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Time Becomes Money with Assist/TimeTrade Partnership

We’re excited to announce an official partnership with TimeTrade. TimeTrade is the leading intelligent scheduling platform for the enterprise.

Below is an interview with Cimarron Buser and Assist co-founder Robert Stephens. Cimarron Buser is SVP Business Development at TimeTrade. Since the day Robert founded GeekSquad in 1993, he has been thinking about selling time.

Enjoy the interview.

Cimarron Buser:

How does messaging and voice play into booking? Do you think booking is becoming more important?

Robert Stephens:

Well, let’s start at the beginning. Before there were death and taxes, the original constants in life were time and money. Even before the chicken and the egg conundrum, what came first, time or money? You know, there are really two things that people are doing in business: spending their money, and when they do it. In fact, in most commerce, there are really three questions that everybody asks of a business: can you do it, when can you do it, and how much will it cost?

With TimeTrade, there is a perfect partnership. It’s no accident, that when Apple announced the Apple Business Chat last year one of the first “use cases” they showed was a time picker. We’d like to think that what Square did for money, the TimeTrade-Assist partnership will do for time. It’s this ability to give businesses Uber-like dispatch capability. If you think about it everybody remembers the first time they took an Uber! Once you experience that low friction, there’s no going back.

For many businesses, for example, scheduling a dental appointment, it’s usually done through a clunky web interface or again, you have to download an app. We are combining messaging with this core competency. The first commerce capability in the messaging space was money and payments, thanks to Facebook and Stripe. Using TimeTrade’s platform, which has been around for a long time — it’s very well-known and used — we think this is going to open up the space for them as well as for all of Assist customers.

Cimarron Buser:

What’s different about this new interface versus what TimeTrade is currently doing on the web?

Robert Stephens:

Well, first, messaging is faster. It’s easier to deploy for businesses. It takes full advantage of TimeTrade capabilities. It fits perfectly in the timing of where we are with Facebook Messenger, Alexa, Google Assistant, and now Apple Business Chat.

We’ve seen this with Sephora. When people can make an appointment, we believe, and we’ve seen it, it really changes the psychology of the shopper. There’s a difference between, “These are the hours we’re open,” and “Here is an appointment for you. Here is time we’ve set aside for you.”

It’s just like OpenTable. It’s like making a reservation, this ability to book time. We think this is going to be so popular over time that businesses will offer appointments for things they didn’t do before. It could just be an estimate. It could be reserving a slot in time. There’s also the possibility where businesses that didn’t know they wanted this capability now have access to it.

We believe that voice and messaging are going to become the dominant way that people do it just because it’s so easy. It’s so much faster. Picking an appointment time benefits from the messaging interface because it’s really centered around the size of your phone. We actually believe that helps simplify the user interface, the experience that people have, because it’s designed for this smaller screen. Again, it’s usually can you do it, when can you do it?

Cimarron Buser:

Will brands need to adopt this to stay relevant? Will consumers begin to expect this?

Robert Stephens:

In this first wave, there are really two first customers we see.

First, people who are already using TimeTrade that will definitely want to expand their capabilities into messaging and voice with one integration. If you’re already on the TimeTrade platform, this is a no-brainer.

The other one is for people who want to experiment.

Let’s say you’re a retailer, and somebody’s interested in a product, and they look online. This ability to reserve a slot, it’s a big difference between saying, “We’re open, come at this time, and some person or something will be ready for you.” This is happening already… You can schedule deliveries now from the grocery store. This is starting to become a thing. People who use Uber and now can start to reserve movie seats. If you want to see the new “Avengers: Infinity War,” and you reserve a seat, it’s a totally different experience than showing up at the movie theater having no idea where you’re going to sit. And there’s a lot of use cases that haven’t included appointments that we think now can try it.

Cimarron Buser:

Do you feel like this reflects a bigger macro trend of the customer wanting ultimate control and brands trying to understand who is actually in their stores? One thing we hear from brands is they don’t really know who’s walking through the doors. Do you believe that this enables a whole different experience where you can acknowledge everyone walking in your store because you know who’s coming at what time?

Robert Stephens:


This is where messaging with a business is much different than social media. Customers care about their privacy for their personal interactions, and I also want the retailer to know who I am, whether I’m having a great or a mediocre experience, and to help me privately. Yelp is the last resort to complain.

