The Ultimate Guide for the WhatsApp Business API & How to Get Started
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging service in the world. Around two billion people in 180 countries use it every month, with more than 100 billion messages sent every day.
Communication is a key part of any successful business, and with so many people using WhatsApp for messaging, businesses are interested in using it as well.
In this guide, we will give you an overview of everything you need to know about using WhatsApp communication for your business. We’ll look at why you should be using it, which version you should be using, how to activate WhatsApp, how to integrate it into your call center and chatbots, and how WhatsApp can reduce costs and enhance customer experiences across different sectors.
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Why use WhatsApp for Business Communication?
Seven out of ten businesses believe they are communicating effectively with their customers. Only two in every 10 customers agree.
Think for a moment about how you would prefer to contact a business you have dealings with as a private customer. Would you prefer to call them or send an email? Do you really want to fill out a contact form on a web browser?
If you’d prefer to contact them via a text message then you’re in good company. Nearly two-thirds of all customers say they prefer to send a message rather than phone a business or send an email. And for most people, that means using WhatsApp for messaging businesses, which offers secure and private conversations.
Your business is almost certainly using WhatsApp already. But it isn’t using it officially, or as part of its planned and monitored communications channels. Instead, your staff is probably using their personal WhatsApp Messenger to chat with their clients, customers, and contacts. They’re using it for exactly the same reasons you should adopt it as an official communication channel: Whatsapp for businesses has more immediacy than email and is less intrusive than a phone call. You can use it to share rich media – pictures, documents and videos and even your GPS location.
There are other advantages for businesses as well. Using WhatsApp reduces costs and improves customer experience. The impact on customer experience cannot be overstated – not only does it give people another channel to deal with you, but it’s also a channel they are already familiar with and love.
Used properly, WhatsApp’s API for businesses integrates seamlessly with your existing communications channels, providing an omnichannel customer experience across your brand, unifying sales, marketing, and customer care.
Customers prefer communication through WhatsApp because it’s private and secure, with end-to-end encryption. Since it’s installed on their phone, it’s always accessible, and response times are quicker too.
Businesses can use WhatsApp messaging to strengthen their brand presence and credibility. A verified account carries a business logo and name, and the green tick that indicates an official business account.
Furthermore, WhatsApp for business is one of the few messaging services that reaches across generations. Kids use it, elderly people use it, and everyone in between. WhatsApp does not see the generational split that marks different social media channels.
If you use WhatsApp for personal communication, or for unofficial business communication, you’re almost certainly using WhatsApp Messenger. This is the standard messaging app available free from app stores.
WhatsApp produces two other messaging products. The first, WhatsApp Business, is a free messaging app very similar to the standard WhatsApp Messenger. The second, WhatsApp Business API, is much more versatile and powerful from a business perspective.
Whether you should use WhatsApp Business or WhatsApp Business API for your enterprise depends on your needs. But in general, WhatsApp Business is aimed at small businesses, particularly customer-facing businesses, and WhatsApp Business API is aimed at medium and large enterprises. Essentially, if your business is large enough to need a call center to handle incoming or outgoing calls, you should be looking at WhatsApp Business API, the console that WhatsApp provides for businesses to efficiently handle the communication you’re receiving.
You cannot download and install WhatsApp Business API from an app store. To use it, you must apply through a WhatsApp Business Platform service provider, your business must be verified, and there are some rules about the types of messages you can send. We’ll go into these processes in more detail later in this article.
Why do Customers Use WhatsApp to Contact a Business?
Customers contact a business through WhatsApp for three main reasons:
Source: 1. Facebook Data, October 2018. Refers to messages sent on Facebook’s messaging platforms (Messenger, WhatsApp & Instagram Direct)
81% want to ask about a product or service
74% want to buy a product or service
75% want to get support for a product or service
Customers who contact you to ask about a product are already aware of it and are considering a purchase. They may want more information to help them make their final decision. Unlike the basic app, WhatsApp’s API for businesses allows multiple agents or an automated chatbot to respond from your registered WhatsApp account.
All customers need to do is message your registered WhatsApp number. The API connects to your back-end customer relationship management (CRM) system, so all customer queries to that number will be distributed to available agents or queued until an agent is available. You can (and should) scale to your expected traffic. There is no limit to the number of agents who can respond through Whatsapp’s API for businesses.
Of course, people need to know your business’ WhatsApp number to message it. You can include your number or hyperlink to it in your social media and digital advertising, and in your brochures. You can create QR codes to link customers to it automatically.
You will already have seen the impact social media has on engagement – if you post about a product, some people will ask about it in the comments under your post. WhatsApp gives them a more private, secure channel to ask questions; all you need to do is make it easy for them to use the option. It’s part of the omnichannel approach.
There are other advantages to diverting customers to WhatsApp for business. This type of communication is more private than engaging through social media comments. It gives you a chance to close the deal, upsell or point the customer to other relevant products or options. Customers pay more attention to links in such messaging – 83% of businesses report higher click-through rates for links sent on WhatsApp than on other forms of social media.
