Your WhatsApp Business Account – From App to Z

WhatsApp has radically changed our private communication. You can leverage its power for your business as well.

In this guide we’ll walk you through all your options for a WhatsApp Business Account. We’ll cover the most important features, frequent questions, and how to get started with either the WhatsApp Business App or the WhatsApp Business API.

We’ll talk about:

  1. The benefits of WhatsApp for businesses
  2. What is the difference between the WhatsApp Business App and API?
  3. WhatsApp Business App’s features and account setup
  4. WhatsApp Business API’s features and account setup
  5. Use Cases: Practical applications for your business
  6. Pricing: How much does WhatsApp Business cost?
  7. Policies: WhatsApp Business rules and limitations
  8. Privacy: How to use WhatsApp GDPR-compliant
  9. Spread the word – How to introduce your customers to WhatsApp
  10. Get started with the WhatsApp Business API through Userlike

The benefits of WhatsApp for businesses

The benefits of WhatsApp for businesses are directly connected to the strengths of WhatsApp as a private communication channel.

Reach. Over 2 billion people actively use WhatsApp. Like Userlike founder Timoor Taufig put it, “even your grandma uses WhatsApp.”

Service logistics. Messaging is a unique mode of communication in that it allows a conversation to move between a slow, email-like back-and-forth and quick live chat. This makes “hello, are you there?”-concerns obsolete, and it has a big impact on how businesses can deal with service peaks. You don’t have to expand your team or put customers in an annoying queue. Customers know they will get the answer when you’re there.

Open rates. 98% of messaging app messages are opened and read. Compare that to average open rates of email (22%) and the reach of a well-performing Facebook post (7%).

Low barrier For customers, messaging is arguably the most convenient way to communicate with a business because it’s fully aligned with their habits. Not only do people already check their mobile messages many times per day, but they receive convenient notifications and can reply casually.

Compare that to how email works. After reaching out, you actually have to remember to check your inbox and write longer formal messages. It takes extra cognitive effort.

Multiple use cases. 50% of consumers who message with businesses do so across all stages of their customer journey – to ask about a product or service, to make a purchase or reservation or to get support. Read more about possible use cases for WhatsApp in business in this chapter.

Customer Relationships. There’s something unmeasurable yet invaluable about having a presence in your customers’ friends lists. And it translates into more trust in your brand: At least 30% of WhatsApp users click on the call to action button in WhatsApp business messages (e.g. a link to your shop). That makes WhatsApp a far more effective channel for lead generation than email (3%) and social media (5%).

What’s more, in many countries it’s increasingly common to buy directly from companies through messaging apps. Uber Delhi for example allows customers to call a ride with a simple WhatsApp message.

Read on:

WhatsApp Business App or API?

WhatsApp offers two options for business use. Which one is right for you depends mostly on the size of your business.

The WhatsApp Business App is an out-of-the-box solution built for small businesses – like hairdressers, dentists or small online shops. It offers a set of built-in business features, but its main limitation is that it only allows for one user account. You can use the WhatsApp business app on up to five devices and spread them amongst your team – but everyone is using the same account name, so you never know who specifically answered your clients. Plus, collaboration features aren’t part of the WhatsApp Business App. So it doesn't work for professional service teams.

The WhatsApp Business API was built for medium and larger businesses with professional customer communication teams. It’s scalable and can be flexibly connected to your existing business solutions and processes.

Graphic shows a comparison between the WhatsApp Business App and the WhatsApp Business API.

We’ll quickly describe each solution and then dive into how you can get started with either one.

The WhatsApp Business App’s features and account setup

This small business solution looks and feels very similar to the regular WhatsApp app. It allows you to set up a business profile and create a catalog with your products and services.

Many small businesses around the world are already using the WhatsApp Business App. Like Boutique de Krioula from Brazil, a country where WhatsApp has made a tremendous impact.

How to create a WhatsApp Business Account (app version)

You can download the app for free in the Apple App Store or in the Google Play store.

Here are the steps to get started:

  1. Get a dedicated phone number. When you use your private phone, the app will ask if you want to use your current number for WhatsApp Business. This is probably not what you want, as you won’t be able to use the app for your private communication anymore.
  2. Download the app. From the App Store or the Google Play store.
  3. Open the app. Click “Agree & Continue.”
  4. Decide whether to provide the app access to your contacts. If you do, WhatsApp will have access to your contact’s information, like the phone number to import your customer’s user name and picture. Do note that this could be a red flag concerning data privacy. Best to discuss it with your legal consultant. We will get into the topic of GDPR compliance later on in this post.
  5. Set up your profile. Set a business name, profile picture (normally a logo), and a business category.

