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Twilio Says, ‘Let’s Keep the Conversation Flowing’

It’s all about keeping the conversation flowing — no, I don’t mean in social settings (though that’s important on a personal level), but rather between customers and the contact center.
Twilio is taking a crack at this challenge with a couple of new APIs aimed at improving customer engagements. The first, called Twilio Conversations, is for facilitating the flow of conversations taking place in messaging channels. And the second, called Media Streams, is meant to improve the experience for customers calling into contact centers.
Messaging Mandate
As Twilio has found in surveying consumers, messaging is a universal choice for contacting companies, said Scott Fallon, VP of product marketing at Twilio, in a No Jitter briefing. “They want to text with them. They want to do WhatsApp with them. That’s how they want to connect,” he said.
Twilio hasn’t uncovered a deep, dark secret here, but is merely reiterating through its research where the market has been heading for some time. Omnichannel has long been a central theme in the contact center, and the need to support messaging across the customer journey — presale, during the purchase, and post-purchase, as Fallon said — is a growing mandate.
But with “billions of messages” crossing its network, Twilio is able to spot megatrends that others might not see, Fallon added. One of those he pointed out is the increasing expectation among consumers that they should be able to respond to notification texts —appointment reminders, delivery notices, password change acknowledgments, and so on — and have a conversation with the company, Fallon said. “But those responses are falling on the floor because the companies aren’t expecting to have to respond to them and so they’re not positioned to respond,” he added.
Twilio now has some help for that, in the form of it’s the Conversations API, Fallon said. With Conversations, companies will be able to support group conversations across multiple messaging channels. The Conversations API will initially work with SMS, MMS, chat, and WhatsApp, with support for other messaging channels to follow, he added.
This unified API orchestrates the messaging across multiple channels, keeping track of participants and archiving conversations. With the conversation archive, a company will have access to a full record of and context around any messaging conversation should a customer reach back out to it via the thread at any later date. Being able to tap into the messaging archive will enable companies to boost the efficiency and quality of conversations, Fallon said.
The messaging archive will come in handy for compliance purposes within regulated industries, as well, Fallon said. In one use case, for example, a financial advisor and a client might be texting about an account decision. The client would like to consult with his partner, who is traveling overseas and only available via WhatsApp. With the Conversations API, the advisor could chat with the client on text and the partner on WhatsApp in a single, secure conversation that gets archived for compliance, he described.
Similarly, although with no compliance component, is a situation in which a customer wants to change the address of a delivery order, so respond to the order confirmation text with the correct information. When the customer support center receives that text, an agent can reach out to the driver via WhatsApp and bridge everybody into a single conversation to coordinate the delivery.
Were a company to build integrated messaging capabilities internally using existing Twilio APIs, as one wealth management customer did indeed do, the “brute force,” all-hands-on development effort would likely take along the lines of three to six months, Fallon estimated. With the Conversations API, that same dev required for that same project would shrink to about three weeks, he added.
The Conversations API is available today in public beta. Pricing for Conversations start at three cents per active user per month and 25 cents per gigabyte of storage, plus the fee for any associated SMS or WhatsApp use, Twilio said.
Smart Phoning
With the second new API, Media Streams, Twilio is providing contact centers the ability to access, analyze, and act on voice calls in real-time rather than having to wade through call recordings for after-the-fact insight. With this API, Twilio exposes the audio stream of incoming calls so that companies can then apply various AI solutions to it, be those for natural language processing, keyword spotting, sentiment analysis, or other advanced use.
At launch, for example, Twilio is working with a trio of third-party partners: Google Cloud, for real-time transcription; Gridspace, for real-time analysis and feedback based on conversational content and the caller’s tone; and Amazon Web Services, for use of Amazon Lex and Transcribe to integrate conversational interfaces and streaming transcription into voice applications.
“The use cases are endless – whatever people’s imaginations are,” Fallon said. “And they’ll all be win-wins for everyone” — the customer will get the problem solved more quickly and the contact center will be able to calls more effectively and, therefore, at lower cost, he added.
“So again, it’s in the theme of improving the way people are engaging and having conversations,” Fallon said.
Like the Conversations API, Media Streams is now available in public beta. It costs $0.004 per minute plus the fee for associated Programmable Voice minutes and phone numbers used during call duration.