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11 steps to get started with WhatsApp for customer service

So you’ve decided to try WhatsApp as a way to support your customers. Fabulous! But before you actually dive in, you need to think through your options first. Consider the impact that this 1-to-1 channel might have on your specific organization. Chances are it might not have a big influence after all - but if it does, you’ll want to be prepared.

This blog post is an overview to help you through the various phases in your WhatsApp trial: thinking, preparing and launching. They’re all just as crucial. If you don’t want your customers to catch you stressed, slow and totally confused, don’t skip a phase.

Step 1: Thinking things through

Your stakeholder’s behaviour

Using WhatsApp isn’t the perfect solution for all of us. Before you get ahead of yourself and start implementing, there are a few stakeholders you need to consider.

Customers
Are your (potential) customers actually ‘on’ WhatsApp?
Chances are very high that they are. But they might also just be the rare exceptions: people in their eighties, for instance. However, don’t be too quick to assume that they don’t use it… Find out for certain first.

Your team
Does your team have the capacity to answer the questions from WhatsApp?
If your team is already way too busy to answer phone calls or answering emails, it might be better to postpone your WhatsApp initiative. Unless, of course, you think that adding WhatsApp will decrease the pressure off the phone and email channels.

How quickly can you follow up?
Because WhatsApp is such a personal channel, customers tend to have high expectations for getting their questions answered quickly. Aim for a quick resolution time: 1 hour max. And once you answer, you must follow up right away. You’re either in or you’re not.

Competitors
What are your competitors doing?
Being the first in your field to offer WhatsApp support can be great to trump competition. But if you’re not an early adopter, it won’t trump anybody. You’ll need to start using it to up your game and stay on par.

Your overarching goal

Ask yourself (and perhaps a peer - brainstorming is easier with a sparring partner) why you want start with WhatsApp in the first place. Pick one overarching goal and take it from there. What do you want to achieve? Faster service, more happy customers, or perhaps a revenue increase?

It’s important to keep this goal in mind whilst making decisions on all the required steps and tactics. Keep reminding yourself throughout the planning stage what you want to accomplish, and what you need to accomplish this. Also: get everyone on the same page before you take-off.

Consider the first weeks to be nothing but a trial: test the waters gently, gain experience and learn. As soon as you’re getting more traction, you can consider more specific metrics and adjusting your course accordingly.

Let's get practical

Even though strategizing and thinking things through is important, start getting practical very soon. What will you need to do before you can even think of making your WhatsApp number public to your customers and prospects?

Step 2: Get your team together

Assemble a WhatsApp team: decide who’s in charge of your overarching goal, and who will reply to queries quickly and efficiently. These are typically members of your customer service team who know how to handle 1-to-1 channels like email and phone. Some companies assign the WhatsApp channel to their social media team, but that often turns out to be a mistake, as social media is mainly about 1-to-many.

Step 3: Involve your team

Depending on the type of company you run, organize an introductory meeting or an actual brainstorm session. To get everyone on board, explain the benefits of WhatsApp, translate those benefits to fit your company and do not forgot to discuss the overarching goal. Do you want to shorten the phone queue? Or lower the email volumes? Or get your customer satisfaction rates up?

Step 4: Adapt the way you talk

For most people, WhatsApp is a relaxed channel, used to interact with friends, family and sometimes colleagues. You will notice that many people will use that same style of communication with you as they do with their friends. Depending on your company culture, you’ll want to respond in a similarly playful fashion (while keeping it professional).

If you already have a general style guide for your customer service team to follow, check if you need to make adjustments to fit the WhatsApp channel. This is no place to sound like a useless robot. Consider your rules around emoticons, preprogrammed messages, humour, etc. Make sure you’re all on the same page: giving the customer the best experience.

Step 5: Get a WhatsApp number

You’ll obviously need a phone number that your customers can use to reach you through WhatsApp. Two options here:

  1. Buy the cheapest pre-paid SIM card. Online or from a local telephone shop. Keep into account that some providers deactivate a simcard after 6 months of inactivity. Just use that number to have a call every 5.5 months, and you’ll be fine. (Add it to your calendar as a repeat action.)
  2. Get a phone number with a subscription. This is the more expensive option that gets you peace of mind: you won’t run the risk of disconnection.

