Using WhatsApp Business for Customer Service in Retail

How to Set Up WhatsApp Business in Retail Chains & Other Multi-Unit Businesses

WhatsApp is the most used messaging app globally and has in excess of 2 billion monthly active users (MAUs). The word “active” is almost an understatement because around 60% of users are Daily Active Users. In fact, more than 65 billion Whatsapp messages are sent each day, which is phenomenal. This makes WhatsApp the key messaging platform in many countries around the world (notable exceptions include the US, China and Japan).   Worldwide messaging apps

Source: Social Media Today

Consumer to business messaging has been growing rapidly across platforms like webchat and Facebook Messenger for years but it hasn’t really caught on at physical store level. WhatsApp Business and other new messaging solutions like Google’s Business Messages are really going to drive digital engagement between stores and the local community. Using WhatsApp to provide customer service at store-level will give you an edge over your competitor down the street. It will also help you improve shopper convenience, which will help you combat the threat from Direct to Consumer (DTC) competitors like Amazon. So how do you set up WhatsApp business for a retail chain and other multi-unit businesses?  

WhatsApp Business App vs WhatsApp Business API

Before we talk about setting up WhatsApp Business for your stores, it’s important to note that you can choose to work with WhatsApp Business in three different ways. The method you choose will depend primarily on the size of your company in terms of the volume of customer interactions and your sophistication in terms of in-house development capabilities.  

(a) The WhatsApp Business App

The WhatsApp Business App is designed to cater to small businesses. Simply download the WhatsApp Business app from your preferred app store and connect a phone number to it. Then you’re ready to start interacting with customers just like you would using the standard WhatsApp app. If you don’t expect to receive a huge volume of messages and have a small team responding, then it will probably work really well for you.   This blog post is intended for retail chains rather than independent stores so if you want more information about the WhatsApp Business app, please check out this page.  

(b) Partnering with WhatsApp Business Approved Service Providers

Businesses that are a little more complicated and need extra functionality, such as having multiple users answering customer queries and/or multiple points of contact, are probably best served by using a service provider that is already integrated with WhatsApp. There are dozens of potential solution providers to choose from and each offers a slightly different set of benefits. For example, at ServiceDock we specialise in serving multi-unit businesses such as retail chains. Retail customer engagement is different because the customer frequently wants to contact a store rather than head office and this requires a slightly different set up than call centre situation.  

(c) Working Directly with the WhatsApp API

Finally, if you’re a very large organisation with an in-house tech team and expect to see huge volumes of customer interactions taking place on WhatsApp, it might make sense to work directly with the WhatsApp API. The first step on the journey to getting approval is to make an application through this form. Be warned; WhatsApp is only willing to engage with very large businesses at this level (i.e. an enterprise that would expect to send 500,000 messages or more a month). We are not going to cover this process here but much of the rest of this article will still be relevant in terms of how to use WhatsApp in practice.  

How Retailers can get started with WhatsApp Business Using a Service Provider

You could choose to use WhatsApp as a new engagement channel with your call centre or social media team and just have one WhatsApp number for the entire business. We don’t see that as the optimal set up for retail chains.   We see the future of retail stores as customer engagement hubs for the local communities that they serve. Retail chains are going to have to become more local to survive and messaging will play a huge part in bringing store associates and customers closer together. Getting customer engagement right at store-level will help you build brand loyalty that will pay off in terms of both online and offline conversions.     However, this type of set up will require a number for every store and specific customer engagement touchpoints to funnel customer queries to the right store. This is what we do at ServiceDock. In any case, once you’ve found a service provider who you think can deliver the WhatsApp solution that your business requires, the next steps should look something like the following:

1. Creating a WhatsApp Business Account

The first thing the Service Provider will need is your Facebook Business ID (this is how you find that). Just in case you’re unaware, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook and the management of your WhatsApp account happens within the same dashboards as your Facebook pages. After the Service Provider submits the request to WhatsApp to start the setup process, they will need you to accept the invitation with the “Requests” tab in your Facebook Business account. Your business needs to be verified on Facebook in order to access the WhatsApp API. If you haven’t previously verified your business on Facebook you can learn how to do that here. At this stage, your Facebook Business profile is checked by WhatsApp for approval. There are no guarantees that your business will be approved, but as long as your business does not fall within one of the prohibited services in the WhatsApp Commerce Policy then this should be a formality.  

