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45: Podium Makes the Case for Adding a Texting Strategy to Your Retail Business

Written by Rob Stott

November 24, 2020

Jama Featherson, director of retail at Podium, jumps on the podcast to talk about their recent State of Local Business report. The deep dive, which tracked changes in consumer shopping behaviors in a pre- and post-COVID world, shows just how prevalent texting has become in the path to purchase.

On this episode, we reference Podium’s State of Local Business report, which you can download for free right here.

Also, throughout the interview, we hit on a few charts that Podium shares in the report. Here they are for your reference while listening!

Source: Podium, State of Local Business Report

Source: Podium, State of Local Business Report

Source: Podium, State of Local Business Report

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast, and really excited right now. I feel like we just met, even though it’s been a couple of months at this point, but I just met you Jama, and it’s been a great first couple of months of this relationship, and not just me and you, but Nationwide and Podium. I appreciate you taking time…

Jama Featherstone: Hey we got a great thing going too Rob.

Rob Stott: We do, we do. If this Nationwide, Podium thing doesn’t work out, we should stay in touch, man. This has been a lot of fun. Jama Featherstone, the director of sales for retail for Podium, appreciate you carving some time out for the Independent Thinking podcast and for me. Like I said, I’ve been looking forward to this.

Jama Featherstone: It for sure, Rob, thanks for having me on, I’m a fan of the show, I listen to it. I have about a 40 minute commute every day, which doesn’t sound like long time, but I’m able to listen to the podcast and clear my mind, get industry specific stats and listen to what the NMG members are saying about the challenges, but then also the successes they’re having. So, big fan of the show, excited to be here, thanks for the intro. Yeah, I’ve been here at Podium for about five years. I started in furniture and appliance retail sales here, and those were my strategic accounts.

Shout out to my guys at Sherman’s, who was one of my first accounts first couple months in, David Weiss, thanks again. Has always been a champion of us. So again, I love the member group, love what we’ve been able to do. We’ve made a massive impact just upfront in the last … gosh we inked the deal with you guys I think maybe just a month and a half ago, and have had, I think, 40 to 50 new sign-ups which…

Rob Stott: That’s impressive.

Jama Featherstone: We’ve pretty much doubled our book of business within a month and a half. So there’s a big appetite for it, and then also good word spreads. Right? But having that credibility with your brand, I think is the biggest thing. I mean, when we would approach dealers before, it was like, “Yeah, we have some folks that are on Nationwide.” But when we signed the agreement with you guys, gosh, you guys were all in, super supportive. So, thanks again for all of that, and shout out to all the Indie members out there.

Rob Stott: Absolutely. I appreciate it and appreciate the kind words, nice to know I have at least one listener. So, if I’m able to fill your commute for 40 minutes, that makes me happy, knows I’m doing my job. At least makes me feel like I’m doing something good for someone out there. Now that’s awesome.

Jama Featherstone: Absolutely

Rob Stott: Like you said, the partnership has been one … it’s still very fresh, but very vibrant and a lot happening with it. For those out there listening that aren’t familiar with Podium, what’s the quick elevator pitch on what you guys do and what you bring to the table for the Indie retail community?

Jama Featherstone: Awesome. Yeah. So every time I get that, I say, “Look, friction kills deals.” Right? Steps in the sales process will always slow things down. So Podium allows you to get out of your own way and make it convenient for customers, connect with you on all facets, whether it’s a phone call, email, or even a text message, because again, the average consumer is going to 1.5 businesses before they make a decision, we want it to be yours. Right? So, Podium gives you the tools to modernize the way that customers connect with you and then reconnect with you as well, a lot of that being through a messaging platform or a text message. Right?

Then credibility online is a huge thing as well, like think about what reviews play into it. So again, if I were to summarize it, I would just say, “Hey look, we modernize the way that local business connects with their customers and repeat customers. Again, it’s typically through text messaging.

Rob Stott: Now, that’s awesome. What are they signing up for when … because I know you guys had, like you mentioned, a bunch of members that were part of Podium, and had used the service before we even had a partnership. So, when someone approaches Podium, what is it that you can help them with and what are they getting into when they sign up with you guys?

