It’s time for businesses to chat about WhatsApp

OTT chat app, WhatsApp, has long since launched its business messaging service – WhatsApp Business – which promises to help enterprises reach billions of connected users (two billion according to Mobilesquared). So why has business activation been slower than expected?

Daniel Bailey, VP EMEA at Zendesk thinks that brands are waking up to the idea that customer communication is better served by two-way conversation, and given the numbers, WhatsApp is sure to play a significant role in the conversational commerce mix.

As we adjust to our new reality, which for most of us involves working from home, chat has fast become a crucial way to connect with colleagues and stay in touch with friends and family. In fact, people across the world are now spending more time messaging than nearly any other activity online, with WhatsApp being the leading chat app in 112 countries, hitting 2 billion users in February, according to SimilarWeb.

The UK and Germany were among the countries with the most WhatsApp users in 2019, clocking up 27.6 million and 43.9 million respectively last year, according to eMarketer. While, 76% of the population in The Netherlands and 31% of those in France are using WhatsApp, according to Statista.

What’s more, we’re now seeing businesses adopt messaging as a communications platform too, for the same reasons consumers love it.

What’s more, we’re now seeing businesses adopt messaging as a communications platform too, for the same reasons consumers love it. Messaging is fast, personal, convenient, and secure. Unlike traditional live chat, it is also sessionless, which means that customers can pick up where they left off and agents can serve multiple customers at a time, armed with the context they need to offer more personal experiences.

While, until now, customer care has been the main driver for business messages – brands have been motivated by reducing call centre costs and frustrations for existing customers – it is now increasingly being used for marketing, lead generation and sales too. “In 2020, we’ll see increasing activity from brands deploying conversational techniques to engage new customers and drive incremental business value,” predicted Rob Lawson, Global Partnerships at Google, at the start of the year.

Zendesk’s State of Messaging Report has revealed that businesses are slowly embracing the notion that every customer interaction is part of a conversation. These conversations are taking place across a number of channels, with messaging and chat emerging as favourites for businesses and customers alike.

Conversational commerce is growing

According to Facebook, 150 million people on Instagram now have a conversation with a business every month. Messaging is currently most common in retail, followed by the entertainment, travel and financial industries, according to Zendesk’s report. And a growing number of other businesses plan to add this channel to their arsenal in 2020.

Conversational commerce is also now emerging beside the more common service conversations, and in-chat payments may be the key to unlocking conversational commerce at scale in the west. Apple Business Chat has Apple Pay built in, and Facebook has several projects in the works, with WhatsApp Pay and Facebook Pay. Meanwhile, in March last year, Instagram launched Checkout, which lets people shop and complete payment without leaving the app. Beta partners include retail giants Burberry, H&M and Zara.

Buying things is a crucial part of the conversational customer journey, and it’s about to get a whole lot easier. “Conversational technology in 2020 will make an already competitive commerce landscape significantly more competitive,” thinks Lawrence Lewis, Sr. Director of Customer Experience at Dyme. Adding conversational to your tech stack now will help separate your business from the pack.”

Chatbots are now being widely deployed

Businesses are deploying bots across marketing, sales and support, and they’re doing so with a distinctly human touch.

Chatbots are another integral part of digital commerce. Businesses are deploying bots across marketing, sales and support, and they’re doing so with a distinctly human touch. In fact, nearly half of finance and insurance businesses have embraced bots for everything from lead generation to customer support, according to Zendesk’s report.

And while conversational business channels like SMS, chatbots, voice assistants, messaging apps and chat still aren’t as common as phone and email, that’s set to change. By 2022, 70% of all customer interactions will involve emerging tools like chatbots, machine learning and mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018, according to Gartner.

“Customers want answers now, not in 24 hours (like email), not in a week (via mail services),” explains Cesar Miguel, Head of the Innovation Factory at Accor. “And today, most companies are not organised to provide that. This speed can only be reached with real-time interaction platforms, and those are chat and voice.”

However, this is not a channel for automated or bulk messaging – in December last year, WhatsApp banned newsletters in an effort to encourage businesses to focus on one-to-one communications, rather than mass marketing communications like those we sometimes see on email.

The case for focusing on one-to-one communications, however, is very compelling. Messaging apps have the highest customer satisfaction rating of any channel, with a CSAT of 98%.

“2020 will be the year we start to see meaningful industry maturity,” thinks Sarah Marion, Associate at Inovia Capital. “I’m seeing start-ups raise big money, while incumbents are bolstering their conversational strategy through acquisitions. 2020 is the year of billion-dollar conversational businesses.”

Daniel Bailey, VP EMEA at Zendesk