WhatsApp for better customer service
The impact of personal messaging on your business
★★★ includes 5 best practices and lots of tips & tricks ★★★
Personal messaging: A direct line to your customers
We live in a global village populated by mobile consumers. People like you and me: always online, never satisfied for long. That’s what I realized thinking about why WhatsApp wasn’t a hit right away. After all, it was launched in 2009 - before the smartphone revolution. A time when the majority of people owned something like a plastic black or blue Nokia that they used to text or call people.
At the time, we were still deep into social networking. But as the number of smartphone users grew thanks to the introduction of the iPhone, a proper mobile app market was created. We started thinking in apps, not websites.
Slowly, we changed. We started bringing our smartphone everywhere like a favourite pet, even to the cinema or the restaurant. We used it to look for answers whenever a question popped up. We started rating and reviewing, booking and buying online. The longer we did this, the wiser, pickier and impatient we got. Mankind took an evolutionary step forwards.
For the first time ever, the web let you access information from anywhere in the world. For the first time ever, mobile made connected computing constantly available.
I’m writing this in April 2016. The mobile generation is thriving. We know what we want, demanding quick answers from both our friends and the brands we adore (or despise). The internet, with its social media, review sites and e-commerce options, has turned into an extension of our consciousness. We are now discovering conversational commerce, and artificial intelligence will play a big part. We’re waking up to a global but very connected village. And this behaviour forces companies to treat us like rich, respectable kings.
One small app for man…
WhatsApp is going to be the primary customer service app. That was clear even before Facebook bought WhatsApp for 19 billion dollars. As I write this, WhatsApp has over 1 billion monthly active users. One thousand million people using the same app? That’s close to creepy. And the user base is growing fast: according to GlobalWebIndex(GWI), WhatsApp has been growing furiously ever since Facebook acquired it in 2014. Since then, an extra 1 in 8 internet users use WhatsApp.
WhatsApp was built specifically for the smartphone. It was launched in February 2009, a month after Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s founding father, bought his first iPhone. And as this Ukrainian university drop-out, one of Yahoo’s infrastructure engineers, was checking out the new App Store, he realized he wanted to build an app. A wave of new apps was coming; it would wash over the world like a benign tsunami. This was the chance to build an app that would allow its users around the world to connect with their peers. An app like that would make the world shrink comfortably into a global village.
With hardly any users, WhatsApp started off slow. At first, it was a bit of a boring app that allowed you to update and share your status: “Hey there, what’s up?” But then, in June 2009, Apple introduced its push notification system. All of a sudden, each status update on WhatsApp appeared live on the screen and demanded being looked at by its receiver. WhatsApp had turned into one of the few safe and ad-free messaging apps around, and Koum knew it. As he said to Forbes: ‘Being able to reach somebody half way across the world instantly, on a device that is always with you, [is] powerful.’
Soon after the push notifications added a crucial layer to personal messaging, WhatsApp started growing faster than any other social utility. A famous note by co-founder Brian Acton reminded everyone at WhatsApp what the app was all about:
one giant app for businesses.
Of the time we spend on our smartphone, we spend almost 90% on apps. And one of the most popular of those apps, accessed at least daily by 4 in 5 users, is WhatsApp. Which makes it very interesting to smart companies like yours and mine. No, ads are not allowed. But isn’t building a relationship with your customers worth millions more than any flimsy ad?
TNS NIPO, a renowned Dutch research institute, recently published the results of a national WhatsApp study: in the Netherlands, WhatsApp is popular mainly amongst articulate city-dwellers with more money to spend than average. And it turns out that these consumers love using WhatsApp to reach out to brands. ‘People who are using WhatsApp already, welcome customer service through WhatsApp,’ researcher Job van der Berg explains. ‘However, people who don’t use WhatsApp anyway – mainly low-skilled and older consumers – say they wouldn’t appreciate customer support through WhatsApp at all.’
The previously mentioned global GWI study shows similar findings: almost 75% WhatsApp users world-wide live in a city. Most users are between 16 and 34 years old, and 1 in 5 have a good income. How’s that for a potential target audience?
