18 June 2021

What are WhatsApp chatbots and how do you use them?

Written by

Chee Yong Qing

Content Marketer


18 June 2021

What are WhatsApp chatbots and how do you use them?

Written by: Chee Yong Qing, Content Marketer


In 2018, South Korean carmaker Kia introduced their chatbot, Kian, on Facebook Messenger to better engage their prospects and leads. 

Within the same year, Kian had 3 times more conversion rate and 50 times increase in customer engagement, with over 600,000 messages exchanged on Facebook Messenger. 🤯

That could be you. 

But don’t be discouraged if you don’t communicate with your customers through Messenger. You can now also employ chatbots on WhatsApp!

With the use of WhatsApp Application Programming Interface (API), you can deploy chatbots so that your customers can receive immediate responses and support when messaging your business.

In this article, we’ll talk about what chatbots are, how they work through WhatsApp API, and how you can utilize them in your business!

What are WhatsApp chatbots?

Chatbots are artificial intelligence (AI) software that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to simulate a conversation with a user in a natural manner through messaging apps, websites, or mobile apps.

Similarly, WhatsApp chatbots are software that automatically replies to text messages within WhatsApp, determined by a set of defined instructions. It works exactly like texting another person on WhatsApp, except that the replies are pre-crafted and configured to respond according to rules and keywords.

There are two main types of chatbots that are used on the WhatsApp platform.

Menu chatbot

A menu-based chatbot offers different options or buttons for users to select, and routes them either to another set of options or to the answer. 

They function similarly to the automated phone menus that we’re familiar with, requiring us to press 1️⃣, 2️⃣, or 3️⃣, or other keywords to proceed with the next action.

An example of a menu chatbot used by the World Health Organization on WhatsApp.

An example of a menu chatbot used by the World Health Organization on WhatsApp.

Keyword recognition chatbots

By recognizing keywords, chatbots automatically respond with a predetermined reply that best answers the user’s input based on those keywords. For example, the keywords ‘problem’ and ‘not working’ can prompt your chatbot to provide troubleshooting-related responses, directing customers to your website’s guides and help resources.

Limited by the range of possible responses to keywords, this chatbot type is commonly used together with menu-type chatbots to offer more accurate responses for the user.

Though the example below is a regular website chatbot, it employs both keyword recognition and menu options to offer a better response for the user.

An example of a website widget chatbot with both keyword recognition and menu options. Source: Singtel

An example of a website widget chatbot with both keyword recognition and menu options. Source: Singtel

What is WhatsApp API?

Application Programming Interface (API) is the term used to describe a software intermediary that allows two applications to interact with one another.

For WhatsApp chatbots, this means that the chatbot software will be able to communicate with the WhatsApp platform using WhatsApp API, and thus be able to read and reply to WhatsApp messages sent to your business number.

So how can you use WhatsApp API to deploy your WhatsApp chatbot?

Well, if you’re coding your own chatbot, you can do it yourself and integrate your chatbot with WhatsApp through WhatsApp API.

For the rest of us, deploying a WhatsApp chatbot for your business number can be done through a third-party business solution provider (BSP) that uses WhatsApp API in their product that offers this specialized service. 

Alternatively, larger businesses that are already using WhatsApp Business API through WhatsApp Partners can request to integrate WhatsApp chatbots with their existing CRM tool or messaging software.

Benefits of using WhatsApp chatbots

Efficiency through automation

Using chatbots free up more of your time by addressing common customer questions and requests. It removes the frequent tediousness of handling basic customer queries, and allows you to focus your energy on more important, urgent, and more sophisticated tasks.

At the same time, your customers will benefit from chatbots because they receive real-time, immediate answers to their queries. In the event that they have a complex question that the chatbot cannot answer, then they will also have the assurance that your business has received their query and will promptly respond.

The options and answers offered by your chatbot can also route customers towards the ultimate goal of a sales transaction. By imitating a natural conversation, chatbots can appropriately share your latest products, promotions, or make recommendations, depending on the keywords used by the enquiring customer. 

As such, chatbots can help to accelerate sales and improve sales productivity.

Being more efficient through using WhatsApp chatbots is beneficial to both your business workflows, and your customers’ interaction experience with your business. 

Works through WhatsApp interface

Don’t underestimate the strength of familiarity

Because of how WhatsApp chatbots are designed to work in the same way as a normal WhatsApp text conversation, users won’t need to learn to work with a new tool or interface to communicate with your business. 

