WhatsApp for better customer service

The impact of personal messaging on your business

★★★ includes 5 best practices and lots of tips & tricks ★★★

Chapter 2

Customer support via WhatsApp. The basics with tips & tricks!


It’s astonishing how many companies underestimate the importance of “little things” - details like customer support. Isn’t supporting your customers extra hassle? It’s not quite your core business. Spending time on customer service and actually sounding like you care… Right. Your customers have already given you their money, haven’t they? You’re not missing out by not providing great service.

Except that you are. You need your customers to come back at some point. A one-time customer is pretty useless in the long run, unless you sold them a rocket ship or something. And yet bad customer service may be just as harmful to your company’s future as no customer service at all. Customers who hate your guts – because of, say, a service conversation gone wrong – will ferociously blacken your brand when talking to friends or online followers. Customers who remain indifferent won’t be quite as bad, because they never got to speak to you in the first place.

Whether you’ve got a hangover or the flu, be nice on WhatsApp. It’s an extremely direct channel, diving right into your customer’s heart. Be nice!

3 lessons to learn before starting a trial

  • Lesson 1: having a great WhatsApp conversation. How should you open and close a WhatsApp conversation with a customer? What about tone of voice and empathy? And have you thought through the issue of macros (preprogrammed messages)?
  • Lesson 2: dealing with ‘tough’ conversations. It’s easy to gracefully accept a compliment through WhatsApp, but elegantly handling complaints, spim and endless chit-chat is another matter.
  • Lesson 3: Rocking the WhatsApp channel. Start upselling. Yes, you can! Also, you’ll get the most of this channel if you add it to your array of communication channels. But first promise to use WhatsApp to gather feedback from your customers, the key to turning your brand into something much better and more loved than before.

Read on to find out how. And don’t forget to prep your WhatsApp team properly! Just as live chat, email, social media and the good old phone, WhatsApp comes with its own set of rules. Rules that you make because these will determine what your brand feels like to your customers. Your team must adopt a consistent way of communicating through WhatsApp.

Lesson 1: having a great WhatsApp conversation

The primary reason to use WhatsApp is to strengthen the bond between you and your customers, right? So your task is to make them love you. That’s quite easy to achieve: stick to your word and sound human. It’s not only what you say, but it’s also how you say it. You are a being of flesh and blood, just like the person you’re chatting with – so sound it.

Sound human

  • Keep your tone of voice bright and helpful. Unless you’re responding to a complaint, you should type as if you were smiling. Use positive words, think in solutions and be flexible. Be profuse in your apologies and words of thanks, showing you work for a customer-friendly company with empathic employees, happy to be of service.

  • Mirror the other person’s style. Not sure whether emoticons are allowed? Quite a good rule to go by is to take your customer’s behaviour as an example. But as always: use your common sense. So if your conversation partner cracks jokes, be careful: stay clear from jokes that are even slightly related to gender, nationality, ethnic, political or religious background. And skip football, too! After all, you don’t actually know for sure what kind of person you are dealing with.

  • Avoid canned responses (preprogrammed messages). There you have it: I’m not a fan of replies void of personality. Empty messages and WhatsApp: not such a great combination. Canned responses save time, but you risk sounding robotic if you use them constantly. Also: to the guys at WhatsApp, canned responses are red flags. If you send the exact same message regularly - or worse: continuously - you might get marked by WhatsApp as a commercial account, and will risk a ban[26]. If you do decide to preprogram messages, think them through!

  • Correct typos but don’t sweat it. Made a typing error? Don’t make a big deal out of it. Errors aren’t as bad as they seem – as long as you correct them. Little mistakes might even inspire sympathy. Having said that: you might refresh your team’s spelling abilities… You’re just human, sure, but you don’t want to come across as an incapable human misrepresenting your business.

  • Be relevant. The consequence of WhatsApp’s power to ban its users without notice is that companies must do their very best not to annoy either their customers or WhatsApp itself. You must invest in your customers, only sharing relevant content with them. Relevant content, in this case, is content that people actually want to read – nothing resembling spam. The direct line between you and your customer is paper-thin; sever it once, and you’ll have to build that trust all over again.

Join the conversation

There are 2 types of conversations. Whilst proactive conversations are the ones you strike up (which doesn’t happen often in pure customer service), reactive ones exist only on the customer’s initiative.

