Early last week, WhatsApp announced that they’re opening up new features for both small and large businesses to help companies better communicate with customers. After hearing rumors about this for over a year now, brands may soon be able to get “verified” profile in the app; official business accounts will become marked by a green checkmark. This is huge news for brands interested in developing a 1:1 relationship with their customers, at scale, especially internationally.
In 2014, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion. Since then, the user base has more than doubled, from about 450 million to a over a billion users, as the official WhatsApp blog mentions. Enterprise chatbots have certainly been the “concept du jour”, but both small and large businesses have already been using WhatsApp to communicate with their customers, manually. No “WhatsApp chatbot” exist yet. As WhatsApp noted on their official blog, “We’ve heard stories of shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone”.
Now the company is looking beyond shopkeepers and focusing on major enterprises. WhatsApp has turned its sights on WhatsApp for monetization… inevitably. “We’re building and testing new tools via … an enterprise solution for bigger companies operating at a large scale with a global base of customers, like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks. These businesses will be able to use our solutions to provide customers with useful notifications like flight times, delivery confirmations, and other updates.”
What WhatsApp Means For Enterprise Companies
Over the past year, there’s been a battle to capture consumers attention in messaging apps. An all out Chat War exists between Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s Messenger, Kik, Slack for business and more. Brands now have a major opportunity to utilize WhatsApp as another medium to build a relationship with their customers on a 1:1 level. There are two major elements that make WhatsApp for Business different than the other messaging platforms.
What’s unique about WhatsApp is that even though this Verified Enterprise platform is new, large brands have already dabbled in experiences here.
The first is that WhatsApp has an enormous presence internationally. Its support for a wide range of phones has made it especially popular in areas with costly SMS fees, including Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia—where 60 percent of the population uses WhatsApp. In fact, WhatsApp is the most popular alternative to SMS in 109 countries, almost half of the world.
WhatsApp is also tackling 1:1 communication differently than the other chatbot frameworks. On the WhatsApp blog they state, “In the coming months, we’ll… make it easier for people to communicate with the businesses they want to reach on WhatsApp. Our approach is simple – we want to apply what we’ve learned helping people connect with each other to helping people connect with businesses that are important to them”. While platforms like Messenger and Kik have discoverable “bot stores”, on WhatsApp consumers must opt-in or know the business phone number. WhatsApp confirmed “Businesses will only be able to contact people who have provided their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp. Consumers must also opt-in to notifications when providing their phone number in your website.” This may feel more personal for users chatting with brands versus a WhatsApp chatbot?
Here’s how brands are using it
What’s unique about WhatsApp is that even though this Verified Enterprise platform is new, large brands have already dabbled in experiences here. For example, in 2013, Absolut Vodka launched the first marketing campaign on the platform to promote their Limited Edition Absolut Unique collection. They focused the execution on the Argentina market, since 84 percent of the country’s mobile phone users were on the app at the time. As the Hootsuite case study mentioned, “For the launch they decided to host a very exclusive party. The catch? There were only two invitations available to the public. Anyone wanting to win these tickets had to use WhatsApp to contact an imaginary bouncer named Sven and convince him to let them go.The campaign generated over 1,000 unique images, videos, and audio messages people created to convince Sven, and built buzz in the community.”
The news from lasts week announcement, however, focuses on more utility-based applications. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced that they are the first airline to get Verified access and implement WhatsApp Verified Business Accounts. KLM now offers customers around the world booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass, flight status updates and allows travelers to ask questions in 10 different languages. “I am very proud that KLM is the world’s first airline with a verified WhatsApp account. This unique partnership with WhatsApp underlines our position as an aviation pioneer. We want to be where our customers are and, given the 1 billion users, you have to be on WhatsApp. With an account verified by WhatsApp, we offer our customers worldwide a reliable way to receive their flight information and ask questions 24/7. This truly is a major next step in our social media strategy,” said KLM president and CEO Pieter Elbers in an official press release.
These businesses are just the start. Hospitality brands should be looking into the space. WhatsApp is a the perfect avenue to let consumers book a hotel room, get customer support, and access an on-site concierge. Retail brands should also be exploring the space. Beyond just shipping confirmations, 1:1 messaging is the future of personalized commerce and post-purchase customer service. Finally, QSR and fast casual brands should jump into the space. Order ahead or delivery is an obvious and powerful utility in messaging.
What WhatsApp Verified profiles mean for brands today
For now this program is still in beta. There is a survey brands can fill out if they are interested in getting an official business account here. Also, there is little to note about “WhatsApp chatbots”. WhatsApp says, “Whether someone is communicating with a business around the corner or around the globe, people expect WhatsApp to be fast, reliable, and secure.” They also only mention automation in this context; “Features for helping manage customer chats like away messages for when businesses are not able to respond at the moment.”
At Snaps, our platform powers brands like Nike, Marriott, Simon, Live Nation and others in launching experiences in conversational UI (chatbots, iMessage apps, Alexa skills, etc). We’re excited to see WhatsApp developer further as a platform for enterprise.