WhatsApp for Business App vs WhatsApp for Business API (WABA)
WhatsApp as a platform has become a critical and inseparable part of our online lives.
Our constant need for faster, engaging and secure communication that is agnostic to distance between the communicating parties has pushed messaging services to the top of our Smartphone augmented lives.
WhatsApp is at the forefront of this revolution and not undeservedly so. WhatsApp has approached communication to be clutter-free, personal and easy to use. The ease of use has enabled that my 5-year-old nephew to send me voice notes and pictures of the stars he gets on his homework.
He still cannot read or write however is able to regularly broadcast his feelings to everyone he loves without ever sitting down to learn how to use this platform.
There are no advertisements, no constant inflow of ‘publisher content’ and the feeling of individual space (that was missing on Social Media).
This de-construction of the User Experience in the era of more and more cluttered apps ensures quality and trust in users and has put existing and potential customers on a platform which is one of the 10 most used apps on smartphones today.
With these bits of information in mind, WhatsApp and businesses all over the world have aimed to optimize how they communicate with their clients on a platform that they love.
WhatsApp has been enabling these conversations for businesses with two specific methods.
1. WhatsApp for Business App
2. WhatsApp for Business API (WABA)
Both the above options are built with specific use cases, industries and target audiences in mind. Let’s take a skim through both options.
WhatsApp for Business App
WhatsApp for business is a separate chat App specifically built for people running small businesses. This app has been available on Android since early 2018 and the iOS app has seen a limited release in 2019.
This app offers tools to sort, automate and quickly respond to incoming queries from their customers.
This type of customer support model best suits small and medium businesses where the numbers and range of queries are limited and can be serviced manually and in a cost-effective way.
The range of features available in WhatsApp for the business app is
1. Free and open to download for everyone.
2. Setting up a business profile.
3. Setting up work hours and off-hours
4. Setting up welcome and Away from keyboard messages
5. Setting up quick replies
6. Label messages under categories like Existing customers, New customers, Payment related, etc.
WhatsApp does not charge businesses for sending any content to the customer and responding to messages. The outgoing message from your WhatsApp for Business App will appear to be coming in from a business account but will not appear with Brand name and other branding essentials. The end-user has to save the number in their contacts for URLs in your messages to become clickable.
This setup requires a dedicated and operational SIM card with data and a smartphone.
The business can market their WhatsApp number registered on WhatsApp for business and all incoming queries will arrive at the dedicated handset. Additionally, the user can open the web extension of the App(exactly like consumer WhatsApp) to answer queries through their computer web browser.
All incoming queries arrive at the handset and must be replied to manually one by one by a human user. WhatsApp allows only one number per WhatsApp profile and connecting to backend systems like billing, ticketing, document servers, authentication services, etc is not possible in this App framework. End to end encryption is available as standard on this service for ensuring the security of messages.
Hence, SME businesses deploy this solution to provide a direct human connection to their end customers, providing a personalized support framework. However, it does not offer scalability as the volumes and variety of incoming messages grow with the business.
WhatsApp for Business API (WABA)
WhatsApp for Business API (WABA) has been published as a dedicated set of APIs, designed to work at an enterprise scale for both outgoing and incoming messages on a dedicated WhatsApp number.
The API has been released in a controlled manner all over the world throughout 2019 and now is available in 28 + countries.
The rollout has been orchestrated using dedicated and verified Business Solution Providers(BSPs) in each country. BSPs, in turn, have used the Base APIs to enhance their offerings by supplementing the APIs with enterprise-level features like fallback mechanisms, enterprise ESB integrations, Chatbots, etc.
The API packages offered by BSPs allow engagement, notifications, sorting, automating and responding to customer messages at scale. The API allows thousands of messages per second speed and a secure platform to enable backend systems integrations for a delightful customer experience.
WhatsApp’s approach towards customer interaction in the API framework is bound by guidelines on content and supported by the extensive technical support team to assist in API deployment and troubleshooting. To maintain security and privacy, the WABA is offered as a docker container that contains an API client which is essentially a faceless version of the mobile App that users and businesses can download on individual phones. With the reduction of limitations of Operating Systems and App UIs, the API clients open up to enterprise-level applications like SQL databases, API endpoints, Authentication and Verification services, and other support frameworks.
The WABA comes with requirements of infrastructure, scalability, maintenance, and upgrades of the ever-changing API. BSPs come in very handy for offloading the grunt work on them while dedicating their own resources to research and deploy use cases and strategies.