Three-quarters of customers want to make a purchase. WhatsApp is an ideal channel to discuss their particular requirements and your fees. For a simple retail transaction, you might send a link to your online shop or payment portal and collect the customer’s delivery address; for B2B products or services you might send an invoice with your bank details for any agreed up-front payment. You can discuss all the terms of a sale and conduct negotiations entirely over WhatsApp.
And 75% of customers want after-sales care and support. This is one of the most important uses of WhatsApp for businesses. Messaging is an increasingly popular medium for getting customer support – it’s much less demanding on a customer’s time to send a message and receive a prompt response from a human agent or chatbot than it is for them to phone a call center and hold until a human agent is available.
From the business side, WhatsApp enables you to offer after-sales support and care at a much lower cost than voice calls. Since many customers prefer messaging, you can divert much of your after-sales care and engagement to this cheaper channel, relieving pressure on your more expensive voice calls.
You can use the same chatbot for WhatsApp business messaging as you use on other channels, which helps give your customers a more unified experience regardless of the channel they choose.
How to Create and Activate a WhatsApp Business API Account?
Setting up a WhatsApp Business API account is not as simple as downloading and installing the standard WhatsApp Messenger or WhatsApp Business. The process of applying for an account and getting approval typically takes between two and four weeks.
The process must be conducted through an official WhatsApp Business Solution Provider such as Unifonic. It’s quicker – typically around two weeks – if you already have a verified Facebook business page. If you don’t have a Facebook business page you will need to set one up and have it approved as part of your application. Your agent will help you with this and all other WhatsApp Business API documentation.
You’ll need to choose a WhatsApp number for your business. This can be any number you choose, even a landline, so long as it can receive incoming international calls. Part of the verification process will require using a verification code sent to that phone like a one-time password.
You will also need to submit your WhatsApp business message templates for pre-approval. We’ll talk about message templates in more detail later, but for now, it's important to know that you can only initiate a conversation with your customer through a templated message, and that message must relate to a legitimate business reason, such as an order confirmation. Customers are of course free to initiate a conversation with you as well.
Before the verification comes through, you can focus on integration for your WhatsApp Business API with your backend systems, including your chatbot if you use one (Unifonic’s installation comes with a built-in rules-based chatbot free of charge). Integrating the API with your backend means you will be ready to send and receive messages as soon as your verification is confirmed, and your account activated with a green tick.
Template and Session Messages
Understanding the difference between template messages and session messages is key to understanding how to use the WhatsApp Business API and what it can do for you and your customers.
You may only initiate a conversation with a customer with a templated message. The templates must be pre-approved by WhatsApp for your business and they must be relevant to a transaction between you and that customer. You may not send advertising or marketing material through templated messages.
Templated messages are pre-prepared form messages which will incorporate customer-specific details. For example, if you have an online ordering portal, you might have a template something like this:
Dear [CustomerName], thank you for your order number [OrderNumber]. Here is your receipt. Estimated delivery is on [EstDeliveryDate] to your address at [DeliveryAddress]. Please contact us if you have any queries. [AddReceiptPDF]
If a customer opts for order notifications to be sent via WhatsApp for business messaging, your back-end will fill in the data fields with the relevant information from your database and send the message automatically. Once the order is ready for delivery it might trigger another message:
Dear [CustomerName], your order [OrderNumber] is ready for delivery to [DeliveryAddress] at around [Estimated Delivery Time]. Please contact us if this is unsuitable.
When the order is in the last mile, your system might send:
Dear [CustomerName], our driver [DriverName] is on the way with your order [OrderNumber]. Please send your location to help [DriverName] get to you quickly.
While these examples are utilitarian, there is room for personality if that fits your brand. And what templates you prepare will depend very much on your line of business – appointment or payment reminders, flight or delivery notifications (including notifications of any delays), service outages, and more. Such messages help keep your customers informed, which is a solid foundation for engaging customers.
Session messages in WhatsApp’s API for businesses are activated when a customer contacts you, either as a fresh contact or in response to a templated message. For 24 hours after a customer’s last message, you can have rich conversations.
Let’s say a customer replies to a delivery notification by saying they won’t be available at that time. That message will feed into your content management system and a chatbot or the next available human agent can then get back to them to find a mutually convenient time and date for delivery.
It also allows you to message the customer more freely, offering discounts, related products, asking them if they’re happy with the process, or your service. If the customer replies again, the 24-hour session counter starts again.
Session messaging in WhatsApp for business gives you the chance to move from good service to engagement.
As well as allowing multiple human agents to interact with customers on your WhatsApp channel, one of the greatest strengths of the WhatsApp Business API is the ability to incorporate a chatbot.
Chatbots come in two main varieties – rules-based chatbots and AI chatbots (sometimes called smartbots). Unifonic’s implementation of WhatsApp Business API comes with a rules-based chatbot built-in.
