A nasty spider bit my friend Josh! Here in Bali, Indonesia, it happens more often than you’d think. Paradise has its price. But don’t worry! Josh sent a photo of the bite to his doctor over WhatsApp. Moments later, he learned the name of the right medicine. Another 30 minutes passed before the GoJek driver texted that he had left the creme at the doorstep: Josh 1, spider 0.
WhatsApp makes life easy in paradise. Want to rent a scooter? Just text and they’ll deliver. Enjoy Nasi Goreng? Reserve a table at your favorite restaurant by chat. Book a spot at yoga? Write. Extend your room? You get the point… Everything is done on chat. WhatsApp is the operating system of small business.
Messages with benefits
Imagine all the benefits of texting versus calling. Chat is so simple and fast. When was the last time you tried to change your rental car reservation over the phone, and how much did you enjoy the experience? Here, it literally takes five seconds (eight if you’re currently sitting on the vehicle).
Also, texting is asynchronous. You don’t disturb the scooter guy, and he doesn’t disturb you. How polite! On top, you’re not restricted to opening hours. Text in the middle of the night after three Bintang beers and expect the answer by morning.
Asynchronous communication unlocks the biggest organizational benefit of “going text”: handling peak load times. When three people call the dentist’s office with one receptionist simultaneously, two will have a bad experience (plus the receptionist, ringringring). In chat, the same person can easily handle ten parallel customers and keep the response time short.
On top of that, the information density in instant messaging is so much higher. For example, you can use the world's most widely understood language. It’s called Emoji! Over the phone, the front-desk clerk might not speak Oxford English, but if you text them “🚽💩🧻😫?” he will get what you need in your hotel room (that’s especially useful during Corona-times!). 💯🙅💪!
The more commonly used media types are videos, photos, and voice messages. Last year, our Indonesian caterer sent over photos of different table layouts. Imagine him trying to explain those over the phone! (I chose the third photo, a long table with palm leaves decoration in case you were wondering)
Life can be simple. You might think: “Those unlucky third world country people in Indonesia can’t speak proper English, and this is why the poor guys rely on WhatsApp, how sad!”. The opposite is true. Business communication is so much easier, faster, and more convenient than in Europe or the US. ‘Going text’ is not a bug. It’s a feature. After living here for a while, having to call the dentist for an appointment feels wrong.
“‘Going text’ is not a bug. It’s a feature.”
A whole generation on mute
To me, hell is a place where I’m forced to haggle with outsourced airline call-center agents over a spotty connection for 24/7. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Millennials hate phone calls and appreciate convenience. Humans who have grown up on 140 characters and disappearing images simply don’t see a point in talking if unnecessary. There’s a term for that: “Generation Mute.” A US study found that 88% of Millennials prefer text over the phone. Another one in Spain estimated the number to be even higher at a whopping 96.8%. Ask any 13-year-old if they enjoy talking on the phone (but please text the question). The big shift to chat has already happened in private communication and will spill over into business over time.
“Millennials hate phone calls and appreciate convenience. 88% of them prefer text.”
That means that every business from flower shop to airline will be expected to answer to text. Soon, some unlucky car dealer will (h̶e̶a̶r̶) read, “Sorry man, I bought my BMW 7 Series at the other place because you didn’t text me back! Lol.” #FML.
Big tech is already there
The big tech companies are already all-in on business messaging. Did you know that you can send money on WhatsApp in India and Brazil?
If you’ve ever wondered how Facebook will make money off WhatsApp, here’s the answer: Businesses will be charged for functionalities like e-commerce (already happening) and payments (soon worldwide). The planet's most popular instant messenger with 2 billion users is paving the way for transactional messages.
But that’s not all. Facebook just spent 1 billion USD to acquire Kustomer, the ‘omnichannel CRM platform’ for text-based customer service. When you use Instagram-chat to complain to Sweetgreen that your 20$ superfood avocado salad isn’t gluten-free enough, you’ll experience the product in action. (Don’t forget the hashtag #mybodyismyavocado for 20% off on your next text-based order.)
Of course, the texting party wouldn’t be complete without Google. They are pushing hard in the chat-first direction. With its “Business Messages” product, you’ll be able to slide into your favorite pizzeria’s DMs right from the search page and Google Maps. (One Pepperoni, with extra mushrooms and double cheese, please. 🍕😋)
The answer to every question that the search engine can’t answer directly will be just one short message away. To stay relevant, answering those messages will be key for every business.
Software eats the telephone
Even though this new chatty world looks shiny and nice for consumers, challenges emerge for business owners. For example, today, most communication tools like WhatsApp or Google Business Messages are still “single-player.” It’s not easy to share accounts and have teams collaborate. Also, there are more communication channels than digital nomads in Bali. Chat is all over the place—WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Telegram, Signal,iMessage, Google, SMS, you name it. When you think you’ve covered them all, some Gen Z kid will start nagging your business on TikTok. (Ok, boomer. Be prepared for that.)
On the software side, the landscape screams for middleware. You’ll need one inbox to rule them all—a tool through which multiple people can text over multiples channels. Just like every business has a phone system today, all of them will have an ‘inbox system’ in a few years.
Superchat, a company I co-founded, provides such a system for small and medium-sized businesses in Europe. In the United States, Birdeye, Podium, and Weave offer similar tools. Other options for the mid-market and enterprise segment include Messagebird, Front, or Kustomer (now Facebook, remember?).
“Just like every business has a phone system today, all of them will have an ‘inbox system’ in a few years.”
We’re going to see more of those as more and more VC money flows in the space. The companies mentioned above have raised more than 1 billion USD in venture capital. That’s serious cash to move businesses from speaker to keyboard.
You see, messaging is hot as a Bali’s Echo Beach at noon. It won’t go away any time soon. Be prepared for that. Here in paradise, the world already works ‘text first.’ This week, I ordered food, booked a hotel, scheduled transfers, signed up for gym classes, bought new AirPods (!), booked a massage, and had my laundry taken care of —all without saying a word.
Life is so simple on mute.
P.S.: If you ever visit Bali, here are some useful tutorials for the most common needs (I hope you don’t need the last one 🙀).