The rise of WhatsApp chatbots: A new era in brand-customer communication

WhatsApp chatbots have proved to be a boon for businesses by enabling them to engage with customers – from providing personalised service to building relationships, driving sales and increasing brand visibility.

The world is on WhatsApp -- from old school friends to new acquaintances, immediate family and distant relatives, boss, ex-boss, colleagues, clients, crush, spouse, partner, and even popular brands and businesses.

That’s right. One can buy a bus or plane or movie ticket, get updates about car repairs and the next vacation, browse and buy beauty products and jewellery, raise funds for social causes or pet projects, order weekly groceries, monitor investment portfolios, pay mobile phone bills and even opt-in to learn new recipes and receive customised discounts, receive customer support, provide feedback or access FAQs -- all from one single chat platform.

Of course, it makes sense that businesses should be on WhatsApp because that’s where their customers are. After all, it is currently one of the biggest social networks on the planet with over 2 billion global users, more than 280 million of whom are in India alone, with chat or messaging proving to be the most common way people choose to connect.

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Facebook (that owns WhatsApp) has stressed early on that people should be able to communicate with their favourite brands the same way they communicate with their friends -- it is something the company is continuously striving to facilitate and optimise.

In 2018, they launched WhatsApp Business, a separate app that runs the same way regular WhatsApp does, but with it businesses can use a single phone number to connect with all their customers who use the regular WhatsApp app. It also allows them to have a distinct business profile, showcase products and services and eases interaction management through labels and quick replies (frequently sent messages that can be turned into templates). It is perfect for mom-and pop type small businesses, solopreneurs, and professionals.

However, for bigger brands and businesses with thousands of customers who may reach out at any time for various reasons a simple WhatsApp Business app doesn’t quite cut it. They need to be able to direct a customer’s attention, give the right updated information, and create a consistent experience. How? Cue: WhatsApp chatbots.

What is a WhatsApp chatbot?

Chatbot is a portmanteau of ‘chat’ and ‘robot’. The most direct explanation is it is a software application or computer programme (robot) that is designed to provide information in the form of a text conversation (chat).

What it does is allow customers to enter into conversations with a brand or business with just a few taps on their phone screen. Think of it like a lesser cousin of Siri or Alexa, that customers can interact with using chat platforms like WhatsApp.

What can it do?

Thanks to chatbots, customers can simply open the WhatsApp app on their phone (it is probably already open anyway) and ping brands for immediate responses and a tailored flow of information. Updates from businesses come straight to WhatsApp so they don’t need to check email and SMS can be laid to rest.

No more interminable IVR calls and frantic tweets demanding complaint resolutions. Instant responses and artificial intelligence allow for a two-way conversation that can be personalised based on the customer’s past relationship with the brand.

For businesses, WhatsApp chatbots are a powerful tool to build customer relationships, drive sales, and provide value-added services like updates, notifications and in-app payments.

Building meaningful relationships with customers

In traditional shopping, when a customer walks into a showroom, a salesperson would approach them and assist their purchase journey -- provide them with the information they need, direct them to the right section of the store, offer them various options based on their questions or preferences, attend to their requests and offer any other kind of support they may need.

If a salesperson provides a good interaction, the customer leaves the store happy. Repeated pleasant experiences with the business, each time with higher levels of catering to the customer’s tastes and buying history, and a relationship is built. The seeds of brand loyalty planted in the first few interactions bloom.

Chatbots serve as that salesperson -- providing personalized on-demand and on-brand interactions to customers and a great experience time and again -- on WhatsApp.

Driving sales through WhatsApp chatbots

WhatsApp chatbots greatly reduce the friction a customer may face while making a purchase. Unlike SMS and emails, customers don’t need to be redirected to a website or landing page or even another app to check a business’ products or services. They can browse the collection of products or select services right within WhatsApp.

Next, they can complete their purchase securely and instantly by using the WhatsApp Pay feature. Done! Possibly even in less time than a chat with their friends. WhatsApp chatbots make the purchase journey almost effortless, leading to lower chances of customers drifting off without making a purchase.

But that’s just the utility features shining through.

For businesses, WhatsApp chatbots provide a slew of marketing and sales opportunities such as allowing for highly targeted offers, flash sales and deals, retargeting existing customers, campaign promotions, and more.

Customer support and value-added services

WhatsApp chatbots are a boon to customer support services both for customers and businesses. Greater accessibility and instant replies make it possible to provide effective support or grievance redressal. Helpful interactions promptly and on a consistent basis do wonders for the brand reputation. What’s more, issues that do not need to be escalated to a human agent can be effectively nipped in the bud right on the chat. That way, there is less stress on the customer support team while also allowing them to easily continue the conversation where the chatbot left off, already aware of the issue and customer details.

Value-added services like notifications and updates are also more conveniently sent through WhatsApp chatbots. They can be automatically targeted based on the customer’s behaviour history and preferences. Chatbots also make it possible to send large volumes of messages all at once to different customer segments.

Bonus: Customer engagement boosting and content distribution

Besides greatly impacting sales, customer relationships and increasing communication efficiency, WhatsApp chatbots allow businesses to keep customers clued in with branded media like images, videos and GIFs as well as run campaigns that provide infotainment or opportunities to keep interacting to keep customers engaged with the brand.

WhatsApp chatbots are the perfect content delivery and distribution medium because it allows for both high volume and highly targeted messaging as well as being hyper-accessible and relevant to diverse segments of a brand’s target audience.

Getting started with a WhatsApp chatbots

There’s great news, bad news and good news. Let’s start with the great -- almost any business may opt to get a WhatsApp chatbot.

The bad news? Setting one up is far from easy. For a business to have a WhatsApp chatbot, they first have to get a WhatsApp Business API -- which involves a drawn-out process requiring multiple approvals and business verification. And that’s just the beginning.

Once access to a WhatsApp Business API is acquired, the actual chatbot and chat flows need to be built, hosted and connected to the API. Another intensive process that needs quite a bit of technical expertise. While there are a few tools and platforms that can be used to do this, it does involve a steep learning curve and loads of testing. Not to mention actually getting the chats to sound like the brand and be conversational instead of...well, a robot.

And now for the good news -- there’s a way around these hurdles, and they involve very little effort. Businesses can approach any of the official WhatsApp API partners who will take care of acquiring API access. Of course, that still leaves the question of building the chatbot, though most partners will be able to provide some tools and templates by way of assistance.

A more comprehensive option that presents zero hassles is to hire an agency that provides end-to-end custom WhatsApp chatbot services. The best deals are ones that include chatbot setup, monthly maintenance, on-brand conversational chat flows and templatised messages, as well as optimised campaigns and use cases based on the businesses’ unique needs and goals.

The future is WhatsApp chatbots

As WhatsApp continues to get more ubiquitous and becomes the standard mode of communication, the relevance of WhatsApp chatbots will keep skyrocketing. Not only do they increase brand visibility, provide an always-on instant support service for customers, and ease and optimise brand communication and sales, they do so in a way that is crafted to fit right into customers’ chat inboxes.

Pretty soon brands and businesses will have to choose whether to ping or perish.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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