WhatsApp today announced plans to launch an app that lets small businesses chat with customers. A software solution will also be made available that gives large companies, like banks and airlines, tools to manage conversations with customers and do things like share flight times, delivery notifications, and other updates. The news comes a week after information about verified business accounts began to appear on the WhatsApp site.
Verified accounts will have a green badge next to them, while messages received from businesses will be in yellow.
“WhatsApp has simplified communication for people around the world,” WhatsApp COO Matt Idema told VentureBeat in a statement. “Now, we want to apply this same approach to bringing businesses onto WhatsApp in ways that create value for people. We’re looking forward to making it possible for people to connect with businesses in a fast and personal way, and giving businesses the tools to make that easier to do.”
Interact with a business in many parts of the world and it’s clear that quite a few companies already use WhatsApp for communication. Now, new tools are being created to address questions of authenticity and verification.
“We’ve heard stories of shopkeepers who use WhatsApp to stay in touch with hundreds of customers from a single smartphone, and from people who are unsure about whether or not a business on WhatsApp is authentic,” the company said in a blog post. “In the coming months, we’ll be testing new features that aim to solve some of these challenges and make it easier for people to communicate with the businesses they want to reach on WhatsApp. Our approach is simple — we want to apply what we’ve learned helping people connect with each other to helping people connect with businesses that are important to them.”
With 1.3 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp is unquestionably one of the biggest chat apps on the planet, but moves toward monetization have been slow. Created in 2009, WhatsApp faces competition in the business-customer chat space from Twitter, Skype, and Business Chat for Apple’s iMessage.
Companies in Brazil, India, and parts of Europe are currently testing the tool, Idema told the Wall Street Journal. Some companies will be charged for use of the service, Idema said, though he declined to provide details.
Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg got a lot of questions about the company’s monetization strategy for its messaging apps. Both said that it’s still early days when it comes to monetization of these apps but stressed that they are part of the company’s long-term plans for engaging users.
Facebook Messenger has taken significant steps toward generating revenue, however. On stage at MobileBeat in July, Messenger head of product Stan Chudnovsky announced that the app was opening its advertising beta to customers worldwide.