B2B Messaging in an era of the WhatsApp monopoly

B2B messaging in an era of the WhatsApp monopoly

Written by on November 16, 2017

When Jan Koum bought an iPhone in 2009, he was fascinated by the 7-month old App Store and got struck with an idea to build a replacement for SMSes, which he decided to call WhatsApp. The instant messaging app provider was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $19bn, where Jan and his co-founder Brian Acton’s job applications were rejected the year they launched the first cut of the product and saw no significant growth in its usage.

An undivided full circle with a smooth contour.

Today, growing at one billion daily active users, adding one million new users every day, swiftly releasing updates like video calls, status stories, and of late, riding on the success of its parent company’s in-house messaging app, Messenger, by running its own enterprise solution in a closed pilot program, WhatsApp is taking messaging, whether to plan a destination wedding or running an e-commerce store, to a whole new level.

What lies in the centre of building high utility features, winning abundant GEN-Z and millennial love, and making communication for baby bloomers a walk in the park is WhatsApp’s beautiful UX.

Let’s make headway, good ol’ chat?

The secret sauce to stellar support is bifold –

i) Empathy and

ii) Omnipresence.

Businesses today are almost acing #2 (Let’s do another post to talk about #1) by effectually tapping into apps customers spend better part of their time in and can therefore presumably engage from – Facebook Messenger, Twitter DM’s, the neoteric Instagram stories, and of course, the traditional email, phone call, and self-service portals on the company’s website.

‘Invest in omni channel support’

‘Go where your customers are’

‘Auto-respond deftly’

‘Resolve query within the vowed SLA’

‘Earn a 5-star CSAT rating and a few social media mentions.’

The above approach is a winner when businesses tap into social media, messaging, or collaboration apps as an external channel for customer service and engagement. By riding on the familiarity and congeniality these apps offer, businesses find it easier to turn support frowns upside down.

But, imagine an interested prospect or a furious customer lands on your website, wants to talk to a human or a virtual assistant, and in the place of a shiny messenger he/she is not done raving about, finds a series of hurdles in the form of an obsolete looking widget. Forms, queues, no expectation setting on response time, multiple lost threads, and an interface that is not even remotely homologous to the messaging apps that dominates their mobile phone’s home screen. Phew. Fail.

Same world, same century, two messengers?

The theory of operant conditioning and positive behavior

“If we don’t like the consequences of an action we’ve taken, we’re less likely to do it again; if we do like the consequences, we’re more likely to do it again. That assumption is the basis of operant conditioning, “a type of learning in which the strength of a behavior is modified by [its] consequences, such as reward or punishment.” – The hidden forces that shape human behavior’ – Farnam Street.

Consumer messaging is strutting by adapting to modern, continuous, and memorable experiences. Then why is B2B messaging being subdued and hobbling with age-old experiences?

Forms and hurdles
Forms and hurdles
Overwhelming, lost threads
Overwhelming, lost threads

Let’s cut to the chase.

  • Messaging is the new face of search. It is now bigger than social networks. (The top four messaging apps have more monthly active users (MAUs) than the top four social networks – BI Intelligence 2017)
  • Conversions are miniscule. The highest percentage of a marketer’s digital budget is spent on bringing people to their website. However, the visitor to customer conversion rate from this spend is only 2-3%. (Gartner’s CMO survey 2016-17)
  • Consumer messaging apps are now open for business chats. In the end of third quarter this year, WhatsApp announced that it will now monetize the app for business communication.
  • Your next gen customers want to be heard, not marketed at. They want to buy experiences, not the product. (Gartner 2017)

What can B2B businesses learn about messaging from WhatsApp – Taking a leaf out of WhatsApp’s beautiful UX

  1. Stakes

    Jan Koum and Brian Acton had three simple rules in mind when they started iterating their SMC-replacement product in its early stages:
  • No advertising on the app
  • Friction-free and gimmick-less user experience
  • User privacy (The app won’t store any messages)
    Brian's note on Jan Koum's desk
    Brian’s note on Jan’s desk

    WhatsApp was started as a ‘status-only’ app and became a full-fledged messaging app when Jan was fully invested in the democratization of app creation on the Iphone store. WhatsApp was built for stakes and to subdue a pain point its potential users were not immediately suspecting – An SMS-replacement app that was free, and came with statuses, read receipts, and push notifications for convenient and paced communication.

    This reflected on the first look of the app:

    The first look of WhatsApp

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

Identify an augmenting trend for your business and corroborate its worth inside the messaging app you’re buying. Start with this question: Businesses today live on mobile. The Apple App store boasts close to 2 million apps while Google play has over 2.2 million Apps. Does your mobile app send its users to a siloed web portal or brings support inside the app in the form of in-app chat and native FAQs?