That should help get you started. Now let’s look at a few features that distinguish the business app from the one for private use:

  • Business description and info. Let your customers know what your business does, what your business hours are, your website, address and email address.
  • The catalog. You can set up a catalog of your products. If you have an online fashion shop, for example, you can display your collection. Upload one or multiple pictures, a title, price, description and, optionally, a link for where to purchase plus a product code.
  • A selection of cakes in the WhatsApp catalog
    This bakery shows its pastries in the catalog. Source: Guiding Tech
  • Short link. You want your customers to know that they can reach you on your new contact channel. For this, you can easily share a short link with them. You can even set up an opening message template to make things as easy for your customers as possible.
  • Labels. You can set and add labels to contacts that you’re chatting with. It’s a mini CRM feature.
  • Automated messages. You can set up a few automated messages that help you manage customer expectations, for example an away message for out-of-business hours or a greeting for new customers.
  • Quick replies. These are canned messages that you can set up for common questions and situations. For example, to thank a customer or to explain a specific policy.
  • Broadcasting. Set up a broadcasting list of up to 256 contacts. You can use this as a type of newsletter, for example.

If you’re the type of small business owner who’s always on the move, then the mobile app is probably right for you. If your working situation is more stationary, then I’d recommend the browser version. This allows you to comfortably chat with contacts using a desktop.

The main downside of the app is that it doesn't provide individual user accounts for each of your team members and the lack of professional service features such as forwarding, routing, chatbots and unified messaging. For this, you'll have to use the API.

The WhatsApp Business API’s features and setup

This is the WhatsApp solution built for larger businesses and organizations. Recognizing that large enterprises require higher flexibility and functionality, WhatsApp offers the API so that businesses can connect the messenger with a professional customer communication solution. This means, instead of using a smartphone app, your team members can log in to a shared customer communication platform. This platform is not offered by WhatsApp itself, but by companies that are specialized in customer communication software.

While the account setup is a bit more complex (more on that below), it allows businesses to offer WhatsApp support in a professional setting – in a team and with advanced features for support and sales. What’s more, it allows you to have all your WhatsApp customer communication in one central place – instead of scattered out across multiple employee devices.

Some examples of businesses already using the WhatsApp Business API are Uber, and Toyota.

'Omotenashi' is an integral part of Toyota’s corporate philosophy. It stands for high attention and care. That’s why we offer our website visitors the option to reach us over WhatsApp, which is the most convenient and familiar channel for many of them.

Roland Blask, Senior Specialist Customer Experience, Toyota

How to create a WhatsApp Business Account (API version)

Unlike the app, you cannot access the WhatsApp Business API yourself, but your business needs to go through an official WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (BSP). The BSP will provide you with the API key and help you create your WhatsApp Business account.

Some BSPs only offer this API account setup. In that case, you need to choose a separate software company that provides you with a user interface for your team to collaborate in. Other providers, such as Userlike, offer an all-in-one package: API access, plus a professional customer messaging software. Reach out to us on our website to learn more.

Now that you know how to create a WhatsApp business account, let's take a look at some of the advanced features that the WhatsApp Business API brings you in combination with a professional tool like Userlike:

  • Message forwarding. Your team members bring a variety of professional backgrounds into the mix, so it makes sense to connect customers with the specialist who will best serve them.
  • Rich media support. Being able to send pictures, videos and documents, makes it easy to illustrate needs and situations, like for insurance companies in the case of an accident.
  • Bot integration. A chatbot can not only greet customers and collect their contact information before sending them off to a human agent, but also answer frequently asked questions on the spot.
  • Live translations. Yes, that’s right. You can talk to customers in multiple languages and understand each other. Userlike’s live translation feature lets you pitch your products in 26 languages.
  • Unified Messaging. We already stressed the advantage of having all your WhatsApp conversations in one shared inbox. But it doesn’t need to stop there. Connect all your messaging channels to the same platform, like Website-Chat, SMS, Messenger and Telegram.
  • GDPR-compliant. Last but not least, the WhatsApp Business API is compliant with the European privacy regulation. Whereas the WhatsApp Business App has various security gaps, the WhatsApp Business API account meets the strict GDPR requirements – if you choose a secure BSP like Userlike.
  • Read on:

    Userlike: Instant chats, long-term customer relationships

    Over 10,000 companies like Toyota and Hermes trust Userlike to connect with their customers every day - via website chat, WhatsApp, chatbots and more.

    Learn more

    Use Cases: Practical applications for your business

    Now that you are familiar with the advantages of WhatsApp as a channel and know how to set it up, the next question is how you should use it in your everyday business life. There are a lot of use cases to think about.

    WhatsApp for sales & support

    When placing WhatsApp buttons and QR codes along the customer journey, WhatsApp becomes a low barrier channel, allowing quick and personal support with just a click – pre and post sales.

    Proactive Customer Support

    You don’t have to wait for your customers to contact you. NoBroker invites new registrants to opt-in for their WhatsApp notifications when signing up for their service. Because they know that customers often struggle with picture uploads, NoBroker proactively offers them to send images through Whatsapp which will then be added to their profile.

    WhatsApp business account of an online broker website.

    Multimedia support

    Sometimes issues are hard to put in words. WhatsApp allows customers to switch from text to voice messages and lets them add pictures to illustrate their situation or need. And vice versa, companies can send product videos and tutorials when customers are struggling to make a product choice or need help with a complex use case.

    Updates and digital services

    The high opening rates of Whatsapp prevent important messages from getting lost in the noise. Airline KLM sends out useful transactional messages, e.g. the boarding pass, so that customers feel at ease. Clothing brand Zellbury goes a step further by accepting orders through WhatsApp.

    Example of fashion brand that sells through WhatsApp Business API.
    Source: Zellbury

    Not enough sales use cases for you? Learn 9 ways to use WhatsApp for sales.

    WhatsApp for marketing

    As WhatsApp is still a relatively new Marketing channel, creative campaigns get a lot of buzz. These are your options in a nutshell:

    Click to WhatsApp Ads

    What do you think is more effective: Sending users via Instagram ad straight to your offer — or engaging them in a conversation first? Uber Eats tested both options and got a clear result: 6 times more app sign ups through messenger marketing compared to the direct ad link to their delivery app. Here is how you create a click to WhatsApp ad.

    Click-to-WhatsApp button in business profile
    Place your Click-to-WhatsApp button either in a Facebook/instagram ad or in your social media profile like Luckyshrub does.

    WhatsApp Chatbot

    A chatbot can support your marketing strategy by offering useful services. Lego’s bot, for instance, helped their customers find the perfect gift based on age and personal preferences. Furthermore, a bot can help you qualify leads in a quiz-like way with questions about their needs and interests. Learn more in our beginner's guide to WhatsApp bots.


    Time limited campaigns on WhatsApp can have various colors, shapes and forms depending on your industry. As a food producer e.g. you can recommend your audience personalized recipes based on a picture of their fridge’s content (so done by Hellmann’s ) or let your customers text you convincing reasons why they are worthy of VIP tickets for your exclusive summer party (so done by Absolut Vodka ). Find more examples in this post.

    WhatsApp Newsletter

    Newsletters on messaging channels are not yet the new normal. But if any app has the potential to compete with email newsletters in the near future, it’s WhatsApp. Close to 90% of messenger newsletters are currently sent through WhatsApp. Compare that with Instagram and Telegram which combined reach only 6%. By the way, the official term for WhatsApp newsletters is “non-transactional messages”, also common is “promotional messages”. Learn more about rules and options for WhatsApp’s promotional messages.

    For more ideas on how to use WhatsApp in Marketing, read “WhatsApp Messenger Marketing: 7 Tools and Tips.”

    WhatsApp for recruiting

    Direct contact options

    Once potential candidates see your job offer, the next barrier is to get them to apply. Make it as easy as possible to start the application process by including a QR Code or Click-to-WhatsApp button next to your job ad.

    Easy application process

    Allow candidates to complete the application process within WhatsApp. In a simple question-answer situation, a chatbot guides them through the steps and asks about their level for essential skills.

    Corporate culture campaign People want to know what it’s like to work for you. Bring them as close as possible by inviting them to a virtual open house hosted on WhatsApp (as done by Daimler ). Let applicants follow the workday of your trainee manager or other employees with the option to ask questions.

    We go through all these options in more length in our article “How to Use WhatsApp for Recruiting.”

    Examples: WhatsApp in your target sector

    To go into practical applications for various industries would go beyond the scope of this post. That’s why we created a WhatsApp guide with a neat overview of real life examples.

