Saygent uses mobile to help retailers get instant customer feedback


For businesses, getting valuable and timely feedback from customers can be like pulling teeth. But mobile technology is offering a way to make that a lot easier and more attractive to consumers. Saygent, a 500 Startups company from San Mateo, Calif., is bringing its voice sentiment analysis software to Ingenico’s mobile point of sale devices, giving retailers and merchants a way to solicit almost instant voice feedback. For Saygent, which is already employed by Comcast (s cmcsk) and DirecTV (s dtv), this is the first time it’s moving into retail stores with its technology.

The partnership means that when customers check out using Ingenico’s mobile retail platform, they’ll be given the option of providing their phone number so retailers will be able to call or text them with a simple one-question survey. Retailers will often offer a discount on their next visit or some other incentive to opt in. If they agree, they’ll get a call soon after their visit asking how their experience was.

Saygent absorbs the information using natural language processing and an algorithm that understands what is being said, the emotions and what problems a customer encountered. Then it can decide if the business should immediately follow up with the consumer, send the call to a customer recovery program or forward it on to public relations if the person had a great experience. Either way, Saygent lets the customer know their concerns have been heard.

Saygent, which raised $1 million a year ago from 500 Startups, Innovation Endeavors, Kapor Capital and others, said its model can boost response rates to surveys by five times. That’s because it’s more immediate and requires less commitment from consumers. And it also helps consumers actually engage in more of a conversation with a retailer, instead of pushing them into a traditional survey. This may help prevent some users from venting on social media by giving them a way to communicate more directly with a company. And it gives retailers a better sense of what is driving a user’s purchase decisions.

“If you have something to say, you want to say it immediately. Retailers want immediate feedback, which is far more accurate than something 1-2 weeks later,” said Evy Wilkins, Saygent’s director of marketing. “The fact that it’s happening on your phone as you leave and the fact that an associate with an Ingenico mobile POS can opt someone in, it’s a immediate and effortless.”

There are about 1 billion surveys handed out each year but response rates are below 1 percent, said Wilkins. She said there’s a big opportunity to make that business more efficient. With mobile point of sale hardware proliferating and bigger POS terminals available, Saygent is working on getting its software installed on more devices. It’s also showing how POS hardware can be an open platform for apps and software. Saygent is also talking to other mobile wallet providers about embedding its software and it’s looking at building a version that can work directly in a desktop browser.

I think Saygent has got some cool technology that more retailers will want to take a look at. If a retailer can get faster feedback on what is and is not working, they can respond faster. Or they can nip bigger problems in the bud by reacting quickly. Mobile provides a way to solicit a quick response. But the key is not in subjecting people to a barrage of questions. I like how Saygent just asks one question, letting its technology figure out what’s important for a customer. I think this is how retailers need to be thinking. It’s about less hard-selling and more listening and engaging.

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