When serial entrepreneur Bogdan Constantin started his previous startup, a direct-to-consumer online suit and tuxedo rental company, he used email as his main marketing and communication tool with customers.
With an investment from the family behind Walmart, the business model grew — until his email open rates started fluctuating and decreasing over time.
“I could consistently send an email to a million people and get a 20 percent open rate, which is good for email.”
“But what drove me crazy is when you flipped it on its head, it means that 80 percent of people weren’t opening or seeing my email,” says Constantin.
Through his research, he found that while they use email, the Gen Z generation (the generation after millennials) doesn’t see it as their primary method of communication.
In 2018, mobile saw a 55 percent sales increase and by 2022, smartphones are predicted to account for $175 billion in retail sales.
Constantin realized that he was preparing for a customer base that would change dramatically in five to six years — preferring their phones to email.
On his e-commerce site, he added an additional field for a phone number below the email request form. Within the first two hours, 70 percent of sign ups had given their phone number. The customer service team collected the numbers and started sending personalized text messages from a human.
They acquired so much demand from their new customers, after implementing the personalized text messages, they were running out of tuxedos right before the weddings and proms. Men’s Warehouse founder and now CEO of Generation Tux George Zimmer make an offer to acquire the startup to bring that technology on board.
Unfortunately human error began to creep into the text messages — from misspellings to the wrong names. “This was a major sales tool and we couldn’t do it right at scale because we have tens of thousands of leads coming in and things were breaking left and right,” he says.
That’s when he saw an opportunity to build a marketing automation platform that would be powered by AI and machine learning to provide a two-way communication for e-commerce and other industries.
Constantin founded conversational commerce platform Voxie to introduce his SMS marketing channel solution that helps with attracting new customers, retention and repeat visits. He’s quick to say that they’re not a chatbot, but a hybrid.
While there are automations driven by AI within the platform to avoid mistakes, a human can jump into the conversation as needed.
The client uploads their customer information to the platform and the marketing team can set up smart text follow ups depending on their actions. They can include GIFs and emojis to humanize the brand. For example, the platform will ask a past customer if they liked their skirt purchase via SMS.
If the customer gives positive feedback, the text follow-up may include a matching top that goes well with that skirt. If it’s negative, the customer rep can engage with the customer to see what went wrong. The brand selects what data to capture through these conversations and it’s all stored on the platform.
“It’s ultra personalized. Every action you do, even something as simple as I texted the customer and how quickly did they reply back. This determines what happens next and we’re capturing all of that sentiment and intent,” he says.
They integrate with most e-commerce and payment platforms currently available, including Shopify, Marketo, and others. The platform easily connects and shows and appears within existing dashboards for reporting, analytics and more.
Voxie currently sets up a short pilot with the company before on boarding them and then moves into a SaaS model after a few weeks.
Currently they work with major retailer brands and consumer packaged goods like Lululemon, Anytime Fitness, General Mills, Unilever, and others to “help them build a lifelong relationship with the consumer so they keep buying their product.”
Constantin shares that on average brands that use Voxie are getting over a 50 percent response rate while converting 15 to 25 percent of all of the customers they message with.
But he says that Voxie is not a replacement for email marketing, but instead another tool that can be used to more strategically reach more customers.
“We just realized that email marketing is nowhere near as effective as it used to be and one of the things that we say we’re solving is channel customer medium fit.”
Last December, the Atlanta-based startup took a strategic seed round of $1 million and will be moving to release a new product feature in the next few months that will move to capture those mobile shoppers even further.