    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

    WhatsApp Business API pricing

    Unlike the WhatsApp Business App, which is free, the API is a more advanced solution that comes with a paid model. However, the costs vary considerably by provider so make sure to compare your options first. These are the different costs you can expect:

    • Monthly fees. Access to the API is available through business software providers. At Userlike, you can get access to the WhatsApp Channel, including our customer messaging software, from $90/month .
    • Setup costs. Because the API integration is technically more complex than other channels, many providers charge a one-time setup fee in addition to the monthly fee. The service provider Vonage, for example, charges €1,000 per number. Userlike doesn't charge a setup fee.
    • Costs per conversation. The first 1000 conversations are always free. That means that small to medium sized businesses likely don’t pay any conversation fees, as their monthly chat volume is generally lower than 1000. WhatsApp charges a small fee for any additional conversation. You’ll find more detailed info in our post "WhatsApp Business pricing: What costs you can expect."

    What counts as a “conversation”?

    A conversation is a single 24-hour session that starts as soon as a business contacts a customer or responds to a customer’s initial message. All messages that are sent or received within the 24-hour service window are covered by the conversation fee.

    Example image of a conversation between Kicks and a customer on WhatsApp


    1. Shoe store Kicks initiates the conversation with a message template.

    2. The customer replies shortly after with a message. Kicks thanks the customer with a session message. WhatsApp charges for all three messages as one conversation.

    If the customer answers 24 hours later, the business won’t be charged since they’re the only ones who can initiate a new 24-hour window. If Kicks thanks the customer the next day at 9 am, the company is charged for a new conversation.

    For more pricing examples, download the PDF at the bottom of Facebook’s article on conversation-based pricing.

    How much does WhatsApp charge for a conversation?

    If you start more than 1000 customer conversations a month, WhatsApp charges a small fee for every additional conversation. Conversation charges vary by country and by who starts the conversation. User-initiated conversations are cheaper than business-initiated messages. In North America (Canada & USA) costs are around 1.5 cents for company-initiated messages and less than one cent for client-initiated messages.

    Please note: “User-initiated” doesn’t mean that you have to pay for messages from clients. It only counts as a “user-initiated message” if you reply.

    Receiving messages from customers is always free with the WhatsApp API.

    You can find pricing for all countries on Facebook’s website by clicking on a currency rate card.

    WhatsApp Business rules and limitations

    An important reason why so many businesses are excited to start interacting with their customers through WhatsApp is that it allows them to circumvent a cluttered email inbox and reach their customers on a relatively untouched channel.

    Logically, WhatsApp wants to prevent going down the spammy road that email has traveled. To this end, they’ve put up a Business Policy. Here are what I believe to be its most notable points:

    1. You can only send messages to customers who have sent you a message before or who have explicitly opted in during a relevant user flow – like when making a purchase on your website.
    2. When a customer reaches out to you via WhatsApp, you have a 24-hour time window to respond – the customer service window. Outside of this window, you can only answer with pre-approved template messages. They are customizable, so the client doesn’t feel the difference between session messages and template messages.
    3. There are two types of template messages: transactional (notifications e.g. delivery status updates) and non transactional (promotions e.g. coupon codes). Both need to go through an approval process that usually takes a few hours. You can easily submit a new template messages within Userlike’s platform.
    4. If you use WhatsApp bots, you have to provide an easy escalation option to human support reps in case the bot is not able to help. This can be e.g. a transfer to live chat or the link to an email form.

    WhatsApp also has a commerce policy which outlines goods and services that are not allowed on their platform. Some of these are obvious, like human body parts and explosives; others strike my liberal Dutch ear a tad prudish, so make sure to check out the list.

    An advantage of the API is that, unlike the app, it’s possible to send out broadcasts/newsletters (in the form of approved message templates) to an unlimited number of contacts. The app allows you to send out broadcasts only to up to 256 contacts.

    Official business accounts. If you’ve already received WhatsApp support from a business, then you might have seen a nice green badge next to the business profile. This adds trust and authority to a profile.

    For you to be blessed with the green badge, you need to tick some essential boxes:

    • You use the WhatsApp Business API via an official platform like Userlike
    • Your two-factor authentication is enabled
    • You are a notable business

    If you meet these criteria, you have two options to request your green badge. The easiest way is to go through your official API provider as it already adds trust to your request. As a Userlike customer, we provide you with a simple request form and take over the process for you.

    Another option is to go through the WhatsApp business manager, select the relevant WhatsApp number and start the green badge request and prove your brand authority. You can add up to five links, e.g. social media accounts, rating sites or magazine articles. If your request is denied, you can apply again after one month.

    How to use WhatsApp GDPR-compliant

    The costs and rules connected to the API may motivate smaller businesses to stick to the simpler WhatsApp Business App.

    The business app comes with a crucial disadvantage, though. A professional GDPR-compliant setup is next to impossible with this basic version of WhatsApp business. That's because WhatsApp is able to read the contact list of your device by default.

