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WhatsApp for Business: A complete guide to a better customer experience

Learn how to provide a faster, more engaging customer experience with WhatsApp for Business and the WhatsApp Business API.

Last updated November 21, 2023

It makes sense that WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app companies use. It’s a must-have for companies that understand just how important asynchronous messaging—the ability for participants to stop and re-start a conversation when it’s convenient—will be in the future.

For companies just dipping their toes into the messaging waters, adopting WhatsApp comes with a host of questions. Our guide will help you understand WhatsApp for Business, the WhatsApp Business API, how to build a WhatsApp chatbot, and finally, how to integrate it with Zendesk.

What is WhatsApp for Business?

WhatsApp offers a business app and/or an Application Programming Interface (API) to companies looking to communicate with customers on the WhatsApp platform. Both the app and API are often referred to as WhatsApp Business.

Who uses WhatsApp Business?

Here’s an eye-opening fact: According to the Zendesk 2022 Customer Experience Trends report, the number of support tickets on WhatsApp rose by a whopping 370 percent from 2020 to 2021. In addition, 31 percent of the app’s users fall into the 18-34 age bracket—suggesting these types of messaging channels will continue to rise as preferred methods of communication as technology evolves.

WhatsApp Business App is geared toward small business owners who experience a nominal amount of support requests—enough to keep the owner busy but not enough to hire a customer service team. Accordingly, they can use the WhatsApp for Business app on a single device—perfect for a hustling entrepreneur who is just starting to build their business.

WhatsApp Business API is for enterprise, commercial, and larger SMB teams managing more customer requests. The API is designed for support teams that are scaling and have outgrown the WhatsApp Business inbox, which we’ll discuss later in this guide.

What is the difference between WhatsApp, WhatsApp Business, and WhatsApp Business API?

  • WhatsApp is a free messenger service made for personal one-to-one or group communication. Unlike standard text messaging, the chats go over the internet—meaning no phone network or SMS fees are required.

    WhatsApp is both the most popular chat app used by billions of consumers and the leading messaging app for businesses. In many regions, including much of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, the Indian subcontinent, and several communities in North America, WhatsApp is the de facto mode of communication.


  • The WhatsApp Business app is a tool built for small business owners looking to engage with customers and handle a manageable volume of requests. Similar to other social messaging channels, WhatsApp Business has advantages over session-based live chat. It lets customers respond to conversations in real-time or at their own convenience without losing conversation history. That means customers don’t have to repeat themselves and agents can use conversation history to personalize the interactions.

    Despite certain limitations, WhatsApp for Business is free and beneficial for small business needs. It supports voice calling, and while automated replies, greetings, and away messages are enabled, customization is limited. The app, however, is limited to only one device and cannot be shared with your coworker’s team.


  • The WhatsApp Business API is designed for enterprise, commercial, and larger SMB support teams that need to manage a higher volume of customer requests. Most businesses that move to the WhatsApp Business API are scaling and need more capabilities and features than what the WhatsApp Business inbox offers or they need to share access to their WhatsApp Business account with multiple users.

    With the API, you can integrate WhatsApp with your current CRM and customer support software to meet your customers where they are. Your support teams can easily respond to customer requests and queries through WhatsApp—alongside other all your other support channels—to keep all conversations in one place. You can also use AI to deliver faster support and take requests off your agents’ plates.


Why use the WhatsApp Business app?

Research shows that customers prefer communicating through preferred messaging channels over calling. The WhatsApp Business app is a free option for small business owners to meet customers where they are with the right amount of functionality to achieve their goals. When scaling businesses outgrow the app, it’s an easy transition to the WhatsApp for Business API.

What are the benefits of WhatsApp Business?

The benefits of WhatsApp Business

Here is a look at some of the reasons why adopting WhatsApp Business can help your company:

  1. Meet your customers where they already are: WhatsApp has been adopted by billions of users across the globe. Though most users are younger, it’s not limited to that generation as 27 percent of 35 to 44-year-olds are on the app.

  2. Provide more engaging customer service: WhatsApp Business’s rich messaging types such as quick replies, chatbots, media messages, and Reply Buttons make conversations more interactive, which improves customer engagement.

