Pankaja Balaji explores WhatsApp Business and what it spells for businesses, especially the small players.
A peek into what WhatsApp Business spells for businesses
WhatsApp is a crowd pleaser. Simple to learn and simpler to use. Well, it used to be.
WhatsApp was launched in 2009 when those with BlackBerry, iPhone and Android, despite owning a phone, were struggling to communicate with each other. Each operating system (OS) had its own messengers which had their own quirks. Exclusivity, not communication, was the thing of the hour.
Then entered WhatsApp. And at zero cost, it took over. Available on App stores, it allowed users to set status messages, know when someone read their message, back up chats on Google Drive and even call people across the world without the need to pay exorbitant charges.
While all of this was fantastic, what made WhatsApp so amazing is how it began making people that much more accessible. Waiting for emails and anticipating long awkward phone calls were the things of the past. Interns were following up with seniors, colleagues were confirming meetings over the messaging platform, rental details were being shared and magazine editors were easing deadlines for desperate writers.
Another group of people who began to take advantage of the app were vendors. Product photos, delivery addresses, banking details and even tracking began to be shared more informally. Instagram and Facebook showcased the products; WhatsApp ensured it reached the customer.
While the creators of WhatsApp did not choose to monetise this, Facebook which acquired the app in 2014, has a history of successfully, if not ethically, making money of its various products. WhatsApp Business (WB) is no different.
WhatsApp Business launched early this year internationally and arrived in India a few weeks later. It came packed with intuitive features that might seem small but are critical to customer service, especially for its target audience of small businesses.
India is home to 36.2 million MSMEs, who are struggling to get new orders, meet their production deadlines and ensure services, all the while making sure that they don’t lose touch with their clients and customers. A free service like WB could be that critical factor that ensured that communication between the service provider and the customer was open. Communication is essential to customer service and relationship, it can help build trustworthiness, repeat business, referrals and customer loyalty.
WB’s new stack of features is about signing up under a business profile. Users who have set up this type of account will have a ‘B’ next to their name indicating that the number belongs to a business account.
This business profile allows users to share their company profile, including their location, through Google Maps, email ID, website and a description of the business. WhatsApp has announced that it will eventually start verifying the profiles, adding another layer of authenticity. This will work much like how Twitter-verified accounts work, with a mark or symbol indicating WB has done its due diligence.
This set of profiles come with the perks of a variety of communication tools, customised automatic greetings, smart messages to reply to FAQs, away messages to indicate office hours and labels to organise different types of ongoing conversations including new customers, new orders, paid and others. Importantly, conversations are encrypted with the possibility of setting up a two-step verification, which ensures privacy and data security.
WB is a separate app that can be downloaded which makes it possible to manage both private and official accounts. Also, keeping in mind their target audience of small businesses, WB has allowed the option of registering with a landline number.
The new business version also gives basic data analytics, such as the number of messages sent, number read and others. This is to help users tweak their outreach.
THE BIG VS THE SMALL
Though WB is for the small businesses, the big players are enthusiastic about it.
Kotak Mahindra and ICICI have both shared that they will be testing the app for its customer engagement. Kotak Mahindra piloted it amongst its customers for verifying Aadhaar, updating PAN and other details, as well as putting requests or stopping standing instructions.
Any working adult would tell you how convenient it would be to manage all these banking concerns on a weekday. But it is yet to be determined if the bank will be able to manage the inflow of customer requests and respond with the minimal turnabout such communication might demand. ICICI, on the other hand, will test it with a closed group before taking a call.
BookMyShow has already begun rolling out its pilot partnership with WB. They are sending ticket confirmations via WhatsApp on the registered mobile number. Of course, clients can opt out anytime. It begs the question, why are customers not being asked if they wanted one more avenue of communication with the business and how long will it be before it begins sending marketing spam?