If you are an emerging digital business that is looking to improve your customer relations, you might have heard about WhatsApp’s Business API. If you have landed in this article, chances are you want to learn about the platform before trying it out. So, to help you and innumerous other businesses, we will look to an in-depth exploration of WhatsApp Business API in this blog post. For starters, it is important to understand that WhatsApp’s business section has two major apps, namely WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Business API. Since we have already explored the former one (WhatsApp Business & Its Perks), we will explore the latter one in this article.

The main difference between WhatsApp Business and WhatsApp Business API is that the former is geared towards small businesses and the latter towards large and medium businesses. Much like other API interfaces, the Business API does not have a front-end. So, it needs to be directly linked to your business software. WhatsApp does not approve API connections for all companies, and only very few reputed firms like Uber, Wish, etc., have been approved.

Business Solutions Providers

If a medium or large company wishes to connect to WhatsApp API, WhatsApp directs them to one of their global Business Solutions Providers (BSP), who make the application process much easier. There are more than sixty global BSPs spread around the globe, so you don’t have to worry that your region might not have one. Since there is a diverse group of BSPs, the quality of service and the ease of application differ from BSP to BSP. Also, since BSPs are independent entities, each of them might set different prices for their services. So, feel free to contact different BSPs before making your decision.

This BSP group can be broadly divided into SMS providers and other service providers. SMS Providers were the very first WhatsApp BSPs because they were already established in the field and have already been providing SMS/chat support services through their own Legacy APIs. If your business is using SMS services from a service provider, you could check whether they are a BSP. If they are one, you can easily finish your WhatsApp API integration with their support. The application process is also generally easy with an SMS provider because they already have procedures/processes in place. The drawback, however, is that it takes significantly longer for you to get the latest WhatsApp API updates because the service provider needs time to update their Legacy API. WhatsApp also saw potential in companies that provide chatbot services, CRM services and other digital communication support. Hence, they gradually started to include them as BSPs. Since these companies do not have their own APIs, they use proxy APIs which generally have the same structure as WhatsApp Business API. Another great advantage in using these BSPs is that the WhatsApp updates and features are enabled much quicker because of the proxy API. This gives you an advantage over competitors who use SMS APIs. So, we strongly recommend that you check out these BSPs if you do not have tie-ups with SMS BSPs.

Setting Up

With the purchasing process out of the way, the next step is to learn how to set-up your WhatsApp API profile. Your WhatsApp API profile is exactly the same as your WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business profile. You need to add your business’ cover picture, address, mail and site information. You can also add a short description about your business. The main difference here is that WhatsApp API profiles cannot be searched through the app, so you have to dedicate some effort to promote your WhatsApp API profile. By default, your profile will be listed as a Business Account and the same can be changed to an Official Business Account by verification. The verification process is tough, so it is important to set-up your business details properly before attempting the same. Also, please note that some BSPs offer account editing and verification services, so remember to choose your BSP wisely.

Contact Guidelines

After setting up your profile, you can start importing contacts through the API system. While importing your contacts, it is important to verify them because WhatsApp can lower your account rating if you send too many messages to non-existent WhatsApp numbers. Also, please refrain from verifying too much. If you verify all the contacts but don’t send a single message, WhatsApp will presume you are a spammer and ban your account. So, understand that there is a fine line when it comes to verification. Once you have verified your account, you have the option to import them to a CRM system (because WhatsApp API doesn’t store contacts). Once imported, you are free to converse with your customers.

Before you start conversing, let’s learn about customer opt-ins. While you can initiate conversations effortlessly in your personal WhatsApp, you would have to refrain from doing so while using WhatsApp API. This is because WhatsApp does not want the customers to get spammed by business messages. So, most conversations in your WhatsApp API will be initiated by your customers. However, you have an option called ‘customer opt-ins’ which lets you start conversations with customers who have accepted your communications request. Customer opt-ins are prompts that you can send to your customers (either while onboarding or during a service request) requesting their consent (Eg: Please opt-in to know about our latest products and services). This opt-in prompt can be sent either through WhatsApp chat or other methods like IVR calls, forms, Ads or even WhatsApp QR codes.

