With over 100 billion messages sent every day by more than 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is the frontrunner for retailer-consumer chat apps. With a widely-reported 40%+ conversion rate (around 12x that of email and SMS), tech-savvy brands are using it to get closer to their customers, blend their online and offline customer experience and deliver the human touch. 

Those retailers who haven’t yet explored messaging via WhatsApp Business are missing a big opportunity for personalised customer engagement which can move the needle on sales, basket sizes, and long-term loyalty.

But embracing WhatsApp Business isn’t a plug and play exercise. There’s a lot to think about to make it an effective tool for customer engagement that works for a specific brand’s needs. While it takes a few seconds to respond to a customer query, this human touch can backfire if message templates aren’t relevant, optimised and personalised.

Some practical tips to getting the best from WhatsApp Business

While they are essential, there’s more to nailing a WhatsApp strategy than simply having top-quality message templates, which adhere to WhatsApp’s business policy for approved messages to customers and fall into four specific categories:

  1. Utility – business-initiated conversations relating to a transaction, including post-purchase notifications and recurring billing statements to customers who have opted in.
  1. Authentication – business-initiated conversations that enable businesses to authenticate users with one-time passcodes at multiple steps during the login process, such as account registration, account recovery, and integrity challenges.
  1. Marketing – business-initiated conversations to market a product or service to customers, such as relevant offers to customers who have opted in. Any business-initiated conversation that does not qualify as an authentication or utility conversation would also fall under this category.
  1. Service – any user-initiated conversation, such as to resolve a customer enquiry.

When setting up a template, WhatsApp will suggest and approve or reject the content based on these categories, to ensure each conversation is relevant and agreed to by the customer as part of opting in to receiving messages.

By making some key considerations for set up and approach, brands can become highly skilled in using WhatsApp to make customers feel special during each and every interaction:

Taking an audience-first approach

Customer first mindset with WhatsApp Business

The best starting point is to invest time in understanding the target audience to tailor templates for personalised content. This means analysing customer demographics, preferences and behaviour in order to tailor templates to fit their profile and create more relevant and personalised content. While most retailers will have this kind of data in their systems from simply transacting with customers, not all have the necessary technology to surface and use it to the benefit of their customers. So a prerequisite for successfully using WhatsApp to message them is a platform which harmonises data, makes it accessible and easy to apply. The right one will even be able to set up WhatsApp for Business and develop the templates for you. 

While there are no specific requirements for retailer size, number of stores/customers etc, this kind of platform-based integration is designed for medium to large retailers, typically with 5+ stores and/or more than 200 customers a day. Small retailers with one or two stores which have more direct conversations with a smaller number of customers can manage their communications through the WhatsApp Business app, which allows for more one-to-one conversations.

Managing the WhatsApp integration, whether as part of a platform or within the business, would typically fall to a panel of stakeholders from the areas concerned with:

  • Compliance, to ensure clients have opted in and messages meet regulations as well as business policy.
  • Marketing, to ensure promotional messages are on brand and, as with direct marketing requirements, meet the standards for communications which are relevant to the customer.
  • Operations, to manage utility and service communications about deliveries, customer questions, and so on.
  • Store managers, responsible for the store associates themselves, who would be trained to use the templates and to follow up conversations with customers.

Thinking about tone and personalisation

Using the templates’ dynamic variables to add personal touches such as the customer’s name or purchase history to make them feel like a real VIP. Sending a message on their birthday, when their favourite product is back in stock, or offering an exclusive preview of a new range, for example. And above all, taking a brand voice which is conversational and friendly. A high template rating from WhatsApp influences your overall phone number rating which needs to stay in its all-important ‘green’ zone. Or you risk having numbers blocked or your message limits reduced.

Providing value-added content

Exclusive promotions, discounts and special offers through your templates can incentivise customers to visit your store or make a purchase. The content should be valuable and relevant to their interests or previous purchases. 

As messaging via WhatsApp entirely relies on customers opting in, it is essential to be aware of the circumstances where they may block contact, delete the app or even complain about the messages they receive. As WhatsApp states in its business policy: ‘Do not confuse, deceive, defraud, mislead, spam, or surprise people with your communications’. Research has shown key tipping points for customers – according to messaging specialists Braze, customer tolerance for mobile marketing messages from retailers is between two and seven a month, before at best they start to lose effectiveness or at worst, customers opt out of WhatsApp messaging. 

Be mindful of messaging frequency and avoid sending customers too many messages, and make sure messages are information-based, relevant and optimised for content and length.  

Template setup

It’s vital to only send messages to users who have opted in to receiving WhatsApp messages and to be compliant with regulations. Templated messages must follow the WhatsApp Business Policy and Commerce Policy and adhere to data protection and privacy laws. WhatsApp messages have character limits, so make sure templates are succinct and messages conveyed clearly using bullet points or numbered lists. Include strong CTAs to advise customers what to do from here, such as visiting the store, exploring a new range or signing up for a loyalty programme.

Continuous improvement

Creating and maintaining high-quality WhatsApp Business templates requires a commitment to ongoing evaluation and refinement. Brands must regularly review and update templates to adapt to changing customer needs and preferences and ensure that their templates align with overall branding and messaging. Above all, this serves to establish a recognisable identity and build essential trust with customers. 

Testing and refining for success

Testing and monitoring often go overlooked once templates are set up, but It’s important to continuously monitor template performance and experiment with different variations to identify what works best. Taking the time to analyse metrics including open, click-through and conversion rates will allow brands to refine and improve the value these templates generate.

Making WhatsApp work for the brand and customers

Most importantly, providing customer support is critical to offering the best customer experience. This should include options for shoppers to ask questions or seek assistance within the templates. Responding to enquiries quickly and proactively offering to help will enable each customer to make informed decisions about their next purchase. Building more curated purchases will boost loyalty and reduce returns – according to a report by Spectrm messaging specialists: 

  • 64% of WhatsApp users agree that it fosters a personal connection to businesses
  • 68% agree that WhatsApp is the easiest way to connect with a business
  • They use WhatApp throughout the customer journey, given the choice – 81% will use it to make an enquiry about a product before buying, 74% to make a purchase and 76% for post-purchase support
  • 57% of users regularly communicate with a brand on WhatsApp
  • 70% say messaging has positively impacted their perception of the company
  • 69% of respondents are more likely to buy from a brand if there’s a WhatsApp option available

Choosing an omnichannel retail platform that integrates WhatsApp Business can simplify this part of a retailer’s customer engagement and ensure data is shared across all applications.

By taking an intelligent approach with WhatsApp, retailers will ensure they communicate in a highly personalised, efficient, and ultimately more profitable way that will delight both the brand and its customers.

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