If you’re offering international support with WhatsApp, you might want to consider getting different local numbers, depending on the type of company. Generally, this is more important in B2C than B2B.

Step 6: Think about voicemail versus call forwarding

Although your WhatsApp number is supposed to be used for WhatsApp support only, there is always the odd customer who decides to give you a call on that number. Depending on how you manage your messages (phone, software, web.whatsapp - see below), this can be problem. So if you’re not using a dedicated phone, you have two options:

  1. Record a voicemail to let people know which other number to reach you on.
  2. Install an automatic forward of incoming calls to a different number, for example your support line.

Step 7: Personalize your WhatsApp account

First add your company name, your logo, email address, URL etc. Then update your status, which is easier than it sounds.

A status update for business purposes should be a helpful description of what your company is doing on WhatsApp. You might want to add the “opening hours” of the WhatsApp channel, for instance. When are you available to respond to queries sent through this channel? Turn the default status (“Hey there, I’m using WhatsApp”) into something much more concrete.

A good status update, for instance, could be: ‘Need product advice? Happy to help from Mon-Fri 9:00-17:30 CET!’

If, later on, you have multiple WhatsApp numbers to involve different departments or query types, you might want to present different status updates for each number, making clear which number is meant for which type of questions. If, however, you have multiple WhatsApp numbers simply to cover a bigger volume, keep the status update identical.

Step 8: Manage your messages like a pro

There are three options to manage your incoming and outgoing messages:

  • A smartphone
  • WhatsApp Web (web.whatsapp.com)
  • Specialised software for WhatsApp support

Sometimes it’s perfectly possible to start testing WhatsApp support with just a phone. But depending on your company, that might not be feasible. There are four major factors to consider when deciding what the best option is for you:

  • How big is your team? If your company needs only one person answering customer questions through WhatsApp, a smartphone or WhatsApp Web will probably do the trick (at least in the beginning). If, however, your WhatsApp team needs to be bigger, operating from a phone and WhatsApp Web quickly turns into a bottleneck. Specialised software help multiple colleagues collaborate, forward conversations, assign conversations to the right colleague, etc.
  • How many incoming questions do you think you’ll be receiving? If the number of WhatsApp questions remain limited (say maximum 10 a day if you have more than 2 customer service people “on” WhatsApp - this number may vary), you could make do with the phone or WhatsApp Web. But you should get specialized software the minute you get stressed about volume. A large number of incoming questions soon makes WhatsApp an unmanageable channel unless you use professional software.
  • How many WhatsApp numbers do you manage? Lots of companies chose to have various WhatsApp number for various departments, products, brands, countries, etc. But whether you need software in this case, ultimately depends more on who manages the incoming messages and the volume of WhatsApp queries. If a single team manages questions from different numbers, then a multi-number solution will increase your efficiency a lot.
  • Do you need more advanced features? Although getting started quickly can be important to prove whether WhatsApp works for you or not, sometimes a more sophisticated approach is needed. If your manager or boss demands reporting functionalities, easier search abilities or centralised data with the rest of your customer data, specialised software will be your only way forward.

How do you know which WhatsApp support tool is the best?

Most software providers are ticketing systems that allow you to collaborate effectively as a team. But customer service is more than that. There are a few things you can look for in your customer service tool. After all: the more useful features the tool boasts, the easier it will be to rock ‘n’ roll.

