By Orediretse Molebaloa, Enterprise Presales Manager at Infobip South Africa
With a user base of more than 2.5 billion active subscribers across the globe, and a status as the leading person-to-person communication channel in most parts of the world, WhatsApp has revolutionised the way we communicate.
In South Africa, as well as in the East and West African regions, the messaging app has entrenched itself as the most widely used social media platform. According to Statista, 93% of internet users in South Africa used the app in the third quarter of 2020. This year, WhatsApp counted almost 23 million users in the country, partly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen more people use the channel in line with restrictions such as social distancing. This figure is expected to hit 28.6 million by 2026.
Since its launch in 2009, WhatsApp has continued to evolve by adding new features and functionalities that make it increasingly appealing to users. One of its biggest drawcards is that it is free to download and use, and enables rich media sharing and video calls.
So, with its widespread popularity among users, WhatsApp cannot be overlooked by businesses as a tool to communicate with customers. Essentially, customers have taken control of how they want to be communicated with, and WhatsApp is the preferred channel.
Demystifying the channel
While businesses are turning to WhatsApp to enhance their customer communication strategies, questions remain around the difference between WhatsApp, WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Application Programming Interface (API).
Simply put, WhatsApp (for consumers) is a peer-to-peer communication platform that does not restrict how users communicate with each other, and users have full control of over when and how they want to respond to messages. There are no limitations, the platform allows for free form texting, and consumers can use the app as they wish within the constraints of its features.
On the other hand, WhatsApp Business is free to download and was designed with the small business owner in mind. The app makes it easy for businesses to personally connect with customers, highlight their products and services, and answer questions throughout the customer’s shopping experience. WhatsApp Business allows organisations to create a catalogue that showcases their products and services, and tools can be used to automate, sort and quickly respond to messages. This platform can also help medium and large businesses provide customer support and deliver important notifications.
Lastly, WhatsApp API is a simple and secure way for medium and large enterprises to reach their clients globally. It can be used for customer journeys, from signing up and verification to payment facilitation. APIs allow organisations to integrate some of their business processes with the app itself, usually to offer some form of self-service functionality to customers.
No need to reinvent the wheel
Since customers already have WhatsApp and are using it to communicate, it makes sense for businesses to harness it as a communication tool. This means that an organisation does not have to invest in developing a new app but can instead adapt WhatsApp API to resolve specific business challenges.
If we attribute this to a typical call centre scenario, WhatsApp API enables automation of business processes with the help of chatbots. This means that simple, low value engagements, for example, a refund request or balance enquiries, can be managed by a WhatsApp bot. This frees up valuable resource so agents can spend time on more complex enquiries.
It is also important that organisations can reach their customers wherever they might be, on multiple channels. WhatsApp has changed the way that communication has traditionally taken place across several industries. As organisations can no longer dictate to their customers how they should communicate with them, WhatsApp is the ideal platform that offers a fast, secure, reliable and conversational way for businesses to reach their customers.