The WABA framework allows Businesses to go through a verification procedure and ensure that the outgoing messages appear with Brand Name without the end-user having to save the phone number.
The range of features available in WABA are :
1. Available on request only.
2. Setting up a business profile with a verified Display name and Business Information.
3. Setting up chatbots and other automation techniques for around the clock support environment.
4. Setting up backend integrations to enterprise software and databases.
5. End to end encryption for all messages in and out of the WABA.
6. Ancillary services like fallback channel, human agent switching, etc
Typical concepts to familiarize ourselves with the API framework are:
a. Opt-In/Opt-Out: It has been introduced as a mandatory one time per user opt-in service that the businesses must deploy for capturing the consent of the user to receive messages from an enterprise number. The user must be informed and a user action must be initiated to make an entry into the consent database(maintained at WhatsApp server level). The service, however, offers a flexible endpoint that can be invoked through multiple channels like Miss Call Numbers, Check Boxes on Website and App, SMS, Emails, QR Codes and direct CTA advertisements on various media outlets.
Without gaining consent WhatsApp does not allow sending outbound messages to customers.
Customers must also be given similar measures to opt-out/de-consent of the WABA service and stop receiving messages. The service for opt-out works on the same endpoint as Opt-In with slight differences in parameters passed in the API.
b. Transactional Notifications: Guidelines have been placed around the content and nature of the messages that can be sent to end customers. After an Opt-In has been recorded for a customer, enterprises can automate sending welcome messages and other notifications on WhatsApp.
The guidelines have been defined such that only transactional messages can be sent to the customers.
Types of messages allowed to be sent in this mode have also been defined under Alert Updates, Account Updates, Appointment Update, Issue Resolution, Payment Update, Personal Finance Update, Reservation Update, Shipping Update, Ticket Update, and Transportation Update.
Content belonging to the above categories has to be whitelisted with WhatsApp as a one-time activity and can be sent to any opt-in customer.
These types of messages are charged on a per-message basis.
c. Customer Support Window: There are 2 major ways any end-user can reach out to the enterprise.
i) Reply to the notification message received.
ii) Save the enterprise WhatsApp number in their contacts and start a conversation.
In the case of i) the customer is already opt-in and in case ii) customer may or may not have opted in. In both cases, WhatsApp allows enterprises to respond to the incoming messages in a support window that is open for 24 hours from the last user message.
In this window, enterprises can send non-whitelisted content and even open a human agent handover session. Once the 24-hour window closes, the only type of messages that can be sent to the user have whitelisted notifications and only to opted in users. This window opens up possibilities for deploying chatbots to maximize engagements and also human agent support over chat through backend enterprise software like CRMs.
d. Response Automation: Once an incoming message is received, the WABA platform allows connecting to chatbots services. These services can be used to auto-reply and solve level 1 queries and also connect with backend systems for fetching and storing information.
At any given point, a user can be directed to a human agent through CRM webhook integrations.
e. Number Quality Rating: WABA also allows WhatsApp to monitor blocks and spam reports on your enterprise number by end-users. If an enterprise sends unsolicited messages and/or provides incorrect information, users are free to block and report Spam the number. Based on the number of blocks and spam reports, WhatsApp manages number quality ratings.
These ratings also come with specific rate limits ranging from Low to High and 1,000 messages/day to 100,000 messages/day respectively.
Hence, enterprises are expected to follow opt-in guidelines and messaging etiquette to avoid a reduction in a quality rating.
f. Analytics: WABA also exposes message metrics. The enterprises can consume the API to get metrics on the Number of Opt-Ins, Opt-Outs, Messages Sent, Delivered, Read, Failed and Blocked in a real-time API method.
Numbers on WABA are exposed to further verification processes where WhatsApp can verify their profile with the “Official WhatsApp Business Account” tag that increases brand trust.
WABA and WhatsApp for Business App have been created and launched with a specific audience and use cases in mind. Any organization looking to extend its support services to WhatsApp needs to look at 5 specific scenarios before deciding on the platform of choice :
1. The scale of operation – Number of queries?
2. Nature of queries – Structured or Freetext?
3. The direction of queries – Incoming from User or Outgoing from the organization?
4. Scope of Information – Are backend systems required to substantiate the User experience?
5. Need for account verification – Does the organization have the necessary scale of traffic to be recognized as an Official Business on WhatsApp.
Based on the use case at hand, budgets, and nature of the audience that needs to be serviced, organizations should look at any of the above options to deploy for their brands.