By Dori-Jo Bonner, Strategist at Striata Africa
When WhatsApp Business launched in 2018, it’s safe to say that many people feared they’d be inundated with promotional messages from businesses. Those fears have largely proven unfounded. That’s not because it isn’t being used either. According to figures from Sensor Tower, the app has been downloaded more than 26-million times. It may not have been adopted as a marketing channel as predicted, but it has evolved into an essential servicing tool that allows customers to engage with businesses, self-serve, and ultimately increase convenience
At least in part, it is because of how WhatsApp Business has been designed. From the get-go, it’s been a strictly opt-in service, with customers able to visit a business’ WhatsApp profile by scanning a QR code, clicking on a link on an ad, or following a shortlink that you’ve shared with them.
With that in mind, how should your business integrate WhatsApp into its communication strategy?
It’s easy to understand the appeal of WhatsApp as a communication channel. With more than 2-billion users, there’s an almost 100% certainty that your customers are on WhatsApp. This is especially true in an Android-dominant market like South Africa, where WhatsApp is most people’s default messaging service.
If any organisation is to take the maxim “be where your customers are” seriously, then it has to be on WhatsApp. It also allows users to easily share links, photos, documents, and location data. The ability to move seamlessly between mobile and web only heightens its appeal. Small wonder then that organisations were looking for ways to use WhatsApp as a communication channel before WhatsApp Business launched.
But it’s also clear that WhatsApp wouldn’t have worked as an unrestricted push marketing channel. The app achieved almost all of its growth without adverts of any kind, so allowing companies to market to people directly would’ve felt alien. And even if people didn’t fall out of love with the app, they would’ve rapidly lost patience with any brands that abused their presence on it.
Fulfilling the desire for self-service
As it stands, WhatsApp Business is a strong self-service channel. As well as creating a business profile with helpful information for your customers like your address, business description, email address, and website, it allows you to do things like create quick replies for your most asked questions and set automated messages.
Additionally, using the WhatsApp Business API, organisations can build experiences that make it easy for customers to find the information they need as well as do things like make appointments, settle invoices, and buy goods based on personal recommendations. Utilised properly, it can provide customers with immediate, personalised customer service. But as with any other communication channel, businesses need to ensure that the experience they promise is met in reality.
Given those features, it’s possible to get a clearer sense not only of why WhatsApp should be part of your business’ communication strategy, but how it should be integrated too.
Part of the mix
As tempting as it might be to see WhatsApp as a total solution, it’s important to remember that it’s just one part of a wider customer communication mix. While some customers may want to engage with your business on WhatsApp, that may not be true of everyone. It’s also important to remember that people use different channels on different devices at different times of the day. That means they should always have the option to communicate with your organisation across as wide a range of relevant channels as possible.
You can also use some of those other channels, including email and SMS, to encourage adoption of WhatsApp and to help customers understand how they can use it as a servicing channel. It’s additionally important to remember that whole processes don’t have to take place on WhatsApp. Even just having a part of a journey take place on WhatsApp can improve the overall experience.
Anyone who’s booked a flight over the past few years would’ve seen that many airlines now offer passengers the option to have their boarding passes sent to them via WhatsApp. That’s one less thing they have to worry about before getting on their flight.
With the right document protection in place, there’s no reason insurers (for example) couldn’t do the same with documents such as policy quotes and claim resolutions. The same is true for any number of functions across a broad range of industries.
Don’t WhatsApp me, I’ll WhatsApp you
Critical to all of these functions being successful, however, is the fact that they’re initiated by customers. They’re telling the organisation that they want to be communicated with on WhatsApp. Even though WhatsApp has not changed marketing communications as expected, it has fast become one of the most important tools when building strong and lasting relationships with customers – giving customers the right channel to approach you when they need something makes marketing to them later easier
No matter how much WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business evolve then, it will be critical that they remember what customers are telling them: “Don’t WhatsApp me, I’ll WhatsApp you.”