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. So, if I could back up a little bit, I mean, Podium got its start in the reputation management space, and really six years ago, that’s when the Google reviews platform launched and we didn’t know how important those would be. But gosh, through the last six years, think about how much Google reviews have been pushed, whether you hear it in the news or just people calling you up, reviews matter. Right? 90% of all sales start online now through a search engine, almost a 100% of all sales, and you think about it, right? There’s no blind dates anymore. People know your business back and forth before they even approach you.

So, for example, if I could, like Gallery Furniture, Mattress Max, Super Eccentric guy based in Houston, Texas, he wants to own his own backyard, revolutionize the way that people see something in inventory and it’s delivered the same day. I mean, the guy is a revolutionary guy. But guess what? He had bad reviews. It was crazy. I’d call them up. I was like, “Mack, you have a 3.5 star rating, you’ve got as just as many one stars as you’ve got five stars.” So when we approached them, I said, “Look, let’s make it easier for your sales reps, your RSAs to ask for good feedback at point of sale when the customers are the happiest.” Guess what? If you look at his Google reviews now, he’s got over 32,000 reviews on Google and at a 4.9 star rating.

Now again, he’s still getting one star reviews, but he’s getting … 98% of his people that are happy are leaving him reviews as well. That’s one of the main reasons. If I were to also talk about another member, as I shouted out before, David Weiss. Right? He was competing with Lowe’s, with Best Buy, with Home Depot, they had way more reviews. If you Google appliance stores in Peoria, Illinois now, guess who shows up first and has the most reviews? Sherman’s. Right? Then again, I mean, we’ve launched five new products in the last two years that have given us the ability to not only help you with your reputation, but then connect web traffic to foot traffic through web chat.

Again, we saw a massive, massive response with Podium Payments, because a lot of things shut down. Right? But then we also before we saw that, people would start chatting with the business and be ready to buy, and then they’d have to make a phone call, and would disconnect that messaging side of things. So, we decided to launch Podium Payments because they can literally purchase within seconds, Apple Pay, Google Pay, credit card, debit card, bank transfer, whatever it is within seconds, the retailer gets paid, shoots it over.

I’ve got some other examples that I wanted to bring up that are Nationwide members. Shout out to Greg and Katie Law at Sweet Dreams, but they’ve literally revolutionized their sales process and just love those guys, they’re geniuses.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, you boiled it down already, but it’s all about from end to end streamlining and simplifying the process, not only for the retailer themselves, but how the consumer interacts with that retailer from how they find them to how they potentially purchase through them to then, what that after the purchase customer review looks like, and it is full cycle because anyone who’s anyone today, that shops online knows that online reviews or anything … I’ve got the wife at home who on Amazon won’t look at anything unless it’s got like a four or seven at a bare minimum, it doesn’t matter if it’s a product.

Even today we can talk about the fact that so much of how we eat is even changing with things like Uber Eats and the delivery services. Again, I don’t know if it’s just that online way of doing things, but if it doesn’t have at least a four star, we won’t be ordering from there. It can’t be understated or overstated rather, just how important those reviews are. Like I said, it’s a full circle process.

Jama Featherstone: Absolutely. To your point, Rob. So what we found as well, just to your point, the higher review volume and the more frequent in recent basis, Google will then recognize those businesses being the ones that people frequently shop. Right? Which produces credibility, but then also maps you higher on the Google local search. Right? When someone does appliance stores or refrigerators near me, you got to be in those top three results because 77% of all the clicks get to the bricks. Right?

So, you got to be able to show up higher, and again, to your point as well, we were able to connect the Google My Business page analytics and what we found in the retailer’s aspect, and you guys could probably see this as well if you have a Podium account, you can see this in your dashboard, a 100% spike in website visitors, when you started using Podium, 61% more clicks to call, 53% more driving directions. Then again, it just allows you to have the ability to produce that credibility online. Right? So not only your reviews are the start, they’re the foundational piece because everybody else, like you said, looks at those to understand your business better.

