When ApnaKlub launched in May 2020, the Bengaluru, India-based startup had one goal: to help small, rural retailers in its country get high margins and earn a better living. It does this by providing fast-moving consumer goods like shampoo, soap, and deodorant directly from brands to small retailers at low, wholesale prices.  Customers buy products and earn margins through an app, and also get those goods delivered to their door.

While retailers had an opportunity to slash costs and increase margins, uptake was slow, largely because ApnaKlub couldn’t efficiently communicate with its growing user base. The company had adopted WhatsApp as its primary communications tool-500 million people in the country use the instant messaging service-but all the messages that came in, whether it was about onboarding, products, or order status, had to be answered individually. “It was very hard to manage,” says Ekta Sharma, ApnaKlub’s product marketing manager. “We were trying to communicate important updates, but each and every message was sent manually.”

Finding a better way

ApnaKlub needed to find a way to communicate efficiently or it would never be able to reach its growing user base. Fortunately, in October 2021, the company found out about Connectly, a San Francisco-based startup that helps businesses use WhatsApp to better communicate with their customers.

The company, which was created by Stefanos Loukakos, Facebook’s former head of Messenger Business, helps companies in several ways. It enables them to create a more personal communication experience with their customers by sending messages within the same app they use to talk to their friends; it keeps the company top of mind given every time someone opens WhatsApp, the asynchronous thread sits in their messages; it makes it easy to recall past conversations since the notes don’t delete and, most importantly for ApnaKlub, it lets businesses send messages in bulk and collect key information on the customer journey. “It was very hard to communicate efficiently before Connectly,” Sharma says. “We couldn’t tell how users were behaving when we sent them messages, but that’s changed.”

Making better connections

Before the company started using Connectly, it could only keep track of a few customers at a time, and it would take about 24 hours to respond to an inquiry. Pushing out promotions-such as a new product announcement or sale-was even more difficult to do as they had to send      messages one by one. Now, ApnaKlub can send messages to all of its 2,500,00+ users, while Connectly makes it possible to predict and respond to incoming questions via an AI-powered bot.

If a client reaches out to ApnaKlub, the bot will send a list of options for that customer to choose from. While most queries can be answered automatically, such as when a product might arrive, more complicated questions will get routed to the most relevant ApnaKlub representative. Connectly’s data-driven profiles ensure that the agent has the customer information they need, including address, order history and any previous communications.

In just five months, Connectly has dramatically changed the way ApnaKlub does business, says Sharma. For example, in March 2021, prior to using Connectly, the company created a campaign around Holi, an Indian festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. That ApnaKlub campaign reached over 25,000 users. That number jumped to 65,000+ this past March, because ApnaKlub was able to send a WhatsApp-first campaign to its customers. More generally, it’s seeing a 12 percent clickthrough rate on its campaigns, where it used to only see a few percent. “That’s massive,” she says.

Watching the company grow

ApnaKlub has also started refining its messaging based on data that Connectly collects. For instance, the company wants to understand how different messages resonate with customers. “Connectly has metric dashboards where we can see everything,” notes Sharma. “If I send someone an image with some text, I can see how that performs compared to a message with only text or different images. We can now analyze all of that and build upon that feedback.”

Thanks to Connectly, ApnaKlub’s monthly orders have increased, says Sharma, in part because it’s now more responsive to existing customers, but it also has more time to work on getting new ones. The company expects to grow much larger over the coming months, but it also has its sights set on something bigger than wholesaling. “We want to digitize how the entire supply chain works and empower micro businesses to make a better life for themselves,” says Sharma. “We can do that with Connectly, because we can communicate efficiently.”