How Whatsapp should onboard B2C

Thoughts and Suggestions based on my learnings having worked on Fastr


In 2012, while visiting India — I witnessed first-hand the initial explosion of Whatsapp. They had truly achieved scale across various demographics of urban India.

While in India, I was struggling to get a mobile connection for my short trip. After multiple visits and hours spent at the store, I had reached a point of frustration. Customer Support in formal organizations worked much like Government, because of Government. It followed the procedures enacted in the The Government of India act of 1935.

At that time, I was based in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands, Customer Support/Service was probably more organized but unfair. You would typically pay €0.10–0.50/min to talk to a customer support representative with a 5% chance of getting resolved.

‘To solve of own (infrequent) problem’, I figured that there has to be a better way. So I decided to work Fastr to enable businesses to connect with their customers. Initially, I targeted larger businesses that enabled me to solve the problems I was facing and frankly did not want to pay to chat with customer support.

I was unsuccessful at making it happen (plan above). I stopped working on it a few months after the Facebook acquisition of Whatsapp. I imagined they would move into the B2C space much earlier. They recently announced that Whatsapp would let businesses on it’s platform before the end of the year.

So, I thought I’ll share some of the learnings and things I wish I would have done differently.

1/ Go beyond the Phone number

Whatsapp is strongly linked to your phone number, more than any other profile attribute. In most cases, businesses also have phone numbers linked to their customer profiles internally. However, businesses also have a myriad of different naming systems in their ERP that is needed to connect and make the customer interaction fluid.

Whatsapp may benefit by broadening the attributes of their profile, on a granular business level. This would mean once a customer starts chatting with a particular business, they provide tools for the business to ask automatically get answers to questions on the customer profile. Once, they have made it easier and captured that data, customer problems can be resolved without a call needed.

2/ Helping businesses serve the consumer. Not sell or up-sell more

For Businesses, will instantly get onto the Whatsapp platform. Imagine telling a business, ‘Hey, we have a billion users, and you can sign up here” easy decision. A new marketing platform. Whatsapp Strategy. More spam. Diluting the Whatsapp experience.

A better approach would be to onboard a business **only** for customer service. Wherein a user can easily disable notifications from a business, once their questions are ironed out. This leads to less spam and overall higher satisfaction.

3/ Customer Service is not a priority for old businesses; focus on the new ones

Customer Service is mostly a taboo in legacy businesses. They do it just because everyone is doing it. Much like why they do career planning. In both cases, the outcome is not as important as the input.

New or forward thinking businesses are always looking at intimate ways to elevate the connection with the customer. Focus on them and have a methodology of getting the ‘service-less’ businesses of the platform. If you set the rules, people will follow and everyone is happy.

4/ Don’t replace the IVR, obliterate it

Most customer service apps and methodology is based on the IVR. Businesses want to see how they can get the question in certain format to enable it to direct it to the ‘right’ person in the organization.

IVR’s serve a great purpose from a business’s point of view. From a customer perspective it adds complexity. It would better to design an in-chat systems that gives you the feel of chatting but actually represents an IVR.

5/ User expectations are always unsatisfied

Users/Customers have different expectations. This inevitably leads to some being elated and others traumatized. Users always want a situation resolved in their favor and this makes customer service hard.

This is the reality though with the advantage of a billion+ people. Designing your product for the majority of people becomes a tad bit easier.

6/ Businesses are not always accountable

Businesses typically like to show that their customer service is doing well. But, in essence their priority is more towards sales. This makes sense intuitively but makes it harder to grow up

I think having a rating system that forces accountability from the business will ultimately win. This is one reason why Twitter customer support is mostly resolved in favor of the customer. You don’t want public ranting about your brand.

That’s it for now.

These are some of the quick lessons that come to mind. There are many more nuanced aspects of psychology and business strategy that need to be kept in mind while developing a better B2C experience.

Finally, this is my unqualified opinion. I’m sure the smarter people at Whatsapp have a different vision and understanding designing a more universal and high-quality product.