Then from there, produces confidence and then be like, “Oh, go to the website, I’ll start shopping around, I’ll start doing this.” That’s why Podium web chat became so beneficial and any chat solution for you guys. I know a lot of you guys use different chat systems, it’s so important to have that call to action on your website, because it’s like someone walking into your store and poking around the sofa or the table, of course, you’re going to engage with them. It’s the same thing as a website visitor, that could potentially be a $10,000 sale. You just never know. So, cut out the unknown, make it engaging on your website.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, for how different they are and how … it feels like the operations are … don’t get me wrong, they are online versus in store and how everything’s treated, the way that you have to think about it and how customers engage and how you have to capture their attention and still … all the basic principles are there for retail, and what it boils down to it, they’re on your website, don’t let them leave, they’re in your store, don’t let them leave. Kind of having all those touch points and being able to chat with them and just offer that white glove service from the time they enter till the time they’re hopefully either clicking buy or swiping their credit card or handing over some cold hard cash. So, it’s crazy.

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. One thing I would mention and shout out to Dos Marcos, those guys are awesome. Mark Kinsley and Mark Quinn. They’ve been a partner of ours and obviously a partner of you guys. They brought to the table a really great story through, Sweet Dreams, which I was going to mention with Greg and Katie. And everybody talks about Be-Backs the 50-50s like, “Oh, I got to go home and measure or I got to go talk to the wife.” I myself have been in that position at a local retailer myself. Like, “Hey, I’m just here browsing, but definitely want to go home and think about it.”

What Greg and Katie have been able to do is literally say, we’ve eliminated so many Be-Backs because we send them a Podium Payment link that has their itemized version of what they’re looking at on the store and say, “Here’s your path to purchase, when you go home and you get approval, or you measure this out, it just takes you a couple of days to think about it and look at your finances, click here to purchase. You don’t even have to come back into the store. How convenient is that?” Right? We had no idea, the beauty of Podium is it’s literally the users telling us … the retailers being like, “Hey, we’ve changed the way we’ve followed up on sales because of this.” Then it’s like a light bulb moment for me, and then it becomes part of our process.

So, you guys have the strongest, smartest, strategic members behind it because they get it, they’ve been there, they’ve been part of a sales process that maybe isn’t as convenient, and they use these types of tools that Podium has been able to provide to be able to clean that up, like to your point. You just don’t know, you don’t want to leave it up to the unknown. So take control, get in the driver’s seat and make it really convenient for customers to purchase from you at the end of the day.

Rob Stott: You mentioned all that change, and I know we’re sitting through a time where all this change and these kinds of services and offerings and opportunities have … there’s really never been at least recency bias at a time where they’ve been more important. I know it draws to something that you guys did, not too long ago, might be a couple of months at this point, but I know we stumbled across the state of local business report from Podium. So, before we dive into it, because I know there’s a lot to unpack with this report, tell me a little bit about the drive behind doing it and where the idea for the report came from.

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. I mean, at the hub of everything that Podium has built is, is the ability to create really great experiences through convenient communication. Right? We found that reviews were just the tip of the spear, reputation management is definitely important, but we found that more importantly, customers and just even today … I mean, I always bring up the example of my mom. I literally called her like two days ago and she texted me back like, “Hey, what’s up?” I was like, “Well, what?”

Rob Stott: “Hold on, time out. What?”

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. My mom’s 65, and she’s got a newer iPhone, but I thought it was hilarious that I called her just to catch up with her, and she texted me back to say, “What’s going on?”

Rob Stott: First of all, that’s backwards, usually it’s the kid texting mom, like, “Hey, sorry, I’m busy right now, I’ll call you back.” At least you didn’t get completely ghosted, it was just a little bit of time in between, but she did get back to you?

Jama Featherstone: She did, and that’s the funny thing, is I text all day every day, I’ve got iMessage linked to my computer, I’m texting people. Again, I thought for my parents, they’d appreciate a phone call. We’re seeing this shift that every demographic of generation, Gen X, baby boomers, Gen Ys, Gen Zs, whatever it is, they prefer to text. Because again, they’re on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, whatever it is, they’re used to just DM’ing, texting, whatever it is from these platforms.

So, we kind of nailed it with the reputation management side, we knew reviews were going to be important, and now we’re seeing these massive ways of texting. Right? That can mean so many things, and especially the business owners, I’m sure you guys are probably in the car or wherever you’re listening to this, like, “Oh my gosh, I know I’m not equipped to text.” But I’ll tell you, as we did our research across thousands and thousands of consumers, it was pretty staggering also businesses too, we’ve vetted out businesses and we tried to line up both expectations and perceptions here, and that’s where the state of local business came from like, “Okay, how important is messaging going to be in the future?”

