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Waltham pharmacy tries a new approach to customer service with Zappix

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 4, 2013 07:55 AM

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The year is 2013. We hold hybrid computers/cameras/phones in our hands for most of our waking hours. And yet when we need assistance with something, we still frequently resort to pressing 1 for customer service, 2 for billing, 3 to speak to a salesperson. As though it were 1980.

Zappix, a Burlington startup, wants to use the power of the smartphone to help you get satisfaction sooner. Its app, available for iOS and Android, supplies a list of the departments you might want to contact at a company (like existing reservations, new reservations, or frequent flier info for an airline), and connects you directly with a quick tap. The Zappix app can also let you send a tweet or e-mail, or guide you to the answer you need on the company's website. (Hiawatha Bray wrote about the company back in June.)

Zappix has already pre-loaded customer service guides into its app for more than 100 Boston-based and national entities, from American Airlines to Cambridge City Hall to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. But the company's business model involves selling its "full multi-channel interaction platform" to other businesses that want to encourage customers to communicate with them using a mobile device — and make it easier than punching numbers or speaking commands. The first customer to roll out the technology is Village Fertility Pharmacy in Waltham. "Village is the first business we've deployed, but others are in development," says Zappix CEO Amol Joshi, who joined the company in July from IBM. "Boston is our first focus, but we'll be launching New York soon."

Zappix doesn't create individual customer service apps for each of its clients; there's one main app, divided into categories like Sports, Attractions, Shipping, and Pharmacies. But the company still faces the challenge of the App Store Black Hole...in other words, finding a way to get its product onto enough peoples' phones to make a difference.

At Village Fertility Pharmacy, president Stuart Levine said he'd been exploring various mobile apps for several years. "We experimented with others that didn't work well," he says. "This lets us offer everything from phone contact with a nurse to how-to videos to a pre-registration form." Levine says Village Fertility is New England's largest provider of prescriptions for women undergoing fertility treatments. "Nobody likes a phone tree," Levine says. "Most are horrible. But the bigger your business gets, the more you rely on them."

Zappix has about a dozen employees, in both Burlington and Israel. The company has been seed-funded by Kormeli LLC, an investment group led by Avner Schneur.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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