“I’m taking a bathroom break at a conference, about to present, when all of a sudden, realize that I’m going to be delayed…” he continues with an awkward excitement that draws me in, curiously listening in anticipation of where this is all going (sometimes you really never know).
“Do you know what happened…there was no toilet paper in my stall!?!?”
To someone like Rueter, a man who see’s a world swirling with unlimited problems just waiting to be flushed out by the creatively ambitious, his inexcusable situation was simply deemed opportunity in disguise.
“And so I decided to do something about it so that myself and other innocent people can have the chance to avoid moments like these,” he admits in a most noble tone — claiming that bathrooms, in general, have become a widespread business concern deserving more attention.
“We just accept with this as part of life because we are either too busy to track down the right person or too embarrassed to report it. The answer should be as simple and quick as possible…almost everybody already has a fully functional communications tool at their disposal during these moments…why not just start there?” he rhetorically asks, fully expecting me to respond.
Building off a marketing background, Rueter has developed a keenness for distilling big ideas into refined stories that make you want to agree with everything he’s saying. I sympathize with the dilemma but remain skeptical as to how it’s prevented, come to learn that Kipsu is a turd that needs no polishing. In fact, it’s already profitable out-the-gate.
The secret sauce? Kipsu has created an SMS-based technology that enables customers to text common public restroom concerns like broken fixtures, sinks lacking hot water, empty TP & paper towels — amongst other more serious disaster scenarios — directly to management, maintenance or customer service. A few examples taken from current installs read:
“your bathroom toilet seat is broken or maybe just very loose, your garbage is full, and you have one light out and one missing…”
“Just used the bathroom – lady walked in on me cause (apparently) the lock=broken. Plz fix.”
“This music is SERIOUSLY too loud – and just not enjoyable. Can’t hear anything but the ambient trippy screeching.”
Beyond the simplicity providing a number to text, Kipsu has focused on hooking unlimited telephone lines into a real time dashboard for those environments subject to heavy traffic. The administrator can route messages, respond like a human, create service tickets and deploy the right technicians instantaneously.
It’s all about improving customer service through engagement and a smarter use of labor resources. Perhaps Kipsu marks the end of the ‘we pretend to care but we really don’t’ bathroom checklist/review sheets so proudly displayed…albeit out-of-date 90% of the time?
“The real trick is in offering a scalable management system that is more affordable and proven than anything which could be developed in house,” Rueter reveals when I ask the obvious question — why don’t they just setup the system themselves? He also defers his experience design skills to articulate “the importance of a customized user-friendly experience in every aspect.” The service is billed monthly, based on the number of lines installed, in addition to considering an ad supported model.
To help mold the idea into reality, Rueter linked-up with Geoff Dutton, a U of M entrepreneurship major and regular TECHdotMN contributing writer. Together with their advisors, the solution has been implemented on fertile retailing grounds at the Mall of America, where shoppers are frequently sending feedback “with outstanding results,” according to Dutton.
“I’ve definitely learned more over the past ten months starting a business than I did over the last few years studying it,” says Dutton, who was recently named CEO. “My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs would be to throw yourself into the scene, even if you don’t have a business idea…it doesn’t happen overnight. Stay current with what’s going on in the industry — developing an addiction to coffee is normal — just roll with it.”
The technology is also being tested in other high touch point environments. “Something we should know? Text 952.XXX.XXXX” says a MOA food court table cling backed by Kipsu’s system.
“Companies claim to want to hear from customers, but they’re establishing all these high friction & latent approaches – paper, person, website, etc. We are simple service for building customer relationships,” Rueter says in closing.
Kipsu’s bathroom origin is really just the tip of the turtle’s head, part of our omnipresent era in which the organizations existence depends upon the ability to know thy customer — good, bad, or downright painful.