One of the things I would highlight too, is that, Walker Consulting, this huge consulting firm said, “In the first time in consumer goods, experience will outweigh price.” Isn’t that crazy that literally … these results came out in January, and now we’re in close to the end of the year. How much more is experience outweighing price? Because I’ll tell you, consumers will pay whatever it takes to have a better experience, and sometimes they’ll just pay it because of out of necessity. Right? We’re seeing that Black Friday is going away because there’s such a high demand already that people need appliances, they need dishwashers, they need freezers, they need these things. So, to be equipped to handle that transaction quickly is big.

So that’s where the state of local business came from, as we wanted to vet out both customers and businesses and to see if we were both aligned and then whatever we can do to help local business transform themselves, we’re there to help.

Rob Stott: The crazy thing … you mentioned this, this was all done, you guys were thinking about this and going through the motions of doing this, nowhere in there did you mention COVID, it was all prior to the shutdowns and everything that’s happening, and then COVID hits and that’s looking at the numbers, maybe that exacerbates some of the findings that you guys have. But really, I mean, like a lot of industries, it pushed along the evolution of thinking, the evolution of business strategies at a much quicker pace to where we were heading anyway. So, it’s interesting to see that as you talk about it, nowhere in there, like I said, did you say COVID, but that’s still plays a role obviously in the final report.

We’re talking about anyone who’s listening, if you’re on the Nationwide website, you can find the link, and we have some cool stats as we’re going through here, you can follow along. Then on YouTube, we’ll flash some graphics as we go along here, but in both places you’ll find the link to download right below where you’re watching or listening. But from there, you mentioned two things that I think stood out, and I will get into where the key findings of this report were, and I know it’s very texting heavy, which I look forward to getting into, but in particular, there’s this chart about, as you are hitting on it, the things that customers are prioritizing and the shift, pre COVID and now is kind of how the chat’s laid out, but price was one that …

There’s a couple of things that had a big shift in how consumers look at things, pre COVID and after COVID, one of which, as you mentioned is price. Then offering curbside pickup the way things are communicated, a lot of these things that you see the dramatic shifts in has to do with how people are thinking about shopping right now, they’re maintaining social distance and being safe in these times, and finding ways to still have a strong retail experience, when you boil it down, it’s safe.

Jama Featherstone: Right. Yeah. You bring up a lot of good points because again, we’ve been building a messaging platform for years for local business. But I’ll tell you we had no idea come March, I was at a trade show in Vegas and things shut down. Then all of a sudden, every local business had to pivot, to basically be a local eCommerce. Right? A lot of government restrictions, a lot of them were deemed essential, which is great in the appliance world, that they could stay open with some limitations there. So, I’m grateful for that.

But I’ll tell you, to your point, people expect these things now, like moving forward, not just now, but people will because they’re so used to this lifestyle, because we’ve been in it for seven, eight months, people now expect curbside delivery. They expect contactless payment, they expect these kinds of options now because they’re so used to it and it’s convenient. It’s more like, “Hey, I paid, done, you pick it up or you come out to my car, thank you.” For other things, you can literally purchase like Sweet Dreams is doing, from Podium Payments or from a text to payment link. You don’t even have to come back into the store, it shows up on their doorstep. Right? Again, one of their certified reps coming in and taking care of them that way.

I was talking to Sherman’s, and they talked about how much business is coming through chat now, he says it’s staggering. I mean, they’ve had to hire a ton more people. David has had to hire more people to facilitate these messages because people are just used to chat now. Right? Yeah, I think for us, we saw of course, some people pull back a little bit, but then we saw this surge of people being like, “I need chat, I need payments, I need texting. I want my business to maintain itself.” We just weren’t equipped for that, and we had just this huge surge of signups, because again, we feel fortunate that we’ve been building towards a local business, being able to come a little bit more modern, take out some of the friction and make it easier, and not for just the customer, but for the retailer. Right?

