By Maxine Hess
Writer | WhatsApp marketer | Creative
Posted: March 19, 2023
Updated: December 08, 2023
The WhatsApp API (now WhatsApp Business Platform): What is it? Why should brands start with it in 2023? Can't you just use the free app instead? Here's everything you need to know.
It's hard to avoid the hype about WhatsApp as a new channel for communicating with customers. It's already huge in countries like Brazil and India and now it's growing fast in Europe (with us leading the charge ☺️).
However, it's sometimes hard to get factual information about what it is and how it works.
Do you need special software? How much does it cost? Can't you just use the app? Why is everyone talking about it in 2023?
In this article, we go into detail about the WhatsApp Business Platform is, how much it costs, who it's for, why it's different to SMS, email and the WhatsApp Business app, why it's good (and bad) and more, so you can make an informed decision for your business.
What is the WhatsApp API (now Business Platform?
The WhatsApp Business Platform (previously WhatsApp Business API) is an application program interface (API) for businesses to manage large numbers of WhatsApp conversations with customers, with rich messaging capabilities.
According to WhatsApp, the platform is designed to: "start conversations with customers in minutes, send customer care notifications or purchase updates, offer customers a level of personalized service and provide support in the channel that customers prefer to be reached on."
It was made available to all businesses in May 2022 through the Cloud API, hosted by Meta. Since then, the platform has grown into an essential tool for medium and large businesses across the world wanting to enjoy one-to-one communications with customers.
The WhatsApp Business Platform is not a final solution, it's the tech engine behind a company's WhatsApp Business channel. Businesses wanting to use the platform need to have software on top of it, which they can either:
- Build themselves: develop an in-house user interface on top of the WhatsApp Business Platform to manage WhatsApp conversations, integrate with existing business systems and provide analytics.
- Pay monthly for: subscribe to a readymade software-as-a-service solution (like charles) with rich functionality, deep integration, intuitive user experience and ongoing support. There are many official WhatsApp Business Solution Providers (BSPs) to choose from, including us.
WhatsApp Business is on track to become the go-to messaging channel for customer care, with enterprise use of WhatsApp Business APIs forecast to increase 5,400% to 2024
Who is the WhatsApp Business Platform for?
The WhatsApp Business Platform is for medium to large businesses handling 1,000s of messages per day, with many customer agents using multiple devices. Small businesses handling low message volumes usually use the free WhatsApp Business app.
WhatsApp Business app vs. WhatsApp API
The main difference between the WhatsApp Business app and the WhatsApp Business Platform is that the app is made for small businesses and the platform is made for larger businesses.
Here are the differences between the app and the API in more detail:
|WhatsApp Business app||WhatsApp Business Platform (API)|
|Used by||Small businesses||Medium and large businesses|
|Cost||Free||Cost per conversation (1,000/month are free)|
- Quick replies
- Add labels to contacts
- Multimedia attachments
- Chatbot integration
- Fine customer segmentation
- Deep analytics
- Clickable messages
|User interface||Mobile app or web app||None (needs software like charles to access the API)|
|Green verified tick||Not possible||Possible|
|Numbers of users||1||Unlimited chat agents|
|Integrations||None||Can integrate with any existing business tools, like CRM, messengers and shop systems like Shopify|
|Number of messages||Maximum 256 contacts||Unlimited|
|Automation||Limited to quick replies, greeting/away messages||Many possibilities for fully automated conversational flows with personalization, API integration and more|
The WhatsApp Business Cloud API explained
Businesses can access the WhatsApp Business Platform in two ways:
With the Cloud API, the WhatsApp Business API is hosted by Meta. With On-Premises, the API is hosted in-house by the business' own servers.
Meta highly recommends businesses use Cloud API "due to ease of implementation and maintenance."
A business phone number can only be used on one platform at a time so businesses need to choose which one they want to use.
