TalkTo, a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup that lets users send text messages to “any company,” announced its expansion into Canada on Thursday.
TalkTo CEO Stuart Levinson said most of the questions users send through the service are handled by TalkTo call centre agents who then call the business for an answer. Once the business responds, TalkTo sends the message to its user via SMS. Businesses can also sign up to receive and respond to such questions directly via chat, SMS, e-mail or the TalkTo app.
Marketing tested the service by asking questions about store hours, in-store stock and facilities to Canadian Tire, The Bay and McDonald’s. Questions posed to both The Bay and Canadian Tire were answered accurately within five minutes – which TalkTo says is the average response time – while a question about whether a McDonald’s location had a children’s play area took 10 minutes.
Levinson said he believes customers prefer texting over calling customer service hotlines, where they often face long wait times or are put on hold. Texting is also the preferred method many people use to communicate with their families, so he said it’s natural they would want to text companies, too.
Levinson would not name any specific businesses that have signed up with TalkTo, but said it’s being used by small businesses like medical and legal offices as well as the customer service departments for bigger brands.
Businesses do not currently have to pay to communicate through TalkTo. Likewise, the startup makes no revenue from users – the service is free. It’s currently funded by a multi-million-dollar investment from private equity firm Matrix Partners.
“We have not started the monetization piece yet, but we’ll start sometime later this year,” Levinson said. “If you look at the way people are using this, it’s ‘do you have?’ ‘can I get?’ ‘how much is it?’ – all interactions between consumers and businesses. If we can be the simplest way for consumers to get answers from businesses, there are lots of ways to monetize.”