That’s what the beauty of Podium is, it will facilitate the consumer expectations, but then it’s sustainable for a business to use us because it’s all done through one easy to consume dashboard so that people can monitor reports and just make sure that everything’s happening under one roof.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I almost shutter thinking to say this, but this new normal thing that everyone’s always been like … it’s how it’s been referred to, but it’s true. This is how so much has changed in consumers that maybe they weren’t apt to want to shop online, they’re doing it now. Still one of the most staggering stats I’ve ever heard during this whole time was back in the April, May, June timeframe, looking at … I’m sure, Adobe Analytics, they’re always big around Black Friday and the online sales and how things are going, hearing them say that the months of March or April, May and June, either met or exceeded Black Friday shopping online, just the way how much consumers were spending and that, for three straight months.

So, that is absolutely astounding, first of all. I mean, it just goes to show how quickly consumers were willing to adapt when forced to, and after having been forced to, now this is the way they expect to do it. This is a new normal, if you will, of online retailing. So, I mean, having … you could talk to our digital teams still here at Nationwide, and they were probably much like you guys under a bit of a crunch to get people up and running on new services and get these … whether it’s chat or upgrading websites and things like that.

So I know it’s crazy to see that, that quick of an adjustment on the consumer side, but also inspiring to see how readily willing independent retailers were to make those adjustments and how set up they are for the future now, because this is certainly something that … it was never going to go away. The gas pedal was put to the metal on online shopping, for sure.  Now, I know a lot other things to dive into here, but that’s certainly one that stands out and cool to see all these services, how they’re prepping these retailers for years to come.

Jama Featherstone:

Oh yeah. Rob, that’s a really great point because again, I love hearing retailers that are like, “We’re busier than we have ever been, we’re in the black and we’re like halfway through the year or whatever it is.” That to me is worth celebrating because it’s amazing work. It was worth you guys sticking around, serving the local business. I remember I heard one member say like, “At the end of the day, nothing against the big-box stores but I’m going to be here until the day I die.” Right? I’m going to be there for the consumer, I’m going to provide the best experience. So, don’t forget who got you through some of these harder times where you needed a refrigerator, you needed to repair at night or whatever it is.

Again, the acceleration of customer expectations is just crazy, right? Like overnight, it was like instant gratification became the new normal, like you said, I need an answer or I just need the ability to connect at a convenient level. Because people were homeschooling, people didn’t have time to pick up the phone like they normally do or walk into the store. They just don’t have that time anymore because they’re juggling so many endeavors, they’re working from home, they’re doing school from home. They’re running around still, literally people had to have … you needed to have like six arms to be able to do everything that you needed. You can’t be going back and forth with the retailer over the phone or playing phone tag or voicemails, it’s just like, “Oh my gosh.”

So, whoever can get in their phone will win the game, and that’s the idea. Right? We do believe that text is the new handshake. I think about … like I was talking to my reps that I work with. I’m like, “Think about how many deals are closed every day through texts now.” Think about how many big deals are finalized, think about how many transactions are happening through texts or just messaging altogether, whether it’s Facebook Messenger at work, just texting in general or DM’ing through, it’s crazy to think because I was born 1985, I’m a kid of the 80s, I had my first smartphone in 2012. I’ve seen both sides of it and it’s amazing how much technology has shifted.

Again, to your point, it’s accelerated everything on both sides. Right? But to your point, if you’re listening, I applaud all of you guys that were willing to spend the money to redirect and have funds to be able to take care of your customers in a new way, again, that is a huge accomplishment.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I mean, everything we’re saying goes back to this state of local business report and kind of the shift. It wasn’t just businesses obviously, it was consumers as well that have been driving the shift. It really was the consumer shift that drove the business shift because businesses have to keep up with them, and how they’re shopping and what they want, but I know there’s a lot, the big draw out of this report is just how heavy the shift to texting has been, especially on the consumer side, we’ve talked about it a lot already, but to dive into it deeper, one area that stands out to this, I don’t personally think about texting business as much, but when you have 12%, just over 10% of consumers saying that within the last day, they’re texting businesses. I mean, that’s a trend that is clearly moving.

Then I think the number grew to almost two third, maybe like 60% within the last month. So, I mean, that’s a big shift and not only is it a big shift of … I think when people think about numbers like that, they’re like, “Oh, well, it’s the younger consumers, it’s the millennials, people that don’t like picking up the phone and making phone calls or Gen X or Gen Z rather that are just coming into the market as a consumer. But no, it spreads over across all generations.

