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What's the Best Instant Messaging Platform for Customer Communication?
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What's the Best Instant Messaging Platform for Customer Communication?

Illustrator: Xelon Xlf
best messaging platforms customer communication

While reading this article, your phone will probably buzz at least one time, if not more, to tell you you have received a new message. It could be an SMS, but it’s more likely to be a notification from a messaging platform. 

Sending and receiving messages, whether text, a photo of a pet, or a single emoji, has become as intertwined in our daily lives as drinking a glass of water. It’s almost weird thinking that it wasn’t always so. Instant messaging apps as we know them today have been around for just twenty years, and when they came about, they were seen as something revolutionary. Again, a weird thought for those of us who’ve had messaging apps on our phones for basically all of our lives. 

And we don’t use them to text only friends or family anymore. We have increasingly been turning to messaging apps to contact businesses, too. Let’s face it — they’re much more convenient than picking up the phone and waiting to be connected or sending an email and waiting for a reply. 

So, it’s only logical that, as a business, you’ll look into using a messaging platform to communicate with your customers. 

Which one should you choose, though?

Customers Love Messaging

Before diving deeper into the messaging platforms available, let’s have a look at why they’re such a hit among customers. 

First, there’s the convenience of it all. As mentioned, messaging has a much more “instant” characteristic to it than other business communication channels, so it’s no surprise that more and more customers are turning to it.

Besides, customers are already using those apps anyway. A survey across Brazil, India, the US, and the UK determined that more than 64% of consumers prefer to reach out to businesses via a messaging platform because they are “always messaging anyway." Additionally, over 61% of them claimed that messaging is the easiest, most convenient way to contact a brand or business.

The numbers also show how consumers see messaging apps as having the edge over other forms of communication. More than 59% of them believe it offers faster responses, while another 59% are convinced messaging a business offers better advice and care than other channels. And finally, 49% of surveyed users said it provides them with more truthful information than elsewhere. 

Really, what’s not to love about messaging apps? 

Messaging Platforms to Choose From

Now that we’ve seen how consumers are already using this channel and why they expect to be able to do so with increasingly more businesses, let’s see what apps exactly we’re talking about. 

The first to come to mind are probably WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, but there are plenty of others that are even the most used in some countries.

messaging apps distribution global

Here, we’ll take a closer look at WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, Viber,  LINE, and KakaoTalk.

Let’s go!

WhatsApp

Business version: Yes (WhatsApp Business App and WhatsApp Business API)

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: No

End-to-end encryption: Yes, with exceptions

WhatsApp is unquestioningly the most popular messaging app in the world, with over 2 billion active daily users. It is present in 180 countries and 60 languages, and it’s the market leader in 25 of those countries. India is the country with the most WhatsApp users — 390.1 million monthly active users. Along with Brazil and the US, these three countries make up around one-fourth of the global WhatsApp users.

This messaging app is especially popular among users aged between 26 and 35 years (27%), followed by the age group 36-45 years old (20%) and 15-25 years old (19%).

A lot of companies around the world are already using WhatsApp for their business communications. WhatsApp offers two business solutions:

  • WhatsApp Business App, for small-to-medium-sized companies;
  • WhatsApp Business API, for enterprise users in specific business areas.

The WhatsApp Business App has its limitations, namely failing to keep up with interaction volumes as your business scales. This version of WhatsApp for business was designed so that one single support agent can respond to customer requests, and it offers no possibility to manage conversations alongside other support channels

With the WhatsApp Business API, however, companies can easily connect WhatsApp with their CRM of choice and handle huge volumes of customer messages thanks to automation in the form of chatbots. WhatsApp bots allow businesses to communicate with customers 24/7 and can be used in a number of different scenarios, such as Customer Support, Lead Generation, or Sales

Even though WhatsApp offers business users the possibility of building a store on the app, thanks to the Catalog and Cart features, the final step of the process — the payment — still takes place outside of the app. Once users have added all desired products to their WhatsApp cart, they need to tap a “Send to business” button. The business will then process the cart and message the customer about payment options and a link where they can complete the transaction. 

whatsapp bot
Source: BusinessChat

WhatsApp prides itself on offering end-to-end encryption by default and so protecting users' messages. When it comes to customer/business communication, WhatsApp considers chats with companies that use the WhatsApp Business app or manage and store customer messages themselves to be end-to-end encrypted. The exception to this rule are companies who hand over management of their WhatsApp Business API endpoint to a vendor. In those cases, because the business has chosen a third party to manage their endpoint, WhatsApp does not consider these messages end-to-end encrypted.

Facebook Messenger

Business version: Yes

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: Yes

End-to-end encryption: Yes, but not by default

Coming in second, Facebook Messenger has 988 million monthly active users. It is the most popular messaging app in 13 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, and Australia. Facebook Messenger’s largest audience is the age group between 25 and 34 years old (23,8%), followed by the age group between 35 and 44 years old (20,6%). 

Facebook’s Messenger platform launched in 2016, and businesses immediately saw its potential. Since then, businesses, both small and enterprise, have been making the best of Facebook Messenger for customer support, sales, lead generation, feedback collection, and more. 