4 business-ways to use WhatsApp
In the past, any self-respecting company would avoid the sacred WhatsApp arena. Friends only, no commercial rubbish. Companies who dare to spam WhatsApp users are blocked. But there are other ways to reach customers through WhatsApp than bothering them with spam:
- Add a WhatsApp share button to your website or in your app. This allows your happy customers (aka fans) to easily share your content and ‘recommend’ it to friends.
- Compile a ‘Broadcast List’ and push messages to multiple people at once. But be careful: only those who actually saved your contact number will receive your messages. As this has nothing to do with my own business, customer service, I don’t care for this option myself. I actually dislike this option very much. If you decide to go for it, keep your content very relevant and only sent it to people who explicitly said they wanted you to keep them up to date (the “opt-in” principle).
- Organize a Group Chat, which will let you chat with up to 256 people at once. Again, hard to use for customer service, unless it’s for a very specific, one-time campaign. Also great for in-company chats if your company doesn’t yet use productivity apps like Slack.
- Offer customer service through WhatsApp. Every time someone saves your company‘s WhatsApp number in his contact list, a direct one-to-one line is established. If you use it wisely, you’ll be rewarded with a high customer satisfaction rate and a higher turnover.
As the first three ways haven’t got anything to do with customer service, #4 is the only option I’ll be talking about in this book. 1-to-1 customer service through WhatsApp, that’s gold.
Why would you want to use WhatsApp for customer service? Some companies report shorter phone queues and few complaints on Facebook or Twitter. Others say they use WhatsApp to reach new audiences, meaning WhatsApp actually gives them more work rather than less. An independent survey, though, recently showed that “social media is among the last places consumers want to go for customer service”. WhatsApp is the better alternative.
Unless, of course, you don’t have the capacity to answer quickly. WhatsApp is a quick channel; people are used to get a response as soon as they see 2 blue check marks, indicating the other person has read their message. You can’t let the customer wait 2 working days for a reply on WhatsApp. Half an hour is the limit! If you don’t have enough people or enough time to take care of your WhatsApp customers, then my suggestion is to ignore the WhatsApp trend for now, and hope for better times.
WhatsApp: the benefits
WhatsApp is fast, highly intuitive and free. Businesses who don’t consider this app as a customer contact channel are way behind. Why would you not want to establish a direct line with your customers, using one of their favourite apps? There’s nothing to lose and a lifelong relationship to win – if you know what you’re doing (see chapter 2).
WhatsApp allows you to be within your customer’s reach: in his beloved smartphone. Nobody can’t deny it any longer: every potential customer of yours owns a smartphone. That’s where you’ve got to be! And not just there - wouldn’t it be super if your brand would be on his friend list? With WhatsApp, you can.
WhatsApp is private. The fact that WhatsApp is a one-to-one channel, unlike Twitter or Facebook, allows more room for nuance. It stimulates a very personal approach, quite unlike social media, , where the conversation starts off publically (one-to-many). This makes WhatsApp ideal for customer service. Being personal and private, ‘it extends the consumer relationship beyond complaints and queries’. Conversational commerce at its best!
Before you get started:
There’s one thing that all of the early adopters in chapter 4 mention when sharing their insights on WhatsApp: ‘Don’t be scared of using WhatsApp. Just go for it, it’s awesome.’
Here’s 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 any phase. Also, keep improving your behaviour on WhatsApp; it’s all one big exercise in adjusting and reconsidering!
Phase 1: Thinking things through
a) Your stakeholder’s behaviour
Using WhatsApp isn’t good for all of us. Before you get ahead of yourself and start implementing, there are a few stakeholders you need to think about.
Stakeholder group, what 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, then 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.
b) 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.
Phase 2: A 7-step prep countdown
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?
7) 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.
6) 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?
5) 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, canned messages, humour, etc. Make sure you’re all on the same page: giving your customers the best experience ever. Check out chapter 2 for loads of tips and tricks!
4) Get a WhatsApp number
You’ll obviously need a phone number that your customers can use to reach you through WhatsApp. Two options here:
Buy a prepaid SIM card. Online, or from a local telephone shop. Keep into account that most providers deactivate a SIM card 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.)
