Twilio SIGNALs its Focus on Customer Experience
Yes, pun intended! At Twilio’s SIGNAL event for its developers and customers, Twilio made it clear that it is “building the future of engagement,” to help organizations provide “legendary customer engagement.”
A key message that CEO Jeff Lawson got across early on is that Twilio “Is a company by developers for developers. We want to use communications to create great applications and great customer experiences,” adding, “Our simple idea was that communications should be in the toolbelt of every software developer.” Lawson announced that the company now has 6 million developers on the Twilio platform, with 160,000 customers and 750 billion interactions powered by Twilio last year. The company is not standing still, as it did 125,000 production releases in 2019. Lawson also talked about the importance of bringing more people into this story and even changing the definition of who is a developer through programs including Superclass, Twilio Quest and Hatch, Twilio’s program that commits software engineering apprenticeships to non-traditional technical talent (think bootcamps, community college, self-taught, etc.) coming from underrepresented backgrounds.
It was great to hear Lawson talk about the importance of “legendary customer engagement,” which includes driving more interactions with customers by using the various channels of communications that customers prefer. To that end, Lawson noted that Twilio supports voice, chat, SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, RCS, email, Instagram, and Facebook. He added that Twilio is connecting the channels for a single connected customer journey by providing a single engagement platform for all these channels, which is where Twilio Flex comes in.
Flex, Twilio’s programmable contact center, provides all the core building blocks for digital customer engagement, making it easy to set up a new contact center.
Jessica Popp, head of engineering for Flex, told the audience that solutions from Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys are not scalable or flexible enough for customers, noting that every contact center built on Flex is unique, enabling organizations to customize the contact center experience. Although Flex has been generally available for less than a year, Twilio has shipped 65 enhancements, signed on over 250 system integration partners, and lists customers such as Lyft, Shopify, intility, and TripActions.
Most of my time at the event was spent learning more about Twilio Flex. Since Twilio was founded in 2008, they’ve been on a steady mission to make it easier for companies to take control of their communications using software. They believe that companies need control to build and iterate their contact centers and they introduced Flex so customers don’t have to build from scratch. There have been some changes since Flex was released last year. Initially it was billed as an “out of the box” contact center, but that story has slightly changed. Twilio (and its customers) recognize that while there are some out-of-the-box capabilities, a good number of customers prefer additional programming to customize functionality to their unique contact center. Voice and webchat work out-of-the- box with no programming, while other channels such as messaging, email, and video require some programming.
During a breakout session with analysts about Flex, Tim Richter, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Twilio Flex, noted that the team added 34 new hires over the past 12 months, including industry-recognized expertise from Cisco, Genesys, and Salesforce. Richter clarified Twilio’s go-to-market and positioning for Flex, noting that the company is targeting key personas and markets, stating, “We’re more laser focused on who we’re targeting, which is the development persona, including the head of development and head of engineering.” CIOs and the head of customer experience (CX) are secondary targets. Flex is aimed at companies that are inventing or reinventing themselves around customer conversations and differentiated customer service and need a software solution that can be custom fit to their needs, as well as contact centers looking to augment or consolidate existing solutions with digital channels or intelligent self-service experiences.
Target markets include “digital native” organizations that have “builder cultures,” such as Lyft, Shopify, and Scorpion Internet Marketing, as well as companies that want to augment what they currently have and add digital channels such as web chat. Twilio also added several channel partners that have a long history in the contact center space and regional breadth such as Perficient (the Diamond sponsor of SIGNAL), Presidio, Avtex, Impekable, and DVELP to help legacy customers migrate to the cloud, and is integrating with additional technology partners such as Calabrio.
I had the opportunity to speak with several Twilio representatives to get deeper insights. I was able to get Rob Brazier, Senior Director, Product Management, away from the wonderful 10-course dinner (best risotto ever!) with analysts and Twilio execs for a few minutes to discuss Flex and the progress made in the past year. In this video, Brazier discusses some of the enhancements made, including the new Conversations API for messaging conversations across any channel. He also discussed typical Flex customers and how customers are taking advantage of Flex.
I spent some time with Richter who provided an update on Flex, as well as some customer examples and a great demo, bringing the strength of Flex to life.
While Flex garnered the bulk of my attention, I was also impressed with some other announcements and enhancements made, including Twilio Conversations, which is part of Twilio’s Services layer and includes both Proxy and the new Conversations API to orchestrate across SMS, MMS, WhatsApp, and other messaging applications, allowing for group messaging across channels. Developers can leverage a unified API to scale group conversations across SMS, MMS, chat, WhatsApp while preserving message history and context. For example, a conversation can start in SMS, then add some MMS components, and then bring in an expert who’s on WhatsApp, while preserving the conversation history and sender identity across multiple channels. Twilio Conversations API is currently in public beta.
Another big announcement was the general availability of Twilio Autopilot, part of Twilio’s Intelligence service. Autopilot lets you build, train and deploy AI-powered bots on any communications channel. Of course, this has huge implications for Twilio Flex.
I spoke with Vanessa Thompson, Director of Product Marketing for Twilio’s core products, who discussed Twilio’s core APIs and CPaaS capabilities and how Twilio APIs are used in a variety of use cases such as marketing campaigns, IoT, account verification, etc. Thompson discussed some of the new announcements made at SIGNAL, including Real Time Media Streams (a machine learning algorithm that connects live voice calls to their customers' AI tools to do things such as sentiment analysis to improve agent performance), Autopilot, and Conversations.
It was nice to see the progress Twilio is making with Flex, with new customers and enhancements being added, while refining its marketing message and target market. Flex got lots of attention during the keynotes, and it’s clear that it’s gaining traction and attention within the company and with Twilio developers. It was also refreshing to hear Twilio acknowledge that Flex is not quite an out-of-the-box solution but that it can do more with programming and development to create fully functional and customized contact centers that can be built to an organization’s exact specifications. Capabilities such as video integration, real-time reporting, and others require programming, but I expect Twilio to continue adding these capabilities as customer demand increases and as the company makes progress on its roadmap.