Is WhatsApp the future of customer support?
This is a question we’ve been asking ourselves at SentiSum for a little while now.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (who acquired WhatsApp in 2014), revealed in a Q2 2020 conference call that WhatsApp for Business, “has 50 million people using it and is growing quickly”. So far, its main offering is customer service.
In December 2020, the founder & CEO of Zendesk, Mikkel Svane, Tweeted that over Thanksgiving weekend, WhatsApp as a customer-company communication channel grew by 800%. They integrated in 2018, but just at the end of 2020 are they seeing significant usage figures.
You may have also noticed Facebook’s latest acquisition: Kustomer. The acquisition of the customer service CRM software is being seen as a further move by Facebook to capitalize on their messaging reach (Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp messenger) and diversify out of the risky social networking into the customer service space.
Increasingly, it’s looking likely that WhatsApp—which has over 2 billion active users—will emerge as a common way for businesses to communicate natively with customers.
Should you start delivering customer support through WhatsApp?
We will always err on the side of more customer support channels. Well, as long as the experience can be consistent.
But, is it valuable for customer’s to be able to contact you through WhatsApp?
We can see a few reason it is, it’s global; it’s native to the customer’s existing messaging experience; it’s widely seen as credible and secure; and it’s another channel to reach you on.
We browsed through the 5* reviews on the App Store (driven entirely by small business owners). Here are some common themes people love about doing customer support through WhatsApp Business:
- Can answer customer queries on the go from your mobile.
- Fast distribution of media files. Send and receive files, images, and videos the same way you do on your personal WhatsApp.
- Automated messaging. Set an automated away message and a greeting message.
- Brand presence. Create a business profile to share information with your customers.
- Future purchase channel—at the moment you can only create a catalog to showcase your products.
These five points are inviting for a small business—the main target audience for WhatsApp Business—but, they’re less interesting for medium and large enterprises (who have lots of products and a team to respond to messages).
For the larger organisation, there’s an API and you’ll need a help desk enterprise solution that’s in the Facebook partner network.
There are a number of businesses who conduct customer support through WhatsApp. Their reviews are, perhaps, better indicators of what the benefits are for your business.
Here are the main benefits companies like Booking.com, Uber and Singapore Airlines mentioned:
- Increasing the number of channels means communicating with customers via their preferred channel. For example, sharing confirmations and updates via WhatsApp.
- Reach customers quickly and effectively.
- It’s a fast, familiar and reliable way to connect with customers.
- It saves customers from sending emails. If customers want to track orders, they can simply WhatsApp the request, tapping into the instant side of messaging.
- It’s the main communication platform for many countries—making it a way to get closer to the majority of customers.
- It can be designed as a new experience for customers. Making brand interaction more enjoyable.
- The customer engagement rate is higher than other channels—perhaps, a by-product of customer’s already high usage of WhatsApp.
- It’s got some serious social proof from globally well known companies.
Read more customer stories here.
An apt summary of our analysis so far would be that, 1. WhatsApp is ⅓ of the world’s preferred digital communication channel for a reason—it’s fast, simple, reliable and built for multimedia, and 2. Brands who open the channel for customer service queries, announcements and updates can, and should, tap into that seamlessness for business purposes.
Is implementing customer support through WhatsApp easy? What are the WhatsApp Business Limitations?
Having reviewed the details in the FAQs here, the salient points pros/ cons for ease of use are:
- You’re automatically upgraded through messaging tiers based on volume of messages sent. So your team won’t be suddenly blocked out by high volumes.
- You can use QR codes and short links for customers to join you quickly.
- It’s end-to-end encrypted, just like normal WhatsApp, as long as you don’t allow third-party access—which you may want to for various legitimate reasons and are able to do so.
- You can’t disable the chat function. If you can’t handle the volume of inbound response from users your only option is to setup an auto-reply message redirecting them to your proper support channels.
- The order in which messages arrive to your customer is not guaranteed. You’ll need to be slower in responses to guarantee it—listening to a callback of a message before sending a subsequent one.
Is customer support through WhatsApp safe for the customer?
There’s a legitimate worry as a customer that WhatsApp could be just too close to home. It’s a private messenger service and WhatsApp Business is totally new to that experience.
However, there are a few measures in place that protect the customer from underhand marketing tactics. For example, you won’t be able to send free form messages to every customer’s mobile phone.
Furthermore, as a company, you cannot send any message to any user at any time. As an enterprise, you must wait for a customer to contact you and you can respond anytime within the following 24 hours.
If an enterprise initiatives the conversation or contacts their customer more than 24 hours later, then they must use a pre-approved template. And this intended for messages like the one in the below image (i.e. not marketing blasts):
But if the enterprise is contacting a user before the user sends a message or after more than 24
Encryption is a key part of customer protection. WhatsApp Business is also end-to-end encrypted, and Zuckerberg has announced plans to bring WhatsApp level encryption to Instagram and Facebook Messenger as part of a continued privacy improvement program.
Customers are also able to block businesses—giving them control over who can contact them on their personal number.
Related read: 8 unique customer service improvement ideas that improve ROI
WhatsApp strategy for business: How can you get more from WhatsApp as a support channel?
- Mine conversations for customer insight
Ah, you discovered the part of the article where we have self-interest. Like live chat and email customer support, WhatsApp is a rich source of customer insight. You should be applying support ticket analytics to your customer conversations to understand your customer’s friction points, then, in turn, tackling them at the root cause.
If you have Zendesk, integrate Zendesk NLP support ticket tagging to scalably tag conversations with topic and sentiment. Your product team will thank you for the customer insight, and together you’ll be able to reduce ticket volume and improve the customer’s experience.
- Create a closed-loop feedback system—and support product marketing
When you know your customer’s friction points with your product or service, you’re able to solve them. Once they’re solved, WhatsApp becomes an excellent communication channel to reach out to the customer and let them know you’re listening, empathising and taking action on their feedback.
Not only is this a customer retention play, but it’s a way to spur product engagement and announce new releases.
- Create post-purchase engagement
Order tracking is an excellent use case in the eCommerce space. Providing clear communication through WhatsApp is a must for customer experience and it’ll reduce the volume of inbound requests from customers wondering where their package is. Customers can opt-in for these kind of notifications—receipts, shipping changes or flight times.
However, for businesses there’s also an upsell opportunity in the post-purchase customer touchpoint. For example, if you sell a product with parts that need replacing, you could set a reminder to notify the customer via WhatsApp that it’s time for a replacement.
There are a number of ways customer support can drive growth (we wrote an eBook on support driven growth recently). WhatsApp can easily facilitate a number of them: video calling with customers in need; anomaly alerting; and tracking product feedback.
- Use rich media to increase ticket resolution time
Drop images, videos and links into your customer conversations to create high value engagement. It’s a perfect opportunity to utilise your knowledge base, but it also works both ways. In the right context, customers can send you videos of the problem they’re facing to explain it clearly and decrease the time it takes to resolve the issue.
What's your experience with WhatsApp Business? What tips do you have? Let us know by emailing us on ben[at]sentisum.com and we'll add your thoughts into the article.