    If some of your contacts don’t use WhatsApp (or not anymore), you deliver personal phone numbers to WhatsApp servers – without their consent. That's why for a GDPR-compliant setup, the API is the way to go.

    Another relevant factor for a solid security setup is the choice of a reputable WhatsApp BSP that works in accordance with the GDPR regulations. It's recommended to choose a provider that operates in the EU respectively the European trading area, like Userlike with its headquarter and technical infrastructure in Germany.

    Read on:

    How to introduce your customers to WhatsApp

    Introducing website chat such as Userlike's to your customers is straightforward; you add it to your website and they see it right away.

    A compass.

    That’s not the case with WhatsApp. Your customers likely know that you offer support channels like email and phone, but WhatsApp support is still rather new. Also, unlike messaging apps like Messenger and Telegram, it’s not possible to search for businesses on WhatsApp.

    What’s more, for the reasons mentioned earlier, you need to get explicit permission from your customers to connect with them on WhatsApp, either through their opting-in or by them reaching out to you first.

    For this to happen, you will have to consciously build WhatsApp support into your customer journey . Here are six ideas to do that.

    Contact page. You can mention your WhatsApp channel on your contact page. Show your phone number and/or set up a call-to-action that guides the web visitor straight to a WhatsApp conversation with you either through the mobile app or through the browser version.

    Website button. With the same logic of the contact page call-to-action, you could set up a website button for WhatsApp similar to that of website chat. The advantage here is that a subtle chat button accompanies the visitor throughout their entire website experience, so the web visitor won’t ever have to search for it. Below you can see an example of how a BMW dealership implemented a multi-channel button approach.

    Screenshot of website of BMW dealership with a WhatsApp button integrated on the site.
    This BMW dealership from Zurich offers multiple contact options on the right side of their website.

    Transactional confirmations. This is a powerful incentive for getting your customers to opt in to your WhatsApp messages. At checkout, you offer your customer the option to receive their invoice and/or order updates on WhatsApp. Logistics company Hermes, for example, keeps their customers in the loop about when their package will arrive or if there is an unexpected delay. Once you’ve made it into your customer’s contact list, they’ll know where to find you when they have another question.

    QR code. Customers can also trigger a WhatsApp chat with your company by scanning a QR code with a smartphone. You could use this in combination with billboard ads. If the ad piqued the customer’s interest, they can simply scan it with their smartphone for follow-up questions. You can take a similar approach with the abovementioned Click to WhatsApp ads on Facebook.

    Old-fashioned phone.

    Phone queue message. Offering your customers multiple contact channels is nice to cover all customer preferences, but it’s also good practice to nudge customers to your preferred channels. Phone support is the most expensive support channel to offer and it also tends to lead to the greatest customer frustrations due to waiting queues, forwarding and having to repeat oneself. Instead of playing a tune for your customers waiting in the phone support queue, you could educate them about your preferred channels with a message like:

    “Thank you for your call. Our phone lines are currently full. You are #x in the queue. Please stay on the line. If you prefer, you can also reach us over WhatsApp. Requests through WhatsApp are easier for us to process, and are therefore likely to be resolved faster. You can send a message to [your-number]. I repeat: [your-number].”

    A boomerang.

    Email auto-reply. Email isn't as bad as phone is when it comes to your stereotypical service frustrations, but it lacks all the benefits that make messaging such a promising support channel. When I send an email to a company, I mentally prepare myself for the likelihood that I won’t get an answer.

    To ease such doubts, many companies respond with an auto-reply message indicating how long I can expect to wait. Such auto-replies are also good opportunities for guiding your customers to your preferred channel. For example, by closing off the auto-reply with:

    “P.S.: For faster support, reach out to us on WhatsApp: [your-number]”

    Get started with the WhatsApp Business API through Userlike

    If you’re looking for a professional solution to help make the switch to WhatsApp support, take a look at Userlike. Besides being a professional solution for WhatsApp, messages from all relevant messaging channels stream into one inbox.

    Userlike logo with the logos of messaging apps around it.

    While WhatsApp is most widely used, your customers are divided among different messaging apps. With Userlike, you don’t have to make the decision to exclude a large part of your customer base. With WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Threema, SMS and – last but not least – website chat, you can offer all your customers the same superior messaging experience.

    No matter where your customer messages come from, you can answer them all from within your Userlike message center. Get an impression of our customer messaging solution through our introduction demo:

    The Userlike WhatsApp channel is available from only $90/month. If you want to learn more, just reach out to us in the chat on our website. We're looking forward to hearing from you and getting you started with the WhatsApp Business API!