WhatsApp opens up opportunities for SA business, but integration is a must
Where previously businesses just relied on phones and email to engage with their customers, the shift toward being more customer-centric has seen organisations add more communications channels to the mix. The latest is to use instant messaging, primarily WhatsApp, though this can lead to added customer frustration and damage to brand reputation if not implemented and managed properly.
WhatsApp is by far the world’s most popular instant messaging platform with around two billion users globally. It is also the most used social platform in South Africa, with over 90% of the country’s internet users aged between 16-64 using the platform each month, and as such it is no surprise that businesses are turning to WhatsApp as a means of communicating with their customers.
Bringing transparency to WhatsApp chats and groups
This at first created challenges around the informal use of WhatsApp by company employees for official purposes. As these are set up by individuals, there is a possibility that the channel can be left unattended (and therefore unresponsive to customer queries) as it is not managed by the business, while poorly managed WhatsApp groups can lead to confidential information being disclosed improperly.
Then, there is a risk in terms of intellectual property as well as the customer relationship – if a salesperson who conducts most of their activity through a personal WhatsApp account leaves, what then? This doesn’t mean that businesses should ignore WhatsApp, as it presents them with an opportunity to increase engagement with their customers.
What is needed, however, is for this channel to be used in a way that is transparent and can be properly managed by the business so that all customer service or customer facing staff have access to information about the customer, as well as a history of previous interactions. Organisations want to have visibility and continuity of engagements with their customers. When implemented properly, WhatsApp instant messaging can enable numerous engaging sessions with users who might not have the same reaction toward a phone call.
WhatsApp for Business
Sensing the opportunity, the instant messaging platform launched WhatsApp for Business, which provides organisations with the tools needed to better communicate at scale with their customers. This gives organisations the ability to contact people in a more efficient manner, while the recipients can also respond in a time of their convenience. While there are some exclusions, WhatsApp for Business is open to all types of businesses, of all sizes and across all sectors. In addition, small businesses are likely to be able to make use of WhatsApp for Business in a far more cost-effective manner as compared to a large organisation that might be sending out thousands of messages.
Organisations shouldn’t get too trigger happy with sending messages, as there is a cost attached. WhatsApp charges organisations based on the number of 24 hour conversation sessions, with different rates for business-initiated and user-initiated conversations. The first 1 000 user-initiated conversations each month are provided for free to get businesses started, with conversation pricing applying thereafter. Then, there are the costs if a business is working with a WhatsApp partner.
It’s also important to note that recipients will also have the ability to block and/or report messages from businesses, and too many transgressions here are likely to negatively impact the brand.
Driving customer engagement
Given the above, businesses need to ensure that their WhatsApp messages are adding value to their customers, and are not simply another avenue for sending out spam that annoys customers. As such, it is crucial that the implementation of WhatsApp communications into the business is led by members from customer service, and sales and marketing, and not the IT department.
While the latter can be responsible for the technical implementation, business leaders need to look at their customer journeys and customer experience as a whole, the processes that they interact with, and to see where using this instant messaging channel makes the most sense. Ideally, the businesses’ processes should be aligned to the customer journey, rather than the customer journey being made to fit outdated processes.
In order to drive more engaged customer interactions, WhatsApp for Business provides message templates that allow for personalisation by pulling information from an organisation’s relevant back-end systems, ensuring that these messages are not turned into an impersonal or spam channel.
Similarly to most mass digital messaging platforms, WhatsApp for Business offers analytics tools where organisations can get valuable insight such as how many messages were sent, how the messages have performed, what actions recipients have taken and much more. In essence, brands now have full visibility of what is being communicated to their customers – something that you can’t get when sending out messages from a personal WhatsApp account.
Endless use cases, but integration is a must
WhatsApp for Business allows organisations to make use of instant messages for a broad variety of purposes that are only limited by the imagination of the business. Conversation categories available include:
- Authentication: These conversations can be used to provide users with one-time passwords, similarly to what happens with SMS
- Marketing: Organisations can send out offers or information related to their products or services, for example abandoned cart reminder messages for eCommerce providers.
- Service: These conversations are customer service queries that are initiated by end users who are looking for assistance from the brand.
- Utility: This is for transactional purposes such as post-purchase notifications and billing statements.
While adopting WhatsApp for Business provides organisations with a gateway to a marketplace of millions of users, it is crucial that it be integrated with the rest of their communications channels if it is to be used successfully. Otherwise it is yet another standalone channel that has to be managed and attended to, resulting in a fragmented and sub-par level of service.
By integrating WhatsApp for Business with the rest of their communications channels, organisations can ensure that all conversations with customers are stored and accessible to service agents from a single place, helping them to provide quicker more personalised service. It also means that when being contacted through WhatsApp, the customer has the option of replying with the same chat, or continuing the conversation – without having to repeat themselves – on another channel of their preference.
Businesses also need to remember that while WhatsApp for Business might be the popular choice today, that might not always be the case in future, and we have seen many communications channels come and go over the years. What is critical as businesses look to become more customer-centric is to invest in multi- or omni-channel capabilities, which will enable them to carry out personalised engagements at scale, from within one platform, regardless of which new channel gains in popularity with users.
For synchronised, multi-channel engagement, including web, social media and WhatsApp, fixed and mobile voice and chat, contact us today.
By Rob Lith, Chief Commercial Officer at Telviva