  3. Build trust: WhatsApp Business builds trust by keeping customers’ personal information secure with end-to-end encryption. Branded profiles also assure customers that messages are from a reliable sender, a feature that SMS lacks.

    Additionally, WhatsApp prevents spam through strict business policies and guidelines for outbound messages, including restrictions around certain message types. Customers must also consent to receive outbound messages and can influence quality ratings based on feedback.

  4. Improve customer loyalty: WhatsApp for Business can help you provide personalized offers, membership rewards, ease of transactions, support, and feedback—boosting the customer experience and building stronger relationships, leading to increased customer loyalty.

    WhatsApp for Business is also easy and convenient for the customer, enabling opportunities for deeper conversations that help build stronger personal connections.

  5. Have asynchronous customer conversations: WhatsApp enables asynchronous conversations with customers, which provides more flexibility and convenience for your customers.

  6. Enhance proactive conversations: Proactive, templated messages are a great way to kick off a conversation with a customer to build a personal connection, drive sales, and increase brand awareness that sets you apart from competitors.

WhatsApp for Business features

Both the Whatsapp Business app and API offer rich, interactive features for companies to build better customer relationships. However, the API unlocks more advanced features than the app alone to increase customer engagement, build brand loyalty, and drive sales.

Here are a few noteworthy WhatsApp features for businesses to use:

Determine your WhatsApp Business staffing needs

WhatsApp is a valuable support tool for customers who want quick replies and to pick up any conversation where they left off. But many businesses are still figuring out how to operationalize it. With our staffing calculator, you can ensure your team has enough support professionals to effectively manage the channel.

Messaging staffing calculator

Results

Weekly utilised hours for a full-time agent:
00
Total utilised hours (weekly):
00

Estimated full-time agents needed:

00

Average handle time calculator

Solves per hour:

00

Average handle time:

00

Disclaimer: The above formula should be used as a guide—it shouldn’t replace a typical workforce management staffing calculator. Teams will also need to consider factors such as breaks for agents, multiple shifts, and different customer requirements.


What are some limitations and considerations for the WhatsApp Business app?

Perhaps the biggest limitation of the WhatsApp Business app is that scaling companies will quickly outgrow the app because it’s not designed for those handling high volumes of customer requests. One sticking point is that it is designed so only one person can respond to customer requests (which makes sense for small businesses), reporting functionality is light, and businesses can’t manage conversations alongside their other support channels, meaning important context can get lost and making it hard to track and prioritize conversations at large. That’s where the API comes in.

What is the WhatsApp Business Platform?

Phone and message bubble

The WhatsApp Business Platform was built for businesses that need to handle more support requests than the WhatsApp for Business app can handle. It integrates the WhatsApp API into your existing tech stack for more complex business needs. Whether your business is a growing SMB, an established firm in the commercial space, or a global enterprise, WhatsApp for Business Platform is the next step for managing messages.

What’s the difference between the WhatsApp Business app and the WhatsApp Business Platform?

WhatsApp for Business comparison

WhatsApp Business appWhatsApp Business Platform

Free

More than one device

Business profile

Verified business accounts

Chatbots

Team inbox

Integration with third-party software

Chat groups

Voice & Video calls


What are the advantages of the WhatsApp Business API?

Unlike the entry-level WhatsApp for Business, the WhatsApp Business API allows for seamless integration of your WhatsApp Business account with customer support software, like Zendesk, to scale customer service. That means handling much larger volumes of messages via tracking and prioritization. The integration is especially useful when customers have multiple social accounts or channels to manage on top of email or phone.

Example:

Say a customer initially reaches out by Facebook Messenger or email, then switches to WhatsApp to continue the discussion. The API keeps the WhatsApp messages as a part of the overall customer record to ensure that conversations and data aren’t fragmented across systems and software. Agents won’t have to toggle between different tools and will have context at their fingertips.

The API also helps businesses connect this vital messaging channel with a CRM, creating more opportunities for automated responses and chatbots to handle common questions and requests. Combined with a customized chatbot to meet your business needs, the WhatsApp Business API frees up your agents so they can address more complex customer service issues.

How much does the WhatsApp API cost?

