Over the last two years, we've seen a variety of popular messaging apps open their doors to businesses that want to engage customers on these channels. Despite being used by over 1.5 billion people every month, WhatsApp was notably absent from the list of messaging platforms launching APIs for business software.

With such a large and dedicated user base, businesses have been clamouring to get onto this platform. Instead of jumping right in and meeting this demand, WhatsApp sat on the sidelines of the business-to-consumer messaging market and focused on learning about what businesses need in order to successfully engage their customers over messaging.

From where we're sitting, this time spent learning about the market has really paid off.

We're excited to announce that WhatsApp has officially launched an early-access API for businesses to message customers over the chat app. Smooch has been working with the team at WhatsApp for the past several months to connect leading enterprise customer experience platforms like Zendesk, Lithium, Sparkcentral and Clarabridge to the platform so that approved businesses can leverage this popular messaging channel.

With this early-access API, WhatsApp is enabling approved businesses to operate under a verified business identity on the platform and solve the biggest issues impeding messaging adoption today: discoverability and privacy.

Driving discoverability through notifications

A frequent criticism of business messaging is that it can be difficult for consumers to discover they can interact with their favorite brands on their favorite chat apps. The OTT channels have tried a variety of techniques such as QR codes, "bot" stores, and click-to-message ads to varying degrees of success.

WhatsApp is taking a dramatically different path here. Instead of trying to pull customers into messaging experiences, it's allowing businesses to send useful notifications to consenting customers.

Each of these notification types must be individually approved by WhatsApp's trust and safety team. Valuable notifications such as boarding passes, shipping updates and order confirmations will make the cut; promotional messages are forbidden at this time.

Unlike SMS, where received notifications are often of poor quality and come from unrecognized phone numbers, notifications on WhatsApp are delivered from a brand's verified business identity. Users will see the brand's logo, website and description in the contact details pane.

Once a brand is invited into a WhatsApp inbox, users are likely to respond to notifications and engage with the business alongside other interactions with trusted people on their contact list.

Privacy first, but at a cost

This trust is key to what makes WhatsApp so amazing and also so different from every other business messaging channel. Unlike most other messaging platforms, WhatsApp is entirely end-to-end encrypted. That means the WhatsApp team can't read or process any of the information you exchange over the platform. This is tremendously important for many use cases, particularly for conversations on sensitive topics like finance and healthcare.

Maintaining end-to-end encryption with businesses on the platform presents new challenges for brands and software makers. WhatsApp requires the use of a headless version of its mobile app, known as the WhatsApp API client, for terminating the encryption between the customer's mobile phone and the business.

These API clients are distributed as docker containers and require the instantiation of a database, block storage and other supporting resources. The clients themselves and the API they present to business software is regularly updated. Businesses need to instantiate at least one API client for each WhatsApp number they enable on the platform, then keep that client running 24/7.

Cutting through the complexity

We've been working with the team at Facebook to make connecting your software to WhatsApp as quick and easy as possible. All Smooch-connected customer experience platforms will be ready to support businesses on the channel as soon as those brands are approved by WhatsApp.

Smooch can also support WhatsApp-approved brands directly. Whether you're running your own proprietary CX software that you want to integrate with Smooch, or whether you want to manage your WhatsApp integration on your own and direct messages to the third-party CX platform of your choice, Smooch can help.

Best of all, once you integrate with the Smooch API, not only is your business software ready for WhatsApp, it's also ready to interact with users across more than a dozen other popular messaging channels.

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We're really excited to be a part of this early access program and work with a variety of innovative software platforms and brands that are taking advantage of WhatsApp to connect to customers around the world. We can't wait to learn about how you'll use this channel in your business.