In what could be good news for many small businesses in India and certain other countries, WhatsApp recently introduced a new, standalone app called WhatsApp Business. The app is aimed at letting business owners benefit from various tools and features that are essential for any kind of business to function, especially the one that deals directly with customers. The Facebook-owned instant messenger has just made it easier for both businesses and customers to connect with each other. So I decided to give it a try and see what WhatsApp Business app is all about.
Setting it up
WhatsApp Business is currently available for Android users. So I went to Google Play Store, located the app and installed it then and there itself. Setting up WhatsApp Business account is as simple as signing up for a WhatsApp Messenger account. Make sure a mobile number you are looking to sign up with isn’t already connected to any WhatsApp service. Upon entering the same number as my WhatsApp Messenger, the app said “This phone number is currently registered with WhatsApp Messenger and can’t be used in WhatsApp Business at the same time.”
The app also provides an option for users to continue using WhatsApp Business account with the same number as WhatsApp Messenger. But the same number can’t be used with both the services at the same time. It seems like a logical step for WhatsApp to keep their personal and professional services separate from each other and target both, user and business requirements wisely.
Entering a mobile number generates an OTP (one-time password) for authentication. Use it to finish one of the first few essential steps while signing up for a WhatsApp Business account. I was then asked to provide the name of my business and an optional profile photo. Once you set your business name, it can’t be changed. So be careful before submitting your business information. It took me less than 30 seconds from there to get started with WhatsApp Business.
Some colour differences aside, both WhatsApp Messenger and Business apps have mostly the similar offerings. Options like Chats, Status and Calls can still be found on the main screen. So in case you were expecting some major differences on-display, it might end up disappointing you to some extent. In fact, if WhatsApp Business hadn’t opted for somewhat gray colour shade unlike dark green in Messenger, I wouldn’t have figured out whether I was using WhatsApp Business or Messenger in the first place. On top, it clearly mentions WhatsApp Business branding though.
You can start a chat, post a status that disappears within 24 hours or call anyone in your contact. You can also let WhatsApp Business access your contacts in order to see how many of your contacts are already on WhatsApp, which is again similar to a traditional WhatsApp Messenger. Nothing, I repeat, nothing is drastically different in terms of UI/UX of the app, especially when it comes to playing around with our WhatsApp Business account without getting deeper into its offerings, of course. It is understandable that WhatsApp does not want a newer learning curve for WhatsApp Business so that people familiar with the usual WhatsApp messenger can adapt to it without breaking a sweat.
Connecting with users for the first time
I sent a couple of random text messages to some of my contacts. But to my surprise, it didn’t show a business name to any of the recipients. All they could see was a mobile number associated with my WhatsApp Business account. Recipients get an option to add the number to their contacts, however. When the recipients tried digging up for more information about my business profile, WhatsApp said something along the lines of “This may be a business account, but WhatsApp hasn’t verified their name yet.”
It appears that a verified account may be an entirely different type of Business account, and I’m expecting it to provide a similar, blue tick indication like verified Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram profiles. I’m not sure but I guess, a verified account should be showing the business name to users instead of a mobile number associated with that account. Otherwise, it’ll be just another mess if WhatsApp is forcing Business accounts into revealing their phone numbers to every Tom, Dick and Harry against their will.
Is everything alright with WhatsApp Business?
I then tried connecting with my contacts over both video and audio calls, and neither of them performed up to my expectations. Video calling in particular was nothing less than a nightmare. As soon as a receiver would answer my video call or the other way around, it would throw up some error along the lines of “Couldn’t place call. Try again” for both of us. Although audio calls could connect successfully, there was a severe disturbance. I tested with several users and networks and yet the results were still the same.
I looked into its settings and found out that there was an option called “Business settings.” That’s where things got a bit interesting. I was asked to fill in all my business related details like address, category of business, description, working hours and email address. But here’s the problem. I was expecting WhatsApp to send some kind of verification email on a provided email address before revealing it to anyone visiting my business profile. But I received no such email. In fact, I changed my email address to someone else’s and it ended up showing it as it is. This is quite a blatant invasion of privacy in my opinion and WhatsApp must do something about it.
Some interesting Business tools and features
There was another feature inside the settings called “Statistics.” It showed the count of messages that were sent, delivered, read or received. That’s kind of helpful for businesses to figure out the flow and result of interaction with their customers.
I then decided to explore messaging tools inside the settings. I could set default messages according to different situations. For example, away messages helped me indicate that me or my business is not in a position to entertain any message at that point. Similar was the case with Greetings messages and quick replies. This way, customers could receive at least some kind of acknowledgment from my side till I can figure out what should be ideal response.
WhatsApp Business is a brilliant concept and has potential that shouldn’t go waste courtesy of such a half-baked version that has just been rolled out. They should have ideally put a ‘Beta’ suffix for the time being. Given the fact that it targets small and medium-sized enterprises, WhatsApp’s carelessness towards certain crucial elements is blissfully visible. As soul-destroying as it may sound, WhatsApp Business is indeed a Messenger with another name. Sure, there are some things that separate those two apps to some extent, it seems to lack a degree of seriousness which is important when it comes to dealing with customers directly.
There must be some strong differentiating factors between the two apps which should help WhatsApp Business establish its own identity in the long run. And colour difference is certainly not one of them. Another important thing WhatsApp needs to take seriously are privacy concerns that I’ve raised here. WhatsApp Business accounts should ideally let themselves conceal their number and most importantly, get their email address verified before being put up there. Until that happens, I’m not sure how effective this app will be as a genuine solution for businesses to connect with their customers and the other way around.