Proactive conversations are the ones you’ll probably have the least often. We’re ignoring the ‘broadcast list’ option here, which has nothing to do with customer service; it verges on marketing and advertising. However, sometimes it’s okay to strike up a conversation from a customer service viewpoint.

Say you want to send a WhatsApp message to Alex, a customer you’ve never reached out to before – at least not through WhatsApp. He filled out his mobile number during checkout. An elegant way to engage in conversation is to share some interesting content you’d usually share by email. Try something like this:

"Hi Alex, this is Floris from Casengo. I just wanted to let you know that our developers finished the functionality you told us in a survey you were waiting for. Want to try it out?"

You want Alex to be happily surprised, not annoyed or feeling hunted down like prey. He’ll block you if he doesn’t like what you just said. But if he responds, you’re in – and the game is on. After a bit, you can gently try something like this:

If you’d like to get in touch with us through WhatsApp again, please save our number in your phone right now. Makes it easier to find our number next time.

You must nudge your customer to save your number if you want the conversation between you and him to be everlasting. WhatsApp does not appreciate companies sending unsolicited messages to its users. You must seduce your contact to save your number as soon as there’s a mutual understanding.

However, you probably won’t be the initiator of the conversation - not if you use WhatsApp for anything but inbound, reactive customer service. In that case, the first WhatsApp message will come not from you, but from a (potential) customer with a question, complaint or some other type of comment (hopefully not spim[27]).

We’re talking about reactive conversations here, where you respond nicely and quickly to a customer question (definitely within 60 minutes, but preferably within 5 minutes or less), and introduce yourself. You’ll never get a second chance for your first impression!


Welcoming your prospects and customers

A simple canned response can be of great help when reacting to questions quickly and professionally. Tell the people reaching out to you through WhatsApp whom they’re chatting with and when they can expect a response to their specific question. So manage their expectations. What can your prospects and customers expect in terms of timeframe and benefits?

Hi, welcome to and thanks for your question.
It’s busy right now but we’ll try to get back to you within 5 minutes.

or

Hey, thanks for reaching out! You can expect an answer within 5 to 10 minutes.

Or

Hi, what can we do for you? Within 10 minutes, an awesome team member should be available to help!

A question I get asked often, is whether customer service teams on WhatsApp should use their first name or stick to the company name. Whatever you do: be consistent, and don’t use initials (either be anonymous or don’t). Always remember that asking a question through WhatsApp is almost like asking a question to an actual store employee in a brick and mortar store. If someone crosses your threshold, you say hello properly, using your name.

Be super careful with canned responses and macros

Bigger volumes to respond to? Then canned responses, also known as preprogrammed messages, are a must. You’ve probably also heard of macros: they’re shortcuts to a set of actions, sometimes containing canned responses (for instance, to deal with spim).

Canned responses seem useful in busy times, but they are to be handled with care as they might set off the alarm bells at WhatsApp HQ. You should consider getting software enriched with a human behaviour algorithm. This algorithm adds human characteristics to canned responses, preventing you from being banned or blocked by WhatsApp.

Experience taught us that companies which send a message like ‘Welcome! Thanks for your question!’ as a response to every single question, hundreds of times a day, eventually find themselves blocked. Instead, add empty fields to your preprogrammed messages, forcing your team to complete the message with personal, relevant information. Your canned response goes from being general and boring to genuine and personal. ‘Welcome! Thanks for your question! As I understand, you …’


Examples of canned responses

First customer message Preprogrammed company reply
A standard question, such as: Hi, I still haven’t received my order. Could you track it for me? Hi, welcome to and thanks for your question. I’m <operator/agent name> and happy to help you out today! So you .


A complaint, such as: Hey, why don’t you guys respond to my emails? I’m getting sick of this. Hi, sorry to hear that... Let’s get to the bottom of this. Or: Oh dear, let me get this sorted for you.


Spim, such as: Your mother is a prostitute and you’re even worse. That’s not a very decent thing to say. We’re going to block your number now. Or: Haha thanks! (then block or stop replying)

Ending the conversation

Be sure to end each conversation nicely, picking the right time. This depends on the specific content of the conversation and on the type of customer. Some customers respond every 10 minutes and are suddenly quiet – then you make your move. Others take days to get back to you, which forces you to be patient. Only when you’re quite sure it’s not too early and you won’t offend the customer, you ask him something along the lines of:

Is there anything else I can help you with, [name customer]?

