WhatsApp Business Platform (API) – Everything You Need to Know
With more than two billion users , WhatsApp is not only the most popular messenger app for talking to friends and family. Businesses are increasingly turning to the WhatsApp Business Platform as well to connect with their customers on their favorite channel.
With customer messaging software from an official WhatsApp Business Partner - the so-called WhatsApp Business Platform - companies can remain GDPR-compliant when using WhatsApp in customer service and marketing. You can usually link your WhatsApp account to the Business Platform directly in the customer messaging platform. During setup, your personal WhatsApp API key is generated, which connects your WhatsApp Business account to the WhatsApp Business Platform.
There are many good reasons to use WhatsApp Business – for you and your customers.
- Most people open their messenger apps several times per day. WhatsApp is the easiest, most convenient way for your customers to get in touch with you because it’s already part of their daily habits.
- Mobile messages see open rates of 98 percent (compare that to email, which is just 20 percent ). Avoid crowded inboxes and establish a direct, long term connection with your customers.
- Messaging allows you to react faster to customer requests and solve questions before they put them off the purchase. That boosts your conversion rate and increases your customer satisfaction.
- Customer service has never been more convenient, efficient – and fun! Share text messages, emoji, images and files of any kind with your customers.
In this article, learn what the WhatsApp Business Platform is, the advanced features that come with a customer messaging solution, and how to get started with an official WhatsApp Business Solution Partner (BSP) in just three steps.
- What is the WhatsApp Business Platform?
- Company profile: Business info for customers
- Message templates: Send status updates and newsletters
- GDPR: End-to-end encryption and data protection
- Price: How much does the Business Platform (WhatsApp API) cost?
- How to get access to the WhatsApp Business Platform
- The easiest way to get started with WhatsApp Business Platform - Userlike
What is the WhatsApp Business Platform?
Besides its app for private use, WhatsApp also offers two options for businesses: the Business App and Business Platform. Although both solutions are intended for business use, they have pretty significant differences when it comes to their features, capabilities and costs.
In short, the app is a business solution for entrepreneurs and very small support teams, while the platform is suitable for professional sales and marketing teams.
Note: Meta started using the term "WhatsApp Business Platform" in 2023. Previously, this solution was called "WhatsApp Business API" because the external customer messaging platform connects to the company's respective WhatsApp account via WhatsApp's official API interface.
Comparison: WhatsApp Business App vs. WhatsApp Business Platform
The WhatsApp Business app is the right choice for small businesses, such as boutiques, salons and photography studios. Like the private app, it is free to download and use from the App or Play Store. You get basic features for customer communication such as quick replies, labels and a company profile.
However, the WhatsApp Business app was developed for individual conversations. Customer inquiries are answered manually via a cell phone and up to four other devices (but no smartphones or tablets). All employees use the same account, so it’s not clear who answered what. Therefore the app isn’t suitable for professional customer service. Another problem, especially for European companies, is that the app is questionable in terms of data protection and isn’t GDPR-compliant.
To offer larger companies a scalable, customizable option when using WhatsApp Business, Meta launched the WhatsApp Business API in August 2018. This technical interface (API) allows businesses to connect their WhatsApp account to a professional customer messaging software - a WhatsApp Business Platform. The business can then receive and respond to WhatsApp messages from customers on a large scale while adhering to the GDPR.
What is the WhatsApp Business API?
The WhatsApp Business API can be thought of as a bridge between your WhatsApp account and your chosen WhatsApp Business Platform, such as Userlike.
Features vary from provider to provider. The ones that are available to you depend on the WhatsApp Business Platform you choose to connect to the WhatsApp API. Below, we'll take a closer look at what you need to look for when selecting a WhatsApp Business Platform and how the integration works.
Building a personal relationship and a strong bond with our customers is crucial in the digital age. The WhatsApp Business API helps us be where our customers are. The technology is intuitive, modern and it significantly reduces processing times for our customer service representatives.Thomas Steck, Vice President Customer Centricity and Service Management, OTTO
Learn the differences between the WhatsApp Business App and the WhatsApp Business Platform - and which option is right for you - in our guide "Your WhatsApp Business account - from app to z."
In this post we’ll focus on the WhatsApp Business Platform. This provides companies with a company profile, various messaging tools and high data protection standards — plus it’s ideal for using WhatsApp in professional customer communication.
Company profile: Business info for customers
When you sign up for WhatsApp Business, your account is automatically listed as a business account. Unlike regular, private accounts, these come with a business profile for branding.
Customers starting a chat with you on WhatsApp will be able to see your company name and logo at the top of the conversation, even when they don’t have you saved as a contact.
When they click on your profile, they’ll see all relevant information at one glance: a cover photo, description, address, email, website and your business hours. This clearly connects your WhatsApp profile with your brand, explains the service you offer on this channel and presents customers alternative ways to reach you or learn more.
