Now, more than ever, customers want multi-channel support.
They want to be able to pick up the phone, send an email, or send a tweet to your service reps and have a seamless experience that brings them the solutions they desire. One of the places that customers want multi-channel support is within the messaging apps they're already using.
Although they may seem like more of a casual channel instead of a business tool, messaging apps are beneficial for customer service, especially considering that people spend four hours and 10 minutes a day on mobile devices, and 44% of that time is on social and communication apps.
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is a messaging app where users can send text messages, voice notes, and video chat with others. It is a mobile-first app but has recently become available to desktop users. The image below is a standard chat thread on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp Business App, launched in 2018, gives businesses a new way to communicate with customers on a platform they're already using. The image below is a sample WhatsApp Business App business profile and correspondence with a customer.
WeChat, owned by Tencent, is a China-based messaging service. While it's used primarily for text conversations, it also supports video calls, voice messages, and in-app games. The image below is an example of a standard WeChat search screen.
A WeChat Service Account can be used to create an in-app storefront for your business. You can correspond with customers, but they must initiate the conversation, so it is difficult to use the app for proactive customer service or lead nurturing.
However, similar to Facebook, you do have the option to share posts on your business profile for customers to see, but you can only send four per month. The account is also suitable for businesses of all sizes, but companies outside of China must obtain an overseas business license to be visible to Chinese users.
WeChat Key Takeaways:
Customers must initiate all conversations, but there are no restrictions to the conversations you can have.
Posts to profile pages can be used to share relevant information and keep consumers informed and engaged.
WeChat Service Account is suitable for businesses of all sizes.
One of the main draws to WeChat is that it is available in China when WhatsApp is not, but you must obtain an overseas business account to be visible to Chinese customers.
The WhatsApp Business App is the standard solution for customer service. Like WeChat, you can create a business profile to showcase your products and services, communicate with customers, and send standard text messages, images, videos, voice notes, and even share documents.
The caveat is that customers must also initiate conversation, and you're often limited to pre-approved template responses. You can only reach out first to send standard transactional messages, like order confirmations or appointment reminders. The Business App is also built for small businesses and can only be used by one person, so it is not suitable for larger enterprises with big service teams.
WhatsApp Business API is a solution for medium and large-sized businesses but requires a rather complex and selective application process. When customers message you, you're encouraged to respond within a 24-hour time frame, or you may be charged a fee. All WhatsApp business accounts are banned in China.
WhatsApp Key Takeaways:
Options for businesses of all sizes, but API access is limited.
Customers must initiate all conversations, save for standard transactional messages.
Banned in China.
Which should you use for customer service?
While WhatsApp certainly has a more extensive user base than WeChat, the ultimate takeaway is this: neither app is perfect for meeting customer service needs.
Each platform has its pros and cons, and your final decision should be based on three key factors: the location of your audience, the size of your business, and the type of service you want to provide. Let's discuss which app fares better for each key factor.
Winner: WhatsApp, it's popular in more countries.
Since WeChat was built for Chinese users, businesses with a global presence outside of China should consider WhatsApp Business App a more suitable option. It is available in 180 countries and popular in more countries than WeChat, so you can virtually reach customers worldwide.
The image below displays a geographical map of locations where WhatsApp is popular.
However, using WhatsApp is not your best option if your largest audience group is in China because it is banned in the country.
Winner: WeChat, built for large and small businesses alike.
WeChat Service Account is the superior option for businesses of all sizes. Large companies aren't stuck with a strict approval process, and the convenience of not needing to upgrade is beneficial for small, scaling businesses.
There is also no limit to the number of people who can be active on your Service Account, whereas the WhatsApp Business App can only be used by one rep at a time.
In-App Communication Options
Winner: Neither; communication is somewhat restricted on both platforms.
Unfortunately, neither app wins in terms of the communication you can have with customers. Both strictly regulate the conversations you can have to reduce spam and ensure users have a satisfying experience.
In both apps, the customer must initiate conversation as a show of consent to being contacted by your business. Because of this, you're limited in the conversations you can have with customers, although WhatsApp does allow you to initiate when sending standard transactional messages, like shipping confirmations.
Also, neither app makes it easy to practice proactive customer service, which customers appreciate. However, you can leverage profile posts on WeChat to share information with customers, but you're limited to four per month.
WeChat vs. WhatsApp: The Final Verdict
As mentioned above, neither app is perfect for customer service.
Even if WhatsApp wasn't banned in China and you could effectively reach your audience in every country, the communication options are limited. Small businesses with plans for growth would also have trouble scaling and continuing with the same service on WhatsApp. If WeChat removed restrictions on communication options, you would still need interested customers to initiate the conversation.
Thus, the final verdict is this: WeChat and WhatsApp may be best used as supplemental channels to meet your service needs. It would be worth investing in other customer service tools, like a CRM, and simply using the apps to convenience your customers and give them a space to be in contact with you on platforms they're already using.
To choose between the two apps, focus on the three factors mentioned above: where your target audience is, the size of your business, and the type of communication you'd prefer to have with your customers, and choose the platform that checks all the boxes.
If you're still unsure, there is no issue with leveraging both apps in your customer service tech stack, so long as you can manage communication on both apps without leaving customers waiting for your responses.
Originally published Apr 5, 2021 8:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021