Get a SIM card with an actual 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.
3) Consider 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.com), this can be problem. So if you’re not using a dedicated phone, you have two options:
Record a voicemail to let people know which other number to reach you on.
Install an automatic forward of incoming calls to a different number, for example your support line.
2) 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.
1) Manage your messages like a pro
There are three options to manage your incoming and outgoing messages:
- A smartphone
- WhatsApp Web
- Specialised software for WhatsApp support
Sometimes it’s perfectly possible to start testing WhatsApp support with just a phone. But depending on your company size, 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 helps 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, subsidiaries, countries, etc. Whether you need software ultimately depends on the size of your WhatsApp team and the volume of incoming WhatsApp queries. So just like pointed out in the two previous paragraphs, let those two factors influence your decision.
- 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 solid data and metrics, 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.
- 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?
- Don’t consider tools that only focus on WhatsApp. Your tool should allow you to receive customer questions from different sources, like email and live chat. If you can “catch” all of these questions in a single app, your efficiency will skyrocket!
- Get to know the tool’s features. Check whether it allows you to send and receive photos, videos or other types of messages. Perhaps you don’t want to send pictures now, but you might want to in the future. Keep your options open! And might you ever be using various WhatsApp numbers? Then get a tool that collects them all within the same system! Also, check how the tool operates: does it have native integrations with your systems of choice, does it work with an open API, and is there another easy way to export your data? Don’t focus too much on reporting or analytics options just yet. WhatsApp is hard to measure. What matters in the end is whether WhatsApp works for your customers and your business. Also: don’t be seduced by the 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!
- 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.
- 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. It’s up to you to top up the credit in time or the number will stop working. More expensive (but reliable) tools allow you to connect your number once to the system and be done with it.
Need your manager’s (or your mirror image’s) approval to proceed? Use this clever prep checklist for your team to refer to during the 3 phases preceding your WhatsApp trial. Then go for it - and discover the power of conversational commerce.
Phase 3: 3-2-1 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. Time to get down to action.
3) 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 newsletters;
- 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.
Also: when sharing your WhatsApp number online, make sure it’s clickable, leading to a vcard. If a mobile visitor of your website clicks on the number, he’ll be able to download your contact info, allowing him to save it to his address book with just one tap.
2) 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!
After you’ve tested WhatsApp and are getting satisfactory results, it’s a smart move to integrate it with your other channels. 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 more complete picture and make the WhatsApp channel scalable.
- ‘The Future of Chat Ain’t AI’, March 2016, Medium
- Just as Marshall McLuhan predicted in 1962.
- ‘WhatsApp: best for customer service?’, February 2014, The Guardian
- GWI is the world's largest market research study on the digital consumer. Some argue that its figures on the Chinese market (WeChat in particular) are questionable. I have no idea whether that’s true, but to be sure I’ll only quote GWI on markets excluding China.
- GWI PROFILE Q4 2015 on WhatsApp, GlobalWebIndex - PDF
- ‘Exclusive: The Rags-To-Riches Tale Of How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp Into Facebook's New $19 Billion Baby’, February 2014, Forbes
- ‘Inside The Facebook-WhatsApp Megadeal: The Courtship, The Secret Meetings, The $19 Billion Poker Game’, March 2014, Forbes
- ‘WhatsApp: voor de mondige stedeling’, October 2015, Clou
- I got this from social media expert Jarno Duursma. He wrote a short guide called WhatsApp for businesses, in which he pays as much attention to commercial ways 1, 2 and 3 as to way #4. Though only a quarter of the book is about customer service, I can recommend this book (in Dutch) all the same.
- That’s why Casengo’s slogan is More happy customers. We aim for a higher customer satisfaction rate (happier customers) and a higher revenue (more customers)!
- ‘Social Media Customer Service Declines, American Consumers Don’t Know What Good Service Looks Like, New Survey Finds’, March 2016, NICE/BCG
- ‘Survey Finds Social Media Customer Service Declines’, March 2016, Contact Centres
- ‘WhatsApp: best for customer service?’, February 2014, The Guardian
- Like Casengo… Check out www.casengo.com to discover our tool.