Congratulations!! In 2017, WhatsApp had a baby. It’s name is “WhatsApp Business.” I’ve decided that it’s a boy because the business world is still a male dominated space and I think it is only fitting. So, huge congratulations to grandfather Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook on continuing his patriarchy. WhatsApp Business will join over 70 family members such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Friend.ly, Oculus VR, and more (“72 Facebook Acquisitions”). The family is large and powerful, but WhatsApp brings something unique to the dinner table.
WhatsApp Business’ family tree as an ecology map part one.
Whatsapp became part of the Facebook family in 2014, when Facebook Inc purchased the messaging system for $19 billion USD. The patriarch of the family, Mark Zuckerberg, owner and founder of Facebook Inc, released a statement saying “[his] mission is to make the world more open and connected,” and to do so “WhatsApp will complement our existing chat and messaging services to provide new tools for our community”(“Facebook buys Whatsapp”). And a few months later came WhatsApp business.
Much like Instagram or Facebook, to use WhatsApp Business, one make a profile with the basic information. Steps include registering a phone number, inputting the business’s name, website address, email contact and a short description of what the business is about (Walter). The sign up process for WhatsApp Business seamlessly mirrors it’s family members and other online social media platforms.
It might be curious to the reader how WhatsApp/Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg can make any money off of texting without advertisements. Here is where WhatsApp Business was conceived. The goal was to have a way to communicate with brands and businesses, where “the business picks up the bill pre paid subscriptions to WhatsApp Business” (Page). This way, the users are not bothered with advertisements in their personal WhatsApp communications and usage, keeping in line with the intent of the original creators Brian Acton and Jan Koum (Page). That’s because we all know that Mark Zuckerberg loves his advertisements.
Advertisements, however, are taboo to what is considered a private chat. It feels like a violation of personal space and devalues the conversation and the platform as a whole. WhatsApp and WhatsApp business therefore is unable to mass market using advertisements and will instead aim to establish personal, almost intimate connections with users in order to win their trust and champion their loyalty (Malpica). This heart to heart style is the new frontier of customer acquisition.
With the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things, there has been an increase in the amount of customers who utilize multiple smart devices and platforms in their daily lives (Betts). Here lies the opportunity to streamline the customer experience across these different technological avenues. It is estimated that by 2020, the customer’s experience with a brand will matter more than even the price of the product (Betts). The goal of a brand will be to become more human-like as it “communicates, engages and delights customers” into loyalty (Betts).
Take for example the following testimony from different companies in the technological market:
According to the IT service company Garter, it projected that “over 50 percent of companies will redirect investments towards customer experience innovations” to meet the demand for a personalized experience (Betts). This move signals the market’s supply response to the demand of the people.
According to the market research company, Forrester, “94% percent of marketers are focusing on their data and analytics capabilities,” including individual data profiles for customers that yield customizable experiences and technologies (Betts).
According to the major computer software company, Adobe, “sixty percent of marketers struggle to personalize content in real time, yet 77 percent believe real-time personalization is crucial” (Betts). This is where WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business comes in.
Customers can communicate using WhatsApp Business at a moment’s notice and receive real time responses.
For simple problems and responses, chatbots are utilized to handle the situation. It is even estimated that chatbots have the capacity to “automate” about a third of the responsibilities completed by customer service staff, which significantly cuts down costs for a company (“Can Chatbots Help”) WhatsApp employs the use of chatbots in their software, which ties in nicely with the potential savings.
But aren’t chatbots just annoying and unhelpful? Don’t they lack the human touch that customers want to have in their personal experience? Yes, but hang on.
The instant response time for a chatbot provides a quick way to validate a customer’s question or concern (“Can Chatbots Help”). According to the Maruti Techlabs team, “simply acknowledging your customers” via use of a chatbot “can go a long way towards gaining a customer’s goodwill,” and ideally their business in the future (“Can Chatbots Help”).
Now, yes, time to validate the need for the human in the situation. Don’t worry humans haven’t become obsolete… yet.