What TimeTrade does is it publishes the company’s resources that are available before you go to the store. This is great for retail brands who are trying to drive traffic. It’s a way of being more specific, acknowledging and being aware of who is walking in to your store.

Cimarron Buser:

Is the main difference between messaging and voice versus a website that you actually still can’t “hear the customer”? In other words, if they fell off in the flow, or they couldn’t find the right time, you can’t hear them because they’re not using words that are machine-readable. Is that a major difference between messaging and voice compared to the past?

Robert Stephens:

Yes, because for anything to be in messaging or voice, it’s in text. It’s your words. It’s machine-readable, which means you can analyze it. I want the hotel, or the airline, or the bank, to hear what I’m doing. If I keep asking a question over and over, they should detect that I’m frustrated. This is where, for lack of a better term, to use an exaggerated phrase, I want the companies to see everything I’m saying. Just like I want the airline to watch my luggage. I expect them to know where my stuff is.

Let’s look at the shopping cart. One of the big scourges of websites is abandoned shopping carts. An abandoned shopping cart is actually a cry for help.

Sometimes companies don’t have resources available at that exact moment.

But, if I knew a customer was looking at a product, had gone partly through the checkout flow and abandoned it because it’s computerized, I can record the state of the shopping cart. I can contact that person and say, “Would you like to set up a time for somebody to help you finish that?”

This is where TimeTrade really solves a key issue. We are creating an opportunity for our customers, especially in messaging, to get help. Simply from listening for the errors, a cry for help.

Cimarron Buser:

What do you mean by a company listening? What about privacy?

Robert Stephens:

What I mean is I want the company listening. There’s a spectrum here. I don’t want the airline to look inside my suitcase, but I need them to keep an eye on my suitcase from the moment I arrive at the airport until I pick it up at the baggage claim.

You know, I think this is what every customer wants. We want a company to constantly be listening. We believe customers don’t actually want to complain about a restaurant on Yelp. It would rather complain to the restaurant, because I would like to keep going back. We don’t expect companies to be perfect anymore, but we expect them to listen, and a big component of that is time. When. When can I talk to somebody?

The other thing that TimeTrade allows is more in-depth relationships with customers. There’s transactions that might not be tied to time. But this idea of setting aside appointments, it’s allocating time as a resource, and that enables new possibilities.

I’m personally more excited not about who’s going to take their existing scheduling appointment system and put them into messaging from their website. I’m excited about what businesses never offered appointments or scheduling that can now do that. There’s far more of those businesses. This is the use case for all brands to respect their customer’s time.

Not every movie theater lets you book a seat. But once you experience that, that is the preferred way of doing things. There’s a reason why OpenTable is dominant. We expect a restaurant to take appointments most of the time.

Cimarron Buser:

One thing you said that seems like a major macro trend that I haven’t heard before is, “Imagine if the shopping cart is a cry for help.” Today, what happens is that I get a hundred emails of a shopping cart abandonment message, follow-up, spam, marketing engine. What I think you said is that if the shopping cart abandonment led to a scheduling engine through messaging, all of a sudden, the brand can step in to truly help you and complete the purchase. It feels much different to me using booking as the shopping cart abandonment action to get you the right help — on your time — than it does to get a bunch of marketing emails saying like, “Hey, did you forget this item?”

Robert Stephens:


It provides an opportunity for the customer and the business. For the business, if they’re listening and watching all these interactions, this is something you couldn’t do before. There’s are people walking into a store. You don’t have their identity. This is the power of messaging. Consumers win because they want to get answers to those three questions. Can you do it? When can you do it? How much will it cost?

If they have any trouble with any of that, they want the company listening to them. Because it’s about people’s frustration and listening to them.

I’ve been in Lowe’s before and tried to talk somebody. I’m standing in the store. Now, retailers struggle with labor management. They can’t have endless payroll to have all the people walking the aisles. So there’s a trade-off there. For low prices, I have to usually schedule a time. There’s really no other way.

I wanted to order three bathtubs, replacements, in my home, and I couldn’t! I found somebody, but they couldn’t tell me when he was gonna get back to me. You keep people calm by keeping them informed.

Imagine a scenario where you’re just walking by yourself through the store. You have an idea. You’re able to communicate with the brand through messaging. You’re talking to a bot because it’s more efficient. Everything should be able to be automated, but when it can’t, this is where scheduling can come in.