WhatsApp API cost will vary based on the vendor you purchase it from. Since you don’t buy it directly from Facebook, WhatsApp Business API must be bought through a third-party vendor or partner. Those partners usually charge a fee per message sent.

WhatsApp Business API is set up with a three-tier system based on the number of messages you send in a rolling 24-hour period. Here’s a breakdown of how the tiers work:

  • Tier 1: You can send messages to 1,000 unique customers.

  • Tier 2: You can send messages to 10,000 unique customers.

  • Tier 3: You can send messages to 100,000 unique customers.

Pricing example:

If your business is in North America and you’re on Tier 1, you’ll pay $0.0085 per templated message plus the markup fee of your provider. As you move up tiers, that price will drop to as low as $0.0058. Knowing this rate structure—what partners pay—will help determine if a WhatsApp Business API partner offers you a competitive rate.

With Zendesk, for example, the API costs are included with certain plans. That means you’ll spend less time thinking about costs and more about how you can best use the WhatsApp Business API to provide better customer service.

How to use the WhatsApp Business API

Because the WhatsApp Business API is a programming interface rather than a messaging app, integrating it with a customer service solution like Zendesk helps consolidate conversations, interactions, media, and customer data from WhatsApp—and other channels—all in one place.

Some best practices include:

  • Sending compelling, personalized messages that follow the WhatsApp messaging guidelines

  • Maintaining a high-quality rating through good customer feedback

  • Find a good balance of messaging frequency to avoid the illusion of spam

How to get started with WhatsApp Business

Messaging with your customers is the fun part. But there are a few technical things you need to do to get started.

  • Set up a Facebook Business Manager account

  • Verify your business

  • Open a WhatsApp business account

  • Establish a line of credit for your WhatsApp business account

  • Have a command line tool such as Terminal or an app that can perform cURL requests.

Install the WhatsApp Business API on a cloud provider such as Zendesk. After installation, simply update your settings then send out test messages to ensure it’s working properly. You can use 800 numbers, but you must include a country code.

Important: Before sending proactive notifications to customers, you must obtain opt-ins from customers. That can come via your website, over the phone (via IVR flows), or in a WhatsApp thread. Spamming is strictly forbidden by WhatsApp, so only message folks who have already given you the thumbs up.

What is a WhatsApp chatbot?

A WhatsApp chatbot enables teams to leverage automation to assist with answering simple queries using pre-programmed responses, but it’s important to note that WhatsApp itself doesn’t offer an out-of-the-box chatbot. Wondering how to get WhatsApp for Business API chatbot integration since there isn’t an out-of-the-box solution?

If you’re a Business API customer, there are a host of third-party tools that will help you build a chatbot for WhatsApp. Certain customer service software providers will offer both WhatsApp Business API service and chatbot functionality. With Zendesk, you can build a bot in minutes with no coding. It also integrates with all the systems your team depends on, including third-party bots or bots you build yourself.

Person messaging with WhatsApp chatbot

How to build a WhatsApp Business platform

The right customer service software partner makes the process easy. If you have an existing WhatsApp Messenger account, you’ll want to migrate that first. Simply download the app and follow these steps: verify your business phone number, set your business name, and then build your profile.

  • Find customer service software that offers the WhatsApp API

  • Set up or verify your business phone number with WhatsApp

  • Add your WhatsApp channel to your agent workspace

  • Edit your business profile

  • Start communicating with customers at scale, alongside all your other support channels

Connecting WhatsApp with Zendesk

Two people smiling at their phones

In just a few simple steps you can connect WhatsApp to Zendesk to unlock a wealth of valuable features. This includes all communication channels in one place, automated messages, triggers, 24/7 chatbot support, and more. Included is Zendesk support software that allows service teams to provide conversational support from across channels, through WhatsApp.

To start, you’ll need a verified Facebook Business Manager profile and an approved WhatsApp Business account. Your business operations must adhere to the WhatsApp Commerce Policy and its naming guidelines.

If you need help, Zendesk customer support can walk you through setting up your WhatsApp Business integration.

Ready to demo WhatsApp for Business?

Did you know Zendesk is a turnkey WhatsApp Business Solution provider ? But don’t just take our word for it. Let WhatsApp for Business do the talking.