Are you a business owner or customer service representative who uses WhatsApp Business Platform to communicate with customers? If so, you may have encountered the 24 hour rule, which requires that you respond to a customer within 24 hours of initiating a conversation.

While this rule ensures that your business provides timely support to its customers, it’s also a source of stress if you are not able to meet the deadline. In this post, we will explore the WhatsApp 24 hour rule in detail and explain how to work around the 24 hour rule using message templates.

What is the WhatsApp Business Platform?

WhatsApp provides two official tools for businesses to talk to their customers: WhatsApp Business App and WhatsApp Business Platform.

WhatsApp Business Platform is targeted to medium and large businesses. It connects WhatsApp APIs to third party provided messaging solutions and enables you to connect several agents or bots to WhatsApp.

To learn more: WhatsApp Business App vs WhatsApp Business Platform

What is the 24-Hour Rule on WhatsApp Business Platform?

WhatsApp requires all businesses on WhatsApp Business Platform to respond to customers requests within 24 hours. Although you can still respond after 24 hours, you can only do so using message templates that are pre-approved by WhatsApp.

To make sense of this, you will need to understand what a WhatsApp conversation is and the types of WhatsApp conversations.

A WhatsApp conversation is a set of messages that are sent between a business and a customer within a 24 hour window. A conversation can either be user initiated or business initiated and is billed differently depending on how it was initiated.

User-initiated Conversation

  • When a customer sends a message to your WhatsApp Business Platform number, the business has an opportunity to respond and engage with the customer.
  • When the business responds to the customer, a 24 hour window is opened during which the customer and business can send free form messages to each other. This is considered a user-initiated conversation.
  • After the 24 hour window completes, you cannot send free form messages to the customer anymore. That’s when the second type of conversation (i.e. business initiated) comes into the picture.

Business-initiated Conversation

  • Business-initiated conversations are those where the business sends the first message to the customer.
  • A business initiated conversation can only start with message templates, which are messages that are pre-approved by WhatsApp.
  • A 24 hour window is opened the moment the business sends the first message template.
  • Once the customer replies to the business message template, the business is able to send free form messages for the remainder of the 24 hour window.

Important notes:

  • WhatsApp 24-hour rule applies only to WhatsApp Business Platform users, not to WhatsApp Business App.
  • Both conversation types, user-initiated and business-initiated, are priced differently by WhatsApp. Business initiated conversations using message templates cost more than user initiated conversations.
  • WhatsApp measures all conversations in fixed 24-hour sessions. WhatsApp considers the start time of conversation when the business message is delivered to a customer, whether it was initiated by your business or sent in reply to a customer’s message.
  • You can send as many messages as you want within this 24-hour session without any additional charges. This applies to both free-form messages and message templates.

How to Send WhatsApp Message Templates after 24 Hours

Sometimes things happen and you may not have enough staff on hand to reply to customer messages within the 24-hour window.

Or maybe you want to send a promotional message to your customer letting them know about the new product collection that you just launched.

Both situations would count as business-initiated conversations, so you would need to use a structured message template instead of a free-form message.

Requirements for sending message templates:

  1. Your customer must have opted-in to receive WhatsApp messages from your business. In other words, your business should have consent from your customers before you send them messages.
  2. Before you start the business-initiated conversation, the message template must be approved by WhatsApp.

Getting opt-in from your customers

WhatsApp requires that businesses obtain opt-in from their customers in order to ensure that the information being sent is both useful and expected. This helps to ensure that customers are only receiving communication from businesses that they have expressed an interest in hearing from.

There are different ways to get opt-in from your customers to start business-initiated conversations. The opt-in can be obtained either on or off WhatsApp.

It is important to set the right expectations when requesting opt-in. For example, your opt-in process should specify what type of messages you’ll be sending - order updates, product announcements or promotional offers.

Another important factor to consider is your business quality rating. This rating is based on how well you are able to maintain high-quality conversations with your customers. If customers block or report your business, it can negatively impact your quality rating. If you introduce any new opt-in methods, be sure to keep track of your quality rating and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that you are meeting WhatsApp’s standards.

Creating a Message Template

You can create message templates from WhatsApp Manager inside Meta Business Manager.

WhatsApp supports a few specific categories for message templates:

  • Marketing: Messages that are sent for promotional campaigns, to raise awareness, and enhance engagement with customers.
  • One-time passwords (OTPs): Help customers securely login into their accounts with OTPs.
  • Transactional: Keep customers updated with information related to their accounts or orders and send reminders as and when needed.

WhatsApp message templates must be approved before you can send them to customers. It may take up to 24 hours for WhatsApp to approve a template message.

FAQs About the 24-Hour Rule:

What type of messages can be sent after 24 hours?
After 24 hours, your business can only send message templates that are approved by WhatsApp. Since these messages cannot be written free-form, you need to create a structured template message in advance that can be used to respond in common scenarios.

How to get around and bypass the 24-hour rule?
To bypass the 24-hour rule, you will need to use approved messages templates.

How not to get around the 24-hour rule?
If anybody is promising you some other way outside of WhatsApp terms and policies, chances are they’re not using official APIs and will likely get your account blocked. We don’t recommend it at all! The 24-hour rule exists for a reason, so make sure you follow it.

Does the 24-hour rule apply to all WhatsApp platforms?
The 24-hour rule applies to the WhatsApp Business Platform, meant for medium to large businesses. It does not apply to WhatsApp Business App, that’s meant for small businesses.

You can read more here: WhatsApp Business App vs WhatsApp Business Platform (API).

What is the difference between the 24-hour rule and messaging limit?
WhatsApp Business Platform’s 24-hour and WhatsApp Business Platform messaging limits both use a 24-hour window but have completely different purposes.

The 24-hour rule defines fixed 24 hour windows (as part of user-initiated or business-initiated conversations) during which you can send free form messages to your customers.

Messaging limit defines the total number of business-initiated conversations that you can start within a rolling 24-hour time duration.

Take Aways

As a messaging platform, WhatsApp wants to make sure that its users are receiving relevant and timely communication from businesses. The 24 hour rule helps with this goal and encourages businesses to respond to messages in a timely manner.

If you fail to respond within the 24 hour window, you can still send a message to the customer using message templates which start fresh 24 hour conversation windows.

However, there’s a cost associated with each 24 hour conversation window, and business initiated conversations using message templates cost more than user initiated conversations.