WhatsApp will today start beta testing a new cloud-based version of its WhatsApp Business API, hosted on parent company Facebook’s infrastructure. With the move to the cloud, setup time for API integration will drop from weeks to just minutes, the company says, so businesses can move faster to WhatsApp’s API platform to communicate with. their customers who have chosen to receive their messages. .
The company has gradually grown its enterprise API over the past two years to become one of the primary ways in which the otherwise free messaging app will generate revenue from its service. Today, companies pay WhatsApp per message, with rates that vary depending on the number of messages sent and the region. Currently, hundreds of thousands of large companies have adopted the existing API (not cloud-based), including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood and Bank Mandiri, among others.
This old version of the API will continue to be supported and WhatsApp is not currently considering forcing them to switch to the new cloud-based version at this time. Both APIs are free to use.
Typically, companies using the WhatsApp Business API will work with a solution provider like Zendesk or Twilio, which facilitates the integration of the API with the customer’s backend systems. In these cases, WhatsApp is often only part of the company’s customer communication strategy. They can also direct communications with customers to other channels like SMS or other messaging apps, email, etc. But this API integration process, historically, has taken a long time, possibly several weeks, or even potentially a month.
With the pandemic accelerating the shift to online shopping that was already underway before Covid, many companies don’t want to wait that long before launching and operating on new systems.
The new cloud-based API aims to simplify things on this front by offering a much simpler and therefore faster technical integration process.
Initially, beta testers for the new API will include around 20 of WhatsApp’s existing solution provider partners, such as Zendesk in the US, Take in Brazil and MessageBird in the EU.
“The Cloud API is an important step in reducing the complexity of using WhatsApp for service providers like us and our customers,” said Mike Gozzo, Zendesk vice president of products, in a statement. “Not having to worry about hosting WhatsApp customers will allow us to better focus on supporting the many rich features available through the API,” he added.
The launch comes at a time when the way people connect to businesses is changing. Today, more than 175 million WhatsApp users send messages to a business every day, and this trend is growing, especially in non-US markets like India, Brazil and Indonesia, WhatsApp notes. More generally, WhatsApp sees consumer demand shifting to messaging instead of using 1-800 numbers where they have to navigate phone systems and be put on hold. It’s inconvenient for customers. And call centers can be expensive for businesses too.
WhatsApp’s own survey, conducted last year, indicates a preference among its users for messaging over calls. It found that 75% of users in some of its larger countries said they wanted to be able to communicate with businesses through messaging. And 68% said they were “more likely” to do business or make a purchase from a company they were able to reach through messaging.
WhatsApp has taken advantage of this trend in another way as well. Its other major revenue stream involves click-to-chat ads that appear on Facebook’s news feed or Instagram, which provide consumers with a way to message a business on WhatsApp with the click of a button.
Meanwhile, the company is reaching out to the small business market with its WhatsApp Business app, which allows local stores, like moms and dads, to go online to reach customers. It has now grown to 50 million users worldwide after its launch in 2018.
Prior to today’s Cloud API launch, WhatsApp was working on other API improvements. This included giving businesses the ability to respond faster to incoming messages and supporting different types of messages, such as out-of-stock alerts, for consumers who have opted in. a boarding pass for a flight, for example.)
The company claims that customers who receive communications from businesses will see an informational message at the top of their conversation that will inform them that this is a different experience than messaging with friends or family (which is fully encrypted). Customers can also choose to end communications in a number of ways, depending on what the business supports. They may be able to opt out by simply texting the business to quit or visiting the business website to make a change. But maybe the easiest way is to just block the business in the app.
The Cloud API arrives in a limited beta starting today with selected partners who will be onboarding their first customers in the days to come.
However, WhatsApp plans to open the API to other solution providers and businesses directly from 2022.