New ‘Tello’ Feature Lets Consumers Talk Back to Businesses

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Tello is an iPhone app and Android-friendly mobile site that lets consumers rate the local businesses they deal with. Sounds like Yelp? Not really. For one thing, Tello encourages brevity, not rambling reviews: You give a thumbs up or a thumbs down, plus a brief comment. For another, it lets you rate individual employees at a business, letting you alert folks about staffers who are uncommonly good or unacceptably bad.

And now Tello is launching a new feature called Business Replies that’s designed to turn its bottom-line ratings into a conversation between customers and companies.

If a company has signed up for Business Replies, Tello will let it see the comments that consumers have posted, plus analytical data about the responses. It can respond to consumers individually, either to resolve problems or just acknowledge that it’s listening.

Tello is offering a basic business account that lets a company receive replies for up to three locations, and doesn’t let it respond. But the ad-free service sees this new feature as a revenue generator: For $99 a month, larger retail businesses can cover more locations and send responses. Tello doesn’t have any news at the moment about which companies it’s working with, but founder Joe Beninato told me that it hopes to sign up some major national chains in the months to come, and envisions them putting up signage encouraging customers to use Tello as a feedback forum.

Business Replies will only be powerful if Tello can find a lot of companies who like the idea enough to participate and pay for it. In fact, as with most Internet services, critical mass is probably Tello’s biggest challenge, period: I like the idea and the app, but when I browse through the establishments I do business with here in the Bay Area, most have no more than one or two ratings, or (more often) none at all.

A Tello that had as many fans as Yelp–or just a meaningful fraction thereof–would be pretty nifty. And if corporate customers latch onto Business Replies and promote it, maybe it’ll help this useful service ramp up.

(MORE: 50 Best iPhone Apps 2012)