  1. Convenience

Good design interfaces look aesthetically good.
Great design interfaces solve a user problem.

WhatsApp was built with the mission to make communication simple, instant, and convenient. Two instances of how supremely convenient it is: A) Knowing when to expect a response for a message with the trailblazer read receipts, last seen, and status features and B) Seamless syncing all the chats from mobile to desktop and vice versa, making it an easy victory for users to start from where they left.

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

  • Paced? Are your customers empowered with a messaging tool they can use to respond at their own pace without repeating the context or worrying about expired sessions?
  • Multitasking? Are customers allowed to switch between work and tabs and get notified when they receive a response?
  • Ubiquity? Are your team members running the chat empowered with the ability to be ubiquitous and engage (proactively and reactively) from wherever and whenever? 
  1. Topical

Add a few members who love blues and have a group for yourself that worships Adele and Jimi Hendrix. Create a broadcast of all your friends who love hard covers, and throw a silent reading party. This soft-pedalled, yet powerful feature minimizes spam, targets the right person, and sets the right context.

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

Have you ever wondered how easy life would be if your problem statement is pre-defined and all you need to do is a enter a +1 to get expertise help. Consider creating topic-based channels inside the messenger where visitors and users are given the freedom to start a focussed conversation and come back to it whenever they want to, without being buried and lost in a series of multiple messages, turning them away.

Topic-based channels
Message Channels – Freshchat
  1. Utility

“If a feature needs explanation, it’s not ready.” – Charlie Deets, Product designer, WhatsApp

WhatsApp’s design principles strongly focusses on a simple interface where features and updates are self-explanatory for the user. Do you remember the last time you contacted their support? Me neither.

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

Make your features self-discoverable by giving your visitors and users an experience they are acclimatized with. Bring elements which are pivotal to your customer engagement success like self-service and contextual file-sharing, inside the interface of your messenger, that rings a bell with your customer and at the same time doesn’t leave them frantically asking for how to use it.

  1. Precedence

A few months back, WhatsApp brought pinned chats inside their app that allows users to bring conversations that are vital to them at the top of their inbox.

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

Missed chats. Slow or zero responses. Irate customers. Sounds like a familiar story?

Whether you’re an early stage company, a SMB, or an enterprise, there are times during a holiday season, a weekend sale, an early stage offer, or a 12.00, 3.00, or 6.00 PM on a weekday when the number of incoming chats are higher and your team resources are scanty. Giving your team a ranked view of messages based on first response due, to help them focus on conversations crucial to their business can be a saviour here.

Priority Inbox for your team members
Priority Inbox – Freshchat
  1. Expectation-setting

WhatsApp pioneered with read receipts and ‘blue’ read receipts. It pioneered with statuses, last seen, and the ‘typing…” display.

Wearing the B2B messaging thinking cap:

Set expectations on when the customer can hear back from you. Send ‘away’ messages, share the summary of unread messages on channels like email, and encourage customers to check out the FAQ when your team is offline in case of a time-sensitive query.  

P.S – Though not directly analogous to B2B messaging, what I also love about WhatsApp design is how inclusive its emojis are.

P.P.S – Virtual assistants are not a part of WhatsApp yet, unlike it’s cousin Messenger, but businesses need to get on the conversational interface bandwagon, if they haven’t taken cues from Chris Messina’s seminal on the same.


  • It’s myopic to integrate your website with an obsolete looking live chat widget offering a disintegrated experience in the age of continuous and paced messaging apps.
  • Convenience, multitasking, and topic-based are the cardinal rules upon which great experiences hinge.

Cardinal rules upon which great experiences hinge

  • An app that is built on an emerging stake is the app that will help you grow.
  • Cast aside the concept of missed chats from your messaging model. Notify and alert customers on channels they prefer. Pin vital chats on the top that helps your team discern what to respond to when.
  • Customers today are more impatient than ever. They want to get more done and have conversations where they can decide when and where to respond from.
  • Bring the familiarity and comfort of consumer messaging experience inside your business chat. Introduce self-explanatory feature updates that will drive engagement and increase adoption.

If you’re wondering where the nifty screens which don’t look like WhatsApp are from, check out Freshchat, that latest on the block from the Freshworks family. Freshchat is a modern messaging softwares that helps businesses engage with website visitors and product users for sales and customer success.

We’d love to know what you think about modern messaging experiences. Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

Shruti Khaitan

Product Marketer who is interested in all things SaaS. I take care of lead generation, launches, and the podcast series Mind The Gap at Freshchat. When not working and smelling hardcovers, I am often found outraging on Twitter.