Benefits of the WhatsApp Business Platform (API)
There are many reasons for businesses to get started with WhatsApp Business, including:
- Growing customer loyalty
- Reaching people in an app they already know and love using
- Boosting revenue
- Achieving 90% open rates
- Simplifying customer interactions with customer service, sales and marketing all in one thread
- Saving time and effort on marketing – WhatsApp campaigns are easy to set up, send and analyze
And there are many advantages of the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) over the free app, including:
- Richer functionality
- More ways customers can interact (buttons, lists...)
- More customers reached
- More agents can use the platform simultaneously
- Better analytics
- The possibility to do A/B testing
- Automation functionality to save time, be always available and boost revenue
- Integration with existing software
- Easier management and prioritisation of conversations through team
- More sales with online shop integration – for faster checkouts
How to get started with the WhatsApp API (WhatsApp Business Platform
Getting started with the WhatsApp API is easy, especially if you go through a WhatsApp BSP like charles. (With us you can get started in a matter of hours.) Here are the steps to get started:
1. Choose a WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (BSP)
Doing this saves time, money and effort building a new in-house solution. It also minimizes the risk of things going wrong.
At charles, we offer market-leading ongoing support and advice to help businesses make WhatsApp a success in the long-term – since this is a channel that's about building long-term relationships.
What should you look for in a WhatsApp BSP?
Here are the must-haves we recommend you look for in a provider::
- The triple threat: sales, marketing and support
- Advanced audience segmentation
- GDPR compliance
- Easy integrations
- Chat bubbles
- No focus on chatbots
- Easy-to-use interface
- Fair pricing
- Ongoing support
For more on these, see our blog post: 11 non-negotiables in WhatsApp software.
2. Get a phone number
You'll need to buy a business phone number that all your messages will go through. Your BSP will help you with this.
3. Get Meta Business Manager
You may already have Meta Business Manager if you have a company Facebook page. If not, your BSP will help set this up.
4. Set up your WhatsApp Business profile
Your provider will help you with this. This will include your name, description, address, image and website. This will also help you be found on WhatsApp. In a growing. number of countries, there's a WhatsApp directory where businesses can be found by searching.
When creating your business description, it's best to:
- Keep it clear and concise: customers want the most important information at a glance.
- Highlight your core message: stick to your wider company branding here.
- Set expectations: state what consumers can expect in your WhatsApp channel (then deliver exactly that).
- End with a CTA: whether to chat with you or visit your store, use the action that will result in the most sales and engagement.
5. Get onboarded, with integrations
Onboarding by your BSP should be straightforward and take a matter of hours. Your BSP will give you access to its user interface, carry out any technical integrations and train your team.
To unleash the most power from the WhatsApp Business Platform, take the chance to integrate your existing software – including messengers, CRM tools and your online shop. Here are the integrations we offer at charles.
What about WhatsApp API for enterprise?
Enterprises are opening WhatsApp channels at a rapid, and increasing, rate. Businesses like AirFrance, adidas and many others now use WhatsApp for marketing, sales and support and are enjoying great success and increased revenue and brand engagement.
In fact, enterprise is perhaps the sector that needs WhatsApp the most. Consumers often feel disconnected from big brands and enjoy the personal touch WhatsApp brings – with personalized offers, direct responses and quick replies to questions.
How do enterprises get started with WhatsApp?
Enterprises would need to use the WhatsApp Business Platform and not the limited functionality of the WhatsApp Business app.
Typically, WhatsApp BSPs offer bespoke platforms and pricing for enterprises For example, many enterprises use their own in-house software. Your BSP should be able to integrate these, as well as standard software integrations like Klaviyo and Shopify. Speak to your BSP first to see what they offer.
The approval process internally may be a little longer than for smaller businesses, but the end result will be the same – a WhatsApp channel interface that can be used by many people, across the company, seamless software integration and a dedicated Success Manager to offer best practice advice and seasonal campaign ideas.
5 powerful functionalities of the WhatsApp API
Here's an in-depth look at 5 of the most important functionalities of the WhatsApp Business Platform – to give you a deeper understanding of how the WhatsApp Business API can turn a conversation into a major engagement and sales driver for your business:
1. Rich automation at scale
One of the many perks of the WhatsApp Business API is advanced automation options. This enables businesses to set up conversational flows for marketing (competitions, product finders and more) and for sales and service use cases.
