Is it possible to sell on WhatsApp?

Eric Marcos, Co-founder and CTO of Hubtype, delves into the sales potential within WhatsApp in his conversation with Joan Boluda on the Sage Advice Podcast, “Business Management as the Key to Success”.

This post was updated on November 7, 2023, to reflect new information.

Key Highlights from the Podcast:

  • WhatsApp’s Evolution: Initially a tool for personal communication, WhatsApp has now incorporated bots, business API, and Flows, enabling direct sales and customer service within the app.
  • Hubtype’s Role: Hubtype helps you by facilitating these improved interactions and provides you with the right tools to service customers efficiently, directly through WhatsApp and other instant messaging platforms.
  • Advanced User Experience: Beyond simple text chats, your business can get graphical interfaces for complex interactions, such as choosing airline seats, all within WhatsApp.
Hubtype integretasn and build on top of Whastapp

Functionality and Integration:

  • Sales Transactions: While payment processing is not yet available globally within WhatsApp, from Hubtype we can help you bridge this gap with smart links to web-based carts and checkouts.
  • Catalog Management: Hubtype seamlessly integrates with platforms like Shopify, automating the synchronization of product catalogs within WhatsApp.
  • CRM Integration: you can integrate everything with Hubtype's technology supports ticketing and CRM integration, ensuring a smooth transition between AI-powered interactions and human service when necessary.
Visual representation of how much better is making a return on an ecommerce conversational app versus a simple text chatbot with Hubtype rich UX design and innovative technology

The Future of WhatsApp as a Sales Channel:

In Eric Marcos' opinion, WhatsApp is set to become a "super-application" like WeChat in China, offering a comprehensive platform for customer interactions, from sales to support. UPDATE: WhatsApp Flow now reflects this vision, read about it here.

Listen to the Full Podcast (This podcast was originally recorded in Spanish)

Discover more about the transformative potential of WhatsApp for businesses by listening to the full conversation between Joan Boluda and Eric Marcos. Listen to the episode in Spanish or read the English transcription below:

Joan Boluda: Is it possible to sell through Whatsapp? Isn’t Whatsapp for sending photos of cute kittens and the family paella, or creating a group for parents at school?.

Yes, initially this was the idea of whatsapp, a messaging application for staying in touch with friends, but that was before bots were created to provide automatic responses. Then, the Whatsapp business API (Application Programming Interface) arrived, which means that now we can do super cool things through an interface within whatsapp itself. It can show us product catalogs, answer frequently asked questions from clients or potential clients, and it may even allow us to buy and sell directly through Whatsapp. To tell us all about it, we are here with Eric Marcos, Co-Founder and CTO of Hubtype. Hi, Eric!

Eric Marcos: Morning Juan, it’s a pleasure to be here!

Joan Boluda: How are you doing? How is everything going with the bots? And the artificial intelligence which seems to be the protagonist or the narrative nowadays! 

Eric Marcos: Yes, that seems to be the case at the moment! The truth is that we have been in this sector for many years, but in recent months, the industry has been revolutionized

Joan Boluda: Yes! Now first things first, tell us about Hubtype!

Eric Marcos: Hubtype was founded by Marc Caballe and I, seven years ago in 2016. We had an experience because when we were with some colleagues having a Calçotada, which is a Catalan tradition, and on the way there our car broke down and we were left stuck in the middle of the road. So we had to call a tow truck and it was a bit complicated because we were in the middle of nowhere and we didn't know how to tell the person who had to pick us up, where we were.

In the end the person who came with the tow truck had a personal WhatsApp number, so we sent him the location and he was able to find us and come pick us up. But that’s when we had the ‘eureka’ moment of “Wow, why isn’t this experience possible with all companies?”, and that’s where the idea arose to create a tool that helps companies have a presence on WhatsApp, and create these types of experiences.

Joan Boluda: So what exactly does Hubtype allow us to do? 

When a client has chosen WhatsApp to communicate with you as a company, they end up wanting to use this channel for everything.

Eric Marcos: Hubtype’s mission is to improve the relationship between a company and its customers through instant messaging. We're talking about WhatsApp but it can also be through Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or a chat on your own website. Improving the experience means giving the customer what they need and answering their questions instantly. Whether that’s through automation with a chatbot, or with a human agent, Hubtype orchestrates the entire structure to make this experience possible.

The most obvious and common use case for a company is customer service. However, what happens with these channels, especially WhatsApp, is that when a client has chosen WhatsApp to communicate with you as a company, they end up wanting to use this channel for everything. Not just for customer service, but for buying, selling, or really any process. So it is important that companies pay attention to this channel, which is so popular, and for good reason; Whatsapp really forces you to provide customer centric communication. But if you want to offer solutions from sales to customer service, you need to have the right tools to make this possible. That’s where Hubtype comes in.

