Boulder-based startup TextUs.Biz, recently launched a service that allows businesses to send and receive text messages with their customers. The texts are sent and received through the businesses’ main phone numbers and accessed via a web portal using PCs or tablets.
Ted Guggenheim, the President of TextUs.Biz, spoke briefly with the Camera last week.
The following has been edited for clarity and space.
1. What type of adoption rate have you seen thus far?
We launched what we called the “Text Friendly Boulder” initiative. We were out to sign up 100 businesses in the Boulder/Denver community to become our beta testers. So far we have about 22 businesses signed up and they really ranged in the types of businesses — salons and spas to auto repair (shops) to medical offices to the Four Seasons hotel in Denver to retailers like Chelsea to Albums on the Hill, Boulder Theater and Fox Theatre. So far, it’s been fantastic.
… I think the biggest challenge that we’re facing isn’t really getting the businesses on board, it’s letting the customers know they can text their businesses, because they could never do it before.
You see that early adoption curve and as long as we’re getting momentum, we expect it to spread more and more every time.
2. How does the technology encourage reliability on behalf of the businesses in their responses to customers ?
When a message comes into the business’ computer or iPad, they get a little notification on their screen — (let’s) say it’s a salon using a reservation system — they get a little pop-up and they can click on that and it takes them directly to that conversation. When the businesses are closed or when they’re unavailable, we provide an auto-reply and they can (customize) their auto-reply.
What this service provides the most value for are businesses that receive the most phone traffic. The phone is a bottleneck. … (If multiple calls come in), they put them on hold or a person calls and goes to voicemail. About one out of every three people that goes to voicemail doesn’t complete their transaction they called in for. With our service, they can manage up to a dozen text conversations at the same time.
By definition, texting is asynchronous — both parties can respond at their own convenience.
For example, if my wife is going to the gym and she needs to make a haircut reservation, she can text and leave the phone in the purse. So it reduces the amount of engagement time that the business has to spend on the phone by giving (the customers) the text capability.
3. How might this affect the human interaction element of business?
We’re not trying to replace the phone, we’re just trying to give people more options. In today’s world, having the ability to text versus call is becoming increasingly important. But the phone call is not being replaced, it’s just another option.
4. How do you protect against customers being overwhelmed by messages from businesses and, alternatively spam messages to businesses?
Our best practice policy and terms of business is you need to use the group message function on an opt-in basis.
… We’re in the process of integrating a blocking button so that they’ll be able to block incoming phone numbers. We haven’t had that problem yet, but we anticipate that could occur at some point in the future. But we will provide a blocking or blacklist capability if somebody is harassing a business.
5. Other companies — including Comcast — are dipping their toes into this space. How do you set yourself apart as a small firm?
Typically with new services, it comes down to the user interface, how easy it is to use and how the businesses can adopt it and put it into their workflow. With Comcast, they could do it, but they would have to rebuild their interface. Right now, it’s all bundled into their e-mail system and phone. These types of innovations, usually it’s not the big (companies) behind them, it seems to be the startups that do that.
We really want to be the first to market and we really want to do it better than anyone else. The user interface is really what we hope to be the big differentiator.
— Alicia Wallace