How to Use WhatsApp for Business: Tips for Marketing & Customer Service.

What's up with WhatsApp? These tips and tricks will help you deliver great customer care and launch innovative marketing campaigns through the world's biggest messaging platform.
Maxwell Gollin
Maxwell Gollin
March 25, 2019 - 14 min. read

WhatsApp is massive. It’s the most popular messaging app in the world, with over 1.5 billion monthly active users across 180 countries.

Obviously, businesses are scrambling over each other to reach this enormous audience. It’s not as easy as you might think, though—after all, WhatsApp currently doesn’t serve ads and its encrypted messaging system means targeting would be very limited anyway.

Plus, WhatsApp Business users need to pay for each message they send unless customers message them first.

Lately, though, smart companies have been discovering effective ways of reaching customers on WhatsApp. The messaging app has proven very useful for customer service, one-on-one communications and even unconventional marketing campaigns.

Still, the cost per message and limited advertising features have left some businesses unsure if having a presence on WhatsApp is worth their time and money. Well, we’ve got news for them: it is.

To jump ahead, just click the links below:

  1. WhatsApp Business vs. WhatsApp Business API
  2. How to Use WhatsApp for Customer Service
  3. How to Use WhatsApp for Marketing
  4. The Future of WhatsApp for Business

Why use WhatsApp for your business?

Right off the bat, WhatsApp’s sheer audience size makes it appealing for marketers. This is especially true if your business has a presence in countries such as Brazil or India, which have 120 million and 300 million active users respectively.

In the EU, WhatsApp also has amazing market penetration – 85% of Dutch smartphone owners use the app along with 85% of Spaniards and 84% Italians. Even in the US where WhatsApp has a relatively small presence, there are still over 23 million active users.

whatsapp messenger apps user base
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the majority of countries worldwide.

Beyond just the scale of its user base, there are three main reasons businesses should seriously consider developing a presence on WhatsApp.

First, WhatsApp is a useful customer service channel. It enables community managers to engage with customers quickly and easily on a platform they’re comfortable with. It’s also free for brands if they have a response time under 24 hours.

Second, WhatsApp is underrated as a digital communications channel. WhatsApp Status alone has over 450 million daily active users. Messaging groups of customers can reach up to 256 people at a time, while 1:1 comms can build relationships with users that strengthen brand loyalty.

Third, WhatsApp marketing is more powerful than many brands believe. From sending paid notifications to directly messaging leads, there are plenty of strategies and features marketers can use to boost revenue and increase conversions.

We’ll be diving into how to use WhatsApp for businesses in a second—but first, we want to clear up how small & medium businesses can use WhatsApp versus how larger business can take advantage of its capabilities.

WhatsApp Business vs. WhatsApp Business API: How to use WhatsApp for small businesses or for enterprise

If you’re using WhatsApp for business reasons, it doesn’t make sense to do so through a private account. You risk losing access to the account and you miss out on tons of useful features.

For small businesses, WhatsApp has a solution: WhatsApp Business. This app is available for Android and iOS, but it’s also accessible as an online platform called WhatsApp Web that you can use in-browser if you already have a business account set up for your company.

WhatsApp Business is specifically designed for smaller companies that want to organize their presence on WhatsApp. It’s free to use, but a little more limited in its capabilities than the WhatsApp Business API.

What features does WhatsApp Business have?

whatsapp business app features
From business profiles to automatic away messages, WhatsApp Business offers a number of useful features.

  • Business Profile: You can create a publicly-visible profile with information about your business, including email address, location, description, URL, hours, logo and more.
  • WhatsApp Business Statistics: You can see basic analytics reports about your account activity such as the number of messages sent, delivered, read and received.
  • Labels: You can add custom color-coded labels to active chats with customers to keep them organized.
  • Greetings: You’re able to set up a default greeting message for customers that start chats with your business.
  • Away messages: You can pre-set messages to send to customers when you’re not online.
  • Quick replies: You can save frequently-used responses to send quickly by typing short commands starting with “/”. For example, if you save a quick reply telling customers your address, you could type “/address” to automatically send a pre-written message like “Thanks for asking! Our address is 123 Main Street.”

The WhatsApp Business app definitely makes things easier for small brands. It makes business information more readily available to customers and helps with sorting active chats. Plus, it has some auto-reply capabilities and enough response templates to handle a smaller customer base.

