In this article, we look at the features, pros and cons of the business-focused version of WhatsApp. 

Launched in 2018 

The business-focused Android version of ‘WhatsApp Business’ was launched in January 2018 in the UK, and the iOS version was launched in early 2019. Available for free, but with pricing per message and a cost for the API, the app is specifically aimed at the needs of small businesses, which account for 99.3% of all private sector businesses in the UK (FSB). 

Connect Small Businesses With Their Customers 

At the time of its launch, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said that it wanted people to use WhatsApp to connect with small businesses, and that the new ‘WhatsApp Business’ would make it easier for companies to connect with customers and offer a more convenient way for the 1.3 billion WhatsApp users to chat with businesses. WhatsApp describes it as “a simple tool for businesses to talk to their customers.” 

Why It Was Launched 

Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 for $22 billion, the company had been looking for ways to monetise the app which, although was developed for use by individuals, was being widely used by people in business, and in large and small organisations as a collaboration tool for staff. 

WhatsApp also wanted to gain a march on rivals in what had become a battle for the attention of consumers by messaging apps including Apple’s iMessage, Facebook’s Messenger, Kik, Slack for business, and others. 

What Can It Do? 

Some of the key features and benefits of WhatsApp Business include: 

  • Business Profiles: to help companies to provide useful information to customers, e.g. business description, email or store addresses, and website. This helps customers to be confident that they are communicating with the right business. 

  • Business Smart Messaging Tools: to enable companies to respond quickly with answers to frequently asked questions, also greeting messages to introduce customers to the business, and away messages that let them know you’re busy. Quick responses can help give the right impression, help with sales-conversion, and stop customers from going to competitors. 

  • Landline/Fixed Number Support: WhatsApp Business can be used with a landline (or fixed) phone number and customers can message that number. This makes communication more convenient and stops businesses missing out on enquiries. 

  • WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Messenger can be run on the same phone, with each app having their own unique phone number. This makes them very convenient for business owners to operate and enables quick responses and the chance to make the most of opportunities as they arise. 

  • Messaging Statistics: simple metrics like the number of messages read to see what’s working. This can give businesses a way of measuring and monitoring the effectiveness of the app and can give valuable marketing insights. 

  • WhatsApp Web: to enable the sending and receiving of messages with WhatsApp Business on the desktop (via WhatsApp Web). Again, this is a convenient feature for business owners. 

  • Account Type: so that customers will know that they’re talking to a business because it is listed as a Business Account. This can become a Confirmed Account later (similar feature to Twitter’s verification process), and once confirmed, the account phone number will match the business phone number. This helps with customer confidence and can, therefore, help with customer conversion. 

  • WhatsApp allows users to send photos, it has end-to-end encryption security (an important feature for businesses), allows for easy document sharing (up to 100 MB), and allows for seamless syncing of your chats to your computer so that you can chat on whatever device is most convenient. The security aspect of the encryption is a big attraction to businesses and, being able to send photos and other media makes it easier to conduct businesses and help with buying, selling, and customer support while on the go. 

  • WhatsApp Business is built on top of WhatsApp Messenger and, therefore includes all the popular features that users are already familiar with, e.g. the ability to send multimedia, free calls, and free international messaging (depending on the user’s provider), group chat, offline messages, and much more.  

Business-Focused Cloud API For WhatsApp Business Too 

Back in May, Meta’s WhatsApp also announced that it was opening WhatsApp to all businesses and developers with a new cloud-based API service. WhatsApp Cloud API, on the WhatsApp Business Platform, offers businesses secure cloud hosting services provided by Meta and the new API (application programming interface) allows apps to communicate with each other. This means that businesses can, for example, build-in a customised customer service chat feature to their website that uses a customised version of WhatsApp (built directly on top of WhatsApp), accessible via a dashboard, for the conversation. Previously, businesses had been set up on the non-cloud version, including Vodafone, BMW, and KLM.  

Concerns And Disadvantages of WhatsApp Business 

Some of the concerns and disadvantages around WhatsApp Business include: 

  • Secuity and privacy concerns. For, example, Kaspersky recently reported uncovering malicious versions of a WhatsApp messenger mod known as YoWhatsApp and WhatsApp Plus that were being used to spread the Triada mobile Trojan and steal WhatsApp access keys.  
  • Also, back in 2020, a Business Insider Report highlighted how third-party apps may be exposing some data and details of the activity of WhatsApp users. Concerns have also been expressed by some that WhatsApp Business automatically reads all a user’s saved contacts and phone numbers that are stored. 
  • Concerns that WhatsApp Business lacks the advanced sales and service functions of WhatsApp API.
  • Limitations of employee accounts and devices. For example, one account can be linked to five devices, but the devices are all linked to the same number. This could create confusion in communications, i.e. who has answered which customer question. 

Other Business-Focused Services 

Other business-focused services recently announced by Meta also include:  

  • A ‘Recurring Notifications’ service (available on Messenger  and also available for businesses on Instagram by autumn) to help businesses re-engage people in the right messaging thread, choose the topics that people can opt-in to, and how often customers can hear from the business.  
  • Communities on WhatsApp which will enable users to bring together separate groups (e.g., schools, local clubs, and non-profit organisations, and businesses) under one umbrella with a structure.  
  • Reactions – a set of six different emojis (a red heart, thumbs up, laughter, a sad face, a surprised face/wow, and a “thanks” emoji) that can be used in busy group chats, e.g., as part of ‘Communities’.  👍🏼
  • Improved voice messaging services on WhatsApp. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Many businesspeople and their customers use WhatsApp on a regular basis anyway – WhatsApp is the most used chat app in the UK – and are already familiar with its functions and benefits. Many tech and business commentators are also saying that 1:1 messaging is the future of personalised commerce and post-purchase customer service. It makes sense, therefore, that Meta would make the step to a business version to provide a way to monetise the app and then to expand the business aspects of the app to fight powerful post-pandemic competitors and create new sources of revenue other than advertising.  

Many smaller business users may already be happy using the free existing version and are aware of its benefits, i.e., wide user-base, the speed and versatility of communications and security (end-to-end encryption). However, Meta has been expanding its businesses services, and many businesses, 4 years down the line since its introduction, may still not be aware of the extra value they could get from the features of WhatsApp Business. There are many possible applications for WhatsApp Business, such as KLM’s use of the app for flight confirmations and updates, brands using the app on competitions, and WhatsApp Business could work well in industries such as hospitality. WhatsApp Business could also provide a perfect way to enable customers to book a hotel room, get customer support, and even access an on-site member of staff such as a concierge. Retail brands could use the app for many purposes in addition to just shipping confirmations, and WhatsApp is well positioned enough, and widely used enough to provide opportunities for businesses worldwide to improve their communication and relationship marketing.  

More recently, Meta has tried to use WhatsApp Cloud API as something to tempt more businesses into taking the plunge with WhatsApp Business. Cloud API, for example, available through WhatsApp Business can offer businesses a fast and uncomplicated way to set up a secure and scalable direct messaging channel with customers that could boost sales in a changing environment where fast messaging responses are now expected by customers. WhatsApp Business, therefore, is still something that many smaller businesses may not have had a serious look at yet but aspects like Cloud API and other features that Meta will no doubt add may start tempting more businesses to look at how competitors are benefitting from its features, and how they could add value to their own business.

By Mike Knight

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