The WhatsApp Business standalone app was announced by Facebook on Wednesday in an effort to make business communication with customers more streamlined for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) on the popular messaging platform. A part of its WhatsApp for Business initiative that was first officially announced back in September last year and tested with businesses like BookMyShow and MakeMyTrip in India since, the new app for SMEs is now available to download via Google Play in Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the UK, and the US.
The WhatsApp Business app is free, and will be rolled out across the world in the coming weeks, which is when it can be expected in India. It will be only available for Android phones at launch, but the company will eventually have a version for iPhones too.
The WhatsApp Business app is aimed at making it easier to for small companies to connect with their customers, and more convenient for the 1.3 billion WhatsApp users to chat with businesses that matter to them. The app will help customers with useful information such as a business description, email or store addresses and website.
It will also save time with smart messaging tools – quick replies that provide fast answers to frequently asked questions, greeting messages that introduce customers to your business, and away messages that let them know you’re busy.
“People will know that they’re talking to a business because you will be listed as a Business Account. Over time, some businesses will have Confirmed Accounts once it’s been confirmed that the account phone number matches the business phone number,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
Regular users can continue using WhatsApp as usual as there’s no need to download anything new. “People will continue to have full control over the messages they receive, with the ability to block any number, including businesses, as well as report spam,” the company added.
The statement claimed WhatsApp helps over 80 percent of small businesses in India and Brazil communicate with customers and grow their business, citing a Morning Consult study. WhatsApp also claimed that 84 percent of SMBs think that WhatsApp helps them communicate with customers, andA80 percent of SMBs think that WhatsApp helps them grow their business.
The new business accounts are aimed at firms that receive a high volume of WhatsApp messages and need help keeping up, WhatsApp Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema said. “What we saw was a need for businesses to have more efficient tools,” Idema said in an interview with Reuters.
Idema, who was a Facebook executive before he joined WhatsApp last year, said WhatsApp intends to charge businesses in some form in the future, but he said it was too soon to discuss when that would happen or what the future business services would look like.
WhatsApp competes in a crowded market that also includes Facebook’s Messenger application, Tencent Holdings’s WeChat and numerous other messaging services.