Go800: You Text Us, We'll Call You
Go800 wants to be the "1-800" number of the next decade. The startup provides a service for product vendors to get in touch with ready-to-buy consumers. Instead of showing a sometimes hard-to-remember 1-800 number on their ads, vendors can give viewers a simple keyword they can text to Go800. Seconds after a text is sent, the customer gets a call from a company rep. Will vendors bite?
05/07/10 5:00 AM PT
As business offerings go, Go800'splan is simple: It gives mobile consumers a quick keyword connection to a call-back from vendors. The vendor's ad lists an easy-to-remember keyword, a ready-to-buy viewer texts that keyword to Go800, and a moment later the viewer's phone rings with a call from the vendor. The system attempts to bridge the chasm between text/SMS and old-fashioned toll free numbers, noted the new company's president and founder, Ike Sutton.
Go800 launched April 15.
The patent-pending idea could give vendors a new approach to marketing and selling via the mobile phone. A company could use a text message from a potential buyer or link from Internet advertising to generate a near-instant phone connection with the vendor.
"Similar to calling an 800 phone number, the system allows customers to send a text message to a vendor to connect to the company's call center or customer service center. The phone rings six seconds later with an instant phone connection to a live person instead of calling in and navigating through voice prompts," Sutton told the E-Commerce Times.
Out With the Old
From the consumer's end, the process seems quite efficient. Shoppers no longer have to make an 800 call to get service. Instead, the vendor calls the mobile consumer back.
In their day, 800 numbers were a handy marketing tool. A potential customer would have to look up a toll-free phone number for a vendor and then make a free call to discuss a purchase.
But modern-day mobile communications takes that process a step further. In the process it could leave behind vendors who continue to expect their customers to look up and then remember a ten-digit phone number, according to Sutton. Even when the mobile phone carrier finds the number and places it, too much waiting time is consumed.
Buyers on the go expect more instantaneous access. Under his company's system, they can text a business name to "Go800" (46800) and get directly connected to their bank, hotel or even local pizza parlor, said Sutton.
That is precisely what Sutton's new service provides. New York-based Go800 bridges the divide between SMS and toll-free numbers.
Sutton's database currently has over 5,000 keywords. The sender does not have to include an actual message. In response to the text message, the mobile phone rings within and connects the consumer to the desired business.
How It Works
Sutton's service works with both brand names and generic regional businesses. He sells or leases keywords monthly. A national listing costs the vendor US$500. Vendors can also lease an area code to corner all of the consumer inquiries to a particular category within a particular geographic region.
For example, texting "Chase" to 46800 results in Go800 ringing your phone and connecting you to the Chase Bank customer service. Text "flowers" to 46800 and Go800 rings your phone and directly connects you to 1-800-Flowers.
"There is no need to search for phone numbers. It's an immediate and direct connection. Besides enabling easier contact, Go800 also saves businesses money by offering cheaper connection fees to their existing 800 lines," said Sutton.
Go800 also has direct response capabilities. Clients can skip the hard-to-remember ten digit toll-free number and instead tell their audience to text just a short code.
Room to grow
Go800 is registering keywords from large companies, small companies and even a few private executives who want their own vanity channel, said Sutton. He has plans to rapidly expand the service options.
"The first phase is limited to what is now in the database. This allowed the company to quickly get started," he explained.
Go800 could well become the leading force that moves this technology forward. Few competitors are going in this text-to-callback direction, according to Sutton. However, his visions of a relatively clear field may be a bit obscured.
"The new service is very interesting from a vendor's standpoint," Neil Strother, practice director for ABI Research, told the E-commerce Times. "The Mobile Market Association (MMA) has guidelines that make a de facto standard for this sort of service. It's fairly standard process to rent short code."
Much of Sutton's success in selling his service concept to vendors will depend on the funding available, said Strother.
"A number of players do something like this with links to a company, but a callback is a new concept. The question to be answered is, will a callback be enough to overcome existing services?" he said.
No Easy Launch
Despite the innovative concept of marketing by text through Go800, Sutton admits he had his hands full in pitching the idea to get vendors on board. His original idea was based more on using text-based conversations to initiate sales between consumers and vendors.
However, that approach proved to be burdened with far too many legal problems. One of his biggest obstacles was convincing corporations with large IT departments that they could not effectively do this marketing plan on their own.
"There were too many legal hurdles with original plan of text-to-text marketing. I learned the hard way. Now I have a product not connected to IT department," explained Sutton.
Convincing corporations to try his new marketing concept was a hard sell for Sutton, who had a five-year background in the mobile phone industry.
"It took me two years of hard work to figure this out. About 80 percent of the media still follows the old way. We don't change as quickly. But businesses are slowly migrating to new media. We are a bridge between old and new," Said Sutton.
Go800 gives businesses one more event to get customers. Tapping in to that opportunity is often hindered by peoples' short-sightedness, he believes.
"I decided to give a product that is very simple for companies. People still want to talk to a live person," he noted.
Planting the Seed
The concept behind Go800 was Sutton's alone. He started the company with two cofounders, an intellectual property attorney and a technology expert in the mobile space.
He formulated the idea after two or three years of marketing and meetings to make his original texting idea work. The technology was available but needed to be modified. As Sutton describes it, the technology to do this is not rocket science, but he did have to work out the conversion.
"This is a huge idea, it is a billion-dollar marketplace that will attract a lot of people to the table," he asserted.
His goal is to expand the offering worldwide. He is currently working on building case studies to show a company how many of its customers can text.
Reaching that goal will be a tremendous challenge, he admitted. It's like putting a little toe in the water to test it before diving in. Eventually companies will want to do text-to-text, he believes.
Selling his callback marketing method might be a tough road to travel. Go800 has a new twist on an existing concept, warned Strother.
"A lot of companies are getting into this space. I'm not sure what he's solving. It does give the vendor an edge," Strother said. "If the backend is human-powered, that's expensive."
Marketing this could be a problem. The obstacles are showing a clear problem it solves, focusing on who the customers are and how to educate consumers about short code, he explained.
"I give him high marks for adding the human voice callback. The negative side is, are there other alternatives? How do you scale it? It's a challenge. The mobile market is tough," Strother said.