Next time you book flight tickets online, you may get the confirmation message on WhatsApp. And if that flight is delayed, the airline could send you a WhatsApp message with the new timing.WhatsApp is launching its first revenue-generating product in India for enterprises to interact directly with customers using the instant messaging platform.WhatsApp for Business APIs (application programming interface) will debut with MakeMyTrip, India’s largest online travel agent,customer service software provider Zendesk and Gurugram-based pharma delivery startup 1mg, which uses Zendesk in India.“Last year we saw that a lot of small businesses were using the app for communicating with their customers. We realised that it was a useful tool for businesses in India and created value for the consumers as well,” said Matthew Idema, chief operating officer at WhatsApp, told ET.WhatsApp had started piloting the business offering since September last year with companies like Bookmyshow. It was officially launched in January and this is their first attempt at monetising the offering. Companies such as online retailers will be able to integrate WhatsApp for Business APIs with their systems and reach out to customers through notifications and deal with their queries. While installation of the product is free, enterprises will be billed for every message that is delivered.“Now we are going ahead with the next step of our strategy and launching WhatsApp Business APIs mainly for businesses that need more scale than a typical smartphone could provide to interact with their customers,” Idema said.With this new tool, large enterprises will be able to send notifications like airline tickets, travel details and information on products that customers have bought online. At the same time, customers will be able to directly interact with the company for their doubts, grievances and other requirements.The service is currently being piloted with Indian companies such as Bookmyshow, Kotak Mahindra and RedBus.Also from 2019, WhatsApp will use the Status feature – where text, photos, videos and animated GIFs can be shared for 24 hours – to let companies advertise and promote their businesses. They will appear between slides and will clearly be marked as coming from a business. The company said the plan is to start rolling out the product in 2019 and eventually be scaled up globally.The advantage of WhatsApp over SMS is that message delivery can be confirmed. By charging companies only for messages delivered, the cost for Indian startups will reduce.“SMS services cost enterprises around 10 paise for each message on an average and even if there are 1 crore transactions happening daily on a platform, the cost for the whole year is really huge, WhatsApp will be able to bring down costs drastically and bring in an added layer of comfort while interacting with the customer,” said Sampad Swain, chief executive officer of Instamojo, a digital payments platform for small merchants selling their products online.WhatsApp’s monetisation plans come in the midst of controversies in India over the rapid proliferation of fake news on the platform. The company said it plans to scale up the paid product so that it can ensure that the offering is used only for its right purpose.To maintain a standard of interaction and user experience, WhatsApp has devised an innovative method through which it will check and approve enterprise message templates, which will be developed by the merchants.The company has also developed a way by which companies will have to respond to customers within 24 hours of a message being delivered or else the next message will be charged extra. This is aimed at ensuring that companies are prompt in responding.While online enterprises are expected to be the main users of WhatsApp for Business APIs, there is scope for the platform in banking.“There are multiple use cases that are possible on WhatsApp but we are also looking at customer adoption of this channel for banking,” said Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer at Kotak Mahindra Bank, which is piloting banking services on WhatsApp. “In case of Twitter, we had seen rapid early adoption but the momentum did not continue. This time we will wait to see how it picks up among customers.”WhatsApp is looking for someone to assume the leadership role in India and build its India office. It is working closely with the Indian government to adhere to the data localisation norms and will be looking at integrating its payments product on the platform.With 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and more than 200 million users in India alone, India is the largest market for the Facebook-owned company.Founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 and have since left, were opposed to monetising through advertisements.
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