However, medium and enterprise-sized companies will probably need a more powerful tool if they’re dealing with large numbers of users or want to add more functionality. That’s where the WhatsApp Business API comes in.

What is the WhatsApp Business API?

The WhatsApp Business API lets brands tap into WhatsApp’s code themselves to get deeper insights and add their own features and integrations.

For example, take KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. They were the first brand to test the API back in 2017, and they were able to get a lot out of it.

With a simple customer opt-in while purchasing flight tickets, KLM could send booking confirmations, flight status updates, check-in reminders, mobile boarding passes. Plus, KLM was able to provide 24/7 customer service. Check out how they used the WhatsApp Business API in this clip:

Looks great, right? Unfortunately, only about 90 companies currently have access to the WhatsApp Business API, and public use is still limited. You can sign up with this form if you want your company to be considered for access.

Alternatively, you can use a third-party tool for WhatsApp that already has access to the WhatsApp Business API and is a certified WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (BSP). Third-party tools like Falcon.io allow businesses to filter, label, and manage WhatsApp messages alongside messages from other social networks within a single social inbox, for example.

So, if you don’t want to use your personal WhatsApp account for business (and we strongly recommend that your don’t) you have three options:

  1. Use the WhatsApp Business app (for small businesses)
  2. Get access to the WhatsApp Business API (for enterprise)
  3. Buy a third-party tool from a WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (for all businesses that want to strengthen their WhatsApp presence)

WhatsApp customer service tips & tricks

For most brands, WhatsApp is first and foremost a customer service channel. For people who use it as their main form of digital communication, it’s a really convenient and natural platform to reach out to businesses with questions or concerns.

In fact, a recent survey by Facebook found that out of nine ways of communicating with brands, messaging is now the second most popular with consumers (the other eight were postal mail, email, phone calls, social media, SMS, social media, VoIP, video chat and in-person conversations). The same survey also found that 53% of people who message businesses said they were more likely to shop with a brand they could reach through a messaging app.

whatsapp customer service statistics
Consumers now prefer to message businesses more than almost any other means of communication. Source: Facebook IQ

It’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require customers to be stuck on hold for hours. It’s no shock that WhatsApp is a preferred customer service channel for its users. But it can also be a great customer service tool for brands. Here are our top tips for businesses that want to offer great WhatsApp customer care:

1. Always respond within 24 hours

This may sound like a no-brainer, but quick replies are a pillar of successful WhatsApp Customer Service. After all, 42% of people who message brands now expect a response in under an hour. Plus, a recent study even found that the faster businesses responded to customer service requests, the more those customers were willing to pay for their products.

On WhatsApp, replying to customer service requests quickly has an added bonus. If your business replies to a customer within 24 hours of their latest message, it’s free. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay between 0.5 and 9 cents US per message to reply (depending on what country you’re in). This is a lot steeper than typical SMS fees, so you’ll save a lot of money if you consistently respond to customers within one day.

2. Take advantage of different message formats

WhatsApp offers a lot of features that make communication easier for businesses and customers alike. For instance, you can send photos, videos, exact locations, GIFs, PDFs, or even voice recordings.

This variety of formats means you aren’t limited to answering customers’ inquiries with text alone. Brands can send video tutorials or PDF guides to help out users with more complex problems, and users can send screenshots or videos showing the issues they’re dealing with.

how to share files on whatsappSending documents, audio, videos and more is extremely easy on WhatsApp. Source: Soya Cincau

Plus, you can deliver a fun, positive customer service experience by throwing in some fun GIFs (if appropriate—we wouldn’t recommend this for, say, a funeral parlor).

3. Consider using WhatsApp chatbots

If you have access to the WhatsApp Business API, you can add a chatbot to your business account to automatically answer common questions. This can save you time and energy, and it means you’ll always be able to send a response within 24 hours.

However, it’s important that you don’t leave everything to the bot. Think of it as an automatic FAQ, and make sure you still have a human around to answer less common questions and deliver personalized responses.

(If you don’t have access to the API, you can still set up automatic away messages and greetings with the WhatsApp Business app—we highly recommend doing so to save time and energy and keep your response times down.)

