May 26, 2015
I went to the Twilio Customer Experience event in Chicago last year. I was expecting the event to be like any other contact center and customer experience event I have attended. Instead, it was quite the opposite. The room wasn’t filled with contact center consultants. There weren’t any third party vendors boasting about their WFM or QM solutions. The average age of attendees was much younger than other contact center conferences, and most of them had long beards and piercings. The Twilio developers were proudly wearing red sport jackets, and I felt ashamed for not having a MAC.
The event was geared towards developers and the message was clear. The only way to delight your customers is to engineer a custom solution on the Twilio platform that really fits with their business needs and demands. The premise behind Twilio, and its many competitors, is simple. They have done the heavy lifting by integrating with multiple telecom providers and SMS brokers, and also allowing developers to programmatically place/receive calls and SMS messages. The platform is very robust, and almost all the web friendly programming languages are supported. All the media is pay per usage and there are no upfront costs to get started. As of February 2015, over 500,000 developers have used their services.
Twilio is also built for contact centers. Most of the contact center functions (recording, queuing skills, etc.) are built in Twilio’s APIs. There is video that showcases one of Twilio’s developers building a contact center application and custom web based agent desktop in under an hour using Parse.com. You can watch the video here. It’s amazing! To get a contact center up and running, in a traditional delivery model, takes months. Between installation time, customizations and telecom delivery, it can be very time consuming.
A traditional contact center vendor delivers features based on general customer demand. Most contact centers spend a great deal of time customizing those platforms to fit their needs. It’s like buying a computer and replacing some of the parts so that the computer performs the way you want it to. With Twilio, you have the parts and you can build a custom computer from the get go. If you are a developer, Twilio is exciting and easy to learn.
The building blocks to create an outstanding customer experience with Twilio are all there. The biggest challenge that Twilio faces is that it requires computer/web programmers to make it work. The problem is two-fold. Larger organizations, that have the programming resources to develop solutions on Twilio, are usually the last to bite the bullet when it comes to new technologies. The smaller organizations (SMB) are more likely to try new solutions, but usually lack the development resources.
Another issue is that web developers don’t typically know anything about contact centers or customer experience. The learning curve of contact center metrics, lingo, and culture can be steep and time consuming. If Twilio had a GUI programming interface, the adoption rate would be much faster.
Will Twilio Disrupt Traditional Contact Center Vendors?
Twilio has thousands of customers, and thousands of custom applications have already been built on the platform. Very few customers are using Twilio as a full blown contact center platform. Most customers use a subset of features to voice or SMS enable their website or web applications. That being said, Twilio has a long road towards displacing current contact center vendors. Disruption, though not immediate, is imminent. Therefore, contact center vendors will need to evolve from their more traditional methodology if they hope to stay competitive.
Cisco’s recent purchase of Tropo (one of Twilio’s main competitors) is a promising sign that the contact center vendors are embracing open platforms and using them to better their existing suite of products. Transitioning from a more traditional approach to pure application development and new software will take time. But, I am fairly confident that once some of the large contact centers jump on the band wagon, the adoption rate will accelerate rapidly.
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