Once customers have opted-in, you can initiate business conversations or marketing texts to the customers. However, please refrain from sending too many messages to avoid losing customers (as they can easily opt out) or getting reported. Once customers have opted-in, businesses can use a featured called User ID Notification, which will inform them if customers have re-logged in to their WhatsApp accounts. Re-logins generally mean that the user profile for a WhatsApp number has changed, so businesses have to verify if it’s the same customer to acknowledge this re-login. Unless they do so, they won’t be able to send messages to the customer.

Message Types

When it comes to messaging, WhatsApp business is much stricter to stop spams. Once a customer initiates contact, the businesses can freely converse with them for the first 24 hours. These messages are called ‘Session Messages’. After the first 24 hours, businesses can only send templates/notifications that are pre-approved by WhatsApp. These are called ‘Template Messages’. Businesses can also send messages to customers who have opted-in after 24 hours. If businesses do not adhere to this rule, it will impact their profile rank and quality. The below section will look at some of the features of both types.

Session Messages:

• Session Messages was imposed to ensure that businesses reply to customer messages immediately.

• Session messages cannot be initiated by businesses and needs to be sent within the first 24-hours.

• Except policy-related restrictions, there are no other restrictions for Session Messages.

• Replies can be texts, media messages, URLs, contacts or locations, however some BSPs might restrict some message types.

Template Messages:

• Template Messages are messages that are sent after the first 24-hour period.

• Template Messages are templates that can only sent after your BSP’s approval.

• Businesses can only send transactional notifications like delivery updates, account updates, travel notifications, etc.

• Template Messages can only be sent as bulk messages while broadcast notifications are not allowed.

• WhatsApp has started rolling out non-transactional notifications in Mexico and Indonesia, and the same feature is expected in other countries.

• Template Messages can be text, media or interactive messages based on the business needs.

Best Practices for Templates

Since Templates need to be approved by your BSP, it is important to ensure high-quality templates. If template messages are not of high quality, you might get blocked by your customers. This will impact your business profile’s quality. Therefore, it is important to maintain high-quality while framing templates. The following points will act as guidelines for composing your template messages.

• Formatting – Ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors.

• Language – Ensure that your Session Message language and Template Message language are the same.

• URL – WhatsApp only approves your domain link as URL and does not recommend URL shortening. Businesses can, however, add their shortened URLs in the placeholder section.

Guidelines & Quality

WhatsApp API gives great importance to quality. WhatsApp API has three general quality classification (Green, Yellow & Red). So, it is important to maintain your profile quality by sending quality messages/templates and adhering to the rules. Low-quality messages and spamming might make your customers block your business. When your business is blocked, your business might fall to yellow or red rating and your profile status will change to flagged. If your business stays in flagged status for prolonged periods, WhatsApp might ban it. In 7 days, it will become green again and your profile status will be shown as connected. However, if your business quality did not improve in the 7 day period, you will suffer from low message limits.

Messaging Limits

Although quality does not have an impact on your session messages, it has an impact on your template messages. Quality is an important factor in determining the number of customers you can converse with. If you have high quality, you will be able to initiate conversations with more customers. The three tiers for messaging limits according to WhatsApp are Tier 1: Send messages to 1K unique contacts in a rolling 24-hr period. Tier 2: Send messages to 10K unique contacts in a rolling 24-hr period. Tier 3: Send messages to 100K unique contacts in a rolling 24-hr period. Businesses start at Tier 1 and can be upgraded till they reach Tier 3, if they do not suffer from low quality. To upgrade tiers, businesses need to reach numbers closer to their current limits to upgrade their business. For example, sending 2K messages within a 7-day period will earn you an upgrade from Tier 1 to Tier 2.

Human Element

Another important factor that can impact your profile quality is chatbot quality. Since customers do not like to converse with bots, WhatsApp has started an initiative on November, 2020 to review WhatsApp chatbots. The goal of the review is to identify whether the chatbot leads to a human agent or other acceptable pathways (phone number, mail, support form, store address, etc.) during escalations. If your WhatsApp API does not have one of these pathways, it will be marked red during the review. You will also receive a warning through mail or your BSP team. If the issue is not resolved within 7 days, you will suffer from messaging limit restrictions.

There you go, this is our very own WhatsApp API guide for emerging businesses. Finally, it is important to understand that every BSP is different when it comes to WhatsApp API’s features. So, choose your BSP after learning their price, profile options, template options and other restrictions.