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. Yeah, and to your point too, that’s the crazy thing, is like within 24 hours, 12% of people have messaged a business, and then within a month, 61%, that’s the majority, that’s more than half of people. The crazy thing too is that 50% of businesses aren’t equipped to handle text. Right? So that’s the biggest thing that we see as the expectation versus the actual technology application. If you’re not texting right now, guys, you’re missing out on a business, I promise, that’s the biggest thing. The reason, to your point, is that it’s growing across all demographics because of this main thing that we’ve talked about, which is people are just used to this messaging idea as well, and it’s convenient. You can send pictures, you can send videos, you can send payment links. It happens within seconds that way.

So, it’s crazy to think that we’re making the shift towards the modernization of local businesses become through … you become part of their contacts essentially now. You’re right there, next to grandma or mom, or your cousins or friends, you literally become their appliance or their furniture store, their mattress store, because if you can get them saved in your phone, you’ve won, you’re exchanging emojis. It humanizes that entire experience for them to be like, “Great, I really like Rob, I’ve loved working with him. I love being able to just have a nice conversation, it can be a breath of fresh air.”

So, one last point to this, eCommerce businesses don’t have the education, the experience that local retailing do, it’s all about analytics reporting, transacting through a cart, and then you’re done, you don’t talk to anybody, but if you can marry the two, like you were saying, Rob, it’s literally becomes the best experience ever. They have education, they’re dealing with their rep, they have the buying power, they have all of these things that allow you to really delve into it, and you’re supporting local business too, and everybody has said, “I want to support local business, because again, you guys are the backbone of the economy.”

So I’ve seen a shift just because people now are almost being like, “Hey, I want to support local, these guys have been in my town, these guys have sponsored high school events. These guys have been there, and I want to support them through this challenging time.” But again, at the end of the day too, we need to make sure that we’re equipped to handle those types of situations as well.

Rob Stott: Definitely. When you say that, something that stands out and I think maybe needs to be explained potentially for someone that isn’t utilizing some of these services right now, when you talk about texting a customer, I can just imagine, a retailer sitting out there right now, listening, thinking like, “Oh, I got to give my phone number to a customer.” I don’t want to be butt dialed in the middle of the night or accidentally exchanging OMGs and LOLs with the wrong people. What are these services like, and is it literally like giving someone your number and saying, “Hey, text me and that sort of thing.” Or what does this service look like and how does it operate?

Jama Featherstone: Yeah. Rob, that’s a good question. It comes up on every single phone call, because again, you have to be able to separate business from your personal life, right? You have to be able to do that. Family is so important, especially when you’re working like crazy hours like you do in retail, when you want to take a break, you have to take a break. The last thing you want to do is, like you said, is hand out your personal number because it’s going to ping you and someone’s going to look over and be like, “Are you serious? You’re here with family right now, come on.” So, the beauty of our services is we integrate all messaging platforms into one inbox, even your landline number.

So, that is a huge value add, when we can integrate your phone line into a textable number, you’ve had that number for 50 years, 60 years, may be 100 years, depending on how many generations you’ve been working with, put that on your van, put that on your messaging, put that on your website, put that on your commercial, say, text us here. The beauty of Podium is a third-party app that integrates all of these messaging platforms into one spot that you can divorce yourself from work when they text you, it pings them after hours. It still captures their information, but it doesn’t ping you, and allows you to really have that separation for personal and business life, but being able to accommodate to the customer at the same time through messaging platforms.

So the beauty is, is yeah, don’t give out your personal anymore. We do have a texting solution that allows you to integrate your phone line right into one, easy to use platform and even your emails as well, we still find that people, like to email, comes right into one spot that allows you guys to consume that data and be able to get back to the customer at their convenience and your convenience as well. So, for all you business owners out there, we make it really easy, it’s easy to use dashboard, and then again, you don’t have to give out your personal number or even some retailers are buying business phones, and that can be costly. Like phone plans are super expensive, so we make your landline, we give your landline a voice, makes it really great.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Like you said, convenience is the word at the end of the day for both the customer, but also how you manage it as the business owner, so that’s awesome to see, and hopefully a little relieved for at least some of the listeners, a little relief for how it operates. When I think about texting and the strategy and how you got to think about it, the other type of service that comes to mind is chat, website chat. I mean, this could be something that maybe another question you guys get a lot. Our chat strategies and texting strategies, are they similar in the way they’re managed and how you go about them or is it something where you got to keep them separate or approach them two completely different ways?

