The Evolution of Off-Platform Communication: From SMS and Email to WhatsApp

July 5, 2023

Anshul Goury

Product Manager

A rectangular image - light green in colour - with a faded-white Whatsapp logo in the middle


  • This article examines the evolution of off-platform communication from traditional channels like SMS and Email to the innovative use of WhatsApp, particularly in the Indian market.
  • It provides a comparative analysis of these communication channels based on key parameters like open rates, external dependencies, cost, user experience, spam susceptibility, and reliability.
  • The article concludes with the introduction of Leegality's new feature - WhatsApp Pings, a powerful tool for businesses to optimize their digital paperwork and eSign processes via WhatsApp.

Imagine you're using your bank's net banking app - let's say you want to make a high-value payment. At a certain point, the app requests an OTP that the bank has sent to your email ID. Without this step - you cannot proceed.

To retrieve this OTP, you must exit the net banking app and check your email inbox.

This interaction—communicating with the bank outside the app to retrieve the OTP—is what we call 'off-platform' communication.

'Off-platform' communication is a critical tool in modern customer interfaces. It refers to communications that occur outside a specific platform, usually through channels like SMS, Email, or, more recently, apps like WhatsApp.

"Off-platform" communication introduces an additional customer touchpoint, which may lead to customer drop-offs. In this piece we'll look at how different off-platform communication modes perform in the Indian context.

SMS and Email - the "default" modes of off-platform communication

For decades, SMS and email have been the mainstays of off-platform communication in India. The early 2000s saw businesses beginning to use emails for customer communication, newsletters, updates, and support.

Around the same time, the surge in mobile phone usage made businesses realize the potential of SMS for direct customer communication. With 1.2 billion mobile phone users and an internet penetration rate that went from 4% in 2007 to nearly 50% in 2022, it's easy to see why SMS and email became go-to tools for off-platform communication in India.

The rise of Whatsapp

Shockingly, studies have indicated that more than 85% of emails are classified as spam, while an average of 68% of mobile subscribers receive four or more promotional or spam SMS messages daily. So all is not well with the traditional modes of "off-platform" communication

Enter Whatsapp.

2009 marked the global introduction of WhatsApp, an app that soon became India's preferred chat messenger. WhatsApp's potential as a business tool led to the launch of WhatsApp Business in 2018. Whatsapp Business provides a fresh and promising alternative for businesses amidst the growing saturation and spam issues in SMS and email channels.

How does Whatsapp stack up against SMS and email - as a mode of "Off Platform" communication?

To compare modes of off-platform commmunication, we'll need to look at the following key parameters:

  1. Open Rate (percentage of recipients who open message upon receiving)
  2. Dependencies on external factors
  3. Cost
  4. Experience
  5. Spams
  6. Reliability

A.  Open Rate

SMS: It has a high open rate of 97%

Email: With a 22% open rate, emails have the lowest communication effectiveness 

WhatsApp: It has the highest open rate which is more than 98%

B. Dependencies of external factors

SMS: SMS is not dependent on internet connectivity but relies on mobile network coverage. It can be accessed on any mobile device, including feature phones, without the need for a specific browser or app installation.

Email: Email requires internet connectivity and an email client or webmail service to receive messages. Users need access to an email address and a device with internet capabilities.

WhatsApp: WhatsApp requires a compatible smartphone and an updated version of the application installed. It is dependent on internet connectivity to receive messages.

C. Cost 

SMS: SMS is typically billed per message, making it relatively costly for conversations or situations that require multiple messages per transaction due to its limited text length.

Email: It is the cheapest channel and incurs a very low direct cost. 

WhatsApp: The overall cost is relatively lower for conversations within limited sessions, as the cost of using WhatsApp is typically tied to a 24-hour session rather than per message.

D.  Experience

SMS: It has limitations in text length, support for multimedia content and interaction capabilities. The restrictive character limit, unintuitive UI and spam makes SMS extermely inconvenient to use.

Email: It allows long-form text, attachments, formatting options, and multimedia content. Emails also have a higher chance of marking your business emails as spam.

WhatsApp: WhatsApp offers a rich experience with features like formatting options, multimedia attachments and a conversational interface. It also offers ‘Quick Reply Buttons’ for prompt actions. Everyone loves using WhatsApp.

E. Spams

SMS: Regulations exist to combat spam, but promotional and unsolicited messages still reach the inbox. Opt-out mechanisms are tricky to exercise. 

Email: Email is prone to spam. Filters and spam detection algorithms help mitigate spam but are not very effective. Opt-out mechanisms function better than SMS 

WhatsApp: With Whatsapp’s strict regulations, higher pricing for marketing content and easy opt-out mechanism WhatsApp is very less susceptible to spam. 

F. Reliability  

SMS: It is difficult to verify the sender. The encryption option is not available with SMS. 

Email: Email is not immune to attacks. 94% of malware is delivered via emails, making it a less trustworthy channel.

WhatsApp: Senders are verified and awarded green ticks, enhancing trust amongst receivers. WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption for secure communication, making it a reliable channel.

Here's a comparison table for clarity:

Open Rate 97% 22% >98%
Dependencies Relies on mobile network Relies on internet connectivity Relies on internet connectivity
Cost Pay per text Zero charges Pay for a session
Experience Clunky UX Inaccessible to most Indians Most Indians have it and love it
Spam Known for high rates of spam Notifications can get sent to spam No spam
Reliability Reliable in some cases Reliable in some cases Reliable in most cases

Leegality Whatsapp Pings - using the benefits of Whatsapp for digital paperwork

A lot of critical information in the digital paperwork journey happens via "off-platform" communication - especially in remote, non-assisted flows:

  • eSign Links that allow signers to view the document and sign it
  • Notifications to signers once they've signed
  • Notifications about other parties signing the document
  • Notifications about any payments made during the eSign flow
  • The final signed document and Secure Audit Trail

Till now, this off-platform communication has only happened via SMS or email. However, as the table above suggests - SMS or email might be sub-optimal in many scenarios - and lead to drop offs.

That's why we built Leegality Whatsapp Pings.

With Leegality Whatsapp Pings, you can send out all communication regarding the document - from eSign links to the completed document - to signers directly on Whatsapp.

With Whatsapp Pings, you can avoid the pitfalls of SMS and Email - while delivering a superb user experience to your customers when it comes to signing paperwork with you.

Explore Leegality Whatsapp Pings