The business version and all its features are free to use, as long as the business in question has a Facebook account. Some of the business features include:

  • Greetings: businesses can set up a custom greeting that pops up when a customer starts a conversation with the business page. It can be whatever you want, and it provides information to customers even before they type in anything. 
  • Automation: responses to customers can be automated so that they get a reply at any given time. This can take on the form of one automatic message that is sent anytime a customer starts a conversation, or it can be a chatbot that interacts with the customer in a conversational fashion. 

In terms of eCommerce capabilities, Facebook Messenger is one step ahead of WhatsApp, since it long allows customers to select and pay for items all within the Messenger app. 

facebook bot
Source: Search Engine Journal

However, Facebook Messenger falls behind in protecting communication privacy. While it does offer end-to-end encryption, meaning only the device a message is sent to can open the message, the feature is not enabled by default on Facebook Messenger. Additionally, end-to-end encryption can’t be set up for the Messenger app, but rather for each conversation. So, unless you individually select all your contacts and turn on encryption for all of them, your exchanged messages won’t have this extra layer of security. 

Telegram

Business version: No

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: Yes

End-to-end encryption: Yes, but not by default

Telegram comes third on this list, and also on the worldwide ranking of messaging apps. It has 500 million monthly active users, and although India is its biggest market, with over 20% of its user base, Telegram is the most popular messaging app in Iran and Uzbekistan. 

Similar to the previous two messaging apps mentioned, the largest share of Telegram users consists of the age group from 25 to 34 years old (31%), with those aged younger than 24 coming in close at 30% of the app's user base. 

Even though it’s the third most popular messaging app globally, there’s no business version of Telegram, nor a dedicated Telegram Business app. However, companies can still take advantage of some of the features the app has to offer for their business operations. There are two main ways to do it:

  • Create groups and channels: Telegram groups are like groups on any other messaging platform, but they can have up to 200.000 members. They offer a great possibility for businesses to build communities. Channels work the same, but only admins can send messages, which can be great for sending customers special promotions or advertising content. 
  • Use Telegram Bot: Telegram allows you to create bots for social services, games, productivity, and eCommerce, and they can also be used for customer support by connecting them to a CRM or other messaging platform. 

Despite the name — Telegram Bot — the feature comes close to being a Telegram Business app since it allows businesses to create a branded account. Also despite the name, Telegram Bots work a bit differently than WhatsApp or Facebook bots, for example. You can set up Telegram Bots for different use cases, but the bot always triggers the interaction and offers reply options and buttons for users to choose from and follow a clear, pre-defined conversational path. While they can receive messages from users or channels they’re a member of, they don’t have an auto-reply feature, which means that level of automation can only be achieved through third-party integration

Regardless of this limitation, Telegram bots still represent a useful business tool, since it’s possible to include a “Pay” button in the bot that allows customers to fill in payment and shipping information and complete transactions without leaving the app. 

Finally, in terms of security and privacy, Telegram shares similarities with Facebook Messenger. End-to-end encryption exists, but it is not the app’s default setting. If you want to be sure your communication is protected, you need to turn to Telegram’s secret chats option that uses end-to-end encryption, leaves no traces in Telegram’s servers, supports self-destructing messages, and doesn’t allow content forwarding. 

WeChat

Business version: Yes

Chatbots: Yes, but barely used

Payment processing: Yes

End-to-end encryption: No

 

This messaging app has over 1 billion users, but most of them are based in China, where nearly every smartphone user has a WeChat account. It is the most popular messaging app and social network in that country. WeChat is used by 78% of China’s population between the ages of 16 and 64 years old. Users under the age of 30 make up almost half of the country’s app users, while those aged between 36 and 40 years old represent the smallest share (8,6%).

One characteristic that sets WeChat apart from other messaging apps is that most people use it for work purposes. Chinese traders and bankers, for example, use it heavily to close deals even though it wasn’t WeChat’s initial purpose. Additionally, around 80% of WeChat users resort to the app to perform professional tasks in their companies. For that reason, WeChat launched WeChat Work, a business version of the app intended for internal communications and management. 

Compared to its standard version, WeChat Work offers more advanced features, such as accommodating up to 2000 users in a group chat, enabling message reading receipts, and admins being able to mute people. As you can see, the focus of WeChat’s business version is internal, rather than external communication, so it doesn’t offer that many advantages from a customer support perspective, for example. Additionally, WeChat Work is limited to enterprises, government bodies, and organizations in Mainland China, so unless your business already operates in the country, you won’t have access to it. 

Another big difference between WeChat and other messaging platforms is that chatbots are a rare sight inside the app, and they don’t play any pivotal role in the overall user experience. WeChat started off with bots, but while other apps increasingly incorporated them into their operations, WeChat opted to steer away from them by default to deliver a better user experience. On the other hand, it incorporates payment options, so that even if you have a regular WeChat account for your business, users can buy items directly from the WeChat app

WeChat does not offer end-to-end encryption, with it being known that the Chinese government surveils and even censors messages exchanged in the app. 