The benefits of this are:
- Less work for customer service teams
- Less repetition answering the same questions over and over
- Lower entry barrier to customers who need answers before making a purchasing decision
- More sales due to the ability to answer customers out of hours
How our client, MANIKO, uses automation to save time and boost sales
One brand that's made great use of the WhatsApp Business Platform's automation capabilities through our software is MANIKO.
Who's MANIKO? Maniko is a creator of a highly innovative product that takes on classic nail polish: nail strips that give the appearance of a professional manicure.
The challenge: Since its product uses a different approach than conventional solutions, it often gets the same questions about its product, its application or returns. This takes excessive time for customer agents.
The solution: With support from charles, Maniko established several touch points that guide customers into chat and offer them a personal channel to receive answers to their most pressing questions:
- Website buttons bringing customers into a WhatsApp chat
- QR codes on flyers sent with MANIKO’s products
After scanning the QR code or clicking the website button, people go directly into a WhatsApp chat where they send MANIKO a prewritten message. This then triggers an automated flow that sends out a video explaining the application.
MANIKO then asks if it can send more marketing messages in future, gaining a GDPR-compliant opt-in and growing its subscriber base.
The result: It takes a little work up front – creating videos and conversation flows – but this has decreased Maniko's service effort and opens the door for further conversation with the customer.
Read the full client story: How MANIKO drives its NPS and benefits from 10x higher CTRs on WhatsApp.
2. Your own WhatsApp Business profile
While this might seem like a minor functionality, the ability to create a business profile goes a long way in establishing a rapport with your customers.
Providing information like your address, business description, email address, and website within the WhatsApp ecosystem helps streamline the conversational experience by adding a layer of authenticity and increasing the chance of customers engaging with you.
The sections for opening hours and ways to contact the business inspire trust – an element which is crucial to any purchasing decision.
3. Unlimited users
For growing businesses and enterprise business, 1 user is not enough to manage the many incoming WhatsApp conversations, or set up conversational flows.
The WhatsApp Business Platform allows unlimited users/customer agents from unlimited devices to view and respond to messages.
In addition, while the WhatsApp Business app can only be used from a mobile phone (or limited functionality web app), the WhatsApp Business Platform enables multiple agents to access a common user interface – developed by a WhatsApp BSP or internally by your own developers.
How our client, Woodboom, takes advantage of unlimited users
Who's Woodboom? Woodboom is a premium furniture company that makes high quality furniture sustainably.
The challenge: customers typically ask an average of 7 questions before deciding to purchase. This takes time, especially over email or website channels. It can feel impersonal to potential customers.
The solution: Woodboom now has several agents answering these questions for customers on WhatsApp, through charles WhatsApp software.
The result: Woodboom delivers exceptional customer service, while requiring less effort from the founders. Not only was it able to scale the number of potential customers going into a consultation, it also managed to maintain the high service level without much additional effort, all thanks to unlimited users and easy access to WhatsApp.
A key figure is that sales cycles were reduced from 4 weeks to 4 days on average.
Read the full client story: How WhatsApp became Woodboom’s #1 revenue channel
4. WhatsApp marketing newsletters
One big benefit of the WhatsApp Business Platform is the ability to send Whatsapp marketing message (we call these WhatsApp newsletters). This This is a mes mThese are messages that can be sent from a brand’s Whatsapp Business account to a specific list of customers.
- Exclusive discounts
- Time-limited discounts
- Information about a new product
- A picture or video message
From nurturing your most loyal shoppers, to reaching new ones or simply using a more visual way to communicate with your target audience, WhatsApp newsletters offer a wide range of benefits to marketers.
How our client, HOLY Energy, used WhatsApp marketing to launch products
One example of clever use of marketing using the WhatsApp Business Platform is the energy drink brand HOLY Energy.
The challenge: To drive customer engagement ahead of the launch of a new flavor.
The solution: Announcing the upcoming launch via their social media channels, the brand enticed customers to sign up to receive an early access code via WhatsApp to buy the product before anyone else.
Once customers received the special code via WhatsApp, they were directed to a dedicated landing page to enter their code and access the new product.
