WhatsApp sharpens business pitch with efficient bouquet of services

ICICI Bank, Tata Sky are among the big brands that have turned to the social messaging app for business during the lockdown
A month ago, as the pandemic extended its grip over the country and the lockdown tightened its stranglehold on businesses, ICICI Bank looked for a way to keep its operations flowing smoothly. It turned to WhatsApp to set up a virtual shop and helpline for its customers and now, ICICI Bank says, it has close to a million users. The platform has not just offered easy reach, it has also helped the Bank track its customer usage to provide a more efficient bouquet of services.

For WhatsApp, the past two months have opened up the doors to several big brands; MakeMyTrip, Tata Sky, Bengaluru-based real estate search portal NoBroker are among the most recent signees to the platform’s business application interface. And the social messaging app that has spent the past year and more pitching trust and credibility for its platform and addressing the damage done to its brand by fake forwards and propagandists armed with bogus information, is hoping to widen the net.

The big draw for brands is the platform’s vast user base and easy engagement tools. India is the largest user base for WhatsApp with over 400 million users, or 20 per cent of its 2 billion strong global user base. According to research from Mobilesquared, reported by ComputerWeekly.com, WhatsApp Business is expected to experience growth of more than 5,400 per cent among medium and large businesses by 2024.

“A significant amount of our conversations have moved online and businesses are finding value in the very nature of the platform,” said Abhijit Bose, Head of WhatsApp India. Bose explains how the Facebook-owned messaging platform makes money from these business partnerships. “When someone messages a business to ask a question or get support, the businesses can respond to the question for free within 24 hours. Messages sent more than 24 hours after the last customer response are chargeable,” he added. 


The platform offers greater intimacy in the conversations between customers and companies.  MakeMyTrip, added Bose, turned to WhatsApp early on to efficiently manage the number of customer care calls about refunds and e-ticketing issues. Among the earliest businesses to get on to the Business API, MakeMyTrip offered customer support over WhatsApp and saw a 15 per cent reduction in refund-related calls over the past year. 

The current lockdown in the country has meant traditional businesses working at reduced capacity or not being able to have a physical presence at all, leading to many exploring new ways to reach out to their customers. For ICICI Bank, the platform has been an efficient way to circumvent this hurdle. “Customers can access a host of their banking requirements on their own, without visiting a branch. Some of the services that have seen huge traffic are checking account balance, credit card limit and blocking of cards. We have introduced this service to our NRI customers as well,” said Bijith Bhaskar, head-Digital Channels & Partnership, ICICI Bank. 


The challenge however would be to continue doing business with the platform, in a post-Covid-19 world. Will customers stick to the habits picked up in the lockdown or return to the old ways of engagement? The shift could be permanent if the platform keeps its promise of convenience and safety say analysts and if the brands keep their end of the bargain in terms of services provided and speedy response. 

For some brands such as Tata Sky, this seems like a permanent shift. “We witnessed a huge shift towards the use of digital medium, with nearly 80 per cent of customers recharging online. The average daily WhatsApp activity/use during the lockdown period (March 25 -April 10) was three times of what it was before the lockdown,” said a Tata Sky spokesperson. On an average, subscribers on WhatsApp use the interface at least four times a month. 

The familiarity with the platform is an added advantage, enabling easy and frequent engagement. According to Milaap, a popular crowd funding platform, there has been a 37 per cent increase in traffic since it used the platform. “Users receive updates posted on any fundraiser they donate towards, throughout the lifecycle of the fundraiser,” said Anoj Viswanathan, president and co-founder, Milaap. Convenience is the key, but so is safety and authenticity and those are values that both WhatsApp and the brands need to jointly work on.

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