No response? Then you might one to continue with something like:

I haven’t heard from you for a while now, so I’ll close this conversation for now.
If you have any other questions, just send us a message here and we’ll get back to you!

Lesson 2: dealing with tough conversations

Enjoying a direct line with your customers comes with a drawback: they won’t always come to you with neutral questions. Some customers will moan, some will shout, some won’t stop talking. And yet you’ve got to deal with them – through WhatsApp.

Needless to say, the friendly factor should always prevail. You must remain friendly however wrong or unreasonable you think the customer is. Here’s how to deal with complainers, spimmers and chatterboxes.

Complaints

Strange as it sounds, customers who complain are potential brand ambassadors. Yes, really. Deep down, a customer who takes the trouble to complain, wants to stay your customer. He just needs a little love. I believe – and this also goes for channels other than WhatsApp – that if you listen well enough to a customer with a complaint, and solve his deeper problem (feeling betrayed, unheard, unloved), you will turn his mood around completely. Actually I believe every complaining customer is a potential ambassador. Since there is a change of mood around a brand of product you can also change it again. In fact in that case you can even move him further towards a real ambassador!

Use the LAST approach: Listen, Acknowledge, Solve, Thank.

  • Listen. Let your unhappy customer vent for a bit. Don’t interrupt him and send him encouraging messages (‘I see’, ‘Oh dear’, ‘Oh no’) to show you are indeed listening. Remember: he can’t see you. By hearing your customer out, you can find out what he’s truly upset about. And don’t take any of it personal: it’s about your brand, not you.
  • Acknowledge. Say you are sorry. If not for the specific complaint, then at least for the situation. Show you are sorry for the fact your customer is unhappy. If your company did indeed make a mistake, admit it. There’s nothing wrong with that. By acknowledging the problem, you show that you hear your customer. You understand the problem and will do everything within your powers to fix things between you.
  • Solve. Nothing quite as human as making mistakes, but fix them. If you’ve got a perfect solution right away: go for it. If not, ask your customer what he’d like you to do about the issue. Perhaps they’re happy with a discount, or something you haven’t thought of. If you can’t solve the problem right away, communicate clearly about the steps you’d like to take. If you make promises, keep them. Follow up through WhatsApp and grasp this opportunity to strengthen the bond!
  • Thank. Thank, thank, thank. Just like “sorry”, you can’t say this word enough (whenever you mean it). You want the customer to feel you care.

And all of LAST through your customer’s favourite communication method! Complaints are opportunities to turn angry customers into fans, which is easy on WhatsApp, as long as you make them feel that the conversation you two are having, is worth the trouble, because you seem to care.

Spim

Spim simply is “spam” on instant messaging platforms. It’s a lot less of a problem than actual spam. Most spim falls into the category of harmless and understandable: it’s actual prospects or customers checking if your WhatsApp number really takes them right into your customer service offices. It’s messages like: “Does this work?” and “Hello”.

Most companies I talked to didn’t find spim horribly annoying. It’s usually a temporary thing: most curiosity fades three or four weeks into the launch of the new WhatsApp customer service channel. After that, the spim that remains is hardly a problem: you can block numbers easily so the spimmer won’t be able to cause trouble again, at least not using the same number.

You could always try to react to the spimmer (as this guy talking on Ted actually did), which can cause a laugh or a frown (if the spimmer turns out to be a competitor). But from a business point of view: leave it. There’s not enough spim going around yet to cause great trouble.

Long-winded laments

Let’s face it: people who can’t stop talking are a nuisance, on WhatsApp or on any other channel. They waste your team’s time asking a thousand little questions because they’re either bored or lazy. Sure, a WhatsApp conversation should never end, but conversations that last days aren’t ideal. At some point, you’ve got to start dropping hints.

First try: asking them if you could talk to them through phone, in order to help them better? (That’s something you should always do, by the way, as soon as delicate information is needed to establish the customer’s identity.) If they decline that offer, sticking to WhatsApp for another two or three days instead, try gently but firmly guiding them to the website’s FAQ (which should be very good: well-filled knowledge bases drastically decrease the number of customer queries).

And if none of that has any effect, just go with the flow and help the chatterbox as well as you can. Some customers need more love than others.