This is very key concept that I learned building Geek Squad.

People don’t always need it immediately. They only ask for it out of frustration or simplicity. If you offer them an exact time, they are much more flexible on their time scale. “I’m willing to wait three days as long as you can commit to me.”

This solves the other big part of friction that we don’t think about, the customer’s time. They’re on a schedule. They have to pick up the kids from school. They know their schedule. The nice thing is when the customer’s already walking around with a copy of their free time and they’re willing to share that with the company in exchange for, “Hey, I need to get this thing done. I need to get this information.”

We believe, by the way, that customers prefer automation when the automation is done well. Done well, that’s the main point. We’re in the early phases of this trend. Just like when an abandoned shopping cart is a cry for help, we believe that, until companies work harder to improve their experiences, this is where the rubber meets the road. If a shopping cart is abandoned, that should be a red flag to the operations team that they need to redesign the confusion around that product or service…

The goal is to eliminate the need for so many resources. The consumers don’t even want that. They’d prefer it just to be seamless. We all would rather check in for a plane on our phone than to have to stand in line at the counter. The company can’t afford to staff that anyway. This is where appointments are part of helping improve customer experiences. Once you check-in for a flight and have a boarding pass on your phone, you never wait in line again. This is like that.

Cimarron Buser:

You tweeted almost three years ago that you thought Google Maps and Apple Maps were the perfect messaging application. When I saw Apple release Business Chat one of the entry points that seems very interesting is maps. Today, if you have a Business Chat experience on Apple iMessage, Apple Maps actually defaults to messaging first over the phone and website.

Is “time” one of the perfect use cases for the Maps entry point? It seems like if I’m looking on Maps, I need it now. I need to know where to go. Usually it has directions. Directions are actually time. I know when I’m going to get there. Is scheduling an appointment and time a macro trend that is connected to what you were saying about Maps a few years ago with this use case?

Robert Stephens:


I mean, because time is one of the original fundamentals, along with money, before death, before taxes, before the chicken, before the egg. Time is one of the lowest friction offerings to a customer.

Even your little local hardware store, they might be busy with 10 customers right now, but there are slow times. And you’re seeing this now. If you open up Google Maps, one of the newest features they have offered is if you punch in a place to go…a store to go to in the morning at 7 am, and they don’t open till 10am, Google will warn you that if you head there now, they’re not going to be open when you arrive, or they’re closing soon.

So Google’s already begun to include time as a key element in the design. We believe this is going to play to TimeTrade’s strengths now that Apple is letting you chat. Because you’re right. The only actions we’ve been able to take up until now in a map application has been to call or to physically go there. Messaging now allows me to interact with a company beyond those two limiting choices.

The problem with phone calls is it ties the customer up in real time. It ties up the company. This is a business that isn’t even offering appointments. We believe companies should actually just… Don’t ask yourself, “Should you?” It’s more like, where could you use time as a resource and make it available? See what happens. This is how you uncover new products and services.

Technology disruption is really just asking questions. What new things can we do that we couldn’t before? And that’s why this is so important.

Taking payments through Apple Pay, Messenger, it’s slick, and it continues to get more and more friction-free. But time is now having its moment.

Cimarron Buser:

Great. Is there anything else that you want to end with or why you personally are just so excited about this?

Robert Stephens:

I’m personally excited because, you know, my background with Geek Squad really was about selling time.

It’s about showing up on and being on time. It’s about selling time as a resource.

Before there was Uber and ordering a car to where you were, there was ordering a Geek around. I had always dreamed… I had to build my own dispatches so I know how hard it is. It’s not something most companies can do. That’s why they don’t offer it. That’s why the TimeTrade capability is exciting because you combine the low friction of messaging and voice with the ability to make time available to your customers.

We are really excited about the potential of this TimeTrade and Assist partnership. Thanks to TimeTrade, time has finally become money.

Assist is the leading platform powering automation for businesses on messaging and voice. We power great brands like Sephora, Hyatt, Fandango, 1800Flowers, Lonely Planet, and more. Say hello or learn more about us here

TimeTrade has pioneered an expanded role for intelligent scheduling solutions to enhance the entire customer journey and help companies engage with their customer at each phase of that journey. This integration drives personalized appointments as well as smart solutions for analytics and reporting; chat bots and customized recommendations for concierge-level services.



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