In the not-so-distant old days, getting in touch with a business meant sitting by your landline with the Yellow Pages to find their phone number. Now, online directories, social media, and various booking platforms have made it easier than ever to make an enquiry or book a service.
However, Australian startup Productify thinks the process is still not as convenient as it could be for either businesses or consumers, with the call-based interactions in fact still dominating despite the number of online services available.
Cofounded by Doron Ostrin, Dean Steingold, and Daniel Reyes, their new product Urge wants to up the convenience factor, allowing consumers to connect and transact with businesses through text rather than calls. It allows consumers to text businesses to make enquiries, place orders and reservations, and book appointments.
“As we are all used to messaging our family and friends, the same theory should apply to a business. On a daily basis, people pick up the phone to speak to a business, get placed on hold, have to spell out their name and mobile number to book an appointment or make a reservation, but now they can simply open Urge, type in the business name and message them directly,” Steingold explained.
The idea for the product came off the back of the startup’s work with Productify, a tool launched in 2012 to help shopping centres offer their customers an ‘online mall’.
“The problem we faced however is that it is almost impossible to know which products are in stock at any given point in time and to solve this would mean calling the store or going to visit the store in person,” Steingold said.
“By giving customers a direct link to a store, in the same format that most people use in their day to day lives to communicate with their family and friends, this would ultimately lead to more sales as the store is now seen to be ‘approachable’ and on the same level as the consumer.”
The first iteration of Urge was an app that helped users check with stores if they had certain pairs of sneakers in stock. However Steingold said the team quickly realised that this process of product discovery is happening on a continual basis, whether someone is walking down the street window shopping or if they’re looking for something specific online.
“Trying to fit the ‘discovery’ phase into the space of an iPhone is limiting and does not provide the best user experience. When our beta users got to the point of being able to message a store though everyone had the same reaction…it was at this point that we decided to scrap the discovery phase and purely focus on enabling customers to text businesses,” Steingold said.
For customers, using the app is as simple as typing in the name of the business to find them in the directory and then texting them whatever they want. Users can enable location settings to have the directory show them businesses nearby, and of course can call rather than text the business if they need to.
Given businesses will be the ones paying for a pro version of the app, it’s on the business side that the important features must come in. It’s easy to imagine some business owners saying that texting back and forth to get information off a customer could be harder than a quick phone call, for example, and neither owners nor their staff have time to be texting all day. Meanwhile, if they are booking appointments and reservations through texts the system must be integrated with a calendar or other scheduling software, otherwise messages may get lost.
Steingold said a paid version of Urge currently in the works will include that all-important management portal, analytics and CRM integration, as well as chat routing and scalation. Also to be included is a payments system to allow users to pay directly through the app.
The app currently makes businesses aware of pending messages through visual and aural reminders, falling back to automated phone calls. Auto replies for the more mundane questions such as opening hours can be added to the app, as well as automated booking responses. For instances in larger businesses where questions can’t be answered by the staffer manning the app at the time, they can be forwarded to another person.
“Making sure businesses respond to customers in a timely manner is our number one focus,” Steingold said.
He believes there is no direct competition for Urge in the market, as “it is not there to replace any form of communication for a business. Urge is all about giving a customer the best and easiest way to contact any business, and that is via text.”
The greatest advantage of the app is its simplicity, Steingold said. While there are an endless amount of apps and platforms on the market that allow for customers to interact with businesses and book services, he believes Urge is the easiest to use because it doesn’t require users to change their existing habits and learn new ones; rather it lets users communicate in a way that is already natural for them.
Originally targeted at service businesses where customers have to pick up the phone to order a book a service, Steingold said that the Urge team is now looking to expand its marketing to appeal to all businesses that have a landline phone.
“One of our most exciting and heartwarming sign ups came from a company in South Africa that sells hearing aids. Upon speaking to the manager and asking how they heard about Urge, she said that one of her customers had come in to pick up their hearing aid and explained that they needed to download Urge because the majority of their customers are unable to call to find out when their hearing aid is ready or to make a booking,” Steingold said.
“It then dawned on us that for anyone who suffers from a hearing disability, the ability to now be able to text businesses could be a life changer and give further independence to those with this disability.”
With the app currently free, Steingold said bringing businesses on hasn’t been an issue as they are eager to have another sales channel. With a few dozen on board, he said the team is being deliberately slow to bring new businesses on in order to ensure the system is working well and businesses are delivering a personalised level of service.
Over the next few months Steingold said the team will be looking to increase its presence in Sydney and expand into Melbourne. It will also be launching Urge in LA in July.
Image: Daniel Reyes, Dean Steingold, Doron Ostrin. Source: Supplied.