Hence, using WhatsApp chatbots lowers the barrier of use for new leads and customers, especially for those who are less tech-savvy.

Synergy with WhatsApp Broadcast

When you use WhatsApp Broadcast to reach a larger audience, route customers to your WhatsApp chatbot by including a call-to-action to get your customers to reply to that broadcasted message. 

Whether it’s a promo code, a ‘know more’ prompt, or an invitation to ask more questions, you can follow up your WhatsApp broadcasting campaigns with your chatbot to provide additional details and instructions. 

This synergy between WhatsApp Broadcast and WhatsApp chatbots can improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns while lowering the manpower needed for follow up, compared to traditional campaigns. 

Integration with WhatsApp chat features

By using WhatsApp API, your WhatsApp chatbot effectively sends messages just like you do. As such, it enjoys all the features of a regular WhatsApp chat, as long as your chatbot is programmed to support the use of chat features. 

Image sharing can be helpful to provide a picture to support your chatbot replies, or to get your brand across, like this World Health Organization example. 

An example of image sharing used by the World Health Organization chatbot on WhatsApp.

An example of image sharing used by the World Health Organization chatbot on WhatsApp.

If your chatbot shares your business’ tutorial videos or new YouTube content, the WhatsApp in-app preview feature will provide an easier viewing experience for your customer.

A screenshot of WhatsApp in-app viewing of Youtube.

Both parties will also benefit from WhatsApp’s end-to-end message encryption for better privacy and security when texting on WhatsApp. Rest assured that the unique promo code provided by your chatbot won’t be accessed by anyone other than the intended lead or customer! 

Routing to a representative

WhatsApp chatbots can help to filter out conversations that truly need your company representatives’ attention. 

Your WhatsApp chatbot shouldn’t completely take over your business’ WhatsApp account. It is a tool to supplement your WhatsApp communication efforts, and should be deployed as such. 

At the end of the day, your chatbot should still allow for an option for leads and customers to chat with a business representative to address their complex concerns and queries. 55% of people feel more personally connected to the brand when messaging a business. The element of human interaction should still remain as a core essential in your WhatsApp communication efforts.

For such cases, simply program your chatbot to respond with an acknowledgement of the customer’s request to speak with a human representative, and provide a time period of when a response may be expected.

How do I use WhatsApp chatbots?

While you can creatively build and use chatbots according to your business needs, we will share two most common uses of chatbots on WhatsApp.

Marketing

Deploying chatbots is an additional way to market your business on WhatsApp

Since chatbots are meant to automate and mimic human communications, your use of a WhatsApp chatbot could be as similar as what your marketing representatives do on WhatsApp.

Chatbots can automatically send out new welcome messages to greet qualified leads and new customers, introduce your products and services during a conversation, or broadcast the latest trends and updates.

If you’re using a third party BSP to integrate your chatbot with a WhatsApp Business account, you can even request that your chatbot shares your WhatsApp business catalog items for customers to view your products straight from the WhatsApp app.

A chatbot’s function of guiding customers from one step to the next helps to guide leads along the marketing and purchase funnel. The more sophisticated your chatbot’s rules and replies are, the more it can assist with efforts to nurture new customers and re-nurture existing ones. 

Regardless of how you decide to deploy your chatbot for your WhatsApp marketing efforts, remember that chatbots directly contribute in the form of conversation marketing. It’s additional value in marketing is to increase your business’ engagement with customers.

Customer Service

175 million people send WhatsApp messages to business accounts everyday. Since chatbots are available 24/7, this means that your customers can always receive assistance when messaging your business number. 

Your chatbot should be programmed to answer frequently asked questions like business hours, product details, purchase and refund policies, and point to resources for commonly-faced troubleshooting enquiries.

Having a strong keyword recognition chatbot can also preemptively identify common keywords found in customer complaints and alert your customer service representatives If it is a complaint, your representatives can then follow up by taking over that WhatsApp conversation.

Larger companies with more sophisticated CRM and sales software tools can also integrate their WhatsApp chatbots to automate transactional messages, such as order confirmations, shipping updates, and delivery acknowledgements.

While chatbots can certainly take the weight off for your customer service team, the ultimate responsibility of delivering prompt and effective customer service still lies with your human team.

Keep in mind, good customer service is also good marketing! 😉

Limitations of WhatsApp chatbots

As powerful as WhatsApp chatbots are, do note of their limitations and the restrictions surrounding them.