Jama Featherstone: That’s a good question. Typically, when someone’s chatting, they’re top of the funnel, right? Maybe they’re customer that you haven’t dealt with before, but they’re on your website. So they’re literally … maybe they saw your reviews, saw you trended higher, they’re poking around, they’re looking at a new sofa, they’re looking at a new bed, they’re looking at a new appliance. Right? So, that’s typically top of the funnel.

I think chat just allows you guys, like you hear it all the time, like, “Oh, you got to have a chat service, you got to have a live chat or whatever it is.” I would agree with that. The one thing that we found too, is like, you can get overwhelmed with how many systems you have to manage. Like, “Oh, hey, someone managing the chat. Oh, someone managing Facebook Messenger. Oh, someone managing this platform over here, like Instagram, and it can be overwhelming to a business owner to be like, “Hey, I’m trying to accommodate to the customer, but this is really tiresome.”

So again, we stumbled into success and I hate to say that, but again, our model has always been like, “What do we need to build for our customers and what’s the next phase?” We found that customers that are using Podium got a spike in website traffic. So we thought, “Well, we’ve already got a messaging platform, let’s integrate it right into a chat system.” So we give you guys the ability to capture the customer’s name, phone number in a quick message. We run analytics on where they kind of been on your website, allows them to see exactly when they say, “Hey, is this in stock?” Allows you guys to monitor that, and it’s all done via your landline number. Right? It’s all done via text.

From the consumer, they’re just texting the business. Right? Then some of our retailers are saying hey … they have like a little shortcut, a little template that says, “Hey, save our number in your phone, text us at any time.” You are literally saved in their contacts, right? You can’t get any better than that. People pay thousands and thousands of dollars for Google ads to be at the top, but you’re never in their phone, talk about if you’re going to be in their phone, that’s where live chat and texting marry each other. Rob, is the ability for us, and we feel lucky that we’ve built a very secure opt-in system that allows you to text your customers immediately from your website or something they’re looking at, and they’re confident. Right?

Unfortunately, contact forms, people don’t have a ton of confidence in that anymore because they’re like, “Oh, I’m not sure whether they’re going to get back to me.” They immediately get pinged, “Hey, we got your text, we’ll text you soon.” Allows you to have that quick exchange. It gets right into the RSA. Or if it’s into a service department, it can be easily handed off, things like that. We marry those two together, because again, they’re not tied to your browser anymore, they’re on their phone. It literally takes them from your website onto the phone, they can go wash the dishes.

Again, I’ve got a two-year-old, so I’ll go outside and hang out with my two-year-old, and then I can start that conversation and keep that going, exchange pictures. Again, we see conversations where it lasts a couple of days and they say, “Great, looks good, price looks good, let’s pull the trigger.” Right? That can happen all via texts from a chat function.

Rob Stott: Crazy. Any sort of unintended, not unintended, or lesser talked about benefits that you think maybe don’t get enough love as far as a service like this is concerned?

Jama Featherstone: For me, because I’ve been doing this for about five years, and so I, again, I’m biased, but I think you guys have the best Indie retailers in the entire industry.

Rob Stott: Well, gee, thanks. So on behalf of them, I say thank you.

Jama Featherstone: I think the unintended benefits of all this is that people … again, customers keep coming back and we see that repeat business happen because you guys spend enough money to get people in the doors or through your chat. The lifetime value of a customer is so crucial. What we found is if we can play our cards right, we literally remain … because it’s based on phone numbers, we see historical data that people will purchase in March, then they’ll come back in May, then they’ll come back in June and then they’ll come back in … You see what I’m saying? You can literally monitor the lifetime value of your customer when they transact with you, when they’ve left you a review, when they just want to run some options off you, like how easy is it for them just to shoot a quick text, feel it out really quick, exchange some quick pictures within RSA and then pull the trigger.