Businesses see that their customers want to talk to them like they do friends and family. This idea of “conversational commerce” gives companies the ability to create more robust, meaningful interactions between businesses and customers during transactions (“Five Reasons”). A huge plus to WhatsApp is that it is associated to one phone number, which fleshes out the “personhood” of the responder in a company, as opposed to a randomized set of digits (“Five Reasons”). It feels like you’re really talking to someone, instead of a robot.
Does this sound unethical? Brands hijacking the role of friends and family and taking on the persona of their own. Some might say so. The response to the eerie feeling some customers get is “infusing empathy” into the experience (Boudet et al). When customers receive a targeted advertisement for something they previously bought or something related to the purchased item, it can come across as insincere and an act that takes advantage of the customer (Boudet et al). Users of WhatsApp Business have to be careful how they target individual customers for fear of alienating the very people they are trying to attract to their business.
Through the use of WhatsApp Business, the establishment of a personal connection between business and consumer can happen anywhere in the world with an internet connection. The accessibility of WhatsApp Business is also a huge draw. Because the app itself is free to download, it has become the most popular mode of communication for personal and business conversations around the world (“Five Reasons”).
That is, except for China. WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business make use of “end-to-end encryption” which protects the content of the messages between users (Liao). Therefore, the Chinese government has trouble monitoring the citizens that use WhatsApp. How does WhatsApp compare to other American platforms used in China? Let’s take a look.
China “tolerates” Microsoft’s Skype phone calling, which does not provide end-to-end encryption and therefore the Chinese government is able to oversee (Bradsher). In Beijing, Apple’s FaceTime is allowed, which features the “end-to-end encryption,” however lacks WhatsApp’s protection of messaging “secret codes,” giving users autonomy over their private messaging (Bradsher). WhatsApp clearly has a greater level of security compared to other messaging platforms.
In 2017, the Chinese government decided that WhatsApp and therefore would be restricted using China’s “Great Firewall” of Internet access regulation. The disruptions began with a slowing of the application, causing Chinese citizens to switch to the government approved, non private platform of WeChat (Bradsher). The decrease in performance of WhatsApp in Chinese markets naturally encouraged the switch to WeChat. One Chinese user aptly uses a driving analogy to describe the switch as the following: “if you’re only allowed to drive one mile per hour, you’re not going to drive on that road, even if it’s not technically blocked” (Bradsher). Despite not being totally blocked, Chinese users were essentially forced out of the app.
Chief Mark Zuckerberg however, still has hopes for WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business in China. He has been pushing hard for the restrictions to be lifted and reportedly has even taken up Chinese lessons in order to gain favor with China’s government (Bradsher).
On the issue of privacy, end-to-end encryption is exactly why people are drawn to WhatsApp; this protection includes multimedia messages, such as pictures and videos (Malpica). Customers like the idea of their messages and personal data under lock and key.
Big brands have already started to embrace WhatsApp Business. He’s growing up so fast! He’s already dating around from online entertainment streaming services, to culinary companies, and travel agencies.
WhatsApp Business ecology map part two.
Let’s meet the partners that WhatsApp Business is involved with:
Deliveroo, a mobile food delivery service, was one of the first brands to embrace WhatsApp Business for its 35,000 restaurants in 12 different countries for things like delivery alerts, purchase confirmations, and customer support (“Five Reasons”).
Netflix, an online streaming service, embraced WhatsApp Business’ personal connection network starting in India (Geric). A Netflix user can ask WhatsApp Business for recommendations for content on their streaming service, the same way one might ask a friend for recommendations (Geric). WhatsApp Business plays the role of a friend for the user and makes recommendations based on data collection and analysis.
The airline company, Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., the Royal Dutch Airlines, known by the acronym of KLM, uses WhatsApp Business for interface between customers and staff support. Customers are able to receive important status updates via WhatsApp Business on things like “booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding pass, and flight status (Geric). These are necessary communications that can become more seamless with the use of WhatsApp Business, further streamlining communication between customer and service provider.