4. Publicize your WhatsApp customer service number

facebook click to whatsapp ads
Facebook offers click-to-WhatsApp ads you can put on promoted content to get people to message you. Source: Adweek

There’s no point in setting up and offering customer service on WhatsApp if no one knows you’re using it. Once you have a business account set up and a dedicated employee or team ready to handle WhatsApp inquiries, you can add a link, button or phone number to your social media accounts, website, email signature and more.

There are a variety of ways to integrate links to message your business on WhatsApp via social media or your website—here’s a guide on how to do it.

5. Handle replies via WhatsApp Web (or a third-party tool)

Trying to respond to large volumes of messages on your phone isn’t realistic—it’s time-consuming and unscalable, not to mention how sore your thumbs will be.

Luckily, WhatsApp users can also send and receive messages through their browser by using WhatsApp Web. This option lets you use a mouse and keyboard (or a headset if you’re taking calls), making your customer service workflows faster and more efficient.

how to use whatsapp web
WhatsApp Web lets you use the platform in your browser, making it faster and easier to send large numbers of replies. Source: WhatsApp via Softonic

If your business wants to deliver WhatsApp customer service even more efficiently, there are third-party tools like Falcon.io which let you view all incoming messages in one inbox, assign them to different employees, label them, sort them by read/unread and more.

We hope these tips and tricks for WhatsApp customer service help you deliver great experiences to your customers. But what if you want to go beyond just answering replies and use WhatsApp more proactively for marketing?

WhatsApp marketing strategy tips & tricks

WhatsApp is definitely not the most obvious marketing channel. You can’t initiate conversations with customers except for sending non-promotional notifications, and even those cost money. You also can’t advertise to users, and you need their phone numbers before you can contact them in the first place.

However, these barriers to entry have an upside: despite WhatsApp’s 1.5+ billion users, only a minority of businesses are actively using the platform for marketing. That means less competition and an audience that’s likely to be less annoyed and more receptive to your campaigns.

Plus, the limitations of WhatsApp marketing will force you to be more innovative with your strategy and try new techniques for engaging users. Here are some of the best ways to face the challenge of launching a WhatsApp marketing campaign.

1. Use WhatsApp Status to reach a broad audience

WhatsApp Status is WhatsApp’s take on the popular Stories format. It currently has over 450 million daily active users, beating out Facebook Stories’ 300 million and Snapchat’s 186 million DAUs.

If you’re not using WhatsApp Status to communicate with your business’s contacts, you’re missing out on one of the biggest channels available. But what type of content should you post?

One option is to build brand awareness and customer loyalty by telling entertaining, human stories about life at your office or an event you’re attending. Think of this as being a continuation of your social media marketing strategy on Facebook and Instagram Stories.

Another is to use your Status more promotionally. For instance, try posting images or videos highlighting flash sales or temporary discounts on your website. Since the content will disappear after 24 hours, this is a great way to create a sense of FOMO and get people excited about your products.

2. Engage users through WhatsApp Groups 

If you want to form a community around your brand on WhatsApp, Groups are your best bet. They allow up to 256 people per group to interact with your business and with each other.

BUT: be aware that WhatsApp Groups are purely for customer service purposes. WhatsApp clearly forbids using its platform for “advertising, marketing or promotional messages unless authorized by us in writing”.

Consider WhatsApp Groups a branded channel where anyone who wants to join can ask questions or discuss your latest products or campaigns. Because they have a maximum size, Groups have an air of exclusivity. You can take advantage of that by spreading the word on your other channels that the first 256 people to join, for example, get access to special discounts and offers.

whatsapp groups invite linkWhatsApp Group admins can invite users to groups through links, social shares and even QR codes. Source: Quora

WhatsApp Groups also have untapped potential for content marketing. Since WhatsApp lets you send links, images, videos, PDFs and more, why not set up a newsletter-style distribution model where people sign up to get sent your latest ebooks, blog articles, and videos? But again, consider WhatsApp rules around promotional messaging, and seek permission from them if you feel you may not be complying.

BBC Africa experimented with WhatsApp content distribution with their “Young, Angry and Connected” video series, which sent short clips to WhatsApp users who signed up to follow it. The result was a major success on an unconventional comms channel:

Give it a shot—you’ll be reaching an audience that’s already shown interest in your content on a channel that’s comfortable and familiar to them.

