Mindbody is marketing Messenger[AI] to small-to-medium-sized fitness businesses as a solution that takes the place of a receptionist.
Many a fitness center employee has been teaching a class or cheering on a personal training client to do an extra crunch, when the phone rings. On the other end is a potential customer who will, for the time being, go ignored. It’s not optimal for businesses that thrive on customer connection, but how can they afford to leave the customers they have in the building for the one (or the potential one) on the line?
For fitness businesses constantly missing phone calls, Mindbody says it has a chat bot that can do most of the work of a full-time receptionist. Messenger[AI] not only makes appointments and takes payments but also answers specific questions about a business’ offerings, according to Ron Fisher, the company’s director of strategic product growth.
“Essentially what it is is an artificial intelligence receptionist that is now designed for fitness and appointment-based businesses,” he said, “and what it can do is anything a human can do over the phone, whether that’s booking an appointment, booking a class, selling a package, selling membership, answering customer questions, following up with customers.” However, it does not operate over the phone but via Facebook, text messaging and interface on the business’s website.
Fisher was one of the co-founders of Bowtie.ai, founded in 2016 with the goal of creating such a system. In 2019, Mindbody, the San Luis Obispo, a California tech company that creates platforms to assist the fitness industry acquired it. He said that the need for the system was spurred by the fact that appointment-based businesses, like fitness or beauty studios, “have someone at the front desk wearing many hats or might not have something at the front desk at all.”
Once a client creates a Mindbody account, Messenger[AI] sucks up a wealth of preexisting information about the company. The system requires the user to input some information into an FAQ engine, but then automation takes over, tagging the entries as related to subject matters and using them to create a information map that can lead the potential customer to the bit for which they are searching.
For example, if a client creates an entry in their FAQ, titled “Do I need to wear a mask?,” the system knows — based on input from other businesses that have used Messenger[AI] — that this is a COVID-19-related question. It then tries to gear the user to other questions that have been tagged as COVID-19-related. “It’s pretty robust in the sense that the more time you work with it, the better it is,” said Fisher.
Clients pay $99 a month per location for the basic two-way messaging system and $199 for a premium version that allows for unlimited texts, unlimited bookings and unlimited mass texts.
Fisher said that almost 2,000 locations are currently using Messenger[AI], including studios for yoga, HIIT, Pilates, strength training and cryogenic businesses. Mindbody has also enlisted medspas, salons and nail salons. They are in use in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Mindboys is looking to expand into Europe.
Fisher estimates that the “optimal” business for this software “would be at least five-to-ten staff members with a brick-and-mortar location that has probably around four-to-eight classes a day.” However, he is quick to note, “We do have individual operators who’ve used it because they are typically not able to answer the phone the entire day.”
He added that over time, customers may develop a relationship with the AI as it handles more of their needs. “[A] customer can actually use this ongoing-ly because the AI recognizes your phone number and links it back to your credit card and your class history,” he said, “so you can keep texting with the AI to book and reschedule, to buy those package of memberships, even to replace your credit card or check in with the class.”
Nick Keppler is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. He enjoys writing the difficult stories, the ones that make him pore over studies, talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable, and explain concepts that have taken years to develop. Nick has written extensively about psychology, healthcare, and public policy for national publications and for those locally- based in Pittsburgh. In addition to Athletech News, Nick has written for The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Vice, Slate, Reuters, CityLab, Men’s Health, The Gizmodo Media Group, The Financial Times, Mental Floss, The Village Voice and AlterNet. His journalistic heroes include Jon Ronson, Jon Krakauer and Norah Vincent.