Viber began as a way for people to chat with their friends, family and colleagues through instant messaging, but we soon realised it had enormous potential beyond that. We thought why not leverage it as a way for users to communicate with brands directly, just as they do with their friends and family? Viber Business Messages was born.
Though at first it was called Viber Service Messages. We chose that name because we wanted it to be very utilitarian – every message had to serve a practical need. It was very service-oriented, and very much about serving transactional content. But for all that, it was a much more personal way of doing business. Now your brand could appear in a user’s chat history right next to their mum!
We started almost five years ago with a handful of partners in Russia, which was our biggest market. Ukraine followed soon after, and from there it really spread fast: the rest of CIS, and then CE, and all the Balkan areas like Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. In the last two years we have started to explore the South East Asian market – especially the Philippines and Vietnam. These areas have a good penetration of Viber, so take up tends to be high.
Next we started to think about expanding the type of communication offered between users and businesses – using it not only for purely transactional purposes, but also letting the business promote itself with relevant content to the users. But it’s not a free-for-all – we have very strict guidelines to stop them spamming users, otherwise they would be bombarded by irrelevant messages, and end up deleting the app. It’s a delicate balance to strike – and we always put our users first.
Once we allowed promotional messages, we rebranded the service as Viber Business Messages, as it wasn’t just service messages that were being sent. It became a much more comprehensive solution, a much more holistic service. Then we started adding more features, like a profile page for every business that shows their address, phone number, website, logo, and other company information. It acts as a digital business card, and reassures the users that they’re dealing with a verified company.
Recently we added the option for businesses to send files and documents to the users. It’s very useful for things like bank statements and all kinds of confirmation documents.
Users love it as a way to get in touch with businesses, and vice-versa. That’s always been the core purpose. If you buy some furniture and you can’t put it together, you can just start a chat with the seller and ask an agent where you’re going wrong. You can both send photos of the furniture, instructions, videos, and so on. It’s an incredibly useful tool.
Businesses love it too. We work with SMS aggregators, each of which might have hundreds or thousands of clients, be they banks, retailers, courier services, and so on. It’s these aggregators that send the messages for their clients. Once a message has been sent, they get a status in real time. We don’t charge for any messages that failed their delivery. And for every failed delivery you get a reason. If it failed because the user isn’t a Viber user, the aggregator can choose to default to another message medium, like SMS or email. This way, the businesses can guarantee their clients 100 percent reach. And because we don’t charge for any messages that failed to deliver, it doesn’t cost them anything to try a Viber message first.
We also have some other neat features. You can set a maximum time for a message to be delivered for sensitive information like a bank balance, for example. If it’s not delivered within, say, 60 seconds, the sender isn’t charged. The first time a user receives a message from a business, an overlay appears and the user can choose to accept or decline their messages. It’s another layer to protect users being spammed. Businesses and customers can attach files as part of their chat, and we allow customers to initiate conversations with businesses rather than waiting to be contacted themselves. This is a huge help if a customer needs help with support or customer service.
The success of Viber Business Messages shows that the way we all communicate with businesses is changing. We were the first ones to offer businesses a one-to-one messaging channel with customers. We now help over 5,000 businesses to communicate with their users, and will continue to strengthen the relationship between businesses and their customers.