  1. Pick a software provider with a helpful support team: Offering customer service through WhatsApp can be risky, mainly because WhatsApp doesn’t support an official API. An alert provider with a flexible and knowledgeable team helps mitigate some of those risks. Contact and compare several tool makers before making any sort of decision. Do you like them? Are they flexible? Do they keep their promises?
  2. WhatsApp-specific features: Many people use WhatsApp to send pictures and/or videos, so does the tool support that? Even if you’re not interested in that right now, keep your options open; you never know what your customer might want to in the future. Same goes for multiple WhatsApp numbers: make sure your tool can support various numbers within the same platform if you require it.
  3. Check if the tool offers quick responses & automated replies: You can take some workload off your back by using templates and automated replies. Careful though - this sounds more awesome than it is on WhatsApp specifically. As talked about before, WhatsApp is too personal a channel for quick response templates, that usually serve as a good basis for answering frequently asked questions. And automated replies can provide a warm welcome to customers “in queue”, but only if you’ve thought it through perfectly. However, if you use macros excessively, you may be triggering a block by either your customer or WhatsApp itself. Be careful.
  4. Connect other customer data: When testing whether WhatsApp is a viable channel for you, having all your customer data centralized might not be the most important piece of the puzzle. But if it is, check what the options are: do they have a native integration with your systems of choice, an open API or is there another easy way to export your data?
  5. Reporting and analytics: Just like connecting other customer data, don’t focus too much on reporting or analytics options just yet. WhatsApp is hard to measure. What matters is whether WhatsApp works for your customers and your business. At a later stage this can become more important.
  6. Message broadcasting option: Run away as fast as you can if the software provider keeps raving on about their message broadcasting feature. You do not want to use WhatsApp as a newsletter tool. Sure, it’s tempting - but withstand the enemy! You don’t want to risk a ban or a block because WhatsApp thinks you’re a notorious spammer.
  7. What about the smartphone? Another thing to consider: some providers require you to keep your “WhatsApp smartphone” (the smartphone with the SIM number used for WhatsApp support) active at all times. More expensive (but reliable) tools allow you to connect your number once to the system and be done with it.

A good place to start your quest for the ideal support tool for WhatsApp, is checking out Casengo’s WhatsApp support software and to sign up for a free trial.

Prepare for lift-off!

Now that you’ve ticked all the boxes of the preparation, you’re ready to get your WhatsApp hands dirty and start receiving questions.

Step 9: Let the world know you’re on WhatsApp

This is the most important aspect of whether you can gain traction on WhatsApp or not. If nobody knows you’re there, you’re wasting your time. So make sure you spread the word far and wide to both customers and prospects – but start slowly!

The most important place to start is adding your WhatsApp number to:

  • your ‘contact’ page on the website;
  • your email signature, especially of your customer support team or account managers (in B2B);
  • the footer of your newsletter;
  • your social media account profiles;
  • a pinned post on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin;
  • your homepage.

Be careful when adding your WhatsApp number to your homepage, though. Don’t just throw it on there if your website gets a lot of daily traffic. It’s smarter to show the number to a select part of your online visitors (say 10%), and gear up only to after gathering experience and insightful data. Know what you’re doing!

Besides these obvious starting points, get creative. You could, for instance, send an email to your customer base to inform them of the new support channel, develop a marketing campaign to position your WhatsApp service as a competitive advantage, use posters and flyers around your physical locations, etc.

Extra tip: When you share your WhatsApp number on your website, you can make it easier for your mobile visitor to make this clickable (by using a vCard). When the mobile visitors then clicks on the number, he’ll automatically download your contact details.

Step 10: Manage your customers’ expectations

Don’t forget to provide context and let your customers know what they can use your WhatsApp support channel for. Managing expectations is super important to prevent disappointment. No, people can probably not call you on the WhatsApp number, and you won’t be available for support 24/7. But this only becomes a problem if you haven’t communicated it clearly.

If it’s relevant to your line of business, don’t forget to mention that you won’t send or accept delicate personal information like bank account numbers or medical advice. Unfortunately, a recent report showed that WhatsApp does not do a good job protecting its data from government requests. So don’t share delicate data, and make sure your customer service team knows this!

Step 11: Consider integrating all of your contact channels

After you’ve tested WhatsApp and are getting satisfactory results, it’s a smart move to integrate it with your other channels (if you haven’t done that already). After all, customer service is at its best when it’s not the medium that counts, but the message and its sender. You’ll find that you’ll need specialized customer service software to get more context, paint a better picture and make the WhatsApp channel more scalable.