The reason for great customer experience of your favorite app: Twilio

Twilio, the software and cloud-based communications company, today announced new capabilities for customers of its voice and messaging platform in Germany. Niklas Möller has the story written down on His article is based on the interview I did with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson that you can find here:

Tobias Schwarz: We are sitting here in the Soho House Berlin. Formerly it has been a department store and is a hotel now. Before funding Twilio you worked in commerce, you’ve owned several companies and you have been a product manager at Amazon Web Services. Then you left to start Twilio. How did you get the idea back then to merge the worlds of cloud computing, web services and telecommunications?

Jeff Lawson: Great Question! My background is as you said. I have been a software engineer by my education and I head started three companies and was in Amazon Web Services (AWS). When I left I was looking at what I want to build next. I had this realization that we were software people in every company I have head started. We were building software using the speed and agility of software. That means you work in sprints, you ship every two weeks, you constantly listen to your customers and iterating.

At every single of these companies we needed communications to build a better customer experience. To build a product we need to communicate with our customers on place. And every time we needed communication we looked at the industry: How was it supposed to be built? And it was this very hard approach to place servers and you get lines from carriers brought in for connectivity. And everything was measured in the millions of hours and years of implementation time that it would take. As software people who shipped every two weeks that does not make any sense.

We need to be more agile. We have made that experience multiple times and we are having the experience of Amazon Web Services: Seeing how infrastructure is moving to the cloud and being sold on an as needed, on demand basis. Started Twilio really answered that problem of communications not being agile, bringing it to the cloud and making it available to developers in an on demand way just like we have been doing AWS for other parts of infrastructure.

During his keynote address at Super Mobility Week, Twilio CEO and Co-Founder Jeff Lawson talks about the story of his company and how it’s helping mobile consumers and companies move forward:

Tobias Schwarz: I’m from the East German town Magdeburg which is famous for a high number of call centers. Twilio sounds for me like the next step of customer service. Are call centers heading for major disruption or do we just see a shift that is caused by mobile internet?

Jeff Lawson: We are fundamentally changing how companies go by building solutions like call centers. Now with flexible cloud based software you can provision a call center in far less time and for less money than it used to take when you had to rack up servers and bring in minds in order to stand up a call center. So for example we partnered with Google earlier this year on a product called Twilio CX. And the observation here was that in the legacy world of call centers you had to install servers to handle the telephones on every desk of every agent, a pc on a desk of every agent and server side software to be the agent desktop and client side. That was a substantial investment in turning up a call center. Thanks to Twilio you are able to move that telecommunications into the cloud and have no investment required. But that still left you with all the hardware on the desk.

So we’ve partnered with Google and Google Chrome so that you could reduce you entire call center down to a chromebook. And we literally are able to take a Chromebook from its package t, unwrap the box, open up the lid, log in to a cloud service and take a live customer phone call – in less than 30 seconds. That is the power of a zero infrastructure call center. All you need is a chromebook that costs about 300 US Dollars. So we are very excited what the power of the cloud is doing for call centers. We are also excited about what the power of what we call embedded communication can do for the customer experience. For example: if you think about using your bank’s mobile application and you are looking at your list of transactions where you see between your star bucks purchases a 50.000 US-Dollar transaction from Russia…

Tobias Schwarz: …that would raise some questions…

Jeff Lawson: Yeah, that does not look right to you. In most of your mobile applications there will be a phone number on the about page that is called customer services. When you click it you are calling the call center and you made a dump phone call. They do not know who you are and you have to authenticate by answering questions like “What’s your mom’s dog’s name?”. Finally you have reached an agent, but than he also asks you the same questions. So that is a half an hour phone call.

Now imagine what you can do with Twilio when you can take embedded communications. Embed a button into the mobile application that says dispute transaction. When you click it does a voice-over-IP call that transits with that phone call, your identity and the transaction that you are calling about. So the agent picks up the phone and says “Hello, how can I help you with transaction one, two, three, four.” Then you say I have not made that purchase and the agent says: “Ok, I have marked it as a dispute we follow up in five to ten days. Is there anything else I can help you with?”. You can reduce the half hour phone call up to 20 seconds. The customer has a great experience.

Tobias Schwarz: That does not sound like a German bank. Is there any bank already using it?

Jeff Lawson: We have banks developing some applications today that we can reference quite yet. That doesn’t sound like a German bank, but that is the world we are moving to. Twilio enables this very flexible software communications that is designed to be embedded into all other applications and work flows. So it creates a great customer experience.

