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Facebook targets WhatsApp business messaging at large enterprises

WhatsApp business messaging is the latest social channel to enter the contact center, coming on the heels of Apple's beta release of the consumer-to-business iOS messaging service Apple Business Chat.

Facebook's WhatsApp is giving large enterprises tools for communicating with its more than 1 billion users. It's the latest social messaging channel to enter the contact center, but analysts say most businesses don't need to rush to adopt such platforms just yet.

Large businesses can use the WhatsApp Business API to integrate a WhatsApp messaging channel with contact center and customer relationship management software. Companies will then be able to create WhatsApp profiles and add WhatsApp click-to-chat buttons to websites or mobile apps.

WhatsApp plans to charge businesses for sending notifications to customers through the app, such as order receipts, shipping updates and boarding passes. The vendor will also make companies pay if they fail to respond to a customer inquiry within 24 hours.

The beta release of the API this month is the Facebook-owned platform's latest initiative to connect customers and businesses. Earlier this year, the company launched WhatsApp Business, a separate app within which small businesses can create profiles and message with customers. 

WhatsApp is also deepening ties to the social platform of its parent company, Facebook. Businesses using the new API will be able to create Facebook ads that invite customers to message them through WhatsApp.

Facebook would be wise to consider integrating WhatsApp business messaging with its enterprise intranet and collaboration platform, Workplace by Facebook, said Phil Edholm, president of PKE Consulting LLC. That would make the offering more unique, he said.

"From just a pure channel perspective, having WhatsApp as a channel from [consumer] to [business] is interesting, but it's just another channel," Edholm said.

WhatsApp business messaging vs. Apple Business Chat

WhatsApp business messaging will rival Apple Business Chat, which lets customers and business interact through iMessages. WhatsApp is particularly popular among Android users.

However, WhatsApp's offering doesn't seem to have as many capabilities as Apple's, nor does WhatsApp seem to have as clear a vision as Apple, said Michael Finneran, president of the advisory firm DBrn Associates Inc. in Hewlett Neck, N.Y.

Unlike WhatsApp, which must be downloaded from an app store, Apple Business Chat is available natively to all iOS users and lets customers remain anonymous when contacting a business. The iMessaging interface also has more productive and more interactive features than WhatsApp business messaging, such as the ability to place orders.

Still, businesses have some time before they need to adopt either platform, Finneran said. Use of Apple Business Chat has so far been limited to a handful of well-known banks, retailers, hotels and internet businesses.

"Unless digital engagement is a key attribute of your business, you can probably wait on Apple Business Chat," Finneran said. "Everyone can wait on WhatsApp."

When businesses do decide to adopt additional social messaging channels, they should seek help from communications platform as a service (CPaaS) vendors such as Twilio, Nexmo and Smooch, said Tsahi Levent-Levi, an independent analyst.  

Businesses shouldn't attempt to juggle too many communications channels on their own, mainly because the APIs for many of these platforms are new and could change, Levent-Levi said.

"You can't rely on a single channel because the APIs might change, and the way you interact with customers might change," Levent-Levi said. That necessitates an omnichannel approach, he said. "And you can't do it on your own, even if you're big."

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