The result: A record 10x higher revenue on launch day, doubling the brand’s subscriber base 💪
5. Green tick verification
It goes without saying that having this green tick (what WhatsApp calls a green badge for a "verified business") is good for business. It makes you look more official and trustworthy and makes customers more likely to want to hear from you on WhatsApp.
It's only possible to gain this with the WhatsApp Business Platform. Your BSP will help you get the green tick added to your profile.
Is the WhatsApp Business Platform right for your business?
The WhatsApp Business Platform is not for everyone. We advise companies to start with it only when they're ready.
How do you know if you're ready?
We see the most success with businesses who have:
- Over €1 million turnover
- Over 15k web visitors/month
- Customers who use WhatsApp regularly (Germany and Italy are our core markets)
It's a good idea to get going with the WhatsApp Business Platform now. Why? Because it's what we call a "blue ocean" in Europe right now. Many brands are still working hard with email marketing, while smart businesses have quick, direct conversations with customers on WhatsApp – helping them stand out and cut through the marketing noise (the "red ocean").
How much does the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) cost?
Business using the WhatsApp Business Platform get 1,000 free messages per month. They then pay a cost per conversation to WhatsApp.
Costs from WhatsApp
A "conversation" is a message thread that starts with the first message a business sends to a customer and ends after 24 hours. Conversations are priced depending on who started the conversation. Currently this is "User-initiated" conversations (generally customer support) and "Business-initiated" conversations (generally marketing). Business-initiated messages carry a higher cost.
In our key markets of Germany, the current EUR costs per conversation (March, 2023) are:
- User-initiated conversations: €0.0679
- Business-initiated conversations: €0.1131
In our other key market, Italy, prices are lower:
- User-initiated conversations: €0.0319
- Business-initiated conversations: €0.0532
In the UK, costs are similar to Italy:
- User-initiated conversations: £0.0321
- Business-initiated conversations: £0.0536
Plus costs from your software provider
You will generally pay a small extra cost per conversation to your BSP, plus a monthly subscfription to use the software. This is a good thing as it incentivizes your software provider to grow your subscriber base (and hence your business) so that you message more and more people each month.
Ready to start more conversations? 💬
Access the WhatsApp Business Platform with extra benefits with charles
We're WhatsApp experts who have made it our mission to create the most beautiful, easy-to-use WhatsApp software, combined with the widest integrations and market-leading support.
As an official WhatsApp Business Solution Provider (BSP), we’re here to boost your business and help you provide an engaging experience that turns your customers into long-term fans 🤩
Book your demo with us now and let us show you around our tools.
FAQs about the WhatsApp API (WhatsApp Business Platform)
What is the WhatsApp API (WhatsApp Business Platform)?
The WhatsApp Business Platform (previously API) is a B2B service provided by Meta which allows medium to large businesses to communicate with many people at a time on WhatsApp. Use cases include WhatsApp marketing, selling and support in chat. In contrast to the free WhatsApp Business app, the platform is for larger businesses communicating to many people, through many chat agents. It offers richer functionality, automation, segmentation and much more.
What's the difference between the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) and the WhatsApp Business app?
The difference between the WhatsApp Business Platform and the WhatsApp Business app is that the platform is for medium and large business, and comes with costs, while the app is for small businesses and is free.
Can I use the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) for customer support?
Yes, you can use the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) for customer support. It's one of the key use cases, alongside marketing and sales. With the platform, customers can message businesses with their questions easily and get fast answers all via WhatsApp.
Is the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) available in all countries?
Yes, the WhatsApp Business Platform is available in all countries. The choice of whether to use it in each country depends on its usage among consumers. Right now, ripe markets include Germany, Italy, the UK, Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland, Finland and India. See WhatsApp usage by country (2022).
How much does the WhatsApp Business Platform (API) cost?
The first 1,000 conversations per month are free. After that there's a cost per conversation within 24 hours of a business sending a message to a customer. Currently (March, 2023), costs per conversation in Germany are: User-initiated conversations: €0.0679 & Business-initiated conversations: €0.1131