WhatsApp also allows you to turn your normal business account into an “official business account.” Official accounts get a green badge next to the company name, which gives the profile more credibility. You can request the green badge through your API partner or start the process yourself through the WhatsApp Business Manager. The application form is all about proving that you are a reputable company; WhatsApp will then check and decide if you get a green checkmark. In terms of features, earning a badge doesn’t change anything about your account.
Message Templates: Send status updates & newsletters
Why does WhatsApp have such good open rates compared to email? Because it’s free of spam and advertising.
WhatsApp is dedicated to keeping it that way. When you allow businesses to use it, you risk annoying users – and losing the pole position as the most popular messaging app.
But that doesn't mean you can't send newsletters or catalogs via WhatsApp, quite the opposite. Advanced customer messaging providers like Userlike make it possible to proactively reach out to contact groups and stay GDPR-compliant. WhatsApp divides the so-called "business-initiated conversations" into three categories: Utility, Authentication and Marketing conversations.
Utility covers conversations about a specific agreed-upon request or transaction. They’re ideal for sharing important info users want to receive directly on their phones. For example, boarding passes, delay notifications, return labels, order confirmations, appointment reminders, or shipment statuses.
Authentications are any conversations that confirm an identity, for example, when opening an account or requesting personal data from a company.
Send your customers a discount code along with their order confirmation or seasonal offers in a WhatsApp newsletter. Supermarkets like Aldi, for example, send their brochures via a WhatsApp Business Platform (WhatsApp Business API). Cold-calling messages, as well as certain words or phrases that make the message sound too promotional, are not allowed. We cover all the details in our article "WhatsApp promotional messages: examples, costs and rules."
You may only send messages to people who (1) have voluntarily sent you a message or (2) have actively agreed to receive WhatsApp messages from you (for example, by entering their phone number and checking a box).
People who agreed to receive your messages are only allowed to write to you by using a message template.
Message Templates: Mandatory for business-initiated conversations
Unlike session messages, which are normal messages you send to your customers as a response, messages you use to proactively reach out to customers, such as a newsletter or status update, have to go through a quick approval process. You assign these so-called template messages to one of the three categories mentioned (utility, authentication or marketing) when you create them.
You create the template message in Meta Business Manager or directly through Userlike’s customer messaging platform and usually get the green light from WhatsApp in just a few minutes. Message templates that have already been approved can be edited once a day without needing to be approved again, but no more than 10 times a month. The content may be changed, but only to the extent that the message still fits the defined category (utility, authentication, marketing).
From a technical point of view, message templates are strings of text that enable personalized information with the help of placeholders. WhatsApp Business provides a selection of frequently used templates by default.
You can also create your own message templates to cover common service situations for your use case.
With message template verification, WhatsApp ensures that businesses don't contact users with unwanted content, such as intrusive advertising messages.
The 24h service window
If a user contacts you via WhatsApp, you have 24 hours to respond to the request with an ordinary text message (session message) - the so-called "service window." Messaging is meant to open up a direct contact channel for users, and with this arrangement WhatsApp encourages businesses to process requests accordingly and quickly.
Communication with Whatsapp Business then works exactly as you know it from private use. You can send messages with text, web links and emoji, as well as share images, videos and attachments (e.g. PDFs) easily in the chat.
WhatsApp Business: Privacy, examples and first steps
In this guide, you'll find all the important info you need for using WhatsApp in business.Download for free
Using chatbot automation is allowed in the service window. However, there must be an option for forwarding the conversation to a service employee. You can read more about the use of chatbots in WhatsApp Business in our article "WhatsApp bots: How to build a chatbot in 7 steps."
If the service window or session expired but you want to send a response, you’ll need a message template — contacting someone after more than 24 hours is treated like a new conversation. And if the business starts the conversation it requires an approved message template.
To do this, you can either create message templates to directly answer common questions (see example below) or send a message template with a request for renewed approval, such as: "Hi! We didn't manage to reply yesterday. But we can help you right now. Is your question still relevant?"
GDPR: End-to-end encryption and data privacy
Data privacy is a crucial topic in customer communication and a must when introducing a new contact channel.
The WhatsApp Business API’s secure setup enables companies to use WhatsApp in their customer communication. Messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means WhatsApp or other third-party providers can’t read them – making this solution more secure than a conventional email.
When you’re working with a provider such as Userlike, all data will be hosted in data centers in Germany. This guarantees a GDPR-compliant setup for your customer communication via WhatsApp.
Data privacy and security are complex issues. We cover this in detail in our article "WhatsApp in business - How to be GDPR-compliant in 2023."
Price: How much does the WhatsApp Business Platform (WhatsApp API) cost?
Unlike the WhatsApp Business App, which is free, the API solution is more advanced and comes with a paid model. However, the costs vary considerably by provider so make sure to compare providers first. These are the different costs you can expect:
- Monthly fees. Access to the WhatsApp Business API is available through official Business Solution Partners, which often also provide the WhatsApp Business Platform, i.e. professional customer messaging software (more on this under section 6 ). At Userlike, access to the WhatsApp API is included in the Team plan starting at $90/month.
