WhatsApp says it will charge businesses to message customers

Facebook has decided how to finally make money from WhatsApp: charge businesses that want to conduct customer support in the app.

WhatsApp’s program for businesses will charge large companies that want to be verified and have access to a suite of automated tools for helping and responding to customers, the Facebook-owned app announced on Tuesday. A free standalone mobile app for small businesses will also offer similar features.

The tools and standalone app for businesses were both recently uncovered in WhatsApp’s own documentation and app code. WhatsApp is testing its business program privately with a handful of businesses around the world and hasn’t said when it will make the program more widely available. It also hasn’t said how much it plans to charge businesses for access to its full suite of tools.

“WhatsApp has simplified communication for people around the world. Now, we want to apply this same approach to bringing businesses onto WhatsApp in ways that create value for people,” WhatsApp chief operating officer Matt Idema said in a statement shared with Business Insider. “We’re looking forward to making it possible for people to connect with businesses in a fast and personal way, and giving businesses the tools to make that easier to do.”

WhatsApp envisions letting businesses like airlines and banks field customer questions and provide updates for things like flight times, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Facebook spent $US22 billion on acquiring WhatsApp in 2014. The app used to charge users a $US1 per year subscription but dropped the fee in early 2016. WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum has long been a staunch opponent of traditional advertising and has promised that the app will never show ads.

By choosing to charge businesses out of the gate, WhatsApp is taking a different approach to making money than Messenger, Facebook’s other standalone messaging app. Messenger let businesses conduct customer support for free but never managed to monetise the approach. The app has recently started showing ads.

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