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Best practices 10 min read

Understanding the difference between WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business

WhatsApp is the most popular chat app in the world and the top messaging app used by companies. Here's your complete guide to WhatsApp Business.

By Hannah Wren, Staff Writer

Last updated September 13, 2023

Messaging apps have the highest customer satisfaction rating of any support channel and their usage has skyrocketed. In fact, the volume of support tickets over WhatsApp alone jumped 101 percent in 2020, according to our 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report. Customers want to interact with companies over the same channels they use with friends and family. And businesses are following suit: 53 percent of companies that launched a new channel in 2020 added messaging. With support that’s fast, personal, convenient, and secure, messaging has quickly become a fan favorite for both customers and businesses. WhatsApp is the most popular chat app in the world, with a whopping 2.5 billion users. If your business isn’t using WhatsApp, you could be missing a huge opportunity to support your customers. Here’s what you need to know to get started. 💬

  1. Difference between WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business
  2. WhatsApp business benefits
  3. WhatsApp business features

What’s the difference between WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business?

If WhatsApp were a video game, it would have three different levels: the consumer WhatsApp app, the WhatsApp Business app, and the WhatsApp Business API. Read on to learn the main differences between the three versions of WhatsApp.


WhatsApp is not only the leading chat app for consumers, it’s also the top messaging app used by companies. The app works anywhere with an Internet connection—no phone network or SMS fees required. It’s especially popular among younger generations: 55 percent of the platform’s users are between 18 and 35 years old. Like other messaging channels, WhatsApp is asynchronous—meaning customers can respond to conversations in real-time or at their own convenience. Unlike web-based live chat, customers have the flexibility to troubleshoot while they do other things, like tuning in to a Zoom meeting or watching The Bachelorette, and agents can help more customers at once. It’s also possible to preserve the conversation thread for later. This includes previous interactions customers had with the brand (including conversations with bots, reminders, updates, and notifications), giving agents context to personalize the experience and meaning customers don’t have to repeat themselves.

WhatsApp vs. WhatsApp Business vs. WhatsApp Business API

WhatsApp offers an app and/or API to companies looking to communicate with customers on the WhatsApp platform, both of which are often referred to as WhatsApp Business. Businesses can direct customers to message them on WhatsApp by placing a WhatsApp launcher icon anywhere on their websites, e-commerce stores, and mobile apps. This opens a conversation in the app, and the customer can get straight to the question.

WhatsApp Business app

The WhatsApp Business app is designed for small business owners managing light volumes of customer requests. It has the same interface as the consumer WhatsApp app, with some additional features. For instance, companies get a verified Business Profile so customers can trust who they’re chatting with. They can also set up Catalogs, a mobile storefront for small businesses to showcase and share their goods on the platform. Only one user on one device can use the WhatsApp Business app—at least for now. If you’re the owner of a mom-and-pop shop, you’re likely the one helping your customers. This is what the WhatsApp Business app is great for.

WhatsApp Business API

WhatsApp Business has an Application Programming Interface (API) 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. With the API, businesses can integrate WhatsApp into a CRM and customer support software like Zendesk to track, prioritize, and respond to customer requests at scale. Support teams can provide support over WhatsApp alongside their other channels, so conversations and customer data aren’t fragmented across systems and software. This enables them to have multiple agents managing conversations while leveraging tools like chatbots and automation.

WhatsApp business benefits

Here are a few reasons why companies are adopting WhatsApp at lightning speed.

  1. Meet customers where they are
  2. Build trust
  3. Better than SMS

1. To meet customers where they are—whether they’re in San Francisco or the French Riviera

Customers shouldn’t have to climb a ladder to reach support. Businesses need to provide help over channels most convenient for their audience. In fact, being able to reach companies on customers’ preferred channels is one of the top indicators of a good customer experience, according to customers.

Forty-eight percent of people in the world have a smartphone, and 87 percent of smartphone owners use messaging apps such as WhatsApp. And with 2 billion active users, WhatsApp enables brands to reach customers where they are. Customers can get answers when they need them, through apps already installed on their phones. WhatsApp also enables brands to support a global customer base. In many regions, including across much of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Indian subcontinent, as well as immigrant and diaspora communities in North America, WhatsApp is the de facto mode of communication. WhatsApp Business The app generally doesn’t use too much data, which is why it’s popular in areas with scattered infrastructure and among populations who have not had access to affordable phone plans and fast Internet until recently. In Europe, where Android mobile phones are predominant, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app because it offers a consistent, rich experience across many different devices.

2. To build trustworthy customer relationships

Retaining customers isn’t possible without trust. In fact, consumers report that trust is one of the most important factors (83 percent) in their relationship with brands, next to integrity (79 percent) and honesty (77 percent), according to a Deloitte study. WhatsApp helps businesses build more trustworthy customer relationships with:

  • Verified business profiles—so customers can trust who they’re chatting with.

  • Strict business policies for sending outbound messages: To prevent spam, customers must consent to receive outbound communications and WhatsApp restricts certain types of messages that break the platform’s guidelines.

  • Quality ratings, which are determined by customer feedback, such as your phone number blocks and other reporting issues.

  • End-to-end encryption: WhatsApp considers chats with businesses that use the WhatsApp Business app or manage and store customer messages themselves to be end-to-end encrypted.

