A few weeks ago I wrote about Pypestream, a startup promising to be an alternative to the often frustrating customer service experience. At the time, founder and CEO Richard Smullen was being a little coy about what the company was actually doing, but now he’s ready to share more details.
Basically, Pypestream is a messaging app where businesses create accounts to connect with consumers. Each account includes different “Pypes”, which represent different types of communication — for example, a retailer might create one Pype for customer support, one for returns, one for deals, one for news and so on.
If you want something from the business, you open the relevant Pype and start messaging them, pretty much the same way you’d text message with the a friend. And by leaving Pypes “open,” you’re opting in to receive certain kinds of communication from the company, such as deal alerts.
For consumers, Smullen said this offers a support channel that doesn’t involve spending minutes or hours on hold. He also said it should feel more natural than the automated systems that sometimes answer our calls.
To be clear, a business’ Pypestream messages will be generated by a mix of automation and human support. But even when you’re not really texting with a human being, Smullen said the interactions will feel more natural than trying to converse with a computerized voice.
Businesses, meanwhile, get to save on the high cost of call centers, and they also get an open channel to continue communicating with customers — Smullen argued that a consumer is much more likely to opt-in to Pypestream messaging than they are to download an app for each and every company.
Some brands are also creating a presence on the big consumer messaging apps, but Smullen suggested that those apps don’t have the kinds of business-focused features that Pypestream does — it will support payments, and there will be a file cabinet that stores all the documents shared in your communication.
“We’re not a person-to-person platform, we’re not a group collaboration system,” he said. “We’re one-to-many from an entity or brand or a club or a sports team or a celebrity, and then one-to-one back.” In other words, a business can push a message broadly to any interested consumers, and then consumers can respond in an individual fashion, without any of their information getting shared.
Smullen said brands could eventually use it to share content with consumers, too. Ultimately, he sees Pypestream becoming the one place where a customer can go anytime they need to interact with a business.
In fact, as he talked about different uses, about how you might go about your life and get all your business needs met through the app, it reminded me of the promise behind mobile assistant apps like Magic and GoButler. The difference is, with an assistant app, you type in a general request and message back-and-forth about how to fulfill it. With Pypestream, you pick a specific business and a specific task, and then you start messaging (which, again, means the business has a direct relationship with the customer).
Pypestream isn’t yet broadly available to consumers, but Smullen said he’s in the process of bringing business on-board. The initial customers include Washington Gas and Billboard.