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Is WhatsApp Bad for SMEs in Nigeria?

If you are in the service-based business or if your business requires a lot of customer support, WhatsApp can actually have a negative effect on your organisation. If you sell non-custom, highly-repeatable products/services, the effects are not so drastic.
March 12, 2018

I must preface this post by saying, yes, there are conspicuous advantages to using WhatsApp for your business (e.g. easier reach, faster confirmation times and so on), if you’re unsure of the positives, check out the guide at the end of this post.

However, I think it’s important to touch on the other side- the not so great side- of using WhatsApp as a tool for engaging with your customers. At least until WhatsApp fully rolls out its business app.

“When you have to use your energy to put those words down, you are more apt to make them count”
Raymond Chandler

A few things before we begin:

* I’m more familiar with the SME landscape than anything else. But if I was to take a bet, I doubt there are any large organisations using WhatsApp for customer engagement.

* If you are in the service-based business or if your business requires a lot of customer support, WhatsApp can actually have a negative effect on your organisation. If you sell non-custom, highly-repeatable products/services, the effects are not so drastic. Non-customised products means customers do not have a say in the final outcome. They buy finished goods e.g. buying a book.

* It is important to note these differences as it determines when to use the app for your business and so on. At least until the Business app becomes fully active

That being said, here are a few points on why you should do a double take on using WhatsApp as a business tool:


If you find yourself repeating a message especially to different people at different times, it is better to write it down and refer people to a place they can access the information at anytime.

This is a general rule in life but it is also why websites have FAQs, pricing and so on.

On WhatsApp, there is no such thing as FAQs. There’s no way around it. You have to repeat yourself. Over and over again.


Busyness vs Productivity

WhatsApp can kill your productivity. If you spend most of your day speaking to customers (or copying and pasting as mentioned above), the time required to do your actual work reduces considerably.

This is crucial, as deadlines would slip, you would get less sleep and/or you would do a poor job. All of which can negatively affect your business.

Profits Draining.

Team work

If you’re on a small team, say 2 to 10 people, using WhatsApp as a customer support channel is almost pointless. The time it takes to reply the customer, relay the information to your colleagues and then relay the info back to the customer will sap your happiness.

If you are on a small team, you should have a shared email inbox. Or a shared location where anyone in the organisation can see the messages and respond to a customer.

WhatsApp was not built for teams, so responses will be done in silos and this defeats team work.


Work-Life balance

At some point, the line between using your WhatsApp as a social app to using it as a business app gets blurred. The more customers you get, the harder it becomes to keep track and know what kind of relationship you have with each contact.

One solution I have seen from some small business owners is to use two phones. One phone for using WhatsApp as their business line and a personal one. This is at best a band-aid solution. A step up is to use a dual sim card phone, but it still doesn’t fix the core issues as pointed out above.

When you have to add more layers of workarounds for a problem, it signals there is an underlying issue you are ignoring.

In addition, if the lines get blurred on your end, it certainly almost vanishes on your customers’ end. Customers become lazy, articulation dwindles, mistakes increase and it becomes harder to understand what is required. This is no fault of the customer but of the environment. If your customer is used to communicating in a certain way via WhatsApp, their behaviour would hardly change in relation to business endeavours.


The tool itself

I’ve told all my friends, the worst feature on WhatsApp is the ‘online’ feature. I also talked a bit about it here. I believe the only person who should see when you’re online is the person you’re conversing with at the time. This reduces the pressure of responding to all your customers at once because they have seen you ‘online’.

If you do not have two phones, expect to receive a message or call from anyone at anytime. Literally. There is no such thing as an ‘out of working hours’ message.

Also expect a lot of voice notes which you would probably have to transcribe. I’m not a big fan of voice notes but I advocate for them as they are often better than phone calls since it has playback. But nothing beats text- with regards to instructional messages.

There is a lot more to add to this but I shall stop here.

Poor Ratings.

So what can you do?

Every single person I know using WhatsApp to engage with customers has encountered at least one of these problems and identify them as huge points of pain.

The best thing for a growing small business is to consider getting a website (if you do not have one) as it solves a lot of problems. For example, if you put FAQs on your website or information about returns, then all you have to do is copy and paste the link, should your customers stillinsist on using WhatsApp.

You should also consider using emails more. Granted, it is easier for people to reach you via WhatsApp but you’ll be surprised the benefits email has.

Consider using forms rather than ad-hoc questions. I talk a little bit about it here. When you construct questions about pertinent information you need, it creates a kind of focus that allows your customers to concisely tell you their request.

With all that’s been written, the bigger question is how do you guide your customers off WhatsApp to a new system like email? I have no direct answers as I do not believe it’s a one size fits all solution. But it is worth considering.

Here is a framework I use. I’ve always said:

“Contrary to popular belief, people do like change (as long as the change is beneficial for parties involved) but they do not like change that affects their routine.”

If the change breaks a routine, it is harder to convince people to shift, if it does not a break a routine you can easily guide them to the new system.

In all, I would say this, I’m a big fan of going to where your customers are but one should be careful of ‘encouraging unwanted behaviour’ especially if it is negatively affecting your business.

Plug: If you are considering getting a website for your business, you can reach out to Eclectic Source here.

Here is the link for the positives of WhatsApp as promised.

Thanks for reading.