Tobias Schwarz: Today over 400.000 developers in 200-plus countries use Twilio’s solution. I didn’t use your API yet, but as an Uber and Airbnb user I already have communicated through Twilio – I just didn’t know it. How does the partnership with companies like Uber work?

Jeff Lawson: The Uber application is a great example for that. If you think about how communications used to work you have this dump standalone communication. If you needed to call a cab you have to call the phone number printed on the side of the cab. Then you call this phone number and you get a dispatcher who says “Where do you need the cab?”. Then you answer and when 20 minutes later no cab showed you would call back and have to explain everything again. That is dump communication.

Now think about what we have. Now you have Uber where you get the text message which says “Your cab is showing up in five minutes”. That is Twilio that provides that communication and takes the place of a dump communication. Five years ago you had to call the dispatcher again to ask where your car is. Now you know it because the application tells you where your cab is. That is Twilio, that is a contextualized communication.

When people often say that the Uber customer experience is so good one of the things they are talking about is how perfectly contextualized all the communication is in that workflow. You are never talking about a call center, you are never wondering what is going on. You just have immediate information on your fingertips and Twilio is powering that.

Tobias Schwarz: Are there any other companies where I used Twilio, but did not know it?

Jeff Lawson: Airbnb and other companies like Box and Dropbox who secure their website with Twilio are using two-factor authentication. When you are trying to log in from a computer you have not used before they send you a 6 digit code to log in. Also all the other ride-sharing like Lyft, Hailo or DriveNow use Twilio.

Tobias Schwarz: I have read in an article on Business Insider that nearly 13 Million interactions are made per day. Today Twilio is starting in Germany, but do you know how many German users already use Twilio?

Jeff Lawson: We do not have the exact statistics, but I know that since we have launched six years ago we have users in more than 200 countries and we have also been live in Europe for a few years. Now we are active in 26 countries in Europe and we are exited to launch in Germany as well.

Tobias Schwarz: You are here in Berlin to promote the Twilio launch and to announce a partnership with the car sharing service DriveNow which is a joint venture between BMW and Sixt. What are the details of this partnership with DriveNow?

Jeff Lawson: DriveNow has this very sophisticated back end technology that is designed to provide a good customer experience. And they use Twilio to communicate very effectively with the renter. For example they will text you if you are nearing the end of your rental and remind you. They tell you this critical information all via text message proactively pushed to you as the renter, but also fully integrated into all of their other systems. And the other aspect of DriveNow’s application and why they work with Twilio is that it works anywhere in the world. They are already a multi-national service. With Twilio they can take their service world just like Uber has. With Twilio companies like Uber or DriveNow have one platform that works everywhere in the world. So we allowed them to expand as quickly as they can.

Tobias Schwarz: Last year you told TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak that an IPO would be ‘the next logical step‘. When will this happen?

Jeff Lawson: We do not have a specific time frame. Our goal is to build a great company.

Jeff Lawson, who defied naysayers by developing a killer API to enable communications on a global scale, shares lessons from Amazon & the great Bezos, why not loving your product is a recipe for disaster, and life at the forefront of the greatest change in telecommunications in 150 years:

Tobias Schwarz: Sometimes as a journalist you don’t see the bigger picture of a company. That’s why I would like to know from you, what did I forget to ask you about Twilio?

Jeff Lawson: Great question! Maybe you could asks ‘What is next?’.

Tobias Schwarz: What is next?

Jeff Lawson: Sorry, I cannot tell you that. [laughing] We have been working on expanding Twilio around the world, providing carrier connectivity. In 50 countries we can buy phone numbers and we are excited to launch in Germany with mobile numbers that can do SMS and Voice as well as geographic numbers and toll free numbers. But in addition to our global connectivity we are also investing heavily in pure IP-based communications.

Communications that do not use the legacy phone system but rather run on the top of computer networks that give you voice and video and text communications all over pure IP-streams. We are releasing mobile SDKs for iOS and Android and for web browsers. That let you do some really amazing things when you are on constraint by the legacy technology of the PSTN, the carrier network. That is very exciting. Like that bank example I’ve told you before.

Tobias Schwarz: What would this mean for the Deutsche Telekom?

Jeff Lawson: Carriers that provide great data networks will have great protocols.

Tobias Schwarz: Thank you for your time.

Image by Jeff Lawson

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