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How WhatsApp Stacks up Against SMS, Email, Messenger, and Voice Calls

Learn how to send bulk messages on WhatsApp Business with the help of a man in an orange circle with a bald head.

By Adam Phillips, Technology Writer


4 minute read

A group of business people walking down a street with their cell phones.
A group of business people walking down a street with their cell phones.

As the world’s number one messaging platform continues to make serious inroads into CX provision, just how does it measure up against more traditional ‘rivals’?

While SMS, email and voice calls remain as relevant as ever, WhatsApp (as well as Facebook Messenger) are becoming the de facto choice for many consumers wishing to engage with a company. It’s a shift that brands need to pay careful attention to as 53% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company they can contact via chat app, according to a 2019 Wolfgang Digital E-Commerce KPI report.

The question is why are messaging platforms so significant? The answer lies in their popularity and immediacy. For instance, current king of the hill, WhatsApp, has over two billion active accounts across 180 countries, with 65 billion messages sent via the app each day. That means brands have access to a channel that’s already sat in the back pockets/bags of their customers, and one they use day in, day out. Plus, according to BrainBoxol, 57% of mobile users use messaging apps including WhatsApp at least half the time when on their phones.

So that’s the pitch — but what specific, real-world advantages does WhatsApp offer over more traditional channels?

SMS: Limiting customer conversations

Both SMS and WhatsApp are popular with consumers with 56% wanting to be able to text, not call a business, according to Wolfgang Digital. Both channels also offer great open and response rates: Consumers open 98% of SMSs and respond to 45% of them, while WhatsApp’s open rates hit 99% and have a response rate of over 40%.

The advantages surrounding pricing are less clear: While SMS is cheaper than WhatsApp per message if being used for one-way messaging such as delivering notifications and One Time Passwords, brands must often pay for outgoing and incoming SMS messages (depending on the user’s mobile plan), which increases costs.

The channel also lacks the breadth of functionality offered by WhatsApp. For instance, SMS isn’t designed for ‘customer conversations’, instead limiting folk to 160-word character messages while forgoing any rich media options (unless brands decide to go with MMS, which is crippling expensive).

However, WhatsApp is the complete CX package, able to cover the entire buying journey from start to finish as well as offer rich media options including video, audio, and PDFs. It’s a solution that is already paying dividends for many brands. For example, Sale Stock, the Indonesian fashion startup, introduced WhatsApp to boost customer engagement. Its rollout has seen the platform become the number one source of inbound chat traffic and deliver a nearly two-times higher message read rate than SMS. Meanwhile, Vodafone Germany served 350,000 customers via the chat app over five months and achieved a 45% higher opt-in rate compared to SMS.

WhatsApp also leap frogs over SMS’s somewhat torturous backend challenges. While the latter may offer great penetration rates globally, local regulations combined with technical limitations such as introducing two-way SMS are either complex, pricey — or both. WhatsApp, however, is delivered over the internet or a data connection, and massively simplifies the process for brands, ultimately making it far more cost effective.

Email: Creating consumer concern

Email continues to play a dominant role in customer comms, ideal for delivering ‘static’ information including confirmation orders or documentation such as insurance policies. However, as a channel for offering optimized CX and marketing opportunities, it comes up short. While WhatsApp users typically respond to messages within minutes (even moments), it takes on average 90 minutes for a user to respond to an email. And then there’s the open rate issue with Campaign Monitor reporting only 20% of emails are ever opened (compared to 99% of WhatsApp messages).

And those open and response rates really matter to business bottom lines. For instance, PlayKids, the education platform, rolled out WhatsApp and experienced a 90% decrease in number of lapsed subscribers compared to email and telephone, plus enjoyed a 40% increase in message open rates compared to email.

Another critical issue are the phishing and security breaches that continue to plague email. A recent Verizon report states that 96% of phishing attacks arrive by email, leaving some consumers worried if that email really is from, say, their bank. WhatsApp sidesteps these issues altogether by offering verified business accounts as well as end-to-end encryption.

Facebook Messenger: Serving marketing’s needs

There is no denying Facebook Messenger (FBM) is a comms powerhouse, offering superb penetration rates in the United States (where 126.3 million people use it) plus it’s free to use by enterprises. That’s a winning combination, but with a couple of caveats.

First, while WhatsApp trails FBM in the US (‘only’ 23 million users are signed up), globally it’s WhatsApp that comes out on top with over two billion users accessing the chat app per month while FB Messenger trails on 1.3 billion. Critically, WhatsApp is the leading messaging platform in 112 countries (compared to FBM’s 57) with especially high penetration rates in the EU and in countries including Brazil and India.

Second, FBM and its big brother Facebook primarily focus on marketing and sponsored advertising, while WhatApp is typically deployed for customer services and creating ‘conversational commerce’ between consumers and brands. And that matters as 70% of companies that implement conversational commerce technology experience a reduction in other inquiries, according to Gartner. Bottom line is WhatsApp and FBM are both exceptional platforms but brands must decide on how each will be used — and in which territories — before deploying either.

Voice Calls: Forming a winning partnership

Comparing voice calls/call centers and WhatsApp may seem disingenuous but the two have the potential to become unlikely allies. At busy call times, especially pronounced during the ongoing pandemic, brands can find their contact center lines jammed, leading to long queues and frustrated customers. Enter WhatsApp and the ability to introduce IVR deflection into call queues, enabling customers to transfer to a live agent/chatbot on WhatsApp instead of continuing to wait on hold.

Using the chat app as an alternative to voice calls has helped some brands successfully manage the pressure on their customer services during the pandemic. Take the Spanish airline Iberia that used a Whatsapp-based bot to deal with a massive spike in customer enquiries during the first few months of the outbreak. The platform was able to service 77% of first contact enquiries, in turn taking the strain off the airline’s call centers while improving customer satisfaction rates.

Other sectors have benefited too. For instance, Dutch Premier Division soccer club, Vitesse Arnhem, deployed WhatsApp to deal with ticket purchase queries. This led to a 40% increase in first-contact resolution, an 80% decrease in average response times, and a 10% increase in revenue.

Perhaps such stellar results shouldn’t come as a surprise though as messaging is preferred by 76% of consumers looking for product/service support, says Sentient Data Science — though perhaps ironically, it’s clear brands aren’t listening as 92% of consumer interactions remain voice call-based.

Learn more about how IVR deflection can help support call centers with tyntec’s exclusive six-point guide.

WhatsApp: A key ally for creating a successful omnichannel future

Looking at WhatsApp as a ‘rival’ to traditional platforms such as SMS and email is actually wrongheaded. As any marketer or customer services head knows, it’s no longer about such binary choices but instead offering customers a true omnichannel experience wherever they choose to interact with a brand. Importantly, WhatsApp is already proving itself to be an invaluable asset to companies, promoting a personalized conversational style that engages consumers and strips out friction from buying journeys.

The real issue at play here though are the logistical and fiscal challenges of introducing an entirely new channel, which can prove off putting for brands especially during these tough fiscal times. But that’s where official WhatsApp providers including tyntec come in, able to offer a clear and transparent roadmap for a successful rollout — plus expected ROI — that comes fully costed and works in conjunction with existing channels.

Just as important is tyntec’s ability to integrate WhatsApp with existing commerce systems such as company CRMs as well as offer chatbot solutions to help lighten the load on call centers and live agents. All in, partnering with provider represents a cost effective, friction-free opportunity for the brand — and one that ensures that wherever the customer is now or in the future, the brand will always be there alongside them.

Learn more about how official WhatsApp Business provider tyntec can transform your customer experiences by contacting us here.