2. Choosing and Registering WhatsApp Numbers

You can choose to use a mobile or landline number for your WhatsApp connection. Any number should work as long as it has never been associated with WhatsApp before and can be verified.   We recommend that our clients use the store’s landline number for WhatsApp Business messaging because it minimises friction. The only issue can be if there is an IVR system at use in the store. The way WhatsApp verifies a number is either by SMS or an automated voice call if it is a landline number. To verify a landline number you will need to switch off the IVR momentarily so that someone can respond to the instructions in the automated call. That can be a little awkward if you have hundreds of stores so there is an argument for using dedicated mobile numbers for each store.   Once this step is complete, you’re ready to start sending messages.  

3. Apply for an Official Business Account (Optional)

WhatsApp enables larger enterprises and globally recognized brands to set up “Official Business Account” (“OBA”), which gives your profile more credibility and improves searchability. If you wish to apply, you’ll need to follow the steps below:
  • You’ll need to send WhatsApp or your Service Provider the following information: Business Website Address, Facebook Page URL, the business name in languages other than English (if any).
  • Wait up to 4 weeks to have your submission reviewed by WhatsApp. They (or your Service Provider) will let you know if you make the grade.
There’s no guaranty you’ll be approved and it’s highly unlikely you are a large brand with a global footprint on social media.  

4. Deciding How to Drive Customer Engagement on WhatsApp Business

Next, you’ll need to make your customers aware that you are available for customer service on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very wary of businesses sending customers loads of promotional messages that offer very little value, so just because you’ve been sending SMS messages to customers about forthcoming sales doesn’t mean you can do the same with WhatsApp (there are also plenty of GDPR/data protection issues to consider here).  There are a number of strategies and tools that you can use here.  

(a) Message us on 123-123-1234 on WhatsApp.

Just like you might message a friend the first time, you can simply tell customers what number to message you on and they can add your store as a WhatsApp Contact. Once a customer messages you first, then you are free to reply to them but you still can’t just start pinging them about forthcoming sales etc. There has to be a purpose to the messaging such as Using WhatsApp messaging to manage queues at retail stores.  

(b) “WhatsApp Us” button

If the customer wants to message you from your website, the easiest way to let them start is to create a WhatsApp button that brings them right into a chat with your store. The button will have a URL similar to this behind it:   Again, the user needs to message first to trigger your permission to respond. Using Whatsapp Business For Customer Service from your store locator  

(c) WhatsApp Messaging Opt-In

If you plan to send customers a message first, then you need to get opt-in from the user beforehand. This permission will be required where a customer is agreeing to receive order updates in the future, for example.  WhatsApp has some strict rules around how this is done that you can find here. Essentially, it must be an explicit opt-in where the customer needs to tick a box and/or enter their phone number to sign up for the notifications.
Whatsapp Business Opt In Button
Image: Facebook

Get Started with WhatsApp Business Today

The number of business using WhatsApp Business to communicate with customers is estimated to grow by 5,400% between 2019 and 2024. We think that may be underestimated because the research was done prior to COVID-19 shutting down much of the world’s shops. Messaging is the ideal channel to connect stores with their local community during a pandemic and help store associates sell more.    You know how popular WhatsApp is. You know customers will enjoy it and appreciate businesses who facilitate customer service over WhatsApp. That appreciation is going to be so much higher if you are quick out of the blocks with the solution rather than being a laggard.   Contact us today to see how you can get started,
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How to Use WhatsApp Business in Retail Chains & Other Multi-Unit Businesses

by Oisin Ryan time to read: 7 min