If my WhatsApp status shows me online at midnight on a Friday, then chances are I’m either ordering my Careem to the club or deciding on some midnight munchies with my mate. Here in the UAE however, that little green dot indicates an open doors policy, a literal ‘green light’ to send anything from a quote request to a full scope of work, or in some cases; 27 questions in the space of 20 minutes about participating in a social media campaign. After all, it’s midnight on a weekend, what else would I be doing?
As a freelance copywriter living in Dubai, I’ve seen an increase of business communications via Instant Messaging Services, namely WhatsApp. It starts with a quick-fire question before a project-end and can lead to a request of sending 500 images (true story). If you’re a small business owner or Solopreneur in this region, then you’ll already know what I’m talking about and you will now learn that it’s not because they think you have nothing better to do.
Personally, I’m less than a fan of doing business over WhatsApp, but it got me wondering whether I was alone in my woes… Am I falling short of the digital wave? Technically, I’m a millennial, but I’m also the last person to know about things like candy crush or Bitcoin and Bumble. So, I turned that question to my business-savvy counter-parts in the SME world and asked the masses. The response was a a resounding: ‘Get with the Programme’!
“The first time I received a business WhatsApp 4 years ago I nearly had a heart attack – It felt like someone breaking into my home whilst I had no clothes on! Now though times have changed and it’s just one more communication tool.” – Anon
‘Only in Dubai?’
The truth is, if you’re an SME in the United Arab Emirates, then incorporating WhatsApp into your business is a trend you will have to navigate. Here in Dubai, the market seems to dictate its preferred channel of communication, whereas in Europe and other parts of the West the App is barely used for B2C or B2B interactions.
“I WhatsApp’ed a family member yesterday (Dec 27th) in America, he’s 19 and his WhatsApp was last seen online in September!” – Katie Overy of Heart 107.1
WhatsApp in business certainly seems to speak more loudly to those who are within events/service and sales industries here. In Dubai, you’re just as likely to book your next wax appointment, as you are a last minute cleaner post house-party over WhatsApp. Yet, somehow even service-based industries in other parts of the world manage to avoid instant messaging as an integral sales tool.
“So today I went to WhatsApp my friend in Australia for Christmas… ‘last seen 10 October 2018’. We are so dependant on WhatsApp in this part of the world, but in other parts of the world people manage to get their kids to school everyday without a school WhatsApp group to remind them.” – Kate Tavener of ShoeQ
The Con’s & ‘THE’ Con.
There are several issues that ‘Team Offline’ & I have with relying on WhatsApp for client communication; it’s easy to fall into the boundless trap whilst building that crucial client relationship. But once you finally get the go-ahead for the project you spoke about two weeks ago amongst a chatter of ‘well-wishing’ and ‘sleep schedules’, you’re left with the gruelling task of wading through the one-liners using the (often useless) word specific ‘Search’ function. Trying to find anything exact on Whatsapp is like trying to herd cats; it wreaks havoc into the minds of OCD one-man admin teams. There just isn’t a clear thread of communication; it’s a lot harder to organise chat topics than it is emails as you can’t collect, label and prioritise as you can on Gmail or Yahoo. Furthermore, this course of action could end up creating more work, as you have to manually update all of your colleagues rather than already having them on an email chain.
The popular positives for the use of WhatsApp include the argument that it’s more convenient than sending an email.
This is a fallacy!
On a phone, it takes one less action to send an email than it does to send a message on WhatsApp. It’s true, try it out!*
Sure, it’s easier to send a quick voice note whilst wiping your baby’s butt or applying a lick of mascara with the other free hand (said with experience). But, I’ll bet you any money – that voice note will come back to bite you when you need to clarify the details of what was said a day or two later. OK, it may allow you to send visual references quicker, but that opens the Pandora’s box of sending all sorts of files and documents which you then have to go back through to organise, if you remember or even have the time.
Never the less, this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere here in the UAE. So, if you’re like me and you’re bravely facing the new frontiers of digital business, the following survival kit may be your saving grace of making sense of Dubai business in 2019.
THE WHATSAPP ARSENAL:
- Download Whatsapp for your desktophereand ensure any documents sent over the instant messaging app can be downloaded straight to your dedicated desktop folders.
- Whatsapp for Business App is free to download and “built with the small business owner in mind”. It even allows for functions such as automated response messages to be set up and sent at selected times. It’s currently only available for Android and can be downloaded here.
- Ever considered using a separate phone for your business WhatsApp? Save your dirhams and download the ‘Parallel Space’ App. It allows you to run multiple social channels from one device and is only available on android from here.
- Check out the software ‘Slack’:The name is an acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge…” I’ll let the Slack Team do their own selling on this one.
If writing ‘2019’ instead of ‘2018’ was about as much change that you can muster so early on in this New Year, then maybe just consider a few small steps for an easier entrepreneurial life:
Tips & Tricks:
- Set a clear method for accepted communications early on: Insist on LPO’s invoices and/or scope of work’s to be sent via email. As soon as the communication starts to cross that line, redirect: ‘I’m currently in a meeting but if you send that over in an email I’ll respond shortly’.
- Change your WhatsApp status to include working hours for responding to inquiries.
- Everytime you receive an unwanted WhatsApp, pick up the phone and call them. I know what you’re thinking… ‘pfft! Phone call, who even does that anymore’? The answer is ‘no one really’, so they’ll probably stop WhatsApp-ing you and start emailing for a quieter life.
Is WhatsApp working well in your business strategy or has it moved into your home and kicked your husband off the sofa? What’s the worst request you’ve ever received from WhatsApp in business?
Are you a part of ‘Team Offline’ and if so why?
Tell us all about your WhatsApp woes (or triumphs) in the comments because we think this is a conversation worth having!