Hellman’s, a popular mayonnaise brand, made a very unique move in the marketing by using WhatsApp Business. The company sought to increase their customer base in Brazil using WhatsApp Business (Geric). Their plan was thoughtful, personalized, and it worked. They asked customers to send photos of their fridge to a professional chef and then “the chef quickly thought of a recipe and they cooked the meal together, staying connected through WhatsApp” (Geric).
WhatsApp Business next target is small businesses around the world, which can even more authentically use the platform to make personal connections between themselves and their customer base.
According to the grandfather himself, Mark Zuckerberg, “[WhatApp Business] is going to be especially important for all of the small businesses out there that don’t have a web presence, and that are increasingly using private social platforms is their main way of interacting with their customers” (Walter). Though largely unknown compared to the brands mentioned previously, small businesses can have a significant impact on customers by utilizing a platform such as WhatsApp Business to communicate with them directly.
Overall, WhatsApp Business has huge implications for shaping the business world and communication landscape. The birth of WhatsApp Business truly signals a shift in our modern world in what we expect from businesses, brands, and companies. The “friendship” we expect from the business world is more important than ever. Looking to what’s next is interesting. By dissolving the barrier between customer and service and blurring the line between business and friendship, I truly wonder if this demarcates a new stage in capitalism in the digital context. By breathing life and personality into brands… at what point do we “become” our brands? We already have conceptions about people that wear Nike trainers versus people that sport Adidas superstars on their feet. Or people that eat Papa John’s pizza versus people that eat Dominos. As these brands develop their “personalities,” only time will tell the social, political, and cultural effects of these interactions.
And that is why I have used the family analogy throughout this paper to comment on the personification of business. I hope it ages well.
“72 Facebook Acquisitions.” Https://Www.techwyse.com /Blog-New/, 11 Oct. 2019, www.techwyse.com/blog/infographics/facebook-acquisitions-the-comple.
Betts, Andy, et al. “A New Era of Personalization: The Hyperconnected Customer Experience.” MarTech Today, 16 Nov. 2018, martechtoday.com/new-era-personalization-hyper-connected-customer-experience-209529.
Boudet, Julien, et al. “What Shoppers Really Want from Personalized Marketing.” McKinsey.com, McKinsey & Company, Oct. 2017, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/what-shoppers-really-want-from-personalized-marketing.
Bradsher, Keith. “China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/business/china-whatsapp-blocked.html.
“Can Chatbots Help Reduce Customer Service Costs by 30%?” Medium, Chatbots Magazine, 24 Dec. 2018, chatbotsmagazine.com/how-with-the-help-of-chatbots-customer-service-costs-could-be-reduced-up-to-30-b9266a369945.
“Facebook Buys WhatsApp: Mark Zuckerberg Explains Why.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 19 Feb. 2014, www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/10650340/Facebook-buys-WhatsApp-Mark-Zuckerberg-explains-why.html.
“Five Reasons To Use The WhatsApp Business API – Messaging.” Twilio, www.twilio.com/learn/messaging/five-reasons-to-use-whatsapp-business-api.
Geric, Jan. “5 Big Brands Using WhatsApp For Business.” Sendbee Blog | The Ultimate Guide for Businesses on WhatsApp, Sendbee Blog | The Ultimate Guide for Businesses on WhatsApp, 6 Aug. 2018, blog.sendbee.io/5-big-brands-using-whatsapp-for-business/.
Liao, Shannon. “China Blocks WhatsApp.” The Verge, The Verge, 25 Sept. 2017, www.theverge.com/2017/9/25/16362292/china-whatsapp-censorship-wechat-no-more-texts.
Page, Vanessa. “How WhatsApp Makes Money.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 4 May 2019, www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/040915/how-whatsapp-makes-money.asp.
Walter, Derek. “What WhatsApp Business Means For Small Business Owners in the U.S.” Business News Daily, 30 Apr. 2019, www.businessnewsdaily.com/10556-whatsapp-business-communication-change.html.