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How organisations can use WhatsApp to handle the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 has levelled economies, as cities the world over went into lockdown from March 2020 in an effort to contain the pandemic. Businesses are having to radically adapt in the current conditions and rethink their approach to how they need to operate and innovate to stay alive during these incredibly difficult times. WhatsApp for business offers a quick, accessible route for restoring communications between business owners and customers.

Entrepreneurs are economic engines

Research reveals that there are more than 5 million small and emerging businesses in South Africa. These businesses and brands are diverse in their offering, with differentiated expertise across sectors and services. All share common characteristics of discipline, dedication, creativity and high perseverance to achieve scale and success, which subsequently creates jobs for many. According to, small businesses contribute on average 20% to South Africa’s GDP and small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa absorb about 60% to 70% of the employed population – keeping 10.8 million people employed, and accounting for 66% of all formal jobs.  The National Development Plan estimates that nine out of ten new jobs are expected to be created by 2030, by micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses.

But research by UCTs Centre for Development and Enterprise reveals that a snap survey of 233 small business entrepreneurs “paints an alarming picture” of destroyed jobs, incomes and businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown. The research reveals that:

  • 87% of those surveyed can’t run their businesses from home
  • 86% don’t know where to access emergency relief funding
  • 95% could not afford to pay their employees.
  • Half believe their businesses won’t survive lockdown
  • 93% do not have any other income sources
  • 85% do not receive any grants

Communication drives commerce

In these times of self-isolation, communication has never been more important. Globally, businesses, government – and nonprofit organisations — especially those on the frontline who reach out to the world’s most vulnerable — have been forced to start thinking out of the box. 

The challenge is immense: addressing immediate issues in relation to customers, volunteers, employees, and tech; sudden cash flow management issues during shutdowns bringing about enormous economic strain, and re-imagining the next ‘normal’ is near-impossible. But there’s one area that stands out: never has the modern world seen businesses and organisations alike adapting to remote working environments so quickly as well as having to digitally transform offerings, operations and processes in order to survive.

Communicating confidently with WhatsApp for Business

Following on from the global outbreak of COVID-19, WhatsApp has enabled numerous organisations to utilise WhatsApp for Business solutions, such as the World Health Organization to “provide access to accurate, timely information on the coronavirus pandemic to the app’s 2 billion users and is now the largest WhatsApp application in the world with over 10 million people using this solution within the first two weeks.”

Similarly, Government Ministries and Departments of Health around the world are scrambling to make use of this channel to provide trustworthy information on health, safety, new laws, government support plans etc.around the pandemic, as seen with South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDoH) which launched its COVID-19 Connect Whatsapp Helpline in five languages  – with over 1.5 Million people using this solution within the first week.

Within South Africa, major retailers like Checkers and Save have implemented their own WhatsApp for Business Chatbots to service loyalty and allow customers to view specials, trading and opening times, COVID-19 information,  FAQS and much more, all from the familiar interface of WhatsApp. Richfield Graduate Institute has streamlined their Educational operations by incorporating a WhatsApp for a business chatbot, offering existing Richfield students or soon to be students and parents the option to engage seamlessly with their offerings via this channel.

Easy innovation for business

What’s especially attractive about WhatsApp Business is that it has a range of features that make setting up a business/organisation WhatsApp Business Account (WABA) relatively simple and seamless. For example, the ability to:

  • Establish a verified business/organisation profile that users can trust
  • Automate conversations utilising Chatbot technology
  • Include rich & dynamic media such as images, audio, video, files, locations, payment links and validate dynamic CRM data points
  • Send long-form communication with a 4000+ character limit per message
  • Enable live chat support (human to human) based on chatbot responses
  • Send highly secure communications with end to end encryption
  • Create personalised and dynamic conversations to introduce your potential buyers/donors to your business
  • Small and emerging businesses can easily create a catalogue to showcase products/services
  • Connect with customers/donors by automated leveraging tools

WhatsApp for Business solutions have seen a huge uptake from businesses and organisations who are using it to rapidly build and provide services to citizens and customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

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