Joan Boluda: Let's not kid ourselves Eric, the experience seems very comfortable. Just take out your phone and write a message via WhatsApp, and you can book an appointment! Now, for anyone listening to this thinking ‘Well, sounds easy enough. I have my company, and a mobile phone with Whatsapp. So when someone asks me for something, I can just answer and I don't have a need for Hubtype, right?’ 

Well, Hubtype was awarded for ‘Best Startup’ at the international chatbot summit for a reason, so tell us Eric, what do Hubtype add in terms of user experience to make this process much simpler? How do you go beyond a Chatbot which not only provides automatic responses, but one which can place orders, or even enable purchasing through whatsapp?

Eric Marcos: Yes, of course. When you want to scale these customer conversations and experiences and be able to serve thousands of users at the same time, then on one hand you need to try to automate as much as possible, and this is where AI comes in. However, on the other hand the issue is that AI does not cover everything because it has certain limitations, right? So what we have seen in certain cases, for example there is a very large airline we are working with to automate things like adding a suitcase to your booking, checking your flight status, or changing your seat on the plane.

When you try to do these types of interactions purely through text via WhatsApp chat it is too complex. For example, let’s say you want to change your seat so you try to do it via WhatsApp and it asks you ‘What seat do you want?’ You don’t know how many seat numbers there are to choose from, how much each one will cost, where it is located on the plane, is it an aisle seat, a window seat or in the middle… It would be very difficult for the customer to know if it will work for them or not. 

So what Hubtype does in these occasions, is generate small interfaces inside of the Whatsapp chat whatsapp which enable these types of actions such as choosing a seat, or a time and date on a calendar, or logging in to your platform. These things require graphical interfaces, but allow users to remain within the WhatsApp platform.

Visual representation of selecting seats when buying a ticket through a conversational app like Whatsapp and Hubtype

Joan Boluda: Yes, sounds like a very comfortable user experience. You can have the best of both worlds, the best of WhatsApp, which is immediacy, and the best of apps or websites which are graphical interactive experiences. Because it has happened to me on numerous occasions, when I’ve gone to place an order at a nearby restaurant so I contact them via Whatsapp and they send back a list of the entire menu, or a pdf and you have to keep zooming in and out, it’s always a hassle. Whereas with Whatsapp catalogs, within a few clicks of a button and a matter of seconds. And this is Whatsapp we’re talking about, it’s not that you have to download another company app, within the Whatsapp channel itself you can start a basket, add products, and finally even pay.

Eric Marcos: Today, Whatsapp allows payment within certain countries such as India, Mexico and in Brazil too soon. It is not possible yet in Europe and the United States, but it will be.

Joan Boluda: And in the meantime, what alternatives do we currently have?

An e-commerce store for example, can offer users a shopping experience within Whatsapp

Eric Marcos: Well, what we can do is use the WhatsApp catalogs which allow businesses to display their products to customers within the platform. An e-commerce store for example, can offer users a shopping experience within Whatsapp. They can browse your products, add them to their basket, and place the order with your company. What’s not possible at this time is the last part, which is the payment. So what we do in this case is use an intelligent diagnosis link directly to the purchase on the web, with the cart already updated with all their chosen products, so they just have to complete the payment and that's it. Then the experience can continue on WhatsApp, where they will receive the order confirmation and can view the status of their order.

The evolution we are seeing in the messaging market is like Wechat in China. In China nowadays, they do everything through Wechat. Whether it’s buying theater tickets, ordering food, anything. It has become a super-application and all the companies have micro-applications within Wechat, and that is the direction Whatsapp is going in by incorporating catalogs, payments etc. They really want to become the Wechat of the western world

Joan Boluda: It makes sense because it gives companies the ability to sell without the necessity of having a website in a sense, just the payment link!

Eric Marcos: Yes, and that is why in many countries they’ve skipped websites and are going directly through whatsapp. Because businesses have been born directly on mobile there. If you go to certain countries, Indonesia for example, everything already goes directly through Whatsapp.

Joan Boluda: This is a mobile-first but totally, right?

Eric Marcos: Totally.

Joan Boluda: Now, imagine someone has an ecommerce store, or Shopify store for example, what possibilities do we have at the level of stock synchronization? How can we ensure the catalog is up to date, is there integration for this, or do we have to adjust the stocks each time? How would it work with someone who already has a plugin or app, or another type of ecommerce platform?

