We’ve all had a bad restaurant experience before. Maybe your food arrived ten minutes later than everyone else’s. Or perhaps you’ve chosen the one night that your server was having a particularly bad day and decided to take it out on you. Either way, we all fall into two general categories for how to react: those who will demand to speak to the manager and those who will keep quiet and decide to never come back to that restaurant again.
John Washam considers himself to be part of the latter category. As he explains, “I think a lot of people are like me. I want to give helpful criticism and I don’t want to be a complainer.”
Though John wasn’t too thrilled to receive poor service at dinner, it would end up being one of the best things to ever happen to him. As a self-described ‘serial entrepreneur,’ John is always on the hunt for his next big idea. After his bad restaurant experience, he was struck by an idea that would later become Talk To The Manager.
Talk To The Manager are comment cards for the 21st century. Businesses provide customers with a phone number that is typically displayed on a table, bag, counter or wherever else makes sense for their business. When a customer has a comment, he or she sends a text message to this phone number, which will then be sent to the business’ manager. The manager can then text or email the customer back and begin a conversation. Talk To The Manager keeps all phone numbers anonymous, so customers are able to speak to management without needing to give up their identity.
If you’re like John and feel awkward speaking to management, Talk To The Manager allows you to voice your concerns in a way that’s much more comfortable. Soft-spoken or shy individuals now have an opportunity to share praise, comments or criticisms whereas they previously would likely never have been able to speak up.
Helping Business Owners
Unlike comment cards which can take days or weeks for a manager to see, text messages allow management to see comments at the exact moment that they are sent. This enables management to try resolving conflicts before they lose business or, even worse, receive a poor review on an online review website.
“Dealing with online reviews takes a lot of time and energy from people who are already busy trying to run a business,” John explains. “We’re just glad to be able to help a little bit with that.”
Though originally intended for restaurants, John has been surprised to see his service being used in industries he never expected, ranging from banks to tattoo parlours to casinos. Most surprising was a chain of chemical dependency centers that use Talk To The Manager so patients have a way to communicate anonymously with doctors.
“It’s giving the patients a voice they didn’t have before,” says John. “These patients struggle with crippling addictions, and we’re proud that our service is being used to help them on their journey to independence from heroin.”
Perhaps most surprising of all is that most customers do not use Talk To The Manager to complain; in fact, 75% of the messages that managers receive are positive!
“When I was trying to find a domain name for this business, I tried every variation of text and sms and manager and owner,” John remembers. “I had ones that sounded ‘webby’ but I wanted something that would really get across what the heck this business was about without having to figure out what does this brand mean.”
After trying countless variations with different keywords describing the technology being used, John decided to go a different route and think about the relationship the service was helping to build instead. That’s when ‘Talk To The Manager’ popped into his head.
“The name resonates in people and makes them think of the old days when you would actually talk to the manager and you usually knew the manager or owner,” John explains. “Talk To The Manager evokes that feeling of community and closeness with management and that’s what we’re trying to restore.”
John believes it’s important to test whether your idea is viable before you pursue it. Before pursuing Talk To The Manager, John met with local business owners and made sure that this was a service that they would actually be interested in using.
Another way to test the market for an idea is to use Google Adwords to set up a landing page explaining what your idea is and asking for email addresses to keep visitors updated.
“Even if it’s ten different ideas, send people to ten different landing pages and see which one resonates,” explains John. “That’s the least you can do to see if your idea’s even worth executing on. You can try out ten different things in a weekend and see if it’s even worth it — and then once you’re good with an idea, go grab that domain name.”
If you’re ready to start your own website like talktothemanager.com, here are all of the tools that keep John’s site running:
Domain Name: Hover
Server environment: Amazon Web Services
Email services: Mailchimp, Sendgrid, Mailgun
Monitoring: New Relic, Loggly
Analytics: Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Chartbeat, CrazyEgg
Planning & Organization: Pivotal Tracker, Trello
Social Media: Buffer, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Bit.ly (with link shortening to tttm.co)
Advertising: Google Adwords, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook.