WhatsApp as a communication channel for printing companies – is this a service with a future?

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“Tell me, do you also print …?”  Is this what a customer enquiry sent via WhatsApp might look like in the future? Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you! Reaching out to customers quickly and efficiently by sending WhatsApp messages – sounds crazy, but it works! At any rate it makes sense at this juncture to question whether print companies can derive any benefits from going down this route.

In January 2016 the instant messaging service, WhatsApp, reached the 1 billion users worldwide milestone, according to CEO Jan Koum. According to a survey by Onavo Insights, WhatsApp is installed on 91% of all smartphones used in Germany. According to information provided by Facebook (quarterly stock market report for March 2016), it currently boasts 1.65 billion users, of which 900 million use Facebook Messenger, while only 400 million users communicate via Instagram.

Source: allfacebook.de // Facebook Quarterly Stock Market Report March 16
Source: allfacebook.de // Facebook Quarterly Stock Market Report March 16

At first I myself refused to work with WhatsApp, but now I use this app service as a communication channel just like Facebook et al, and not only internally but also externally for the purposes of reaching agreements with service providers and clients. In this respect the new feature, where messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents and calls are prevented from falling into the wrong hands when they are encrypted end-to-end and which has been available in the latest version of WhatsApp since the start of April, played a key role.

During the course of my research into B2C providers that already use WhatsApp to communicate with customers, I came across an interesting customer service method. The shoe insole manufacturer “MyOnso” pledges to help customers identify their specific foot type using a WhatsApp template! And providers like ARD, SKY, FOCUS, FAZ and the Stuttgarter Zeitung are already leading the way by successfully exploiting this new communication channel. Why shouldn’t print providers jump on this bandwagon?

Source: Screenshot myonso.de
Source: Screenshot myonso.de

Product enquiries, layout assistance, status enquiries, complaints service, promotions and competitions could be interesting B2C applications for the print industry’s customer services. However getting in contact with customers via the Support Chat function is not exactly new. Many major providers, like for example, Amazon, Samsung or 1&1, already enable customers to contact them via the Chat function, which covers a portion of their customer support services.

However you can dispense both in theory and practice with the first step of opening the browser or app and searching for that urgently required sub-item– open Messenger, “open” new message – customer enquiry is delivered in an instant. It doesn’t always have to be complicated and a simple service always appeals to the customer – of course so long as the feedback is provided promptly ;). That’s all very well, I hear the first doubters say, but is it worth it…?. I believe so, because online print providers have a hotline or telephone service anyway, so they can also use WhatsApp for PCs – or can they?

zipperkopf BerdZipper_ImAugeHabenSmile

“Going mobile with your webstore is just the first step – but providing customers with a personal, direct-to-smartphone service is breaking new ground in terms of customer communication!” – Bernd Zipper

What could this look like in practice in the print industry?

Perhaps it’s worth highlighting the opportunities here by quoting a brief example. Customer Smith needs new business cards on Tuesday for an exhibition at the end of the week. Actually the potential customer first of all needs to wade through the “offerings swamp” via their browser – our Mr. Smith often has no time and no real appetite to do this. There is also a simpler way – the online print provider is easy to contact via a WhatsApp message. “Hello, I urgently need new business cards – how fast can you deliver? Print experts can react professionally to this kind of message at short notice: “if you supply your data by XY o’clock and order a quantity of between 250 and 1000, we can have your XY-paper business cards delivered by early Thursday morning to an address of your choice at a cost starting at € 15.95 (incl. sales tax and shipping).” That sounds great, doesn’t it? And what does the whole thing look like from a provider’s perspective?  Hello Mr. Smith – your order no. XY is already in production. According to your order details you require numbering – where do you wish it to be placed?”

The sky is practically the limit in terms of possible applications. Yes, *practically* is the operative word, because data privacy is also an issue here that needs to be borne in mind, if customers’ cellphone numbers are used. Giving the customer the option of a taking out subscription would, for example, be one way round the problem.

Furthermore WhatsApp rules continue to exclude commercial use and users should abide by this rule. En-masse advertising should be avoided and the focus should be on relevant messages, so as not to annoy customers. Providers include Whappodo.com and WhatsBroadcast.com, for example.   But it’s debatable whether customers are willing to disclose their private cellphone numbers to service providers; some people are still content to use that familiar communication channel, the e-mail. Then the customer still has a choice.

My take: But one thing is certain – more than 50% of customers that buy online obtain information about products, prices and offers using their smartphones. By the same token that means that we can reach these customers faster by smartphone. Online providers that want to be close to the market need to be able to cater to specific and differing customer requirements and react promptly. WhatsApp provides this opportunity of responding to customers promptly, quickly and directly. I firmly believe that messaging is definitely a customer service with a future. But it remains to be seen who the first provider from the online print industry will be that takes the plunge.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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