Joel Masters has been selling window coverings for 14 years. In 2017, Joel started his own online gallery in partnership with Hunter Douglas, the world’s leading manufacturer of window treatments. A year later, he opened his own brick-and-mortar store.

 

“It was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Joel told us. But despite his fears, he has steadily grown his business over the last few years and now employs a team of seven. He’s added invaluable business experience to his knowledge of the window covering industry. And he’s learned how to make his customer experience unlike that of any of his local competitors.

 

“We created a showroom that’s different from a lot of other Hunter Douglas offerings,” Joel told us. “People come in, we walk them through the showroom, help them understand what’s available in the market and what might work for them.” Once the customer had seen their options and asked any questions they had, Joel and his team would book a home call for their design team to go out and measure, provide a quote, and move toward closing the sale.

 

While Joel had been steadily growing his business for the first couple of years, his online reputation wasn’t reflecting the quality of his customer experience. Portland Window Coverings had a solid star rating on Google but with only a handful of reviews. Joel knew that customers would only trust a high star rating if the quantity of reviews was also high. But Joel was a busy business owner who already had too much on his plate. He didn’t feel he had the time or resources to manage his business’s online reputation.

 

Collecting reviews with a simple text link.

 

Joel reached out to the web design agency he had hired to build his website. He told them about his need to improve his online reputation and collect more reviews. Since some of their other clients had seen success with Podium, they recommended it to Joel.

 

Joel and his team started using Podium to send review invites to customers via text. They nearly doubled their monthly review volume and have maintained a 5.0 average star rating with more than 100 reviews.

 

Joel was relieved to see that his team was quickly bringing in more reviews and that his online reputation was on its way to more accurately reflecting the offline customer experience his team was providing. As he started to understand all that the Podium platform had to offer, he quickly realized that he could use it to connect with customers in a more efficient way.

 

Connecting instantly with website visitors and customers.

 

While Joel historically relied on his website’s ‘contact us’ form to collect leads and would reach back out to those leads over the phone or via email, that form was generating only a handful of leads each month.

 

“I used to have a ‘contact us’ form on the website that people could fill out,” Joel told us. “But that feels like a bit of a commitment, right? They aren’t ready for that type of engagement yet.”

 

Joel needed a way to communicate with his customers digitally since coming into the showroom was no longer an option. He recognized that he needed something other than his website’s ‘contact us’ form—something less intimidating, more natural, and that would allow for synchronous, two-way communication.

 

“These days, online chat is an expectation,” Joel told us. “People want to have a way to interact from your website.” That said, what Joel didn’t want was another chat tool that relied on a third-party source to field conversations or something that felt like an automated chatbot. When he saw Podium Webchat for the first time, he felt confident that his team could use it to more effectively capture leads and communicate with customers.

 

“I saw the potential in Webchat right away,” Joel told us. “When we can begin conversing over text, it can evolve into something very promising for us.”

 

With Webchat added to his site, Joel’s prospects and customers could now start asking questions with the click of a button—whether they wanted to schedule a home call with the Portland Window Coverings design team, ask questions about custom treatments, ask follow-up questions after purchase, or anything else. And they could do all of that while safely quarantined in the comfort of their own homes.

 

“Webchat helps us stay on the ball. It makes us look better than we are at times.”

 

“Our web interaction is up 583%,” Joel told us. “And clients truly enjoy being able to chat through the widget and start the process with a simple click to talk to an associate.”

 

Joel had not only solved how to connect with website visitors and communicate with customers, but had also made his business much more efficient in the process. What Joel’s team used to accomplish with a customer over the course of 24 hours or so, they were now able to do in a matter of minutes.

 

“I think of our customer communication like rugby, where I’m able to continuously pass the ball to a teammate running besides me and they can keep running,” Joel told us. “Each player runs the ball as far as they personally can, then passes it. It works incredibly well for our business.”

 

On top of communicating more effectively and efficiently with customers, Joel’s team had been able to consistently gather new leads. In the last year, they’d generated around 30 inbound Webchat leads every month. But before he even had time to celebrate that win, an entirely new kind of challenge was knocking at his door.

 

Transforming the payment process during a pandemic.

 

In March of 2020, Joel found out about the launch of Podium Payments, a text-to-pay option that would allow his business to send payment links to customers via text. Because of his success using Podium to get reviews, connect with website visitors, and communicate with customers, he didn’t hesitate to start using Podium’s text-to-pay tool. And it was perfect timing.

 

COVID-19 had reached the U.S. and was taking its toll. People everywhere were under quarantine and leaving their homes only when absolutely necessary. Joel himself was suddenly running a business entirely from home. Like most local businesses, Joel had historically accepted payments from customers mostly in person. But since the pandemic began, his team had been accepting a lot of payments over the phone, and he didn’t believe that was the best option for his customers or his business.

 

“Not only are people apprehensive about giving a credit card number over the phone—as they should be—but I also don’t want to take it over the phone,” Joel told us. “It places a liability on us.”

 

Joel started searching for a way to collect contactless payments. Since he had started using texting to collect reviews from customers, connect with website visitors, and communicate with customers, when he found out about Podium’s text-to-pay tool, he didn’t hesitate. Instead of wasting time taking payment over the phone, creating liability for his business, and requiring customers to do something they often were uncomfortable with, Joel’s team started sending a simple payment link via text.

 

“Text payments actually do what a lot of Podium does for us, which is help us look better than we are,” Joel told us. “As good as we try to be, we’re still a small business. I don’t have the financial backing of a big corporation to put together these awesome ways to pay right in an app or something like that. So it opens that door for people to process payments and interact with me financially in a way that is not only comfortable, but feels very professional. And I think it’s overlooked by a lot of companies.”

 

As COVID-19 cases have decreased and customers have slowly started physically coming into Portland Window Covering’s showroom, Joel has added Podium’s card readers so that customers can choose to pay over text or right there in the showroom.

 

“We process 90% of all our transactions through Podium Payments on either a card reader, mobile reader, or text-to-pay every month,” Joel told us. “That represents about a $60,000 savings in fees compared to my previous payment solution. And 93% of all transactions process in less than five minutes. It’s just become an integral part of everything that we do every single day. So it allows us to take payments in any way that a client is available or feels comfortable with.”

 

Now that Joel and his team have made it through the worst of the global pandemic, they’re now capitalizing on the tools they used to get through those challenging times to set their business apart from local competitors and provide a modern experience that customers aren’t used to getting from a local business.

 

“Podium is so integrated into our day-to-day business,” Joel told us. “I don’t know how we would do what we do at the level we’re doing it without Podium or something like it. And honestly, to my knowledge, I don’t think there’s anything else like it.”