3. To provide a modern experience that’s better than SMS

During the pandemic, support requests over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger spiked, while more traditional service channels like email, SMS, and the phone plateaued. In fact, only 15 percent of customers surveyed in our Trends Report said they preferred to use SMS as a customer support channel. WhatsApp provides a better customer experience than SMS in part because it allows businesses to create branded business profiles. That means customers don’t have to receive a message from an unknown number, which boosts credibility and authenticity. WhatsApp also gives agents context into when messages have been delivered and read. Another advantage WhatsApp has over SMS is its rich and interactive features, which you can explore below. ⬇️

WhatsApp features for businesses

The protracted battle to replace SMS (Short Message Service) with RCS messaging (Rich Communication Services) as the new messaging standard is part of a larger movement to make business messaging more interactive—think: typing indicators, read receipts, emojis, carousels, and quick replies. WhatsApp enables businesses to create those kinds of next-generation experiences with rich messaging types available out-of-the-box and more interactive and customized features available with the API and some development work. WhatsApp’s rich messaging types go beyond customer service. They’re laying the groundwork for conversational commerce—the intersection of messaging and e-commerce. Customers want to message a business, and according to research by Facebook, 75 percent make a purchase when they do. At the same time customers are messaging businesses to get support, they’re increasingly using messaging apps to research products and services, get consultations, make payments, book appointments, and more. That means conversations must be connected across the enterprise, which is why those companies leading in this effort are integrating WhatsApp with their CRM. Explore WhatsApp business features:

Quick replies ↩️

Quick replies enable support teams to create keyboard shortcuts for simple, repetitive questions—so agents don’t have to type out your reimbursement policy every time.

Automatic messages 👋

Businesses can send greeting messages to welcome new customers or let them know their message was received. Similarly, they can send away messages when agents are off the clock to let customers know when to expect a response.

Media messages ⏯️

Media-rich messages make conversations more engaging and more human—think: audio, documents, images, stickers, and videos.

Outbound notifications 🔔

Eighty-five percent of customers want to receive proactive communications. Businesses can use WhatsApp’s message templates to send outbound messages to customers at scale. Templates are great for communicating details like shipping confirmations, support ticket updates, appointment reminders, or payment updates.

85% of customers want to receive proactive communications

WhatsApp is also rolling out non-transactional notifications. Non-transactional notifications open the door to more personalized customer engagement and cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. Previously, outbound communications were limited by a 24-hour session window, which meant companies had to find a way for the customer to trigger proactive conversations. Now, businesses can initiate conversations and start new engagements with existing customers, too. Non-transactional messages are good for:

  • Clienteling: If Gucci knows what Paul bought in the last six months, it can send personalized messages based on his preferences for a white-glove experience.

  • E-commerce: Businesses can send promotions, coupons, and new product information to customers who want to receive promotional content.

  • Facilitating back-office processes: Brands can follow up on forms that haven't been submitted and kick off new processes.

  • Internal communication: Businesses can also send employees important information like reminders, updates, and policy changes.
    Unlike outbound SMS messages from a ‘do not reply’ number, WhatsApp recommends thinking of proactive messages as conversation starters. “The goal is to convert this initial message into a two-way conversation when the user replies,” said WhatsApp. That means teams must be prepared to respond to outbound messages at scale, with the right context at their fingertips to do so—in case Jenny needs to change her shipping address when she gets a delivery update regarding her new blender or if Paul has a question about a coupon he was sent.

    Chatbots 🤖

    With companies adding messaging channels to provide faster resolutions and always-on support, bots have quickly become a key component of any messaging strategy: they ensure customers get instant responses when an agent is busy helping other customers or running to Chick-fil-A —or when your support is offline. With the right chatbot solution, businesses can deploy a bot over WhatsApp to address FAQs, route customers to the correct department, and connect customers to help desk articles. And with access to customer data, chatbots can deliver personalized responses, automate cross-sell and upsell activities, and help customers complete tasks inside the messaging thread—like reserve a window seat for their flight to Vegas or upgrade to a hotel room with a better view of the Strip.

    Interactive messages 🙋‍♀️

    WhatsApp testing revealed that chatbots using interactive messaging features achieve significantly higher response rates and conversions compared to those that are text-based. Here are the two main types of interactive messages WhatsApp describes:
    • List Messages: List messages present customers with a menu of up to 10 options. They’re a more straightforward and consistent way for customers to make a selection. Examples of List messages include options in an FAQ menu or available reservation times.Reply Buttons: Reply buttons include up to 3 options, with each option presented as a button. They’re good for offering quick responses to a limited set of options, such as adding optional extras to a food order or choosing a payment method.

    WhatsApp testing revealed that chatbots using interactive messaging features achieve significantly higher response rates and conversions

    List messages and Reply buttons can be personalized to the customer or situation. You can show Sally a List message of available time slots for her follow-up dentist appointment on Tuesday, or use Reply buttons to show Tyler his previous delivery addresses on file. WhatsApp vs. WhatsApp Business Image source: Facebook

    Reach your customers on the world’s most popular, reliable, and secure messaging app

    Customers are connecting with brands online more than ever, and messaging is their channel of choice. With Zendesk's messaging platform, get WhatsApp right out of the box or fully customize it to meet your needs. Learn more.

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