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Awaiting Entry – A better contactless waiting experience for in-person interactions with businesses

Nicole Culver Nicole Culver
Nicole Culver
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Image for a blog about virtual waiting rooms with SMS

As we come to terms with social distancing, limited occupancy, and the need for contact tracing, new steps have complicated the brick and mortar experience, and not just for retail. Healthcare waiting rooms, dining establishments, and even services like hair salons must now effectively utilize a human “parking lot” until they can allow more guests inside. 

And then there’s the problem of notification: how do you notify those businesses that you’ve arrived? How does the business let you know that it’s your turn to shop? Is it possible to notify people that occupied a shared spaced with a confirmed COVID case of the exposure? These are all brand new questions we are facing—questions that Dan Moore, Co-Founder, CEO, and Product Lead at Vaporware, experienced firsthand before building an app that might answer all of them. 

There has to be a better solution

At a recent appointment for a blood test, Dan’s experience looked a little like this: park in the lot outside the lab and pull up the email he was sent ahead of his appointment where he was instructed to click a link upon his arrival. This link took him to a form, which he then had to fill out and submit to inform the front desk that he was there, waiting for his appointment. While Dan liked the fact that he felt safer waiting in his car, he found the process a bit tedious. 

I can relate. I had a very similar experience while trying to pick up takeout and was equally annoyed by the arduous, multi-step process I had to undergo to inform someone they needed to bring me my food curbside. I remember thinking, can’t I just call? And while that thought alone hurt me physically (I am a millennial), it seemed like the only other alternative to this ridiculous circus of attempting contactless communication. 

Ok, back to Dan. Post-blood draw, Dan was participating in a small-business roundtable discussion on best practices for opening brick and mortar locations back up. There was a slight “spray and pray” attitude involving hand sanitizer that felt hopelessly ineffective and that’s what got Dan thinking, There has to be a better solution.

Virtual waitlists

Dan and his team were quick to identify the problem businesses were currently facing—how do you get customers in the door while keeping them (and your employees) safe, all while not violating local rules on group gatherings; and make it easy.

Businesses need a way to know how many customers are waiting to enter their location, the order they arrived in (and how long they’ve been waiting), and an easy way for the business to monitor their list and contact the customer to instruct them on when (and how) to enter the store.

Customers need an easy way to add themselves to the waitlist and get confirmation that they were added. While online forms are usable on modern smartphones, they’re often clunky and can turn off users that don’t have the newest phone. SMS, on the other hand, is native to every phone, and is a technology that we’re all familiar with.

So, Dan and his team saw an opportunity to create an SMS-powered waitlist that was easy to manage for the business, and simple to get in line for customers.

Awaiting

After spending just a week with his team walking through ideas and user story mapping on the sidelines, Dan had a viable app in mind. The app would be web-based for retailers and utilize SMS for interacting with consumers. Within nine days, they had completed setting up their SMS and phone number integrations with Bandwidth, the Awaiting app’s landing page up, and were running manual onboarding for the early MVP (minimum viable product). Two weeks later, they had enabled self-service onboarding. 

The Awaiting app has the ability to help small businesses engage effective social distancing practices and give users an excellent customer experience. While the app does support appointments/reservations ahead of time, the main use case for these businesses is handling walk-ins. The workflow for a customer walk-in looks like this: 

  1. Customer arrives at the business for a walk-in
  2. Sees a sign on the door with a number to text or QR code to scan (QR code opens pre-populated text message)
  3. Sends a message and receives an instant response that they’re on the list
  4. Customer is added to the waitlist with a notification to the store operator
  5. The operator clicks a button to let them in (tablet screenshot)
  6. Customer gets a text with instructions to come in, and heads on in

This basic setup has already proven successful and feature development requests include simple Q&A functionality for guests outside to interact with the business, wait time management for crowded events, and adding autoresponder chat bots to simplify and reduce on-site employee burdens.

I asked Dan why he wanted to go with a text-message first approach for his app. His response? “The real advantage of text messaging is that it is universal. You don’t need to download an app or have a smartphone. You can reach underserved populations and even be HIPAA compliant if you use it properly.“ 

There are also future applications that Dan is investigating for the Awaiting app, including managing high throughput for grocery stores and even contact tracing for stores to notify consumers who were present during a time window when an infected person was present. Dan’s team is in talks with the North Carolina DHHS to see if this would help with “outbreaks” in the future, and if it would be required by stores to keep this information to operate safely. 

I, for one, am very excited about the way Dan utilized SMS to improve the customer experience in response to COVID. Our development partners at Bandwidth are truly incredible. If you’d like to learn more about our partner program, you can check it out here. If you are looking for ways to improve your user experience via SMS, get in touch! 

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