.