Lesson 3: how to rock ‘n’ roll

Even though the WhatsApp channel is too personal for hard, cold sales, you can use it to sell more, simply by keeping the conversation going with meaningful messages. It’s hard for me to give examples you can use right away, because upselling through WhatsApp is greatly influenced by what it is you sell. It will require some brainstorming, preferably with a bottle of wine and some cheese crackers. This step is all about you and your business.

Questions to get in the mood

The best way to use WhatsApp is related to what you sell and who your customers are. When brainstorming with (part of) your team, get into a “WhatsApp state of mind”, let the ideas flow, and try to come up with a way to find the most customer-friendly way tailored to your specific company. You could wonder what you are doing right now without WhatsApp that you could do with WhatsApp instead.

  • What could you do through WhatsApp that you’re doing through email now? Perhaps you can confirm each new order with a WhatsApp message instead (or on top of) an email. You can update your customer’s order status or send news about an item on his wishlist that was out of stock but has arrived now. Or say you sell mattresses: you could WhatsApp your customers after 6 months to remind them to turn their mattress soon. The sky is the limit!

  • What could you do through WhatsApp that you’re doing through phone now? Some follow-ups are better sent through a less pushy, more “silent” channel, because it gives your customer the freedom to decide what to do next: ignore or respond to your message (without anyone listening in). Say you sell vitamin pills: you could WhatsApp your customers when they might be running out of pills: “Hey, are you out of vitamin B12 yet? Just thought I’d let you know I can get you two bottles with 40% discount if you respond within 24 hours. Just drop me a line.” If you do this on the phone, cold-calling style, conversion rates will be lower, as will the chance of irritating your customer (because they’re having lunch).

  • Could you get chatting with check-out drop-outs? If you use professional software that allows you to see who’s abandoning their online shopping cart, after filling out their mobile number (but before actually paying), you might want to send them a WhatsApp message along the lines of: “Hi, just noticed you’re interested in but didn’t quite make the purchase. Anything I can do to help?” If you send a short, informal but valuable message, you will get a response. Take it from there.

  • Could you get the conversation going with positive reviewers? Just thanking people who took the trouble to post a positive review on your own site or on a third-party review site might open up the door for more. Only start talking sales-pitchy if it feels natural. Do not force anything on your happy customer – you want him to stay happy.

Use WhatsApp for customer feedback

Here’s another trick for advanced users only: use WhatsApp to gather customer feedback. Input from actual customers, for instance, can be great to improve your website. You can conduct an entire survey – albeit a really short one – via WhatsApp, as part of the conversation. Only ask for feedback if it feels natural. If the customer just said he’s got to catch his train (which will be the sort of personal information you’ll spontaneously get during WhatsApp conversations), don’t bother him with a survey. If the stars are aligned, though, go for it - even after a negative conversation! As long as you phrase the question delicately, you’ll find your customer will often be happy to help. Check out pages x onwards for various ideas on WhatsApp surveys, for instance to find out your Net Promoter Score (NPS), your customer effort score (CES), or a combination of both.

Input from customers doesn’t always require asking for feedback: the actual conversation will tell you what’s wrong. If you get the same question over and over again, add it to your online FAQ list. If the same product seems to cause problems, check it out and fix it. And if you were looking for a way to upsell: the clues lie in this kind of conversations. What’s this customer interested in? What would make him buy more, or visit you more frequently?

Integrate WhatsApp with your email channel

Even though live chat and WhatsApp are much more appreciated by customers than email and phone, the majority of them still send old-fashioned emails or dial your number as if their existence depend on it. To boost customer satisfaction overall and to increase your team’s productivity it’s wise to integrate WhatsApp with your email channel.

Promote WhatsApp in your outbound email, and if your customer uses WhatsApp and you’ve got his number, follow up inbound email through WhatsApp. If you consider using professional software, check whether the software supplier has both products: WhatsApp and email management.


Sources:

  1. You can read more on being banned in ‘How not to get blocked by WhatsApp’, coming up right after this chapter.
  2. Spimmers are every company’s nightmare. They’re most active on live chat and WhatsApp because these channels are 1-to-1. They abuse you verbally or turn out to be pranksters. Go gentle on soft spimmers: the nosy parkers that want to know whether you’re human or a robot.