As good as it’s built

The capabilities of a WhatsApp chatbot is dependent on its build quality. Therefore it is critical to both have a competent person or BSP to build your chatbot, and that your business has mapped out the specific purpose of your chatbot to support business communication needs. 

Good customer understanding will help you to identify expected incoming messages, how they may be routed, and what answers you can provide to them.

If you have yet to use a chatbot in your WhatsApp communications but are in the process of looking into it, do actively involve your marketing team, customer service team, or any other internal stakeholder who’s work will be enabled by the WhatsApp chatbot. 

The better their insights, the more robust the capabilities of your chatbot.

Guidelines for WhatsApp Business API

For medium and large businesses that are already actively using WhatsApp Business API for business communications, do note that your WhatsApp chatbot will be subjected to the same existing WhatsApp guidelines and restrictions.

Some examples include the 24-hour window session messaging, the need for contact opt-in for recipients to receive your messages, the inhibition of broadcasting promotional messages, and the charges for each message sent.

Do refer to the WhatsApp Business Policy and Message Template Guidelines for more details.

Quick tips for building WhatsApp chatbots

For anyone getting started in designing and building their very own WhatsApp chatbot, here are 6 quick tips from us!

1. Know your customers, know your team

We’ve already mentioned this above, but we’ll say it again. 

Actively involve your team when building a chatbot so you gain deeper insights as to how they can possibly use it.

Understand your customers well so that you are clear on the use case for your WhatsApp chatbot, and design it in a way that fits with your team’s workflows.

2. Keeping it short and sweet

Text messages are not emails. We shouldn’t expect our customers to read lengthy messages and sieve out relevant information that they’re looking for.

Keep your chatbot’s messages short, and provide simple answers that customers will find immediately relevant. Add in a URL at the end of these messages to direct them to your company website for the specific details.

3. Sounding human

The interface of menu-based chatbots and the responses from keyword recognition chatbots are a dead giveaway to your contact that they are messaging a chatbot software. And that’s okay!

But it doesn’t mean that your chatbot has to sound robotic or impersonal - give your chatbot human-like speech and a human persona.

4. Having fallback messages

It is wise to assume that our chatbot designs are never perfect. Leads and customers may enquire about specifics of your business that you simply did not prepare your WhatsApp chatbot for.

Fallback messages are intended for such scenarios. 

Clarify with your customers if their enquiries have been satisfactorily answered. Prompt them to rephrase their questions so that your keyword recognition chatbot can have a second chance to route a better answer. Or perhaps it is a matter that is more suited for a human to take over the conversation. Here are some examples:

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Sorry, I didn’t understand your question. Can you rephrase it please?”

“Sorry, but I couldn’t understand your question. Would you like to speak with our customer service representative?”

5. Smart routing to human

Complaints and feedback are specific conversations that will most likely require a human to respond to. Design your chatbots to know when to route the conversation to your representatives.

Certain keywords from the customer should prompt your WhatsApp chatbot to alert your team members. “Frustrated”, “complaint”, “issue”, “problem”, “angry” are examples of such keywords. 🚨

6. Appropriate closures to conversation

How a conversation is closed will impact the impression of customers towards your brand. 

If it’s a regular enquiry, insert a call to action to check out your latest products or follow your social media accounts. 

For complaints, offer them the option to speak with a representative if they need further assistance, or direct them to your website’s resources to help customers with troubleshooting or for more information. 

Do you need one?

Finally, while considering your WhatsApp chatbot options and how to deploy them for your business, we’d encourage you to take an honest look at your business.

Do you really need a WhatsApp chatbot?

Building and implementing a WhatsApp chatbot incurs cost. Is this spending justified?

Consider if the chatbot will save you more money in the long term. Would it also yield your business more satisfied customers and more business growth? Maintaining a chatbot also requires energy and time so that it is updated with your latest news, product details, and customer guides.

Is your business at a scale that requires this tool? Does your team need its support? Because we would caution you to think carefully if your team is ready to integrate a chatbot into their daily workflows.

But if you do find yourself in need of a chatbot, then please do make haste to develop and deploy one on WhatsApp! 🏃‍♂️💨

Conclusion

A well deployed chatbot on WhatsApp is an invaluable tool for any business. With faster customer response time and a lightened workload for your business teams, your customers and employees will welcome its addition.

That’s all for our introduction on WhatsApp chatbots and how to use them! Do check out our blog for more content like this one! 🎉

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