3. Go for nontraditional campaigns

With WhatsApp, you need users to message you first before you can reach out to them. Since you can’t make the first move, you need to get creative.

WhatsApp marketing is all about motivating users to message you, give you their phone number or join your Groups. That means you have to make it worth their while.

Take online retailer Buyagift, for example. They created a landing page on their website that gave their WhatsApp number out and offered to send valuable coupon codes to anyone who messaged them the word “Start”.

One of the most compelling parts of the campaign was a mock screenshot with examples of the deals users who opted in could expect, complete with the WhatsApp format:

Buyagift whatsapp marketing campaign examples
This landing page clearly shows consumers the value of messaging the brand on WhatsApp. Source: Buyagift via Econsultancy

Or consider Absolut Vodka. They were promoting the launch of a new product with an exclusive party, and they started a WhatsApp marketing campaign to give away tickets to the event.

Basically, they invented a fictional bouncer named Sven who people could contact on WhatsApp to convince him to give them tickets. A community manager at Absolut played the role and got three days of nonstop messages, over 600 contacts and more than 1000 pieces of user-generated content made for the campaign.

See how it played out for yourself:

The key learning here is that getting creative and offering real benefits to people who reach out to your business on WhatsApp can generate leads, engagement, and a lot of brand awareness.

The future of WhatsApp: advertising, “Facebookification” and third-party tools

While the tips & tricks we’ve just discussed cover a lot of what you can do as a business on WhatsApp today, there’s a bold new future opening up on the platform for brands.

For one thing, advertising will be a part of WhatsApp very soon. In October 2018, WhatsApp announced that WhatsApp Status ads would be coming this year, and they’re already being beta tested by a number of brands.

When WhatsApp Status ads are finally available to the public, it’s going to be huge. That means advertising access to 1.5 billion previously unreachable accounts. Brands that jump on the ad format from the start will likely be able to reach a massive audience with relatively little competition, so we recommend planning now how to adapt your Facebook & Instagram Stories advertising strategy to WhatsApp.

And speaking of the WhatsApp-Facebook-Instagram connection, another recent development looks poised to forever change WhatsApp’s fate. According to the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate messaging across WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

whatsapp messenger instagram integration zuckerberg
In a recent post, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he sees encrypted messaging as the future of social networking. Photo credit: AP

While the three apps will remain separate, their backend will be combined under one infrastructure by late 2019 or early 2020. Plus, Zuckerberg plans to add end-to-end encryption for messages sent on all three apps. In March 2019, he stated his new vision for social networks as platforms for private messaging.

What does all this mean for marketers and businesses? For one thing, it’s clear that part of the reason Facebook is integrating all three messaging platforms is to unify advertising. Facebook has struggled to monetize WhatsApp since they acquired it in 2014, and this might just do the trick.

Once WhatsApp ads are released, it’s likely they’ll be launchable through Facebook Ads Manager. What’s more, the integration will make it easy for Facebook to keep adding and expanding on WhatsApp advertising formats. It’ll also make it easy for advertisers who already run campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to add WhatsApp to the mix.

Plus, right now WhatsApp’s encryption would make targeting ads a struggle, as there’s not really any user data to base targeting on. This integration could connect user profiles across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, letting brands connect user phone numbers to their FB & IG data and target ads accordingly.

facebook video objectives
Could WhatsApp become another placement option in Facebook Ads Manager soon?

While this is just speculation at the moment, it’s not exactly implausible given that WhatsApp’s co-founders both resigned last year over conflicts with Facebook’s leadership over how to monetize WhatsApp with targeted ads.

Finally, the release of the WhatsApp Business API means more and more third-party WhatsApp tools (aka WhatsApp Business Solution Providers) will become available in the coming years. For brands, that means more advanced analytics and more features to organize their customer service and comms on WhatsApp. Eventually, it might even mean third-party advertising tools to streamline WhatsApp ad campaigns.

All in all, brands should expect a lot of new options for customer service and marketing on WhatsApp in the next couple of years. Facebook clearly wants to monetize the platform fast and incorporate it as smoothly as possible into its product ecosystem.

If you’re on WhatsApp already, think about how you can improve your customer service, work in some clever marketing campaigns, prep for Status ads and consider whether you need a third-party tool. And if you’re not on WhatsApp, it looks like the right time to jump on the bandwagon.