Eric Marcos: Well, this is done by meta/Facebook automatically. You can connect your catalog from a simple excel sheet, to connectors with Shopify, or any of the most popular ecommerce platforms. Therefore the management and synchronization of these catalogs is automated, you don't have to worry about anything

Joan Boluda: That’s ideal! Because if not, imagine a store with two hundred products having to  register all the products with their photos and specifications, each time! So, in which cases do you think it is especially advisable to use these types of bots?

Eric Marcos: Well, that depends a lot on your audience.

Joan Boluda: True! More than the product, maybe it's the audience, right?

Eric Marcos: Of course, it all starts with the type of client. That's how you know whether it makes more sense to have a presence on the web, WhatsApp, both, or another channel entirely. If you have a younger clientele for example, then they will be used to using chatbots and these types of messaging automation. So, in those cases I would say go for it. Obviously it is still a very new thing, which is why we recommend starting little by little. You don’t need to reach 100% of the process from minute one, but it’s something that companies should start looking at now, even if it’s purchasing concepts.

Joan Boluda: And how much flexibility does a client have, in the sense of limitations? Are they limited by what Whatsapp tells you that can be done or not, and to what extent?

There are no limitations, you can add whatever you want.

Eric Marcos: Yes, it is true that Whatsapp is one of the most limited applications, so it only allows you to add buttons, a catalog and not much else. But what we do at Hubtype is extend these functionalities to eliminate those limitations, so that you can add much more advanced interfaces, interactive, visual catalogs, and richer experiences. That is Hubtype’s extra value; there are no limitations, you can add whatever you want.

Joan Boluda: So imagine you had a client that’s a theatre for example, and they have to create seating map, we’ve seen this on a thousand occasions as a customer, navigating through a website having to zoom in to see all the tiny numbers, not knowing which colour corresponds to what… Well, the experience is usually horrible. So in cases like this you could automate an interactive seating map within Whatsapp, right?

Eric Marcos: Yes, like what we talked about before with the airline seat map, it's almost the same and definitely possible. Whilst Whatsapp does not allow for it natively, with Hubtype's technology we can mount this type of interface on top of Whatsapp.

Joan Boluda: So of course we also have integration. Imagine that someone has a CRM that works with Salesforce, this is another example of when a potential client might say ‘We already have our software and systems in place, I don’t want to just stop using them now.’ So, in this case, what kind of CRM or ticketing integrations do we have to ensure that any conversation with a client will remain in our existing CRM or support system such as Zendesk, for example?

When a conversation has to escalate to a human agent, it can be done within the Hubtype platform

Eric Marcos: Well, Hubtype has a tool for this ticketing. So when a conversation has to escalate to a human agent, it can be done within the Hubtype platform and can be attended to from there. Yes, it’s true that many large companies already have Salesforce or Zendesk or Genesis, for example, and we already have all of those easily integrated into our platform. The great advantage you have with Hubtype, is that it's very flexible, you can integrate with any type of system without any difficulty.

Joan Boluda: That’s ideal. It reminds me a bit of what we’ve started to see with Chat GPT and the plugins that they’re going to launch. Because they’re opening their plugin repository and this will turn them into a sort of super-application in a way, like what you mentioned is happening in China with Wechat. Of course, it is very convenient from the customer's point of view to just open Whatsapp in order to book and buys things. I’ve also seen the visual examples on your website of how it works, where we can directly select your seats within Whatsapp, or have an automatic help line which, if necessary, it can be escalated to a human agent. For the user this is a lot more comfortable, and at a company level there must be a significant peak in productivity because your agents no longer have to spend their time answering frequently asked questions.

Eric Marcos: Yes, well the revolution of Chat GPT, Open AI and, well, all of these language models is spectacular. I think conversational AI technology has made a ten-year leap compressed into less than a year, and the results we are seeing from it are impressive.

Joan Boluda: Yes, definitely. If Whatsapp experiences can be made easier and more comfortable for customers, of course it will become a super-app. In fact, if we take a look at Amazon, it is a super-store. Why do we go there? Because it’s easy, comfortable and everything is in one place. In the case of Hubtype, this is possible in the sense that customers just need to open Whatsapp to buy what they want, they don’t have to open a website, or anything. Without a doubt, messaging format, or even voice format in the near future, is where the users will be choosing to go, for pure comfort.

Eric Marcos: Yes!

Joan Boluda: Well Eric, it’s been a pleasure. Really, I love what you do. I think it is something that every company should consider, because being able to do business through Whatsapp makes life much easier for both the company and the end customer. Eric, thank you for your time. Speak soon!

Eric Marcos: Many thanks Joan!

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