Viber

Business version: Yes

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: Yes

End-to-end encryption: Yes

Viber has over 1.1 billion users around the globe. Its strongest presence is in Europe, specifically in Bulgaria, Greece, and the Ukraine, where it’s the most popular messaging app. 40% of Viber’s users consist of people aged from 25 to 34 years old. One thing worth mentioning regarding Viber’s users’ age is that it is not intended for users under 13 years old, and certain services such as ads or promotional content are restricted to users under 16. 

Viber has a very solid Business solution. So much so that 40% of its revenue comes from its Business API, as opposed to other messaging platforms that get most of their revenue from targeted ads to users as sponsored content. That’s right — using Viber for business isn’t free. Setting up a Business Account is free of charge, but businesses need to pay a monthly fee to be approved as an official account, which in turn makes it possible to communicate with users. 

Viber offers two integration options depending on your business goals:

  • Viber Chatbots, which help reach new audiences as well as stay in touch with them 24/7, or;
  • Viber Business Messages, to reach out to an existing customer base. 

They’re not mutually exclusive, so you can opt to use both of these business solutions. As in other messaging apps, chatbots offer a more engaging and conversational interaction, whether they’re being used for customer support or sales. 

viber bots
Source: Viber

As for Viber’s Business Messages, they’re the most useful if the goal is to send customers informative messages about products or promotions. Note that to be able to use the Business Messages feature, you’ll need to choose a Messaging Partner

The Chatbot solution can be used independently, plus it has the upper hand in offering payment options through Google Pay and Apple Pay. This means that the whole purchase process can take place inside the app, making for a better user experience.

Finally, Viber protects communication privacy through end-to-end encryption, with delivered messages being immediately deleted from Viber’s servers

LINE

Business version: Yes

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: No

End-to-end encryption: Yes, but not by default

LINE has around 220 million users worldwide, of which 169 million are based in the messaging app's key markets — Japan and Taiwan, where it’s the market leader, plus Indonesia and Thailand. In Japan, where LINE has the most active users, the biggest percentage of users are in their 50s and over (31,4%), followed by 22% in their 40s and 21,4% in their 30s. Although this contrasts with other messaging platforms’ usage, it’s representative of Japan’s aging population. 

LINE’s business accounts are called LINE Official Accounts. All of them are free to create, but the free plan has a messaging limit. There are two paid plans — Light and Standard — which offer an according number of messages and a corresponding rate for additional messages. 

LINE Official Accounts’ features include setting up greetings messages, broadcasting messages to target audiences, as well as deploying chatbots via the LINE Messaging API. 

LINE bot
Source: Freshworks

Although it boasts “convert to sales” as one of its use cases, LINE only offers the possibility of businesses targeting customers with rich or card-based messages, which can showcase products, coupons or promotions, but they will redirect users to a website where they can actually purchase something. 

LINE also lacks in terms of encryption. While it does employ various encryption technologies to protect user information, end-to-end encryption is not turned on by default, and it’s not applicable to the app as a whole. Much like Facebook Messenger, LINE’s end-to-end encryption option — Letter Sealing — must be turned on for each conversation, both by the sender and the receiver of the messages. 

KakaoTalk

Business version: Yes

Chatbots: Yes

Payment processing: Yes

End-to-end encryption: Yes, but not by default

As of last year, KakaoTalk has over 53 million active users worldwide, of which 47 million are based in South Korea, where the messaging app is the market leader. In fact, 97% of all smartphone users in South Korea claim to use KakaoTalk, with over 90% usage across all age groups. 

To use KakaoTalk for business, you need to create a business account. Once that’s done, you can choose between creating a KakaoTalk Channel or a Business KakaoTalk Channel. Much like WhatsApp, this choice depends on the size of your business. For smaller companies, KakaoTalk Channel includes most of the features needed for a business account, such as messaging, analytics, and sendable promotion coupons. Additional features of the Business option include “verified” badges and push notifications. 

While KakaoTalk does support chatbots, creating and implementing them isn’t as straightforward as in other messaging apps. Chatbots are available through KakaoTalk’s brand-page called PlusFriend, an all-in-one service platform with a news feed and live chat options with customer care. This is where you’ll be able to add a chatbot to your brand page, and once there, you can automate conversations as well as sell products via KakaoShop and enable payments through KakaoPay

Same as with other messaging platforms, KakaoTalk doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption as a default. The private The Secret Chat mode must be enabled by users. A lack of privacy was made known to the general public a few years ago, after KakaoTalk handed over chat records to the prosecution during an investigation into messages exchanged on the app that were deemed insulting to a former South Korean president. 

Made up Your Mind?

At the end of the day, what messaging app is the best for your business? 

The answer, much as with virtually anything in life, is it depends. 

At first glance, WhatsApp might be the obvious choice, because it’s the most popular and with the largest number of users, but Facebook Messenger already allows you to sell products on the app, and Viber seems to offer users more privacy and control over their exchanged messages.

Yet, features are not all you need to consider. If your customers are largely based in China, WeChat would be the better option, whereas if you want to target audiences in Japan or Taiwan, LINE would be the way to go. 

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a messaging platform for business/customer communication. Hopefully, this article has given you more guidance and will help you decide. 

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