Rules-based chatbots offer customers a pre-defined navigation menu to guide them to relevant information – a list of options they can choose from. They’re simple to operate and are ideal when you know what most customers will be looking for and you have the information to hand in. You can send files such as brochure PDFs or how-to videos via WhatsApp’s messaging API for businesses if the customer chooses those options.
There are pros and cons to rule-based bots. They’re simple, easy to build and set up, and they’re ready as soon as the setup is complete. On the other hand, they’re static and customers can’t ask their own questions, simply work their way through the menu.
AI chatbots use machine learning to adapt to customer usage. Training them takes time, but when they’re ready, the end result is a more naturalistic conversation. This allows the customer to ask questions and direct the flow. Many chatbots also have an intelligent fallback in cases where the AI doesn’t understand. AI-powered conversational engagement is a valuable communication tool for businesses, which WhatsApp allows you to integrate.
You can collect a variety of data from your chatbot, including performance and satisfaction location of customers, engagement rates, user behaviour, funnel analysis, and more.
Not all customers enjoy the experience of chatting with an AI bot, though, so we do recommend an option to divert to a human agent.
It’s important to make human handover a part of the process and ensure customers can divert to a human agent if they choose. They may not find the information they’re looking for through a chatbot, and some don’t like chatting with an AI bot.
WhatsApp Agent Console
Whatsapp’s agent console for businesses is where your human agents can chat with customers. It integrates with your customer relationship management (CRM) software and other relevant parts of your back-end systems, and with your chatbot.
The agent interface is essentially a chat window. All incoming WhatsApp business messages will be queued here. Multiple agents can respond to customer inquiries, and agents can monitor interactions with chatbots, allowing them to take over if the customer appears to be lost or disinterested.
The WhatsApp API for businesses offers a useful feature called IVR deflection. If a customer has been waiting for too long in your call center queue to speak to an agent, you might offer them the choice to transfer to a WhatsApp call. If they choose to do so, the system will check if they’re on a number that has WhatsApp, and ask for an alternative number if the one they’re calling from, such as a landline, doesn’t have the facility.
Nobody likes being on hold waiting to speak to a human agent. IVR deflection to WhatsApp improves customers’ experience by offering them an alternative. It’s also much cheaper for you to engage with your customers via WhatsApp than via live calls.
Use cases for the WhatsApp Business API fall into two broad categories: sending notifications and customer care. We’ll examine particular use cases for particular sectors (such as travel, aviation and hospitality, financial services, retail and e-commerce, logistics and telecommunication providers) in dedicated posts.
But in general, you’ll send out notifications automatically through templated messages. These can be timed or in response to specific events, such as appointment reminders, confirmation requests, and event notifications. This is provided those customers have opted to get WhatsApp notifications from you.
Customers can respond with rich file media. If you’ve requested their address with last-mile delivery notification, they can send you their location via WhatsApp, leading to higher delivery rates. If you’ve requested documents for a loan application, they can send them to you via WhatsApp for businesses. Communication through it is easy and convenient, as customers always have their phones with them.
Clear, efficient communication is the bedrock on which good customer care is built, but there is a second aspect of customer care: when a customer approaches you for information or help, or to report a problem.
If a customer initiates contact, you’ll respond with session messages, using a chatbot or a human agent. The process is convenient for customers as well. Even if you can’t respond to the request with more than an acknowledgment of receipt and a note that you’ll look into it, they don’t have to wait on the phone until an agent is free. They can get on with whatever they were doing, knowing that their phone will ping with a notification when you respond.
WhatsApp’s API for businesses lets you send your own rich-media. Imagine a customer is looking for more information on a product – you could offer to send them a PDF brochure, a podcast review, or a video guide.
WhatsApp Business API Pricing
The pricing of the WhatsApp Business API will depend on your specific needs and use cases. Each installation is tailored to your requirements.
All our clients have found that communication via WhatsApp’s API for businesses saves them time and money, as well as improves customer engagement.
For a consultation to explore your use case and discuss your requirements, contact Unifonic to book an appointment with one of our experts.
Unifonic's Pricing Model
Unifonic’s pricing model for the WhatsApp Business API is based on the following bundles:
WhatsApp Template messages use pre-approved message templates for outbound notifications like delivery alerts and appointment reminders. They cannot be used for marketing. You must use a WhatsApp Template Message if more than 24 hours have elapsed since the user last responded to you. Any other type of message will fail. And there’s different pricing for each country and depending on the number of messages you’ll send.
WhatsApp Session messages are any messages sent and received in response to a user-initiated message to your application.
Monthly Active Users (MAU)
The number of users that interact with your WhatsApp account monthly, where the same user with the same mobile number is engaging with your WhatsApp account every day. There is no limit on session messages with Unifonic. We provide WhatsApp business bundles for MAU based on your specific needs.
Get Started with Unifonic's WhatsApp Business API
Are you ready to digitise the retail sector and automate e-commerce? Do you want to provide simple and hassle-free purchases for your customers? Request a WhatsApp Business API account from Unifonic today and unlock opportunities for your business.
Keep up with our blog for resources on customer engagement as well as specific tips on using WhatsApp communication for your business.