Cost per conversation.
The first 1000 support conversations per month are always free of charge, so small and mid-sized companies rarely ever need to pay extra. After the 1000th conversation, WhatsApp charges a small fee for each conversation started. The conversation can continue for 24 hours before a new conversation session starts and is charged. The cost depends on the
country, category and who initiates the conversation.
In the U.S., it is approximately 1 cent per conversation initiated by the customer and between 1 and 2 cents for a conversation initiated by the company. Charges are generally incurred only when the company answers. If you receive unsolicited messages and don’t respond, you will not be charged for the conversation. We summarized all details about the Platform API pricing model in the post "WhatsApp Business pricing: what costs you can expect."
Tip: At first glance, WhatsApp business rules can seem complicated because there are two different 24h units: The 24h service window (period during which businesses can reply with free text messages: the time window reopens with each reply from the customer) and the 24h billing period (period that counts as one charging unit: it starts with the first reply or message from the business to the customer and closes exactly 24h later.
During this period you can send as many replies as you want for free). But once you understand the difference between these two units, the principle of WhatsApp Business API is obvious.
How to get access to the WhatsApp Business Platform
As the world's most popular messenger app and with end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp is poised to become the most powerful channel for customer communication as well.
But there’s a lot at stake for WhatsApp. If they open their platform too freely for business use, the app might just turn into the next crowded inbox, frustrating users who’d then switch to an alternative.
Who can use WhatsApp Business?
To protect users and prevent unwanted trading on its platform, WhatsApp follows a strict commerce policy. Some of these restrictions are evident (e.g. weapons, drugs, gambling). Others are somewhat surprising (e.g. contact lenses, wigs, food supplements).
Therefore, check the list carefully and make sure that your product or service is in line with the trade policy.
You can get access to an official WhatsApp Business Platform through a WhatsApp Business Solution Provider. These are official partners of Meta that provide businesses with direct access to the WhatsApp API.
Get started in three steps
- Choose a WhatsApp Business Platform
- Create your Whatsapp Business account
- Let your customers know about your new channel
In the Meta Partner Directory you will find an overview of the various business solution providers. Note that these are often agencies that only provide the API link, but not a WhatsApp Business Platform, which provides customer messaging.
An all-in-one WhatsApp business solution like Userlike provides you with an advanced WhatsApp Business Platform, including account linking via the official WhatsApp Business API. So you pay monthly only for one plan price. To learn more about the benefits of Userlike's WhatsApp Business Platform, keep reading below.
If you choose a customer messaging software that supports other messaging apps besides WhatsApp, first create a WhatsApp channel. Now you will be guided step by step through creating your WhatsApp Business account and linking it to the Business Platform. During the process, your personal WhatsApp Business API key will be generated and stored automatically.
Unlike most other messenger apps like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, WhatsApp doesn't allow users to search for businesses themselves in the app.
Therefore, it’s up to your business to encourage customers to contact you via WhatsApp.
Thankfully there are plenty of ways to promote your WhatsApp channel. For example, you can share an icon in the contact bar directly on your website, like BMW Zurich does. When a website visitor clicks on the button, they are redirected to a page with the WhatsApp number they can contact.
Another option is to link WhatsApp to a relevant point in the customer journey, such as the checkout process. Customers who make a purchase can actively agree to receive information about their order via WhatsApp or subscribe to your WhatsApp newsletter.
For more tips on how to promote your WhatsApp channel, check out this post.
The easiest way to get started with the WhatsApp Business Platform - Userlike
The WhatsApp Platform by Userlike offers you several advantages:
- We got your back. Userlike takes the work of technical API integration and maintenance off your hands. That way, your WhatsApp company account is safely available for you to use at all times - and you can focus on communicating with your customers.
- Data privacy is our top priority. As a German business, data privacy is our top priority. When you connect the WhatsApp API with Userlike, all data will be end-to-end encrypted and securely stored on servers in Germany.
- Built for professional service. Smart routing, chatbots , analytics and more. Userlike was built for digital customer communication and offers the features you need for efficient WhatsApp support. Get your whole service team on board and engage in unlimited customer interactions. And if you’re already using the live chat by Userlike, we’ll just add the WhatsApp channel to your account. No need to introduce a new software or user interface.
- Omni messaging in one solution. Most people are using WhatsApp but it’s not the only relevant contact channel. Bring your customer interactions from all channels together in one hub – Userlike is your platform for web chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Threema and SMS.
Be one step ahead of your competitors and among the first companies to help their customers on WhatsApp. Userlike is Germany's most popular customer communication software, trusted by companies like Allianz, BMW and Bayer - awarded as the best live chat solution by the software rating platform OMR.
If you are interested, please reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you get started with our WhatsApp Business Platform!