Twilio Shows its Flex-ibility
Another Enterprise Connect has come and gone, and there were tons of new announcements. The one that stood out in my mind was Twilio Flex, a new contact center platform that will be available by the end of the year. Going beyond providing basic APIs, Flex is a contact center platform that is completely customizable up and down the stack. It is built on top of Twilio’s application development platform, so it can be used out-of-the-box.
Prior to Flex, Twilio offered its various APIs as building blocks for developers. Building on that, Flex adds pre-bundled APIs providing out-of-the box contact center capabilities, making it easier for businesses to build and deploy services.
Twilio is differentiating itself by enabling Flex to give businesses “the freedom to customize while delivering with the speed of the cloud.” Twilio calls Flex “the first application platform for contact centers,” enabling developers to customize the solution for their needs, while leveraging Twilio’s APIs. Rather than having to choose between a scalable but inelastic premises-based contact center and a SaaS-based contact center that can be quickly deployed but offers limited customization and scalability, businesses can use Twilio’s scalable and customizable Flex platform.
As a software developer-focused contact center platform aimed at advanced contact centers, Flex is described as being massively scalable, instantly omnichannel, and contextually intelligent, offering unlimited customization. It has an out-of-the-box user interface with bundled APIs, running on Twilio’s global network. The service can integrate with any third-party applications, including CRM, workforce management, workforce optimization, reporting, analytics, and data store.
One of Flex’s key value propositions is its scalability. It’s been tested to scale to 50,000 agents per department (note: it’s been tested to scale – that doesn’t necessarily translate to actual deployments as it’s not yet in GA). While most cloud providers tout their scalability, it’s hard for most multi-tenant CCaaS providers to offer the scale that Twilio provides, making Flex attractive to very large organizations, as well as contact center partners leveraging the Flex platform.
Modern Contact Center Capabilities
No contact center offering would be complete in this day and age without full omnichannel support, which Flex offers right out of the box. Customers can use their channel of choice, as Flex supports voice, SMS, email, chat, video, Twitter, as well as messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger, LINE, and WeChat. Agents can also do screen sharing and co-browsing with customers to better assist them during interactions.
Similarly, no new contact center offering would be considered viable in today’s environment without some sort of AI capabilities. Flex includes Machine Learning (ML) to improve productivity, as well as Twilio's TaskRouter routing logic to provide attribute-based routing logic across all communication channels. Another key element is contextual intelligence, based on natural language processing bots and IVR, providing intelligent routing based on the customer journey and agent profile.
An Out-of-the-Box Solution
At Enterprise Connect, I spoke with Al Cook, head of Twilio’s Contact Center Business, who discussed how Flex can be customized and integrated with CRM (unfortunately the first part of our video interview got damaged).
The big question I kept asking Cook during our meeting was, can Flex really work out-of-the-box, and how much development work is actually needed in order to have a usable solution? Cook assured me that businesses can get started using it right away. However, it’s a safe assumption that the vast majority of businesses will have developers who can use the Twilio APIs and Twilio’s drag-and-drop flow builder, Twilio Studio, to create customized interfaces, workflows, and integrations to make the service meet their specific needs.
For more packaged contact center applications, businesses can work with a broad spectrum of Twilio partner types, including Customer Service specialists, Serenova and Zendesk, which built their contact center solutions on top of Twilio. While there’s potential conflict with its contact center partners, both Serenova and Zendesk are embracing Flex. According to Pascal Vincent, CTO, Serenova, “As a five-year partner of Twilio, we have always deeply understood the value of Twilio’s architecture and connectivity. Twilio facilitates Serenova’s customers’ ability to connect to the communications networks via the cloud without sacrificing security and reliability.”
At Enterprise Connect I met with Ryan Nichols, GM of Voice, Zendesk, who discussed Zendesk’s omnichannel contact center solution built on top of Zendesk CRM using Twilio Flex. Rather than viewing Twilio as a competitor, Nichols raves about how Twilio enables Zendesk to take the next step in providing omnichannel customer engagement services for its customers.
More Customer Choices
With the introduction of Flex, Twilio is now competing with traditional contact center players such as Genesys, Avaya, and Cisco, as well as cloud-based vendors Five9 and inContact, and newer entrants such as Amazon Connect. However, Flex is aimed at very large contact center deployments, and the developer-centric platform is not for everyone.
The good news is, the contact center market continues to grow, and is large enough to support an array of vendors serving the varying needs of different types of customers. Large enterprises with thousands of contact center agents now have a new option, and that’s a good thing.