So again, I think the unintended benefits that we saw is just that convenience factor of being saved in their phone and then being able to get right back into the sales funnel within seconds. They don’t have to go to the website again, they don’t have to pick up the phone again, they don’t have to do all these things, they literally could just … up it into their iMessage or Android based messaging platform and be good to go. I think that’s one of the biggest thing is just building rapport with your customers for the long-term, you’re there for them. Yeah, that’s one of the things I just didn’t see, and then if I could share one last story, one of my retailers, one of my good friends, through COVID, he never furloughed anybody, because he could send everybody home with a laptop and said, “Start selling through Podium.”

Because they could just pivot like that, it allowed them to use the internet and technology to be able to say, “Hey, work remote. You don’t need to be in the showroom. Your showroom is now chat, and work with the customers, just like you would use that same Talk Track, use that same sales funnel management.” Again, that has just benefited their team, boosted morale, allowed them to adapt. So, even if there are more shutdowns, which we don’t know, take laptops home, use a chat function, use that as your showroom.

Again, that to me has just been really … Again, I don’t know how to summarize it, but I just felt really good at the end of the day, knowing that our retailers could just pivot immediately through technology provided the tools that we’ve been able to give them in the best practices that our client success team provides to be able to maintain their employees and keep them around high.

Rob Stott: I mean, that’s an incredible example of a platform potentially saving jobs, saving people’s livelihoods, that’s an incredible story. I mean, just thinking about how someone who … a business who has always been thought of as brick and mortar first can just … literally on a dime, just adjust and pivot, and then find themselves in a situation where they’re still able to do their jobs from home in industry where you would think that’s the … as a store owner, yes, there are eCommerce retailers out there obviously, but when everything is centered around a location, not a website, obviously you still have a website as retailers do these days, but to be able to adjust like that, that’s impressive. That’s incredibly impressive. Definitely an awesome story.

One kind of a sweet ending, I had one point I wanted to bring up and it’s about … you talked about text messaging and the unintended benefits, I think to my career path-ish in media, at one point in time, we had talked about the benefit of apps and being able to ping someone … you talked about having someone in your contact list, similar to that, that app strategy where when they download your app, you can vibrate their leg essentially when you send them a notification, you can grab their attention almost immediately. That type of concept, I think applies obviously here where, if you’re in their contacts obviously they can reach out to you, but at the same token, you can physically make their leg vibrate if they have vibrate on their phone or a little noise go off.

That you’re able to do that. There’s no better way to grab someone’s attention real quick and right away, almost instantaneously. So, no, just a lot of great things with Podium and what you guys are doing. The benefits, we talked about this report, just so many opportunities, I think abound. Obviously we’re talking around the holidays here, but like we said, and kind of throughout this COVID thing has put the … it’s shown how important having services like these are. So, whether it’s the holidays or not, these kinds of things are going to be important for a long time and certainly make a big difference for a lot of these retailers.

So, Jama, I appreciate, like I said, at the top, you’ve taken the time, and this was a lot of fun, probably a little longer than we both intended, but I think now, hopefully for those who are still with us here at this point in the podcast, hopefully they learned a thing or two and stuck around and at the very least heard our stories and enjoyed our voices. I don’t know. I don’t know why they stuck around this long…

Jama Featherstone: Yeah, no, it’s a good thing. Just again, one thing I would reiterate guys is, look how many unread emails versus text messages you have. Again, that’s just where we’re at right now, and especially during the holidays, it’s going to be people … companies are doubling down on their efforts to be able to get into the eyes of the consumers. So get right in their iMessage, get right into their texts, and I promise, 99% of all texts are opened and 90% are opened within the first three minutes. So, let’s make it happen together. Again, you don’t have a texting strategy, that’s totally fine, but also if you do, I know that you guys will see a huge spike when it comes to sales, reviews and everything else that comes down. Thanks for having me on Rob, it’s been awesome, great conversation. Thank you.

Rob Stott: Yeah, you bet, you bet. Certainly we’ll … I know we talked about this report a lot and everything that it has to offer, but definitely look forward to catching up again soon. Hopefully it’s one of these times eventually in person, we’ll see when that happens around a PrimeTime or whatnot, but it’s been great chatting over Zoom and staying in touch with you guys that way, but I know we’re all jonesing to get back on the road and in person. So, hopefully sometime soon.

Jama Featherstone: Couldn’t agree more.  Thanks again, Rob.

Rob Stott: You got it.

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