Before Alan Cohen had even finished installing his text messaging system for his restaurant client, he heard five previous customers had just booked
Cohen was thrilled – as was the restaurant owner. “While I was there, they sent out a campaign using their existing database loaded onto our platform. Before I’d even left, they’d had bookings as a result of our software.”
Four years ago Cohen, 61, and business partner Nigel Diamond, 54, set up Text My Deal, an in-house marketing platform that allows companies to communicate with customers via text messaging.
“We use text messages because everyone opens them. Texts have an open rate of 98 percent, compared with 22 percent of emails,” he explains, citing latest figures.
“This makes it about the most effective medium for communicating with customers. And they normally open texts within two minutes of receipt.”
Around 60 percent of Text My Deal’s customer base is restaurants – indeed, the company launched at the Restaurant Show, where it came runner-up in the ‘great new idea’ competition – but it has also expanded across retailers.
“Health and beauty is a big market for us, as is the hospitality sector, pubs and gastropubs, bowling alleys, golf clubs, hotels… pretty much anyone who deals with the public regularly,” explains Cohen, who has a background in voice and data communications.
“We bring in customers, and anyone who wants to encourage repeat business and increase loyalty can take advantage of Text My Deal,” he affirms. “The way I always put it is: How many times a day do you look at your phone? Normally it’s upwards of 70 or 80, so how good is it to be able to proactively put out a message your customers are going to see?”
A loyalty scheme is built into the platform, recording the number of customer visits, and the restaurateur or retailer can predetermine how many visits they want a customer to make before they receive a text message with the loyalty or reward.
The reason for setting up the company was two-fold; Diamond had been to America, where he had noted the prevalence of text message marketing, and Cohen says he himself had “a particular bee in my bonnet” about online voucher companies, which, he feels, “make a lot of money for doing very little”.
He elaborates: “For example, they’ll encourage a restaurant to do a 2-for-1 deal, but it will have to pay a commission on top of that, and the voucher company will own the database.
“The restaurant may be full, but it’s making very little money, and if it wants to contact the customers again, it has to do it through the voucher company.”
The pair came up with the idea of giving their clients an in-house platform that puts them in control of their discounts and special offers. It lets them decide on the number of messages they want to distribute, which might also contain information on topics such as music or themed nights, new menus and chefs, and preview sales.
While there are other companies offering text messaging marketing, Cohen says that none of them offer an end-to-end solution.
“With us, clients don’t have to go to a third party,” he explains. “One of our unique selling points is our ability to capture data; there are online text companies you can use if you have an existing database, but they don’t help you with data capture.”
This is especially important, he says, for obtaining details of everyone who turns up for a booking, for example a party of eight at a restaurant – not just the one who reserved the table.
“And because those people have enjoyed the service you have provided, they’re looking forward to hearing from you, so it’s a very favourable way of communication,” he adds.
Speaking of contented customers, Cohen says the Borehamwood-based company, which operates a lead referral scheme, has many of its own.
“For clients who have been with us more than two years, there’s been a 30 percent increase in the volume of messages sent out, and we’ve got a lot of happy customers because we’re increasing their business.”
Clients pay an initial set-up fee, which includes complimentary texts, and then a monthly licence fee. “Return on investment normally happens within the first month,” Cohen enthuses.
Last month the company launched a sister service, Text My Donation, a free- to-use platform for UK registered charities allowing them to collect money from supporters via texts. With no set-up or monthly costs, the company has already signed up 38 charities.
“When people give, for each charity we create a database of donors or supporters who are happy to be contacted by SMS, allowing the charity to message them with news, updates or when they hold fundraising events.”
Cohen says Text My Deal is always on the lookout for new opportunities. “We designed the product to be infinitely scalable. We want to go nationwide, and we can install different languages onto the platform, so we can very easily go international.”